Tuesday 26 September 2017

Novak Djokovic splits from coach Boris Becker after three years

Novak Djokovic celebrates with Boris Becker after winning Wimbledon in 2014
Novak Djokovic celebrates with Boris Becker after winning Wimbledon in 2014

Simon Briggs

Novak Djokovic has confirmed that his three-year coaching relationship with Boris Becker is over. This moment has been approaching for some weeks, after Djokovic’s dramatic loss of form in the second half of the season, and it was confirmed via a message on the player’s official Facebook page.

"Boris Becker and I have jointly decided to end our cooperation," wrote Djokovic. “The goals we set when we started working together have been completely fulfilled, and I want to thank him for the co-operation, teamwork, dedication and commitment.”

Despite the early scepticism that surrounded Becker’s appointment, just before Christmas in 2013, his arrival was followed - after some early teething troubles - by a dramatic flowering of Djokovic’s career.

When they started working together, Djokovic had lost four of his previous five grand-slam finals. And although their first major tournament in harness – the Australian Open of 2014 – ended badly, with a quarter-final exit to Stan Wawrinka, things began to turn for the better after a dinner at Wimbledon.

As Becker would later write, “We had a three-hour conversation: Jelena, his brother Marko, Novak and me. It was after that conversation that I felt I really belonged in the inner circle.”

The results now began to pick up. Djokovic won Wimbledon four days later, and set off on a tear which landed him six of the next eight majors. He thus doubled his tally of grand-slam titles and transformed his standing in the sport, putting himself in the equation whenever the “greatest of all time” debate comes around.

How much did Becker contribute? Not much in technical terms. That area was left to Marian Vajda, the long-term mentor who has been working with Djokovic for more than a decade, but wanted to spend less time on tour for family reasons. Still, Djokovic seemed to tap into Becker’s ferocious competitive spirit and to enjoy his company.

After last year’s Wimbledon semi-final, Djokovic said: “He [Becker] is going through the emotions with me like when he was playing. There are times when he doesn't sleep well before the big match. It's just the connection, the link that you make. There has to be that kind of chemistry in order to really deliver, team-wise.”

Recently, however, it had seemed likely that another coaching shift was coming. Djokovic’s 2016 tailed off dramatically from the high point of his French Open victory in June.

At last month’s ATP World Tour Finals, he bashed a ball angrily in the direction of Becker and his other coaches after dropping a set to Dominic Thiem. No wonder Becker sounded less than convinced of his job security when he told a recent interviewer “I truly enjoyed the last three years, I had a blast. No regrets, it was an incredible ride.”

As for Djokovic’s intentions for 2017, his Facebook letter could hardly have been more opaque. “My professional plans are now directed primarily to maintain a good level of play,” he wrote, “and also to make a good schedule and new goals for the next season.”

In the short term, we can expect Vajda to continue as his sounding board and right-hand man. And there may also be a role for Pepe Imaz, the so-called “guru” whose motto is “Peace and love”, and who recommends meditation and “long hugs” as a way of achieving mental stability.

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