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Boris Becker: Why I had to work with Novak Djokovic

By Don Riddell and James Masters, CNN
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Boris Becker hugs Novak Djokovic after the Serbian wins the first grand slam under his guidance as coach, beating Roger Federer in a thrilling Wimbledon final in July. Boris Becker hugs Novak Djokovic after the Serbian wins the first grand slam under his guidance as coach, beating Roger Federer in a thrilling Wimbledon final in July.
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  • Boris Becker says he sees a lot of Novak Djokovic in himself
  • Says he "burns like a volcano" while watching Djokovic play
  • Only decided to take role after long talks with Serbian star
  • He says fatherhood will help Djokovic blossom

Open Court is CNN's monthly tennis show. Click here for videos, news and features.

(CNN) -- At a time where former tennis greats are returning to the tour, there is one man whose presence looms large.

It was always going to take something special to lure Boris Becker away from the home comforts of his family and the sanctuary of the television studio.

But with one phone call and a glimpse at a man who made him think twice, the opportunity to work with Novak Djokovic was a challenge he could not resist.

"I see in Novak a little bit of Boris Becker," the German tells CNN's Open Court.

"I see him against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, probably the two most popular players in the world, and he doesn't always get a fair deal from the crowd.

"It makes him work even harder and more determined to win. I see some similarities between him and a young Becker."

Becker began his partnership with Djokovic in December 2013 and was courtside when the Serb star claimed his seventh grand slam title at Wimbledon in July -- one more than his coach managed during a 15-year career.

Becker, whose first of three triumphs at the All England club came as a raw teenager, was heavily criticized when he moved away from the microphone to become an integral part of Djokovic's coaching set up.

His former rival Stefan Edberg joined forces with Federer around the same time, while Ivan Lendl -- another star of their era -- enjoyed a successful spell working alongside Andy Murray before they split in March.

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But it was Becker's arrival that caught the headlines.

The 46-year-old says he could not turn down the offer -- especially given the similarities he saw between Djokovic, now 27, and his younger self.

"I live with Novak. Whenever he makes a mistake I feel that I make it too," Becker says. "Whenever he hits an ace, I feel like I've hit an ace.

"I have to keep my poker face and have a very cool demeanor. He's looking at us up in the box and we have to give him confidence.

"Inside it's a volcano, I'm burning. After matches he needs to take a quiet minute to relax -- I need to take one too!"

Becker burst onto the scene by winning Wimbledon at the tender age of 17 and repeating the feat the following year, becoming known as "Boom Boom" for his ferocious serve-and-volley game.

A U.S. Open triumph in 1989 and two Australian Open crowns capped a fine career in which he won 64 ATP titles, earning $25 million in prize money.

But since his retirement in 1999, Becker's main contribution to tennis has been through his television work.

It is something he enjoys immensely, his enthusiasm laid bare for all to see every time he picks up a microphone.

While Becker received a couple of phone calls from players curious as to whether he would be willing to take up a coaching role, it was only once Djokovic got in touch that he began to consider moving back onto the circuit.

But even then, Becker needed reassuring -- he had to know what was driving Djokovic.

"I have a pretty successful second career which is nothing to do with tennis or sport so I was already on the road for so many years, so I thought, why bother?" he says.

"But Novak called me and I told him I felt honored. I told him I appreciated that he remembered me and that I could bring something he didn't have yet.

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"I considered going back on the road but I wanted to talk to him first to see how driven he was.

"I didn't want to spend weeks with him away from my wife and kids if he wasn't driven.

"I go on the road because I want to win the majors and not being happy with the quarters or the semis. He had the same mindset and that's why I felt it was the right decision."

Becker's presence at the 2014 Australian Open sparked much interest.

Djokovic, having won the title on each of his three previous visits to Melbourne Park, was dethroned by eventual winner Stan Wawrinka 9-7 in the fifth set of their quarterfinal.

That result sparked skepticism over Becker's appointment, though he dismissed that as "part of being Boris Becker."

Instead, Becker believes the defeat to Wawrinka allowed them time to assess which way they needed to go, and allowed him to begin to influence the Serbian's game -- especially the mental side.

Defeats in the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S Open in 2013 and the 2014 French Open had left question marks over Djokovic's morale, but Becker believes any doubts have since been erased.

"I was known to be a pretty hard-nosed guy on court with a very strong mentality," he adds.

"I was a fighter's player. Maybe I wasn't the quickest or most talented but I put all my character into the match.

"Maybe that was something he was looking for. He's so talented and physically he's amazing, maybe that was the one part he was lacking.

"I think that's why we gel and get along. I have something he doesn't have, he certainly has things I don't have anymore, and I think that's a foundation of our relationship."

Djokovic will start his 2014 U.S. Open campaign next week hoping to secure a second victory at Flushing Meadows to his growing list of triumphs, having lost in the last two finals there.

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Since Wimbledon, and his wedding, top-ranked Djokovic has struggled in the North American hard-court swing.

A heavy defeat by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Rogers Cup was followed by a shock loss against world No. 18 Tommy Robredo in Cincinnati last week -- a result which has cast doubt over whether he will be ready for the final grand slam of the season.

But with Nadal ruled out of the tournament with injury, Djokovic will still be confident of reaching the final, especially with Becker by his side.

"Novak is a great student given he's someone who has won so much already," says Becker.

"He's been world No. 1, is a multiple grand slam winner and is a very rich man. He really wants to learn, wants to get better and be in the history books of tennis.

"He had a dream, coming from very humble beginnings. His parents gave everything for their children and he feels he has a very big responsibility to give everything he has and eventually give back to his family.

"That's what makes him tick. He's much more mature than normal 27-year-olds often come across as."

That maturity is also in evidence off the court following Djokovic's marriage to long-term girlfriend Jelena Ristic and the imminent arrival of their first child.

Becker believes fatherhood will only enhance Djokovic's game and says children can have a positive effect on a player's psyche both on and off the court.

"It changed me for the better," says Becker, who has children by both his first and second wives.

"It changed Roger Federer for the better and gave him a new zest for life. A tennis player's life is sometimes very lonely but to have your wife and kid with you sometimes gives you a better quality of life.

"There's something to go back to after practice or a match. It gave me another three or four years on my career and I think it will do the same for Novak.

"He's a true family man. He loves his wife and family more than anything in the world, and having that addition to his family will make him a better man."

Read: Becker stunned by criticism

Read: Djokovic suffers new setback

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