Federer and Djokovic, side by side (video)


INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The BNP Paribas Open was the first tournament to understand and exploit the fact that non-diehard tennis fans want to watch the stars, above all else.

Those fans make up the bulk of the tickets sold at any big tournament. If only the diehards attended, you wouldn’t see these types of crowds. That’s why this event and so many others work hard to turn the tennis event into an overall “experience.”

Many of those casual fans – and, of course, the fans of particular players – would rather watch the big guns practice than take in a spellbinding three-setter between two players they don’t know as well.

The players also are in a more relaxed frame of mind, and more willing to engage with those watching on.

Not only are the Indian Wells stands set up around the practice courts for that purpose (a model copied by many other events now, including the US Open), the bonus is that best male players will typically hit on the two front practice courts.


(Maria Sharapova, Venus and Serena Williams almost always opt for Practice Court 9. That court is all the way in the corner of the complex, and in a spot where the fans are roped off one practice court away. Sometimes, they will refuse the media access, as well – depending on their mood).

A Friday double delight

On Friday, on Practice Courts 1 and 2, there was double trouble.

First Novak Djokovic came out with Lucas Pouille.

Then, half an hour later, Roger Federer came out with Diego Schwartzman.

(As it happens, because of Saturday night’s rainout, Djokovic and Federer were scheduled back to back on Sunday, as they make their 2018 Indian Wells debuts. Djokovic went down to Japan’s Taro Daniel. And then Federer took the court to complete his match against Federico Delbonis of Argentina).

Here’s what it looks like when two superstars are side-by-side.

Standing-room only – and even then

The stands were packed well in in advance.

And you can see by the video that they were jammed into every possible corner and peering over fences everywhere, some on their tippy-toes.

There were both kinds of fans. Djokovic has his crew. And there were also Federer fans in the crowd who arrived early to get a hard-to-snag seat.

It’s not something you get to see often. And it’s no wonder that so many took a pass on the actual match action for a few hours to watch it.

In the absence of Rafael Nadal, these two are it as far as the rock stars of the men’s circuit at this year’s BNP Paribas Open (with no offense intended to the rest of the players in the draw).

Needless to say, the two were much in demand from autograph seekers after their practice.

We’ll have more video on that later today.

With Djokovic already eliminated, there won’t be any more such opportunities this year.

Sniffly Djokovic has a hit (video)


INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Novak Djokovic will face a qualifier when he returns to action this weekend for the first time since the Australian Open.

In the meantime, he’ll have a few days to take care of a cold he picked up somewhere along the road.

Djokovic, who practiced with South African Kevin Anderson Thursday, sounded pretty congested. You could hear his breathing in that way you can when someone is stuffed up.

And he was blowing his nose enough that he brought tissues with him on the court, in his pocket, for easy access even between games or points.

(Note: this is not an official medical diagnosis. Tennis.Life doesn’t even play a doctor on the web).

It didn’t seem like anything major. Certainly nothing that greatly affected his stamina during practice points. 

Here’s what it looked like.

Lucky 13?

Djokovic’s ranking stands at No. 13, a consequence of his long absence in the second half of 2017 because of a persistent elbow issue. He dropped out of the top 10 in November for the first time since he entered it all the way back in March 2007.

He has played just four matches in 2018, all of them at the Australian Open and underwent what he termed a “small intervention” on his troublesome elbow in early February.

There was no way to know if he could return in time for the two big Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. But here he is, after stopping off to train with mentor Andre Agassi in Las Vegas.

Agassi was not on hand for the practice session Thursday.


The Serb will face the winner of a first-round match between British lefty Cameron Norrie and New York City-born Japanese player Taro Daniel. After that, it could be Kei Nishikori, who was out even longer than Djokovic (he missed the Australian Open as well) with a wrist problem and has watched his ranking fall to No. 25.

Looming further down the road is No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro, a form player coming into Indian Wells after his title in Acapulco last week.

Djokovic is defending only 90 points from his third-round effort at Indian Wells a year ago, and no points from Miami. He withdrew from that tournament a year ago with the elbow issue.

Djokovic communing with nature in Italy


As Novak Djokovic convalesces from the procedure he had done a week ago, he’s with his family communing with nature in Val Gardena, Italy.

“I grew up on the mountain, but I went around Europe to ski in my life on several mountains, but I’ve never seen something like this. So, so beautiful,” he said.

Djokovic is entered at Indian Wells. So was Andy Murray, who had hip surgery in January. Murray has since withdrawn.

Both, as of this year, meet all three criteria (age, matches, longevity) to no longer have any Masters 1000 events be mandatory.

Nadal the last “comeback kid” standing


MELBOURNE, Australia – There was pain, but Novak Djokovic was hoping he could get through it.

He didn’t want to take away from the effort by Hyeon Chung, “the credit that he deserves”, as the 21-year-old advanced to the Australian Open quarterfinals with a 7-6 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory over the six-time Australian Open champion Monday night.

“I mean, I had a terrible start. Double break down, managed to come back. Probably the first set tiebreaker, he just was mentally tough and patient. The second set also he was up. I think the entire match I was trying to come back and chase him. He was always ahead,” Djokovic said.

But the pain was there. And going forward, Djokovic must reassess.

“I have to say I’m very grateful I had the chance to play. I didn’t know if I’m going to play or not. So I played four matches here. … It’s disappointing to go out in the fourth round. The circumstances are such. I have to accept it. That’s the reality,” Djokovic said.

Mixed bag for returning players

So the final tally is in, in terms of the top-five players who at first were to be welcomed back to the court here, only to drop off the charts one by one.

Rafael Nadal has gone further than any, with his quarterfinal match against No. 6 seed Marin Cilic scheduled for Tuesday night. Djokovic reached the fourth round.

Milos Raonic, seemingly healthy enough after wrist and knee issues in 2017 but short on match play, fell to Lukas Lacko of Slovakia in a close four-setter in the first round that could have gone the other way, had Raonic more fitness under his belt.

Andy Murray came to Australia, practiced but in the end, had hip surgery in Melbourne rather than compete in the tournament. Kei Nishikori never made the trip, choosing to start his season this week at a Challenger in Newport Beach, Calif.

In Djokovic’s case, he has given his elbow injury time. He opted for the rest and rehab route, in an effort to avoid surgery.

It’s a common route; no matter how simple or how successful the surgery, the affected part is never the same as it was. If you can avoid it, you do as a matter of course.

But Murray tried that route with his hip (and with his back before that). But it didn’t work; he had surgery last week.

Maria Sharapova lost nearly a year with pain, multiple medical opinions, rest, and rehab before finally having shoulder surgery all those years ago.

Nishikori went that route with his wrist. But the Japanese star won’t know if the course he chose was the proper one until he gets some matches under his belt.

Djokovic is understandably frustrated that the elbow pain has returned, that it hasn’t healed despite all the time he’s devoted to it and how much time he’s missed.

He did, however, get through three best-of-five set matches in the tournament, after being unsure if he’d even take the court for his first-round match.

But after the defeat, Djokovic was unsure of his next move.

“I really don’t know. Now I don’t know. I have to reassess everything with my team, medical team, coaches and everybody, scan it, see what the situation is like,” he said. “Last couple weeks I played a lot of tennis. Let’s see what’s happening inside.”

For patient fans, Djokovic worth the wait


MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic arrived at his practice court about an hour later than scheduled Sunday.

But the large group of Djokovic fans who waited patiently were well rewarded.

A whole lot of things happened within the space of about an hour, all of them good things.

First, there was a Boris Becker sighting. And Djokovic had bro hugs and all the love for his former mentor.

New mentor Andre Agassi also showed Becker the love. And new coach Radek Stepanek showed his love by poking fun at Becker’s distinctive service motion.

There were a lot of coaches, a few Grand Slam titles as well.

(Warning, lots of Djoker pics below).

Coaches all over the place

And then, there was the hitting of the tennis balls. For that purpose, Djokovic had two young Aussie kids on the other side of the net. 

They kept up well with him, except … they really couldn’t touch his serve. Not the first serve, not the second serve. After awhile they got their rackets on a few. But it was truly beyond their ken.

After that, it was time for some team bocce.

Becker was invited on court for that little contest, which consisted of of tossing the ball and trying to be the one who got it closest to the baseline.

None of the former players won, despite a variety of techniques. Agassi used his left arm. The winner was his physio, Marco Panichi.

After a little team group hug, it was on to the fan portion of the hour.

Babies and little boys and smiles

It’s no secret that bringing an adorable baby is a great move if you want to get a professional athlete’s attention. And Djokovic was no exception.

He immediately took the baby girl from her father’s arms (trusting a total stranger with your baby because they’re famous is this thing that some people can do), and posed with her for dad.

Then he lifted a young boy right over the fence and had a hit with him – and Djokovic provided his own Head racket for that purpose.

Djokovic does this regularly. The kid was in absolute heaven when he finished off the final point with an emphatic overhead.

It turns out that new coach Stepanek has an alternate duty – souvenir distribution. The Czech followed DJokovic as he made his way down the crowd line with a Vegemite drawstring bag full of ballcaps – with Novak Djokovic and Lacoste logos. 

Hello, Schatzi!

One final duty – an interview with Becker on Eurosport, where Djokovic proceeded to explain that he calls Becker “Schatzi” – a term of endearment. 

The hour of love definitely put some good karma on Djokovic’s side.

He made a lot of people happy.

Djokovic’s fourth-round match is a tough test. The Serb will play Next-Gen finals champion Hyeon Chung during the night session on Rod Laver Monday night (7 p.m. Australian time; 3 a.m. EST and midnight PST back in North America)

Team Nole > Team JuJu


MELBOURNE, Australia – When one player on a warmup court has a team, and the other is flying solo, the logistics get a little complicated.

So as Novak Djokovic huddled with his group, French veteran Julien Benneteau, who will play No. 7 seed David Goffin on Show Court 2 as Djokovic takes on Benneteau’s countryman Gaël Monfils on Rod Laver arena, just hung out with his own fine self.

Djokovic mentor Andre Agassi, who misses nothing, quickly realized that without a few team members to pick up the flying balls, they were all going to end up on Benneteau’s side of the court.


So he trotted over to do his part on Benneteau’s side.

There were a lot of Djokovic fans on hand, as usual. But not as many as usual; the extreme heat has kept the numbers from hitting the back side of the Melbourne Park complex as diligently as they normally would.

After a long group hug, they were done.


Djokovic, Wawrinka make successful returns


MELBOURNE, Australia – If they didn’t pull out of the Australian Open before it even began, it was because both former champions felt they could be competitive.

But after six months away, there was no way for Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka to know exactly how their bodies and minds would react to getting back on the match court at a Grand Slam, in a best-of-five set situation.

Both came through beautifully in their first-round matches Tuesday.

Djokovic’s modified service motion cost him no velocity and little of its former effectiveness in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory over American lefty Donald Young.

Wawrinka, facing a harder hitter in Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, dropped the third set but still pulled through 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (2).

Djokovic sharing the love

After he sealed the deal, the six-time Australian Open champion Djokovic dropped to his knees to and showed his appreciation for the Rod Laver Arena center court that has been so good to him.

“I just tried to embrace whatever emotions are coming, but at the same time trying to focus myself as much as I can on the present moment,” Djokovic said. “Well, the first two sets went extremely well, considering that I haven’t played for six months. The third was, you know, up and down a little bit, but in general was a great performance.”

Some pain, but it was victory pain

The scar on Wawrinka’s knee was a little jarring. But it held up during a four-set win Tuesday against Ricardas Berankis.

Wawrinka was quietly emotional.

He also didn’t necessarily pull up as well physically as Djokovic did. But that was to be expected.

“It’s great to be back. It’s great to win, for sure. Was a tough one in all aspect of the game, of the energy. But in general, I’m really happy to get through a match like that, to fight the way I did today, to win the match like this,” Wawrinka said. 

“As I say, I still have some pain. It depends the way I’m moving, how I push on it. In general, it’s going the right direction. That’s the best news. To see that the knee is keeping it, that I can play a match with the stress, back being tight, with hesitation. The knee that doesn’t move even after three hours, so that’s great.”

Photos: Djoker and Deliciano


MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic needed a lefty to practice with ahead of his first-round matchup Tuesday against American southpaw Donald Young.

Who better than Feliciano Lopez, really?

Djokovic’s mentor Andre Agassi has played Lopez, who is 36 and has been around a loooong time.

At one point during a very lighthearted practice Monday at the Australian Open, Agassi started firing balls as hard as he could for Lopez to try to defend. Which cracked everyone up.

And when it began to mist pretty heavily, Agassi yelled out “Just like Hamburg!”, explaining to Djokovic and Stepanek that he and Lopez had played a match there.

In fact, it was the third and final time they met – and the only time Lopez managed to pull out a win.

Smiles, smiles and more smiles

Everyone is in a good mood at a Grand Slam before the thing actually starts. Obviously – no one has lost yet.

But this practice was particularly smiley.

Lopez can look like the world is about to come to an end when he’s playing a match. But in recent years he’s been in much better spirits on the practice court. The previous day, hitting with American Jared Donaldson, there was a lot of spirited NFL football talk.

It turns out Lopez is a huge Tom Brady fan.

On the Djokovic side, there wasn’t a single grimace or awkward-looking stroke that might cause concern for his ailing elbow during the time tennis.life was on hand.

These aren’t match conditions, though. The test comes Tuesday against Young.

That match will be Djokovic’s first official match since last year’s Wimbledon.

New serve motion as Djokovic returns


MELBOURNE, Australia – It’s been six months since Novak Djokovic played his last competitive tennis match, at Wimbledon.

As he returns for the Australian Open, not healed but definitely hungry, he looks the same, mostly.

But there’s concrete evidence of the 18 months spent dealing with an elbow injury. And in order to return and be effective, Djokovic had to adjust his service motion. 

It’s not a major change, more of a tweak. But this far into a career, even a tweak involves going against years of muscle memory.

“It was obviously the part of my game that I had to address because of the elbow issues. I’ve worked on it for last couple months with Radek and Andre,” Djokovic said Saturday during his pre-tournament press conference.

“Even though the service motion comparing to the old one, it’s not entirely different, but at the beginning even those small tweaks and changes have made a lot of difference mentally. I needed time to kind of get used to that change, understand whether that’s good or not good for me.”

Djokovic has played practice sets with the new serve. But he has only played one semi-serious match – at the Kooyong exhibition against Dominic Thiem. 

He also has been wearing a Milos Raonic-type sleeve (flesh colour, sort of) on his right arm.

Shorter motion, less load on elbow

The goal of the change is to try to release the load from the vulnerable elbow, make the serve more efficient. 

The effects of the new team, led by Agassi, shine through in the analysis and evaluation of how best to get back on court and compete.

Mentor Andre Agassi, whose presence in Australia had been in doubt, arrived Saturday and hit the court on Rod Laver Arena with his charge.

Agassi himself used an abbreviated service motion for awhile early in his carer, after suffering a wrist injury. Djokovic said he, Agassi and coach Radek Stepanek spent “a lot of hours” analyzing his serve. 

“There are three, four details, things, that I’ve changed with my rotation, the elbow up, which is the most obvious one. I feel like I spend less energy but I’m more efficient. I’m really looking forward to try out my new serve here,” Djokovic said. 

The rumours (and reports) out there that Djokovic had surgery on his elbow were inaccurate. But Djokovic said he’d been dealing with it for a year, a year and a half.

Painful, and then too painful

Until Wimbledon, it was manageable. At Wimbledon, it crossed the threshold into unbearable.

Djokovic’s new abbreviated serve motion, he hopes, will take some of the load off the wonky elbow.

“In consultations with doctors, it was quite clear, you know, what is going on. The next six months, I won’t play, regardless of how fast or slow the recovery goes,” Djokovic said. “Everybody goes through some level of pain daily more or less. This was quite a major injury.”

Djokovic said that with the whirlwind of the last few years he had been “discreetly wishing” he had more time to himself. He got it. He was able to be with wife Jelena when she had their daughter, refresh his mind – and get caught up on life. 

He realized during the period a few weeks ago where he withdrew from the Abu Dhabi exhibition and the ATP Tour event in Doha that the elbow just wasn’t ready for a tournament load. But until then, he didn’t even know if he was going to come down to Australia and play.

The determination, after what Djokovic termed “long and very thorough consultations with my team and doctors, orthopedic specialists” was that even if the elbow wasn’t healed, it was getting better every day, and it was at a level where he could compete.

After six months out, a return

What he doesn’t know is how it’s going to react to real competition, after six months without it – by far the longest stretch of time in his entire life that he hasn’t been on the competitive tennis court.

Djokovic hung out with superheroes on Kids’ Day at the Australian Open Saturday.

Djokovic, who wouldn’t give any details about precisely what the elbow injury was, wouldn’t say whether he had any injections to speed up the healing process in time for Australia. “There was a lot of things that were on the table, that we’ve done, things that we haven’t done. To take you through the whole process, we need quite a bit of time,” he said. “I’m here. I’m going to play. Hopefully everything goes well.”

But … Djokovic also said that there were some long-term options on the table (which could include surgery) that he and his team will go back and revisit, once the Australian Open is over.

So the bottom line is that Djokovic is far from out of the woods.

But he’s here. That’s already a step forward.

The No. 14 seed starts his campaign Tuesday against American lefty Donald Young.

Agassi arrives, as Team Nole is complete (video)


MELBOURNE, Australia – There were questions as recently as last weekend about whether mentor Andre Agassi would make the trip Down Under to join Novak Djokovic as he returned to action at the Australian Open.

First, it wasn’t 100 per cent certain Djokovic would play, after withdrawing from the exhibition in Abu Dhabi as well as the ATP Tour event in Doha.

And Agassi suffered a snowboarding accident over the holidays. He, too, had a tournament commitment with the exhibition in Adelaide. And he had to pull out of that.

But there he was, Saturday afternoon, back with Djokovic and new coach Radek Stepanek on Rod Laver Arena.

Here’s some video of Djokovic’s practice.

Agassi has other business in Melbourne, of course. As an ambassador for Lavazza coffee, his face is splashed around town in supersized form.


(We’ll test out the outrageous claim this promotional poster makes, and get back to you about any life changes therein experienced).

(Video courtesy of Tennis Australia)