EXCLUSIVE: Novak Djokovic’s former coach on why Serb is a step ahead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
Former US Open finalist Todd Martin believes Novak Djokovic could go down in history as the greatest player of all-time, as the CEO of International Tennis Hall of Fame suggested the champion he once coached has played the game “better than anyone else” over the last decade.
The enduring debate over who should be hailed the best player the game has seen has been the ultimate tennis talking point in an era that has seen Djokovic spar for that title with his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Yet in an exclusive interview with Tennis365, the highly-respected American believes reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Djokovic has the qualities to eventually be recognised as the ultimate tennis champion.
“Roger is the most aesthetically pleasing I have ever seen,” stated Martin, who was part of Djokovic’s coaching team in 2009 and 2010.
“He is pleasing with the serve, he is pleasing with the return, offence, defence… everything he does really looks beautiful.
“For me though, if Novak is right, if Novak is confident and comfortable with his physical status and is really focused, I’ve never seen anybody more unbeatable. This guy has played the game better than anyone else ever has, in my opinion.
“His athleticism is from another world. His return of serve is way better than any other return of serve ever and I mean way better. Nobody has gotten so many balls back and neutralised so many good serves.
“Having worked with him, when he is focused he has that I’m going through a brick wall mentality. Now he is not always focused, but when he is and we have seen this for long stretches, he doesn’t have to play great. He is that much of a fighter and thrives on it.”
Djokovic is rarely given the acclaim that is afforded to Federer and Nadal by tennis fans as he travels the world as the third member of this iconic triumvirate, but Martin insists he has grown to accept his role in the game’s narrative.
“One of the beauties of life is that life is not fair,” he continues. “Novak has worked out have to navigate being the third wheel from a public adoration standpoint. He has done that by proving that he is no third wheel from a capability standpoint.”
Martin went on to offer his views on where the current ‘Big Three’ fit into the pantheon of the game’s greats, as he offered a glowing tribute to 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras.
“What I would love to see is this group play against the group I was a part of, or the (John) McEnroe, (Jimmy) Connors, (Ivan) Lendl group,” he added. “There are certain dynamics about technology and the structure of the tour that I believe promote dominance in the sport, yet I look at Rafa, Roger and Novak and think they are a cut above as competitors.
“This sport is all about heart and mind and Pete Sampras had the most unique competitive heart and mind that I ever encountered, but nobody gave him much credit for it. They all thought he had a big serve, a big forehand and was a good athlete. Those are the second third and fourth great attributes Pete had. No 1 was he was a fighter like none other.
“I would love to see a battle Royale of the greatest competitors of our sport and frankly that is not always those who have won the most Grand Slams in our sport.”
Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer
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