Ivanisevic Reveals When 'The New Novak Djokovic Arrived'
Novak Djokovic’s fate in the Nitto ATP Finals was out of his hands when Holger Rune played Jannik Sinner in the final Green Group match. Had Rune won, the Dane would have made the semi-finals and Djokovic would have been eliminated. When Sinner won that match in three sets, Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, had full confidence in his charge.
“I have to thank Jannik a little bit that he gave us a little help and push for him to be in the semi-finals. But I knew as soon as he got into the semi-final, he's going to win the tournament,” Ivanisevic said. “The mentality changed. The new Novak Djokovic arrived on the court from Saturday. When real Novak Djokovic arrives on the court, then [in that] moment [there] is nobody that can play with him.”
Djokovic went 2-1 in round-robin play and needed three sets in all three of his matches. But facing World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals and the player who defeated him in group play, Sinner, for the title, the Serbian found a new gear.
The 36-year-old did not lose more than three games in a set against either man en route to his record seventh Nitto ATP Finals title. Ivanisevic knew right away his mentality had shifted.
“I can see in his eyes, in his approach when he comes to the small locker room, when he comes to the practice court. Warm-up was different. Warm-up was positive. When he entered the court against Alcaraz the first time this week, he was from the first point pumping himself [up], pumping his fist. He was very positive in a way,” Ivanisevic said. “Even if Alcaraz didn't play unbelievable tennis — he was missing a lot for his standards — even if Alcaraz plays with the left hand, you couldn't beat him 6-3, 6-2.
“You could see in his eyes. It's very tough to beat Novak twice in one week in the same tournament. Today was a completely different match, completely different. Tactically Novak played completely different than on Tuesday.”
That does not mean the week was easy. In fact, Ivanisevic revealed that for a while Djokovic’s team did not hear from the World No. 1 after he lost to Sinner.
“It’s not easy to deal with him when he's losing the match. On Tuesday night, he finished late. On Wednesday we didn't see him at all. Until Thursday we didn't know what's happening, to be honest,” Ivanisevic said. “We were in the room. We didn't know if we are going home, if we are going to the warm-up against Hurkacz. We were sitting, sitting. We finally find out that he's going to play.”
Djokovic found imperious form in the knockout stage. He did not lose serve against Alcaraz or Sinner, saving all six break points he faced against them combined. According to Ivanisevic, the 98-time tour-level champion is always on the quest for a higher level.
“It's very tough to improve with him,” Ivanisevic said, cracking a smile. “But he wants to improve. That's the good thing and bad thing for me as a coach and the rest of the team. I think he improved a lot his volleys, his game at the net, and his position at the net. Now when he comes to the net — OK, today he missed some easy volleys — but generally this week and this year he plays some amazing volleys.
“His position at the net is a lot better. It’s very tough to pass him. Before he was very easy to pass. Now he knows what he's doing at the net. He's comfortable at the net. In the final of the US Open he played two, three [very] important volleys against Medvedev. He's not afraid to come to the net. He's hitting the forehands much, much harder. He's going for the shots. Serving, I think second serve, sometimes he's hitting over 200 [kph]. He's just going for it.”