WIMBLEDON – It was not the news most had been waiting for.
But Novak Djokovic made another coaching move official Saturday.
Former top-10 player Mario Ancic, forced into early retirement by back issues and several bouts with mononucleosis, will be with the former No. 1 at Wimbledon – and beyond.
“He was to be in London for his own commitments, so he’s going to use the opportunity to be with me. Whether we’re going to build from there a long-term relationship or not, we’ll see,” Djokovic said, via the ATP Tour website.
The two-time Wimbledon champion will be doing his media availability Sunday at Wimbledon. He took the Eastbourne tournament title Saturday with a 6-3 6-4 win over Gaël Monfils.
Djokovic entered Eastbourne as a wild card after a premature exit at the French Open and some reflection back in Belgrade about the best, next move.
The 30-year-old Serb hadn’t played any Wimbledon grass-court tuneup event since 2010, never mind the week right before the big event. He will play his first-round match Tuesday against lefty Martin Klizan of Slovakia.
Ancic, a Croat who is just three years older than Djokovic, has made his forced retirement work for him. He moved on to a career in investment banking in New York City after earning a law degree from Columbia University four years ago.
Of him, Djokovic said this:
“He’s one of the closest friends I’ve ever had on the tour. He was always a very nice guy, very smart … We always had that mutual respect and appreciation for one another.”
It’s okay with Andre
Djokovic said he discussed the move with his other recent coaching addition, the legendary Andre Agassi.
Agassi has no interesting in, or time for, a full-time coaching gig. He also doesn’t need the money; he said in Paris that he was there on his own dime.
That relationship is still in an improvisational stage, with Agassi “probably” going to come to the biggest tournaments and intending to help “whenever he has free time in the schedule.”
The Serb certainly is working very hard to fast-forward that fledgling relationship into a mentor – mentee dynamic that can work for him.
Djokovic said he and Agassi were looking for someone who would be around more often, smaller events and “maybe some practice weeks.”
If it all sounds rather haphazard, it’s clear Djokovic is choosing to go without a traditional full-time coach until –if – he finds the right fit.
And for someone with his accomplishments, that’s not an easy fit to find.
“I have certain criteria, I would say, for the profile of a person that is going to be next to me. It’s not just anyone who was on the tour. Everyone has their own preferences. I’m looking to have someone that fits into the values that I stand for and not just in sport but in life in general. Andre and Mario are there for a reason, and I’m very grateful to have them,” he said.
It’s about quality people
Djokovic is not at a stage of career where he needs some sort of technically-focused coach who is going to make radical changes in his game.
Clearly his main coaching bucket-list item is to have people around him with tennis IQs that he wants to be around. He wants people he feels he can learn from not just in tennis, but in life.
If it all seems a little existential, it clearly reflects the stage of life and mindset Djokovic currently is in.
Whether the loose coaching co-op will help him get back to his previous impressive level on the tennis end is something that can only be judged after a certain period of time.
Ancic has been an occasional presence around the game since he was forced to retire in 2011. That’s especially true during US Open time when the tennis is in his town.
He even warmed up Djokovic before the 2015 men’s singles final.
Ancic, the player
For those who don’t remember the Croat when he played, he was GOOD.
Really, really good.
His big moment came very early in his career.
When he was just 18, Ancic upset 20-year-old Roger Federer in the first round of Wimbledon. It was his very first Wimbledon. He was ranked No. 154 then; Federer was No. 9.
Federer hasn’t been upset in the first round of a major since.
None other than former Djokovic coach Boris Becker called Ancic “the future of tennis.”
He was (and is) 6-foot-5 with plenty of power and a great willingness to be an all-court player. When he talked, with his deep voice and facial mannerisms, he looked and sounded just like his older Davis Cup teammate Goran Ivanisevic.
Ancic reached the Wimbledon semis in 2004. He reached the quarterfinals twice, both times losing to Federer.
His career high singles ranking was No. 7. But Ancic likely hadn’t even yet reached his peak when he was forced to retire.
— Mario Ancic (@AncicMario) August 28, 2015
Here he is talking about Djokovic (and other subjects) to the BBC last year.