Novak Djokovic had been pretty invisible during this brief off-season.
Wednesday, he lowered the Boom.
Djokovic announced that longtime coach Marian Vajda was scaling back his role, to allow for the naming of a new head coach – a choice no one saw coming.
Here are some official quotes, from Djokovic’s web site:
“I am really excited to have the opportunity to work with Boris. He is a true legend, someone who has great tennis knowledge and his experience will help me win new trophies from the Grand Slams and other tournaments. Becker is a great person, too, and I am sure he will fit in our team in the best possible way.”
“I am proud Novak invited me to become his Head Coach. I will do my best to help him reach his goals, and I am sure we can achieve great things together.”
“I realized that Novak needed a new head coach in order for him to continue improving certain parts of the game. (At) the same time, I will have more time for my family.”
Becker will travel with Djokovic for the following tournaments: Australian Open, Dubai, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, Cincinnati, U.S. Open, Shanghai, Paris and London.
Vajda will go to Indian Wells, Madrid, Toronto and Beijing.
Well, well, well.
With his move, Djokovic demonstrates he is nothing if not trendy, as the naming of a former top player as coach has been something of a theme lately (Bruguera, Chang, Connors and – the big get of a few years ago – Ivan Lendl).
Why might it work?
But beyond that, you certainly have to wonder what Djokovic thinks he’s getting.
It’s a cliché, but it’s also true that the best players often do not make the best coaches. Certainly Jimmy Connors hasn’t done much to disprove that theory. John McEnroe certainly didn’t, either. The best players often come equipped with the largest egos and, after a life where everything revolved around them, the transition to having their life revolve around someone else isn’t one too many can make.
But Lendl, you will say.
There’s an exception to every rule. And Lendl was an exception when he played – an extremely hard worker, a technical analyst, a perfectionist in leaving no stone unturned. He also didn’t really need the job coaching Murray, and that’s always a good thing.
What is there, truly, in Becker’s post-playing career that constitutes something he brings to the table as a coach?
His post-tennis life has seemed, at least on the surface, to involve little more than gadding about like some sort of aimless exiled prince, looking for life’s meaning, attending gala parties, wearing lederhosen at Oktoberfest or a slightly snug Armani suit at a product launch or an awards show.
He hasn’t coached, as far as we know. Or even shown much interest in doing so, for that matter.
Becker’s TV work during Wimbledon always is a source of amusement. It’s fairly clear listening to him that he pays little attention to tennis when he’s not at the All-England Club those two weeks a year. He’s hardly alone in that among top former players (or at least it appears that way). But it’s true nonetheless.
Becker’s schtick works on television because, well, he’s Boris. In the same way McEnroe is McEnroe.
His accent is amusing. His unintentionally hilarious musings can be entertaining. But he certainly hasn’t been doing much homework over the last few years on either Djokovic, or his toughest opponents.
Beyond that, has he even been playing? You see Cash, McEnroe, Wilander, Ivanisevic and Bruguera (who are also coaching), Courier, occasionally Edberg, out there on the Champions’ circuit. When was the last time we saw Becker?
He did play the French Open invitational back in 2008 (that’s where these pics were taken). But those appearances seem few and far between.
The Djoker’s work ethic and fanatical attention to detail these days, his discipline, those are things Becker left in the rear-view mirror years ago (we were going to say a broom closet somewhere, but that wouldn’t be nice). If, indeed, he ever had them – he was so huge, so young, his rare bullet route to the top isn’t experience he can pass along to Djokovic.
As well, Djokovic’s team has been a tightly-knit group. And if there’s an overarching philosophy, it’s that whatever ego they have seems to have been subjugated in the quest to make Djokovic the best he can be. Which is as it should be; that’s what he’s paying them to do.
Becker is a completely different animal. Whether he tries or not, he attracts attention like a magnet; he’s like an energy vampire. His game style also had few similarities to Djokovic’s and, if the Serb’s intention is to try and win the French Open away from Nadal, well, Becker never managed that, either.
Then again, Lendl never won Wimbledon 🙂
There are so many reasons this is a crazy move that it will probably end up working out terrifically well. Or it will be Sharapova-Connors. There probably isn’t a happy medium here.
But it should be an entertaining ride.