DUBAI (Reuters) - Coach Boris Becker can help Novak Djokovic acquire a greater mental toughness to better his recent record in grand slam finals, the Serb said ahead of the Dubai Championships which begin on Monday.
The world number two will return to action this week in what will be his first appearance since a bid for a fourth straight Australian Open title ended in a quarter-final defeat to eventual champion Stanislas Wawrinka.
That was Djokovic’s debut tournament under German Becker’s tutelage, whom he hired in December after twice losing grand slam finals to Spain’s Rafael Nadal (U.S. Open) and Britain’s Andy Murray (Wimbledon).
“We’re not significantly changing anything in my game... no one-handed backhands, stuff like that,” six-time grand slam winner Djokovic told reporters on Sunday.
”The biggest part he can contribute is the mental approach.
”That’s one of the reasons Boris is here, because of the big matches and grand slams. I felt I dropped two or three titles in the last two years I could have won.
“I felt there was a mental edge I was lacking.”
Djokovic, who will play Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin in Dubai’s first round as he looks to defend his 2013 title, said Becker’s serve and volley playing style would help him advance from his preferred position on the baseline.
“I have been working on that in the last year and a half. Trying to use the opportunity presented because of my ground strokes to come to the net and end the point.” he added.
Djokovic faces a potential Dubai semi-final against Roger Federer and the seventeen-time grand slam winner was in a bullish mood ahead of his return to the Aviation Stadium.
“I feel my best tennis is around the corner. I’ve said that quite a few times, but I feel this time it’s really the case,” Federer told reporters.
“I wake up with zero pain. I‘m excited playing tournaments.”
The Swiss has dominated the sport in the previous decade holding the number one ranking for a record 237 consecutive weeks.
But the past few years have been harder going for a player many consider the greatest ever with the 32-year-old slipping down the rankings to world number eight.
His enthusiasm however remains undimmed, even after a straight sets defeat to long-time rival Nadal in the semi-finals of January’s Australian Open.
“What was very encouraging was my off-season, I trained really hard in Dubai for a month,” said the Swiss, who will begin his quest for a sixth Dubai crown with a first round match against Germany’s Benjamin Becker.
“That was key, for me to know my body was able to handle that stress level. For that reason I‘m confident for the year.”
Federer’s commitment is all the more remarkable considering he is father to twin girls and will become a dad for a third time later this year.
“They are coming to matches from time to time, depending on the stadiums,” said Federer.
“In the beginning it was very much different, you’re not as flexible and can’t just change flight tickets or just leave after you lost. It’s almost better to stay on the road.”
Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina and world number six Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic complete the top four seeds in Dubai.
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Reporting by Matt Smith; editing by Mark Pangallo