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Janko's Transformation

Australian Open Special

Tipsarevic© Getty Images / Other photos © Stefan Düll Sports-PhysiotherapyAfter 14 months in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, Serbian Janko Tipsarevic has compiled a 62-28 match record (as of 7 January 2013).

Janko Tipsarevic has undergone a career transformation over the past few years. So what has made the difference? DEUCE finds out…

Battling pre-holiday deadlines, delivery lorry drivers come and go, while construction workers transform the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex in time for the 2013 Qatar ExxonMobil Open. Shadows from skyscrapers in nearby downtown Doha, provide them respite from the heat, but only temporarily, in the evenings. Here, in mid-December, Janko Tipsarevic can be found.

After a second straight finish in the year-end Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, he has built up an appetite for hard work. Accepting an invitation from the Qatar Tennis Federation and the Smash Academy, a square mile in Doha has become Tipsarevic’s office for 14 straight days. He is relishing the off-season.

TrainingUnder the guidance of his German coach, Dirk Hordorff, he has made technical adjustments and deconstructed his defensive game alongside training partners Somdev Devvarman, Yen-Hsun Lu, Philipp Petzschner and Sergiy Stakhovsky, on the outside courts. “Offensively, he is one of the better players, quick to capitalise on half chances, but defence-wise there is a lot of things that he can improve,” Hordorff told DEUCE.

Time for a break? No. It’s Bernardo Carberol’s turn.

“15 seconds, go” shouts Carberol, his Argentinean fitness trainer, eyes on a stop watch.

Tipsarevic sets off, sprinting to the first station. The intensity is high. Once complete, he pauses for 15 seconds. Then, he races onto the next task. Quickly, he has completed two plyometric, two coordination and two running drills, simulating a game of six points. Every round lasts for three minutes or six tennis points. More often than not, Tipsarevic completes 20 circuits: two tennis sets or 60 minutes of fitness tests that condition his lithe frame.

“The exercises are the perfect workout to stimulate a match situation, starting and stopping millions of times, moving fast, being coordinated and ensuring Janko’s heart rate is up,” Carberol told DEUCE. “He is focused in every practice and he doesn’t get distracted. He is always thinking of ways to improve.”

LadderNo longer eating bread or meat, over the past 12 months, Tipsarevic has become three kilograms (seven pounds) lighter, but infinitely stronger. He still tries to steer away from long runs, favouring instead high quality on-court drills focused on leg performance and stroke technique. Distance running isn’t his forte.

By working for nine hours each day at the venue of the ATP World Tour 250 hard-court tournament, Tipsarevic is ensuring memories of a 6-3, 6-7(5), 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) loss to David Ferrer in the 2012 US Open quarter-finals do not linger. As Hordorff admits, “I was very proud of Janko, against Ferrer at the US Open, not that he lost, but the fact that it was the first time - fitness wise - he was able to play best of five sets at the top level.”

"I always knew that if I played my best tennis I was able to beat anyone."

Fitness has been a major part of this Doha camp, just as it was when Hordorff coached Rainer Schuettler. “Dirk is strict in practice and likes to set up practice goals,” Schuettler told DEUCE. “But he likes to set goals that you can reach if you work hard. This way he motivates the player.” Tipsarevic’s team are all working for better performances in 2013 at the four Grand Slam championships and improving his clay-court game.

CyclingOnly after Tipsarevic has improved his core stability with 20-minute TennisFlex sessions, completed a special stretching program and received rehabilitative training from his German physiotherapist Stefan Düll each day, can he look out across the waterfront at his hotel, the Four Seasons Doha, half a mile away, and savour his career resurrection.

So what happened?

A little over two years ago Tipsarevic floated around the Top 50, walking on a tightrope in his matches. His talent was never questioned, but, afflicted by emotional extremes, games often slipped from his grasp. Importantly, his self-belief remained intact. “I always knew that if I played my best tennis I was able to beat anyone,” Tipsarevic told DEUCE. He still held a long-term goal to reach the world’s Top 10.

DEUCE Flashback: Tipsarevic's Tightrope (December 2010)

"You can’t be a Top 10 player if you eat Nutella and bread."

Forging a “father-son relationship with Dirk”, earned Tipsarevic a solid professional relationship, but marrying Biljana Sesevic, in July 2010, has been the foundation stone of a remarkable turnaround. His wife now accompanies Tipsarevic full-time. “The bottom line is that he needed to get married earlier!” says his younger brother, Veljko, with a smile. “I am joking of course, but he became 100 per cent ‘professional’ almost too late. He started to be emotionally stable. It is a big part of a puzzle to becoming a professional tennis player. All the pieces need to come together at the right time.”

Tipsarevic’s father worked three different jobs – as a secretary at a tennis club, a racquet stringer and as physical education teacher – when Janko was growing up. “When he was 13 and 14, he went out to party with friends,” admitted Veljko. “He doesn’t go out now, but is 100 per cent professional. You can’t be a Top 10 player if you eat Nutella and bread.”

Biljana SesevicTipsarevic is clear on his reasons why he rose into the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time on 14 November 2011. “Prior to my marriage, I was living from day to day and from match to match. Sometimes, if you have that mindset you feel good or you don’t feel so good. The difference between Janko then and Janko now is that Janko back then didn’t set up straight goals. Janko right now has the full support of his wife, and is willing to do whatever it takes and isn’t worried if he fails.

“In my experience, it is always better to set up a goal; do whatever it takes and then if needs be you may fail. You then try again, and maybe fail. One of the best quotes that I ever read was from [former basketball star] Michael Jordan, who said, ‘In my life I have failed over and over and over again and that is why I have succeeded.’

“I’ve grown as a tennis player. I do not mean by the one, two, five hours I spent on a tennis court each day. Being a tennis player is not just practising from 9-11 a.m., then doing what you want the rest of the time. The difference is that if you want to become a top tennis player you need to prioritise different aspects of your life. Tennis comes as the No. 1 thing in your life. If you don’t do it like that, then you don’t deserve it.”

"He is maybe one of the best coaches of his own game among players right now."

While it took Tipsarevic until the age of 27 to break into the Top 10, he is determined to improve his current position of No. 9 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. Former World No. 1 Mats Wilander told DEUCE, “Janko knows he has the game in him now. He is maybe one of the best coaches of his own game among players right now. He corrects bad attitude, he corrects himself very quickly on the court and he talks about it openly after his matches. That has, I believe, allowed him to let his natural talent to take over.”

Tipsarevic, Chennai trophyTipsarevic, who says, “I like to feel tension and pressure,” has a 15-41 record against Top 10 opponents. After 14 months in the Top 10 – which has seen Tipsarevic compile a 62-28 match record – Wilander feels the time is right to take some calculated risks. “Hopefully, he can get closer to the Top 4,” said the Swede. “To get closer to the Top 4, he’ll have to toss the coin more often. Take a few chances, calculated risks to beat the best guys. You can’t go in with too much of a game plan.

“You cannot be thinking, ‘If I play to Andy’s [Murray] forehand, then I can…’, Wilander adds. “You have to allow yourself to, not close your eyes, but to hope this is the day that I will play great. I will back it up without getting tired, I can back it up with serving well, I can back it up with good attitude. In terms of ball striking, the Top 4 [Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Murray and Rafael Nadal] is so good that other players have to wish for a great day and allow it to happen. I think the problem is that players are so afraid of being blown off the court, if they don’t play great. I think Janko has to take that chance.”

"I now go to the court with the same emotions if I play Federer or the guy who is World No. 1000."

Just as Tipsarevic knows that Hordorff, the son of a mathematician, will be counting courtside - without a post-match stat sheet, the 56 year old immediately knows where a match is won and lost - the former world’s Top 20 backgammon player realises, “Janko’s game has stabilised and he now has the ability to use his weapons and dictate his opponent. Tipsarevic admits, “I now go to the court with the same emotions if I play Federer or the guy who is World No. 1000,” he says. “I go on court with the same amount of confidence and respect. I just try not to give anything anyway, if I don’t have to.”

Tipsarevic, Chennai celebrationTipsarevic doesn’t “just hit the ball hard and play close to the baseline” anymore. He is more disciplined in following match strategy, so lost causes can be turned around. In recovering from one-set deficits to win the semi-final and final at last week’s Aircel Chennai Open, the likeable Serbian looks set for another season of improvement.

Says his brother, Veljko, “His age isn’t the problem, believe me, because he is focused and he can rise up further in the rankings.” A few years ago, such a prospect might not have been possible. His wife provided salvation.

Editor’s Note: In 2013 the format of DEUCE changes from a four-times-a-year magazine format to a regular series of rolling features. We feel that this new format will allow us to provide you with more timely and relevant features about the stars of the ATP World Tour.

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