Within days of each other have come announcements that the 12-time Major champion is parting ways with both Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek after just 10 and four months together respectively.
And it is only 11 months since Djokovic’s Facebook page announced, shortly before the defence of his Madrid Masters title:
“Novak and the team members [coach Marian Vajda, fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic] decided to part ways after a detailed analysis of the game, achieved results in the previous period, and also after discussing private plans of each team member.
“Despite the fantastic cooperation so far, Djokovic felt he needed to make a change, and to introduce new energy in order to raise his level of play.”
That took many by surprise, especially coming only four months after he had ended a three-year association with another “super coach”, Boris Becker. Vajda had been a constant in the Serb’s corner since Djokovic made his early mark on the main tour in 2006, and with the help of Becker for three years from January 2014, they would compile a stunning run, including a 2015 in which he won 11 titles, in an 82-6 run.
In 2016, Djokovic completed his Grand Slam with the French Open and by November, had been No1 for 122 consecutive weeks. But he then concluded his partnership with Becker, saying:
“My professional plans are now directed primarily to maintain a good level of play, and also to make a good schedule and new goals for the next season. In this regard, I will make all future decisions.”
Five months later he separated from the rest of his team, and Agassi came on board soon after. But today, Djokovic’s website reports:
“After Miami, Novak Djokovic and his tennis coach Radek Stepanek decided to end their co-operation.
“The private relationship with Stepanek was and will remain great, and Novak has enjoyed working with him and learning from him. He remains grateful and appreciative of all the support he has received from Radek during the last period.
“Novak remains focused and eager to come back stronger and more resilient from [the] long injury break that has affected his confidence and game. He is continuously and passionately looking for new and different ways to regain winning form.
“Djokovic will, upon [returning from] his short holiday with family, start his preparations for the clay season and upcoming tournaments.
“The cooperation between Novak and Andre Agassi has also ended.”
That last sentence, emboldened and brief, has been Djokovic’s only reference to the split with Agassi. It was the American himself revealed the news via ESPN at the weekend:
“With only the best of intentions, I tried to help Novak. We are too often found ourselves agreeing to disagree. I wish him only the best moving forward.”
Agassi’s involvement with Djokovic always took the form of a consultative arrangement, with the American joining the Serb only at bigger tournaments. And Agassi revealed in an interview for Eurosport last June, that his help was not a paid roll but rather a goodwill affair:
“For me, I do this on my own time and my own dime… I don’t want money, I want to help him. And it helps the game. Him at his best is good for the game and it’s a way I can contribute.”
And as recently as December, when Djokovic began working with Stepanek, all seemed well on the Agassi front.
“On Andre’s suggestion, I pursued Radek, therefore I am sure the two of them will work well together. The new season is about to start and there is a long way to go back to where I left off.”
That last sentence referred, of course, to the problems Djokovic has faced on court with his fitness and with sliding form and confidence. Soon after separating from Vajda, despite some decent runs in Rome and Paris, and then on the grass in Eastbourne and the early rounds of Wimbledon, he was forced to retire at the All England Club in the quarter-finals, and did not play again until this year’s Australian Open.
After losing in Melbourne in the fourth round, and still in pain from his elbow, Djokovic resorted to surgery, and attempted his next comeback in Indian Wells and Miami. He lost in the first rounds of both, clearly lacking the energy and sharpness that have marked him out as such a high-performing competitor.
He is next scheduled to return for the clay swing, beginning in Monte-Carlo, where he, his wife and two young children have a home. Whether he will add a new coaching name to his team before then—or at all—remains to be seen.
For now, though, Djokovic flies solo, and at a ranking level he has not seen in 11 years. That, though, could change very quickly after Wimbledon. With no points to defend thereafter, and a new start—in all sorts of ways—this spring, he could regain confidence and rankings in no time. Time, and a healed elbow, will tell.
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BIOGRAPHY: Lucas Torreira