Coaches and players are splitting up all the time. They’re worse than a Mexican soap opera. They’ve even got a name for it on the ATP Tour and WTA, they call it the ‘coaching carousel’, and people are getting on and off all the time. It makes you wonder, at the highest level of competition how much influence does the coach actually have on a players’ results?
In truth a lot of it depends on where the player is in their career and what coach is right for them. Are they relatively new on tour and need a guiding force to help them navigate the grind and deal with this new pressure or are they a grisly veteran in need of a spark, a new voice, there’s so many variables.
Lets face it, if you’ve been around tennis long enough, you’ll know coaches are like a jigsaw puzzle, some pieces don’t fit with others. You don’t want a technically minded coach if you’re lacking motivation or a strategic coach if you’re good at shot selection and reading the situation. Boris Becker came along at just the right time for Novak Djokovic, who already had Marian Vajda on the books as coach. The Serbian needed something though, he had lost 4 of the previous 5 Grand Slam finals, and history was passing him by.
He was at the top of the sport but when it mattered most he was cracking under the pressure. The German champion arrived in Novak’s team just before the beginning of the 2014 season, some pundits found it a strange match. A legend of the sport coming back as a coach, it wasn’t unheard of as Lendl was working with Andy Murray but many saw Becker as an icon with multiple interests, business, commentating, tv shows, and poker adventures. How committed would he be in this coaching game and would he stick around if Novak struggled.
At the 2014 Australian Open Stan Wawrinka took out Novak in a blockbuster Quarter Final and already the knives were out for Boris. The sharp objects were quickly put back in the draw as Novak won Wimbledon 5 months later and over the course of 3 years would win 5 more Slams under Boris.
Novak said of Boris “He is going through the emotions with me like when he was playing. 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”
That connection seemed to fray after Novak won his first French Open this year, completing the career Grand Slam, an early loss at Wimbeldon and the Olympics followed, he made the US Open final (loss to Wawrinka) but surrendered the number one ranking to Andy Murray as his form clearly had deteriorated A Facebook post from Novak a few days ago confirmed what many thought would happen, Boris and Novak were no mas.
What happens from here on in will suggest if this split was a good one. Rumors have been swirling since that Wimbledon loss that Novak’s marriage was in trouble, he was quitting the sport, his motivation had left him, who knows? Speculation is speculative. He has brought into his team Pepe Imaz who runs a tennis centre in Spain, some call him a ‘guru’ who has power over Novak. Marian Vajda is staying on for now. Imaz seems to be a replacement for Becker and yet they are completely different people, Boris an Icon, Imaz was a journeyman professional who never cracked the top 100 and is into meditation and hugs.
Novak is entering the home stretch of his career; he’s 29 years old, won over $100 million in prize money, been world number one, won 12 Slams and a Davis Cup. He may need a new spark, it could be he wants to go down as the best ever, he’ll have to at least reach Federer’s 17 Slams and win a Gold Medal in Tokyo 2020 to do that. He better hope these last 6 months were a hiccup and not the beginning of the end and regardless of who is coach, Marian, Pepe or persons unknown, Novak will have the most say in what happens next.