Novak Djokovic sent shockwaves through the tennis world last week, when he abruptly announced that he was splitting with his longtime coach Marian Vajda along with the rest of his training staff.
The #2 player in the world and 12-time Grand Slam champion is looking to regain the form that led him to winning at least one major in six straight seasons. He is 14-4 this season with one title, which may seem like a really good record until you look at what he’s done in the past few seasons:
2016 – 65-9 with 7 titles (2 majors)
2015 – 82-6 with 11 titles (3 majors)
2014 – 61-8 with 7 titles (1 major)
2013 – 74-9 with 7 titles (1 major)
2012 – 75-12 with 6 titles (1 major)
2011 – 70-6 with 10 titles (3 majors)
He is further away from #1 Andy Murray than he is from #10 David Goffin in the current ATP rankings, and he has a ton of points to defend in this clay court circuit, as he is the defending champion at the French Open and at this week’s Madrid Open and was a finalist last year at the Rome Masters event next week.
Djokovic was riding high after last year’s French Open, as he completed his career Grand Slam and held all four major titles at the same time (he won the 2015 Wimbledon and US Open majors along with the 2016 Australian Open). There was a ton of chatter about the possibility that Djokovic could become the first player since Rod Laver to win all four Slams in one calendar year, but just one year later we are wondering if we’ll ever see that version of “Nole” ever again.
In the span of a year, Murray has supplanted Djokovic at the top of the men’s game, while veterans Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are closing the gap on the #2 spot with their stellar play during the first four months of the season. Djokovic obviously felt like he needed to make a change in order to attempt to regain his place at the top of an intensifying rankings chase, but dropping his entire coaching staff is going to be make or break in his career.
He started at the end of the 2016 season by dumping tennis great Boris Becker from his team after working with him for three years. He won the tune up event in Qatar to start the 2017 season, beating Murray in a tight three-set final. He seemed to have all a ton of momentum headed to the Aussie Open, but was bounced in the second round by #117 Denis Istomin in a classic match. He lost to Nick Kyrgios in his next two events – once in the round of 16 and once in the quarterfinals – then was beaten by Goffin in the quarters of the Monte Carlo Masters event.
Judging from those results, it would look as if dropping Becker wasn’t the best career move for Djokovic, although we really don’t know what the dynamic was between the two storied champions of the sport. But Vajda has been by his side since day one, and his dismissal is one of the more shocking coaching changes in recent tennis history.
Djokovic said that he won’t rush into finding a new coach, as he has been on the tour long enough to know how to prepare for matches without one. He also stated this week that he is looking for someone who has been to the mountaintop like he has, which would hint that he’s looking to join the likes of Murray (who works with Ivan Lendl), Nadal (who added Carlos Moya to his camp this year), and Kei Nishikori (who works with Michael Chang) as top players who are tapping former champions to be their coaches. There’s actually some buzz on social media that the new “supercoach” could be Andre Agassi, who would be an expert at igniting a career after the age of 30.
Djokovic still has plenty of time to climb back to the top (not that he’s very far off anyway). He will turn 30 in a couple weeks, and can look at both Federer and Nadal for inspiration on what can be accomplished by a player in their 30’s. Or he can just look at his longtime friend on the women’s tour, Serena Williams, to see how long a career in tennis can be these days.
It may take a while to see the results that Djokovic and his fans are used to witnessing from him, as a change this drastic is going to take some time to either work or fail. It took Federer a couple years to get adjusted to a larger racket and to dissect the “weakness” of his backhand, but now you can easily see the changes when he plays (which is still a total work of art on a tennis court).
These changes that Djokovic are making are drastic and shocking, but they are a sign that he is serious about not only going back to where he was but to a higher level, which may be needed to beat guys like Federer and Murray on a consistent basis. He’ll either add to his legacy as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, or derail his career by basically starting over at age 30. Either way, the next few months should be really interesting in the life of the Djoker.
Written by: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)