Times of Oman
Oct 09, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 09:06 PM GMT
Djokovic defeat leaves spotlight on coach Becker
January 22, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Tennis legend Boris Becker of Germany, coach of Novak Djokovic of Serbia, points after Djokovic won his men's singles match against Fabio Fognini of Italy at the Australian Open. Photo - Reuters

London: Television viewers are used to seeing a snappily-dressed Boris Becker offering his thoughts on the day's big matches from the safety of a comfortable sofa at Wimbledon.

On Tuesday, minus the make-up and the sharp threads, the German former world No.1 found himself perched on a court-side seat in Melbourne watching Novak Djokovic put through the wringer by Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka at the Australian Open.

From talking about the game in his familiar tones, Becker found himself a central part of the unfolding drama and, when his charge stumbled, fair game for tennis writers picking over the Serb's shock five-set defeat in the quarterfinals.

It was a surprise last month when, on the day Djokovic was named as the ITF's 2013 world champion, or player of the year, Djokovic announced Becker had joined his team despite the six-times grand slam champion never having worked as a coach.

Djokovic had just finished the year in spectacular fashion, winning 24 matches in a row since losing to Rafa Nadal in the US Open final in New York in September.

Despite losing his No.1 ranking to the Spaniard in October, his game appeared to be in fine fettle as he retained the ATP World Tour finals title with a comfortable victory over Nadal in the London year-ender.

All the signs pointed to Djokovic being the man to take on Nadal for this year's big prizes, with most predicting he would start his campaign with a fourth straight Australian Open title.

Yet, Djokovic decided his game needed something extra and turned to Becker, whose attacking serve and volley style and raw power once struck fear into opponents.

Extra firepower
Some saw it as a riposte to Wimbledon champion Andy Murray's successful alliance with Ivan Lendl, once Becker's fierce rival.

Others saw it as a sign that Djokovic wanted to add some extra firepower to a game built on incredible defensive skills and clinical counter-attacking.

The way Djokovic roared into the last eight in Melbourne without dropping a set — his serve appearing to have more bite and his forays to the net a little more regular — it was easy to get swept along with talk of the Becker-effect.

Djokovic said they had an "instant understanding" yet his defeat by an inspired Wawrinka, who snapped a 14-match losing run against the Serb to deprive him of a 15th straight grand slam semifinal, inevitably put the spotlight on Becker's role.

Was it the German's influence, for example, that on match point down led to Djokovic abandoning his usual dogged method of dealing with a crisis to serve-and-volley — a tactic that backfired horrendously when a routine forehand volley went wide?

Djokovic's thoughts may have been scrambled by a Wawrinka mis-hit that landed in on the previous point, or maybe the 26-year-old was just fearful of entering into a baseline rally and allowing the Swiss to offload another blistering backhand.

Vantage point
As the match wore on the camera picked out Becker regularly, applauding his man and geeing him up at crucial times.

The German still does not look entirely at home from his new vantage point at courtside, especially with Djokovic's long-time coach Marian Vajda sitting next to him.

By the end Becker looked a little flustered and more drained than during some of his ferocious battles with Lendl and Stefan Edberg, Roger Federer's new coach, back in his heyday.

Followers of the "if it's not broke, don't fix it" theory will point to Djokovic's defeat as a sign that Becker's appearance on the scene could be detrimental.

After all, the German's arrival coincides with Djokovic's first defeat at Melbourne for four years.

Yet, as Djokovic said, it was still early days.

"Well, look, you know, it has been the first official tournament for us," the number two seed told reporters after his 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 loss to eighth-seeded Wawrinka.

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