Obradovic: ‘Djokovic will break every conceivable record’

Bogdan Obradovic, who also happens to be the non-playing captain of the Serbian Davis Cup team, put into perspective the stunning achievements of his most famous ward, in an exclusive chat.

"Novak's season (2015) is one of the best we have seen in the Open Era," says Bogdan Obradovic.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Novak Djokovic... dream run.   -  AP

Sometime during the 2001 U.S. Open, a Serbian journalist approached Bogdan Obradovic for an interview. Back then, he was the coach of Nenad Zimonjic, the doubles specialist who would go on to capture the No. 1 ranking and win eight Grand Slam titles. During the course of the interaction, Obradovic bragged about “this one kid back home” and how he would “win the U.S. Open” and, of course, “become the World No. 1”. That interview was broadcast on Serbian national television.

Expectedly, many reckoned Obradovic had gone cuckoo. Today, nobody dare think on those lines.

With 82 wins and six defeats, 15 finals and 11 titles including three Grand Slam trophies, 31 wins over top-10 opposition, a 7,915-point lead over the player ranked No. 2 and a whopping $21.6 million in prize money — Novak Djokovic’s 2015 season was one of the best in tennis history.

Obradovic, who also happens to be the non-playing captain of the Serbian Davis Cup team, knows Djokovic and his family for nearly two decades. In an exclusive chat with Sportstar, the 49-year-old put into perspective the stunning achievements of his most famous ward. And Obradovic hasn’t a shred of doubt when he says that Djokovic will “break” every conceivable record ranging from “Roger Federer’s Grand Slam tally to his 302 weeks as No. 1”. And the French Open? “That will happen too,” he says over the phone from Belgrade, where he runs a successful academy.

For the record, Obradovic has, at some point or the other, coached every notable Serbian tennis star from Djokovic to Zimonjic, Viktor Troicki to Janko Tipsarevic, and Ana Ivanovic to Jelena Jankovic.

Happy for Djoko

“Every Serbian is happy, you see. It’s a normal feeling for us to feel happy for Novak. We are used to it now,” he says with an unmistakable chuckle. “I think if you want to compare Novak’s season with that of John McEnroe (1984) or Roger Federer (2005 and 2006), then you must take into account the fact that this is a very different era. Now, you have players playing some fantastic tennis. It is tough to break into the top 10, top 20 and even top 30. Novak’s season is one of the best we have seen in the Open Era (which began in 1968),” he adds.

They say champions don’t do different things; instead, they do things differently. “If you spend some time with Novak, you will know that he doesn’t do anything different from the rest. It’s just that he is more disciplined,” Obradovic says.

Come on, there’s got to be something more than meets the eye. You don’t dominate a sport like tennis just like that. “Actually, it’s got to do with his body. Novak has ‘elastic’ energy. When he was 13, he would practise without weights. It was all gymnastics. When you have elastic energy, your movement is special. Novak uses the power of motion to outsmart his opponents,” Obradovic says.

Going one better than Agassi

A significant aspect of Djokovic’s game is his amazing return of serve. In the 2015 season, the Serb won an impressive 33 per cent of first serve return points. This is second only to David Ferrer, who pocketed 35 per cent in 69 matches, 18 fewer than Djokovic. Talk of facing the second serve, and Djokovic’s spoils swell to a whopping 57 per cent, putting him on top of the tree. In other words, missing your first serve is a bad, bad idea while playing Djokovic.

According to Obradovic, Djokovic has “gotten where he is because he worked on it”.

“When we analysed Novak’s game a few years ago, we watched a few videos of Andre Agassi, whose return of serve was second to none. We analysed every move of Andre and helped Novak improve one or two steps further. Things like position and balance are supreme when you want to return effectively. Have a look at Novak’s videos, and you will see how he waits for the ball. That’s the difference. Novak just has that ability to judge the flight and trajectory of the ball. He just knows the ball is going to land on a particular spot. He just reacts accordingly. You can serve two, three, five or 10 aces against Novak, but the moment he gets his eye in and figures out where the ball is going to land, the opponent will lose his service rhythm. The fact is that Novak just has that extra second to react. It’s become a part of his game,” Obradovic says.

Soon after Djokovic humbled him in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals in London recently, Federer said it would be difficult for the World No. 1 to repeat the feat in 2016. But Obradovic begs to differ. “I mean Novak is making so many breakthroughs. I see him beating Roger’s records. If you ask me why, I’ll say he has no weaknesses,” he says. Isn’t that a little over the top? “No, I mean it,” he adds.

“I want to see Novak win the French Open next year. That way, he can complete the Career Slam. The French Open is the most physical Grand Slam in tennis. Novak has the game, the energy and the shots to win at Roland Garros. I expect him to keep the points short and come to net a lot more. That way, he can conserve energy for the important matches,” Obradovic says.

Wake up, rivals!

For all that talk about this being the golden generation of tennis, it is indeed baffling to see that the biggest challenger of the World No. 1 is a 34-year-old man who has been there, done that. Whatever happened to the Murrays, Nadals and Dimitrovs!

Obradovic is also surprised. “Something is going wrong with Andy. Rafa has fitness problems and we all know that. Federer is much older and his back keeps troubling him. But I do expect a lot from Andy. Right now, there’s just a huge difference in (ranking) points between Novak and the rest,” he says.

Five-million-dollar question

So, how can one beat Djokovic? That’s a million-dollar question alright, but Obradovic asks five million dollars for the answer. “I am kidding,” he is quick to add.

After a hearty laugh, he pauses for a few seconds. Having second thoughts, perhaps?

“You have to change your style of return against Novak. If he gets used to your serve, then you are in trouble because you are helping him find his rhythm. Somehow, you must make him run around the court. That apart, you must land 80 per cent of your first serves in. We know Novak is the best returner of serve in the game today. He can psyche you out by pulling off those crazy returns. In addition to that, you must know to attack his second serve. I know it’s one of the most effective second serves in the game, but that’s your only chance. You have no chance otherwise because he reacts well, concentrates hard and makes very few errors. Have you noticed that even if his first serve is poor on a given day, Novak makes up for it with an effective second serve? Nobody talks about that,” he says.

The next Novak

You can’t let Obradovic go without asking him about the next Djokovic? “The academy is good now. We are building four more courts. I hope to see some good Indian kids come and join me. By the way, there is this one kid here. He is only 13. I can say he is much better than the 13-year-old Novak Djokovic I saw in the year 2000. But I will not name him,” he says. Nobody doubts Obradovic’s foresight.

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DJOKOVIC IN 2015

* Win-loss record of 82-6

* 11 titles, including three Grand Slam trophies and six ATP Masters 1000 crowns

* Became the first player to win the Indian Wells-Miami double three times

* Won a record fourth straight ATP World Tour Finals crown

* Has been ranked No. 1 by the ATP since July 2014

* First player to top the rankings every week of the year since Federer in 2007

* Since losing to Ivo Karlovic in Doha at the start of the year, Djokovic has reached

the final of every tournament he has played in (15 in all)

* First player to reach all four Grand Slam finals in a season since Federer in 2009

* Won 90 per cent of his service games in 2015