NEW YORK—An encouraging entourage, sometimes springing from the seats like revelers at a rave, has helped Novak Djokovic celebrate the eye-popping highs of his record-setting season. But Djokovic's constant court companion throughout his 57-2 campaign has rarely been rattled.
Djokovic switched to a customized version of the Head YouTek IG Speed 18 x 20 racquet before the start of the season, and since the stick shift he's collected nine titles, including the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
We caught up with the world No. 1 at a midtown Manhattan press conference last week—for the launch of his "Head To Head" commercial with fellow Head endorser Maria Sharapova—and discussed the process of changing racquets. The first question on our mind: How do you know when a new racquet is ready for Grand Slam competition?
"There are so many different things that you have to adjust the racquet to your game and your feel on the court—the balance, the weight, the swing weight, the grip size all the different dimensions of the racquet—there are so many different things that are just so relevant," Djokovic said. "Yet again, the ultimate thing that you have to judge for yourself is that feeling you have playing with the racquet. When I finally got the racquet that I wanted, after a couple of days I knew it was just the right racquet. When you have that feel, then you know it’s right and ready for competition."
Of course, past experience playing the frame game helps, too. The Serbian showman won his first major at the 2008 Australian Open wielding a Wilson. Djokovic made the move from Wilson to Head prior to the start of the 2009 season, when he was ranked No. 3, and experienced early struggles with the new stick, but wound up winning five titles. This time around, he believes changing to another Head frame with similar specs, combined with a long-time familiarity with the brand, created a smoother transition.
"First of all I played with Head before I went to the other brand. I played with Head in my junior days and then I switched from the other brand to Head again," Djokovic said. "So I know Head racquets and I always felt comfortable playing with them. It wasn’t an easy procedure of changing, but it was easier, than presumably, if I hadn't played with Head before."
Even when an accomplished champion changes frames, it can still create cracks in confidence when results suffer.
"The best advice I can give to any player is never change a racquet you're winning with and comfortable with," Hall of Famer and tennis television analyst Fred Stolle said. "Even if they tell you it's the same specs, sometimes players feel a difference. It's not worth it because even if you're making more money in endorsements; those things will go away if you're not winning. I remember even Rod Laver struggling after he switched from Dunlop and he eventually went back."
Djokovic is well aware of the potential damage if his latest switch had not been successful and believes finding his comfort level quickly with the IG Speed has been empowering.
"Your racquet is really the most important tool and something that you don’t fool with on the court and something that you really rely on," Djokovic said. "You just have to have 100 percent confidence in what you have and what you play with. When I changed my racquet at the beginning of 2009, it wasn’t an easy process of changing and took me a while to find the right racquet I am comfortable with. So it was a difficult change and once I finally found it I had a great confidence."