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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Novak Djokovic pulled the plug on his 2017 season to heal the right elbow injury that pained him for 18 months.

Coach Andre Agassi says if the former world No. 1 regains his health and simplifies his approach, Djokovic can put a whole world of hurt on opponents in 2018.

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Hall of Famer Agassi, who is scheduled to be by Djokovic’s side when he returns to the Australian Open in January, said if Djokovic opens his game and locks down opponents “I think you’re really gonna see something special from him.”

“Novak is one of those talents that if he feels right on the tennis court it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net,” Agassi told World Tour Challenge Adelaide, where he’s scheduled to play January 8-10th. “I was one of those players that it was about being better than one person and keeping it as simple as that and figuring out a way to just get past that.

“If you can take the talent of his magnitude, somebody who can shut down the court the way he can, that can play offense the way he can and actually get him to realize there’s another human being on the other side of the net and all you have to do is be better than that guy I think you’re really gonna see something special from him.”

Agassi’s advice echoes the instruction former coach Brad Gilbert imparted to him when he took over as coach in 1994.

It was through a dinner conversation with Gilbert that Agassi experienced an epiphany that changed his career.

In his memoir, Open, Agassi recalls a dinner with Gilbert in a Miami restaurant that convinced him to hire the Winning Ugly author as his coach based on the practical advice and motivation dispensed.

“You don’t have to be the best in the world every time you go out there,” Gilbert told Agassi. “You just have to be better than one guy. Instead of you succeeding, make him fail. Better yet, let him fail. It’s all about odds and percentages.”

Gilbert believes odds favor a Djokovic resurgence because he’s well balanced off both wings, he can take the ball on the rise like Agassi, he remains one of the best movers and highest percentage players in the sport and the resurgence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will inspire the 12-time Grand Slam champion that time is on his side.

“Really important for Djokovic to get back to what you brought up: In tennis you’ve just got to win 52 or 53 percent of the points,” Gilbert told Tennis Now. “That’s not like winning 60 or 65 percent—you’ve got to be a little bit better than the opponent and you win a huge amount of time. I think that’s something that is attainable.

“Trying to be too good sometimes can get you into trouble. I do think Djoker at 30—and he’s a young 30—seeing where Federer is 36, I think it’s just getting back to the confidence of winning week and week out and building up that equity.”

Djokovic concluded an injury-plagued 2017 campaign with a 32-8 record, including tournament titles in Doha and Eastbourne.

Remarkably, Djokovic won Eastbourne without dropping a set and did not permit a set through his first four rounds of Wimbledon. But the three-time Wimbledon champion was gritting his teeth and grimacing during medical time-outs he took in his straight sets win over Adrian Mannarino.

In the quarterfinals, a clearly compromised Djokovic retired while trailing Tomas Berdych, 7-6, 2-0.

Injury-induced inactivity has seen Djokovic’s ranking drop to No. 12—the first time in a decade he’s fallen from the Top 10.

Agassi, who like Djokovic confronted injury and motivational issues in his career, believes Djokovic is ready for a bounce-back season—if he can pursue practical problem-solving rather than perfection.

“Novak is somebody that is very familiar to me in this intersection of his life,” Agassi said. “Between what he’s capable of and where he finds himself as he has to sort of approach possibly his most accomplished phase of his life.

"I’ve been through that intersection so there’s a lot of not just problem-solving that inspires me, but helping a person that I think is an incredibly generous spirit and great for the game, has multiple wins. And so far it’s something that I’m enjoying trying to contribute.”

Djokovic, like his coach, has played his most dynamic tennis Down Under. Six of Djokovic’s 12 career Grand Slam titles have come at the Australian Open.

The Serbian's streak of 51 consecutive Grand Slam appearances—the seventh-longest streak overall—ended when he missed the US Open for the first time. Djokovic should feel less pressure returning to Melbourne where he can pick up plenty of ranking points following his second-round shock exit to wild card Denis Istomin in January.


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