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September 3, 2009 - Djokovic likes what he sees in Martin
   

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By Charles Bricker

Novak Djokovic, who doesn't always make the most intelligent decisions on court, has done everything right thus far for this U.S. Open, including the hiring of Todd Martin as a sort of co-coach or consultant or whatever they're calling it over in the Serbian's camp.

I'm not saying his flying start through two rounds, in which he hasn't been broken and faced only one break point in 27 service games, is related to the extremely wise decision to bring Martin into his mix. It's a bit too early to connect those dots. But it's also got to be more than coincidence.

Among Martin's most important jobs is to complete Djokovic -- to supplement his extraordinary ground game, his excellent defense, his athletic ability and is potentially lethal serving with the transition game that has been lacking since he came on tour.

That's not going to happen in one fortnight, though Djokovic seems headed in the right direction. He was inside the service line 11 times in his opening round win over Ivan Ljubicic, winning seven of those points, and 13-for-16 against Carston Ball this afternoon.

If it's going to take time and effort to get Nole the repetitions he needs to become a dangerous player around the net -- indeed to get his too often reluctant body TO the net -- it hasn't taken Martin long to drive some confidence into Djokovic's wandering brain.

He's looked quite spectacular in the opening two rounds, though let's not get overly excited about this second-round win. A win over No. 166 Ball and a buck sixty five will get you a coffee at Starbucks, and that's all.

But if it's wins Djokovic needs to get him into the right frame of mind for the second week, he's probably going to get them. He's lined up next against former University of Kentucky player Jesse Witten of Naples, Fl., which should be another snap win. After that, it's the winner of Philipp Kohlscreiber-Radek Stepanek match, which will be his first real test.

Nolo holds a 3-1 lifetime edge over Stepeanek and one of those wins was an epic four-hour and 41-minute win in the second round of the 2007 U.S. Open. He's 1-1 with Kohlscreiber, who dunked Djokovic out of the French Open this year with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win in the third round.

The hiring of Martin appears to have given Djokovic an instant mental boost and it is to his credit that after a couple of years of waffling around he's finally come to the realization that he doesn't have the complete package to take him to No. 1.

While Martin doesn't have a lot of ATP coaching experience (he's worked with Mardy Fish), he has almost infinite knowledge of the game. He's one of the true intellects in tennis and his sly, teasing sense of humor dovetails beautifully with Djokovic's own sort of loose personality.

What Todd can do for him is not just give him a transition game, but help him understand positioning when he comes to net . . . how to read passing shots off his opponent's posture . . . how to improve his slice serve into the deuce court, which was a Martin specialty . . . and how to better prepare for opponents.

With one Grand Slam title (Australia) and a finalist finish at the U.S. Open, it's evident Djokovic has enough game to win another major. But the consistency has not been there. One tournament he looks unbeatable. The next, he's in a defensive shell or clearly not trusting his best shots.

This relationship with Martin is going to be tested through the Open and, if they're comfortable with each other, will go at least until the end of the year.

I'm not sure how much of a commitment Martin wants to make here because he's married with three small children, and this is a very committed family man living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl., not far from the U.S. headquarters of the ATP.

"Todd, being a top five player and playing a couple of Grand Slam final, is very respected in tennis, and he's a person who can help me a lot in many ways," Djokovic summed it up. "He's brought a freshness to our team, which is always welcome. So far, things have been functioning quite well for all of us."

Let's talk further about this after the Open.

Charles Bricker can be reached at bricker@tennisnews.com




 

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