Djokovic pitches comeback plan

Serb reveals he is finally pain-free as he uses baseball technique to strengthen right elbow

MIAMI • Novak Djokovic insists that he is playing pain-free for the first time in "years" as he pursues his comeback from injury at the Miami Masters.

The former world No. 1 has been beset with an elbow problem that sidelined him for six months after he was forced to retire in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year.

A return to action at January's Australian Open with a modified serving action resulted in a fourth-round defeat, followed by a limp exit at Indian Wells last week.

Yet as the Serb star fine-tuned his attempt to win in Key Biscayne for a record seventh time, he spoke of putting an end to the injury torment blighting his efforts to return to the form which saw him become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously, less than two years ago.

"I actually started playing pain-free in the last two days. It's quite refreshing because everything else had pain involved," he said. "The last few days have been the first in a long, long time that I could actually be focused on the game rather than be worried about whether I am going to have pain or not.

"Actually it's the first time in years (he has been injury-free)."

Djokovic swatted away a question about how he could challenge current world No. 1 Roger Federer, the Miami Open reigning champion, preferring to concentrate on the lessons learnt during the most arduous of comebacks.

"I have had to face different circumstances, situations that I've never faced before," he said.

"Ever since I started professional tennis, my trajectory was always going in the right direction and that has changed.

"So I had to open up and figure out things, how to move forward and get inspired and be the best version I can be."

Djokovic, who will play in the second round tomorrow, had a "small medical intervention" following his defeat in Melbourne and has been seen in the build-up in Miami simulating a baseball pitch to ensure his right elbow stands up to the test.

"It's one of the ways to warm up and get my body and my mind synchronised with a certain motion that I would like to have with my serve because that's where I kind of compromise my elbow," he added.

"So I'm trying to strengthen the muscles and get into a certain motion that would support the best possible serve.

"I am not yet at my best. When I made this intervention, obviously it's pretty invasive and unfortunately in the end it had to be done.

"But right now, I'm not playing with pain, which is the most important thing."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Djokovic pitches comeback plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe