Like everyone, I was surprised by Novak Djokovic’s decision to part ways with his entire support team. I sort of feel for Novak a bit; maybe this is a reaction to not being where he wants to be.
Since his loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon last year – and it wasn’t so much the loss, but more the nature of the loss – his results from that time on have not been great. The guy had a mind like a steel trap – the tougher the situation, the better he got. And he’d been so amazingly consistent that I guess we were just all surprised that he’s struggled to find his best form.
So I suppose getting rid of his original crew, who have been with him for about a decade, I guess is in response to him not being able to find his best tennis for a number of reasons. When you make decisions from a position of strength it’s different to being reactive when you haven’t been at your best for quite a while. So I suppose time will tell.
It’s an interesting time of year to make such a decision because I think for the majority of players, between now and the US Open, that’s really the guts of the year. Three majors sit inside that time frame. So I suppose the timing of it seems a bit reactive. You would think that maybe you would do it at the start of the year so you would have a pre-season with your new team, but I guess that’s just where he’s at. He’s just not comfortable.
Hopefully it is an amicable split. Marian Vajda is a guy I used to play against, I’ve known him since we were about 15. He’s been there with Novak for so long. Quite often for a coach to be with a player that long, it’s not just professional; they become mates, you go through stuff with the coach on and off the court. So I hope it all ends amicably and they can all shake and move on because it’s been an incredibly successful partnership between Novak and his team. I guess all things come to an end, though.
There’s usually a bit of a bounce when you start working with someone new – they just hit you from a different angle with a different personality. We’ll have to wait and see what the long-term sustainability of his new team is.
It’s a bit like when Mats Wilander won three Grand Slam titles in 1988 and reached the quarterfinals of a fourth. He just fell of the perch the next year; he was exhausted. So maybe there’s an element of emotional and physical fatigue in what Novak has achieved that is almost unavoidable, regardless of who his support crew is.
Novak is a fighter too. He doesn’t have the Sampras serve or the 18 ways to win a point that Roger does. He’s like Rafa; he fights, he’s athletic, and a lot of his wins come at a cost. So looking at his last year – he’s just battled. He’s almost been a victim of his own success.
We also don’t see the pyramid and volume of training under all those matches he played to get him to that point. Just how brutal is it, physically? How constant? He, and other members of the Big Four, are so successful on every surface; there’s no time of the year when they have down time.
As for names like Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras being rumoured as potential new coaches for Djokovic, I quite like the sub-plots of supercoaches and former greats coming back into the game. They’ve been successful themselves. Boris Becker was very successful with Novak, as was Ivan Lendl with Andy Murray. Novak wouldn’t be doing something out of the box to hire someone like Agassi or Sampras – it’s a move that’s been quite proven.
I always say it about a great player – they must know something. Because they’ve been there and done that. There would be no surprises for them. They know what it’s like to be the last man standing at a Slam, to walk out onto that court, and they know the journey to get there. I’m sure Agassi or Sampras would have a lot to add. It’s how they communicate it and how they gel with the person.
What these former top players seem to be able to do is put their ego aside and put their player first as a priority, and get results.
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