MELBOURNE: World number one Rafael Nadal will attempt to dethrone Novak Djokovic and put a new wave of celebrity coaches to the test when he returns to the Australian Open next week.
Nadal missed last year’s edition during a seven-month injury break with knee trouble before making a stunning comeback to win 10 titles in 2013, including the French Open and US Open.
Now the rampant Spaniard will take aim at Djokovic’s three-year reign at Melbourne Park, the longest of the Open era, and try to avenge his epic six-hour loss to the Serb in the 2012 final.
He also arrives as the only ‘Big Four’ player without a star coach, after Djokovic and Roger Federer, aping Andy Murray’s move in hiring Ivan Lendl, hooked up with Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg respectively.
However, with Murray returning from injury and Federer now 32, the door could be open for a group of other contenders, led by Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer.
Nadal – still coached by his uncle, Toni Nadal – underwent a new but undisclosed form of treatment on his injury-prone knees in the off-season, and he appears confident he can stay healthy in 2014.
“I feel that this (treatment) really makes me feel more comfortable,” he said in Doha, where he started his season by winning the Qatar Open.
The timing of the year’s first Grand Slam, just days into the new season, also makes it unpredictable, with players not always into their rhythm and match fitness.
“It’s difficult because the Australian Open is very early. It would be better to play it a bit later,” admitted Nadal.
“It can be only the second tournament (of the year) that you are competing in, and it’s one of the most important, so it’s a bit strange.”
Djokovic to rack Becker’s brain
Becker’s first priority will be to help Djokovic gain a ‘mental edge’ when the pressure rises at the grand slams, the Australian Open champion said in Melbourne on
The 46-year-old Becker was a keen observer at the invitational Kooyong Classic, where Djokovic prepared for the heat of the year’s first grand slam with a 7-5, 6-1 exhibition victory over Argentine world number 42 Juan Monaco played out in steamy conditions.
“I’m really glad and honoured to have Boris in our team as my head coach,” said Djokovic a courtside interview.
“I sincerely hope he can bring that mental edge because he recognises the situations that one top player is facing, especially during the grand slams and the pressures and expectations, and the crunch moments.
“That’s what we’re hoping to work on and improve the most. And of course a couple of other elements of my game, I can never serve as well as he did, but I can just hope to improve.”
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