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Monday, January 13, 2014
Djoker impresses new coach Becker

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- If Novak Djokovic was trying to impress his new coach, Boris Becker, as Andy Murray suggested he might, the four-time Australian Open champion undoubtedly pulled it off with his 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-1 victory over Lukas Lacko on Monday night.

But then Djokovic's on-court, postmatch interview with former champ Jim Courier, commentating for Australian TV, accomplished that as well.

Bantering with Courier about his recent engagement and his 23-match winning streak since his proposal, Djokovic was in a good mood after notching a win in his first "official" match since hiring Becker, who laughed hard from his courtside seat and exchanged fist bumps with his new team members.

Novak Djokovic
So far, so good for Novak Djokovic under the behest of Boris Becker.
Murray, whose coach is former champion Ivan Lendl, said trying to gain approval from a new coach who was also a great player himself, particularly in the first few months, is like impressing a new girlfriend.

"I guess that's natural," Murray cracked.

Djokovic said he hopes Becker, a former six-time Grand Slam champion, will give him a "mental edge" and an "aggressive mindset," particularly in the late stages of the biggest tournaments.

He called himself "a bit rusty," and Djokovic's aggressive play against the 96th-ranked player in the world did not always translate to his best play with 40 winners against 30 unforced errors. But it was good enough for the No. 2 seed and three-time defending champ, who kicked off a Day 1 night session that also included top-seeded Serena Williams' 6-2, 6-1 victory over 17-year-old Australian Ashleigh Barty.

Drama on Monday night came in the first significant upset of the tournament, as Thailand's Luksika Kumkhum defeated sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. For the 2011 Wimbledon champion, it was her first Grand Slam loss since the US Open the same year.

Luksika, playing in just her second Grand Slam tournament, reached the second round here last year.

Seventh-seeded Sara Errani also lost on Day 1, falling to Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-2. Goerges won decisively in just 1 hour, 17 minutes.

Also advancing Monday was American Alison Riske, ranked 53rd, who defeated 28th-ranked Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-2. Riske, in the same quarter of the draw as Luksika, would meet her in the fourth round if both survive.

If Barty had dreams of pulling off a miracle before her home fans, that notion was put to rest in a crisp 57 minutes against Williams. The American is looking for her first title here in four years and her 18th career Grand Slam win, which would tie her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth place all time.

"I don't think 'disappointed' is the right word," Barty said. "It was a fantastic experience for me. I think Serena really showed why she's one of the greatest champions of all time. I mean, it was an absolute pleasure to be out there and have the chance to play against her."

Serena Williams
Serena Williams' first-round match went just as we thought it would.
Williams looks to be continuing where she left off in 2013, when she went 78-4 with 11 titles, including the French and US Opens. Against Barty, Williams entertained herself by coming to the net 11 times in the brief match. Beyond that, her goals are simple.

"I just don't want to get in my own way," she said when asked what concerns her about the tournament. "I just have to stay out of my way, and I'll be fine."

For those expecting Djokovic to start serving and volleying more under Becker's direction, the influence likely will be subtler than that. Against Lacko, Djokovic won 8 of 9 points at the net compared to 58 of 101 from the baseline.

But Djokovic, who has made a career of grinding through epically long matches, would not mind tapping into another champion's "mental point of view," in the same way Murray counts on Lendl and Roger Federer hopes to get from new coach Stefan Edberg.

Djokovic first contacted Becker in September after his finals loss to Rafael Nadal, who also took his No. 1 ranking. From that point until the end of the year, Djokovic won 20 straight matches and four straight titles, including a straight-sets win over Nadal in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals.

He said Monday night that he does not expect an extended feeling-out process with Becker.

"We both hope to get the right benefits and the right results right away here in Australia," Djokovic said. "We worked very hard during the last four weeks. We believe that hard work will pay off, as it was the case in the past.

"He definitely has great observations on my game, on tennis in general."

Although Djokovic acknowledged on the eve of the tournament that any changes in life carry risk, he took exception to the concept of fearing change.

"I'm not thinking about fears at all, to be honest," he said. "I'm trying to always look on the brighter side. … I'm sure that he can bring a lot to not just myself but to the team in general from different perspectives.

"Obviously you can always look on the negative side, right? Life is changing. Life is evolving. I believe that I made a right decision. That's what matters to me."