Friday, May 20, 2016

No Djoke — Stanford coach has beaten Serb star

Stanford's Paul Goldstein became the first player
to compete on four NCAA title teams (1995-98).
 He played professionally for 11 years. File photo
courtesy of Stanford Sports Information
   He hardly needs it, but anytime Paul Goldstein wants additional credibility with his players, friends and acquaintances, he can play the Djoker card.
   Goldstein — the men's tennis coach at Stanford, his alma mater — defeated Novak Djokovic 10 years ago in the first round of the Australian Open.
   OK, so Djokovic was an obscure 18-year-old at the time. Goldstein, then 29, will take it.
   "It turned out to be a pretty good win for me, I guess," deadpanned Goldstein, who will turn 40 on Aug. 4.
   By winning the upcoming French Open, Djokovic of Serbia would become the eighth man to achieve a career Grand Slam in singles and tie Roy Emerson for fourth place all-time with 12 major singles titles. The year's second Grand Slam tournament begins Sunday, Djokovic's 29th birthday.
    Goldstein's playing credentials pale in comparison, of course, but are impressive nonetheless. He became the first player to compete on four NCAA championship teams (1995-98), a feat also accomplished by USC's Steve Johnson (2009-12).
   Only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 158 pounds (72 kilograms), Goldstein played professionally for 11 years. He attained career highs of No. 58 in the world in singles in 2006 and No. 40 in doubles in 2007.
   For much of his career, Goldstein was the highest-ranked singles player in the world with a college degree (human biology). In addition to Djokovic, Goldstein beat International Tennis Hall of Famer Patrick Rafter, future Hall of Famer Lleyton Hewitt and former top-10 players Greg Rusedski and Alex Corretja.
   In doubles, Goldstein reached the semifinals of the 2005 U.S. Open with former Stanford teammate Jim Thomas.
Goldstein became the
men's coach at his alma
mater two years ago.
Photo courtesy of Stan-
ford Sports Information
   Although Goldstein never won an ATP singles or doubles title, he captured a then-record 30 championships combined on the minor-league USTA Pro Circuit.  
   Goldstein's 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Djokovic was the first of their three meetings, all within 13 months. Djokovic won 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (3) in the first round at Wimbledon in 2006 and 6-4, 7-5 in the Adelaide quarterfinals in January 2007.
   "Even though I beat him the first time, he obviously had a great deal of potential," Goldstein, a Washington, D.C., native who attended high school and college with Chelsea Clinton (although Goldstein is three years older), said recently by telephone. "I don't know that I could say I thought he would be one of the greatest ever to play the game.
   "The thing that strikes me the most is his level of improvement (in 13 months) was astronomical, more than anyone I had seen, and he's obviously continued that trend. When I played him in January '07, he was a different, much better player than he was a year prior, even six months prior.
   "His level of improvement specifically related to his movements and the force behind each of his balls. Every ball from both wings was just so huge one year later."
   Goldstein admitted there were extenuating circumstances in his first match against Djokovic.
   "The time I did beat him, I thought he was the better tennis player, but it was a three-out-of-five-set match, and it was hot," Goldstein recalled. "At that time, his conditioning wasn't a strength. In fact, you could argue that early in his career it was a bit of a weakness.
   "The incredible part there is I think I won that match because I was in better shape than him, and he's gone on to be so innovative with respect to his conditioning, his nutrition and his mindfulness. Now he can go six hours with the fittest guys in the world. If he's not the most physical player in the world, he's certainly one of them. That has become a very clear strength."
Novak Djokovic can complete a career Grand Slam in singles by winning
the French Open, which begins on his 29th birthday. It won't be easy.
2015 photo by Paul Bauman
   Added Goldstein: "I have so much respect for him. I use him as a model (for Stanford players) — how to approach the game and focus on process over outcome — all the time."
   With four titles in the last five Slams, Djokovic is rapidly gaining on Roger Federer (17), Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras (14 each).   Goldstein hedged when asked where Djokovic, who's still in his prime, will go down among the all-time greats.
   "That's a difficult question to answer, but I think he's in the conversation," said Goldstein, who never played Federer or Nadal. "That's the ultimate compliment. I think it's important for Novak to get the French to complete the career Grand Slam."
   Goldstein considers Djokovic the favorite at Roland Garros this year. He has reached the French Open final three times, losing in four sets to Nadal in 2012 and 2014 and to Stan Wawrinka last year.
   Djokovic "is playing the best tennis right now, and he'll be highly motivated," Goldstein offered.
   Still, Djokovic faces a big challenge on the slow clay.
   "I think it's the hardest Slam to win in general," Goldstein asserted, "and it's certainly the hardest for a guy like him. He hits the ball pretty flat on both wings and likes to take the ball early. (On hardcourts), the ball gets through the court and does a little more work for you.
   "The thing also overlooked on clay is the movement. It's a different strategy than movement on hardcourts. A lot of it is instinctive. He's very comfortable on clay — don't get me wrong — but he's probably a little more comfortable on hardcourts."
   Goldstein, in his second year as the Stanford men's coach, has the Cardinal in the NCAA round of 16 for the first time since a quarterfinal finish in 2012. Stanford will face Pacific-12 Conference rival UCLA, seeded third, today in Tulsa, Okla.
  The Cardinal players are aware that their coach has beaten Djokovic.
  "They think it's pretty cool," Goldstein noted. "He's the standard right now."

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