Novak Djokovic: A worrying split from Agassi?
Djokovic announced his separation from Agassi and Stepanek, leaving him without a coach. But is it a worrying sign of his decline?
Andre Agassi recently announced his split from former world #1 Novak Djokovic. When their partnership was first announced in the lead-up to the French Open last year expectations were high. Djokovic was in the midst of a nearly 12-month long slump, having failed to win a Major since completing the Career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2016. Though he was still ranked world #2, he was struggling to compete for the highest honours. The dominance that had seen him become the first man since Laver to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time, seemed a distant memory.
Who better to help him back to his best than Andre Agassi? It seemed a natural fit for a number of reasons. First and foremost amongst them was that Agassi was no stranger to slumps himself. The American had first reached the #1 ranking in 1995 but found himself outside the top 140 two years later. There were few who believed then that he could return to the top, but by 1999 Agassi had done just that and would not retire for another seven years.
The pair are also fairly similar players. The most obvious similarity between the two is their excellent returning skills, although Agassi tended to take more risks when returning than his erstwhile charge. Both were baseliners with rock solid groundstrokes and a dangerous backhand down the line. Both were able to grind down their opponents, seemingly able to carry on when any lesser man would have given in to his body. Yet brief their partnership yielded little success. Which begs the question, why?
Not all players make great coaches
There have been some rumblings that, despite his impressive credentials as a player, Agassi found himself out of his depth in his coaching role. The former captain of the Yugoslavian and the Serbian Davis Cup teams Radmilo Armenulic was dismissive of Agassi’s attempts to help Djokovic. Claiming that Djokovic was a better returner than Agassi ever was and that the Serb was the superior baseliner, Armenulic felt that Agassi had nothing to offer Djokovic.
Indeed, in Armenulic’s eyes it was Djokovic who helped Agassi by making him a coach. The perspective given by Armenulic is certainly an interesting one and it suggests there might be a coming backlash against the ‘super coach’. After Murray’s hiring of Ivan Lendl, the trend of players hiring former greats of the game became widespread. And there was notable success with Djokovic’s addition of Boris Becker to his camp firing him to his greatest successes whilst Federer enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Stefan Edberg.
But the hiring of a one-time great is not a sure fire route to Grand Slam glory and the success of the ‘super coaches’ seems to have been drying up of late. Goran Ivanisevic has worked with a number of players but only had real success with Marin Cilic for a brief period back in 2014. Lendl’s second stint as Murray’s coach did see the Scot win his second Wimbledon and climb to the top of rankings, but could not arrest his slide in 2017.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer’s return to the top of the game was masterminded by Ivan Ljubicic, who though a fine player in his day surely does not qualify for ‘super coach’ status. If Agassi was indeed unable to help Djokovic improve his game, then it suggests that what the likes of Lendl and Becker brought was not only their experience, but also real coaching ability. Perhaps both would have been great coaches even without their glittering careers.
What next for Djokovic?
What is concerning about the split for Djokovic is that Agassi stated the two were simply prepared to agree to disagree too often. It is understandable that both would have their opinions considering how established they are in the game, but it suggests a lack of determination on the part of Djokovic to improve. That is worrisome considering how desperate he was to get to the top of the game and to compete during his dominant years.
At the moment, Djokovic looks desperately short of confidence and fitness. In his match in Indian Wells against Taro Daniel he showed some good moments, but was ultimately unable to sustain his level and was brushed aside in the deciding set. Against Paire, Djokovic seemed a shadow of his former self as the Frenchman ran rings around him. It was barely even a contest as Paire wrapped up a straight sets win having seemingly hardly broken a sweat.
That is a far cry from the Djokovic of old. The former world #1 is currently facing challenges the like of which he has never before had to contend with. He may never surmount them. But if he is to do so he will need to find a coach that understands his game and how to take it forward, as well as how to motivate him. Having also parted ways with Radek Stepanek, Djokovic will go forward without a coach, but it doesn’t seem likely that Djokovic intends to play without a coach for long.
But as to who will be the next to try to take Djokovic back to the top that remains as cloudy as the Serbian’s future.
What do you think the future holds for Djokovic? Let us know in the comments below!