'I'm no cheat' insists Djokovic
Defending champion forced to deny Becker's claim that he gets coaching during matches
Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30
When Novak Djokovic imagined his VIP arrival at the All England Club this week to defend his Wimbledon title, he probably did not guess that the first big serve he would have to return would be a cheating row that's been stirred up by his own coach Boris Becker.
Yet that was the key issue in Djokovic's opening press conference yesterday as the world No 1 was asked to respond to Becker's claims - broadcast in a recent interview with BBC Radio - that he looks to his player's box for reassurance and guidance during matches.
The Grand Slam code of conduct says: "Communication of any kind, audible or visible, between a player and a coach may be construed as coaching."
At these Major tournaments, coaching is not permitted during matches, although confusingly it is allowed at regular events on the women's tour.
When the point was put to him yesterday, Djokovic argued that this is a judgment call, and that some interaction between a player and his support staff was natural and acceptable, so long as it did not become "regular".
"I don't think that we're cheating," Djokovic told reporters yesterday. "I mean, there are special ways of communication.
"As he (Becker) mentioned, the way you look at each other - I think that's something that just gives you that reassurance, gives you that confidence.
"It's not necessary that he (Becker) tells me where to serve or to which side of the opponent's court I have to play, because that doesn't happen.
"With all the cameras pointed to him and to the box, I think you would notice if he would go 'kick serve', or 'slice', or telling me to do the backhand or forehand."
Djokovic was making the relevant gestures as he spoke - the universal tennis semaphore.
His point was to emphasise the impossibility of sending clear signals during a high-profile match without being spotted. Yet he went on to acknowledge that more discreet messages are almost universally present in the professional game.
"We can't pretend like that's not happening in tennis," Djokovic said. "This is a very competitive sport. You're alone on the court.
"Of course, there's certain rules. But also there are times when the team of the player communicates with him when he goes to take the towel in the corner which is closer to the box. I think it's all fine as long as it's not regular.
"That's up to the chair umpire or supervisor to decide if somebody's breaking the rules or not. As long as it's something that you can tolerate, within the ways of communication, I think it's fine."
Djokovic has been fined for on court coaching at two previous Grand Slams, once in 2011 and once in 2013.
Rafael Nadal has also been drawn into similar controversies, including an example at the World Tour Finals in 2013 when Stan Wawrinka objected that "Before every point, he (Toni Nadal) was trying to coach him."
But then the tennis code of conduct has numerous grey areas that are only vaguely policed.
You can bet that Nadal will consistently take longer than 20 seconds between points at this tournament - the theoretical limit at a Grand Slam event.
Few umpires, however, have the cojones to hit him with a time violation, and one of the few who has pushed him on this point - Carlos Bernardes - has not officiated at any of Nadal's matches since February 22 at the player's request.
At yesterday's press conference, Djokovic was also asked about his decision not to play an official grass-court warm-up event before Wimbledon.
His only visible preparation has consisted of a couple a couple of gentle exhibition matches at the Boodles Tennis Challenge in Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire.
Djokovic replied that he had been exhausted by his near miss at the French Open three weeks ago, when Wawrinka beat him in a compelling final to end his dream of completing the career Grand Slam for another year.
"More than physical rest, I needed that emotional, mental rest to recharge my batteries," Djokovic replied.
"Right after I lost the match, there was this sense of disappointment. I felt that for some days.
"But because I have a family, I have different things in life, different interests, I've managed to move on (and) get the necessary reset in my mind.
"You always try to train your mind to look on the bright side, to move on, to leave what happened in the past, and just take it as a lesson - something that will give you strength."
Meanwhile, Wimbledon lost one of its top 10 seeds without a ball being hit yesterday when the world No 7 David Ferrer withdrew because of acute tennis elbow.
There could be various beneficiaries from this news, starting with Luca Vanni, the Italian ranked No 113 in the world.
He lost in the final round of qualifying and now replaces Ferrer.
Another interested party will surely be James Ward, the British No 4 who had been drawn to face Ferrer tomorrow but who will now play Vanni instead.
Ward is ranked three places above Vanni, and can also take encouragement from the fact his opponent had never played a grass match until last week.
The 2013 champion Andy Murray is also likely to have clocked Ferrer's absence, as the Spaniard was the next-highest seed in Murray's quarter of the draw.
Murray will open his own campaign tomorrow against Mikhail Kukushkin of Ukraine.