And when he does return, Andre Agassi will once again be by his side.
In a press release, Team Djokovic announced the return, and also the composition of Djokovic’s new team.
The Serb divested himself of his longtime team – coach Marian Vajda, fitness coach Gebhard “Phil” Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic after the Monte Carlo tournament last April. Supercoach Boris Becker left after the 2016 season.
Replacing them are another rather international group. Physiotherapist Ulises Badio (an Argentine based in Italy who worked for the ATP Tour for four years through last May) and fitness trainer Marco Panichi (an Italian based in Monte Carlo) will join Agassi.
Still in the works is the hiring of a second coach who will be involved in much of the day-to-day work and travel. Agassi – busy with many endeavours – has never been interested in or intrigued by a full-time gig.
Ancic not in the plans
It sounds as though former world No. 7 Mario Ancic, who joined Team Djokovic for Wimbledon but obviously wasn’t needed beyond that, isn’t part of the plans. Ancic, a lawyer who has a full-time job in New York, obviously is neither qualified for, nor available for, the main coaching job.
Djokovic ended his 2017 season after losing in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. He had been carrying an elbow/arm injury for more than a year, and he felt it was time to finally resolve an issue that was clearly affecting his performance.
Djokovic will not open his 2018 season in Doha, as he has done each of the last three years. He is the two-time defending champion having beaten Rafael Nadal in the final in 2016, and Andy Murray this year.
The press release indicates a return at the Australian Open. But of course, Djokovic may well enter a tuneup event before that. There’s plenty of time.
WIMBLEDON – If you saw the first few games of Novak Djokovic’s third-round match against Ernests Gulbis, you saw some long-lost Djokovic fire.
The former Wimbledon champion overcame an early surge by the former top-10 Latvian to win 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (2) and move into the second week.
Djokovic’s task on Manic Monday should prove less dangerous.
Rather than the danger of the shotmaking Frenchman Gaël Monfils, Djokovic instead has to get through Monfils’s unseeded countryman Adrian Mannarino.
If he does, he’ll reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
On paper, he would take that in a heartbeat.
Good grass fun for Mannarino
That’s not to take anything away from Mannarino, a tricky lefty who did yeoman’s work to get this far.
The 29-year-old defeated Borna Coric and Fernando Verdasco, to name two, before losing to Yuichi Sugita of Japan in the final of Antalya, a new grass-court event in Turkey.
He then had to find a way to get to London in a hurry. He took an overnight flight, landing in the early morning with little time to adjust. He caught a break with an injured Feliciano Lopez in the first round, but still played nearly four sets. Then he ran into Sugita again. That took five sets, and he was down two sets to one.
Monfils? Also five sets.
Djokovic and Mannarino played in the second round here a year ago, with the Serb winning in three reasonably competitive sets.
“So far it’s fantastic. I mean, not just this tournament, but also in Paris. We spent a lot of quality time together on and off the court. It’s a bit different now in Wimbledon because both Mario and Andre are staying with me as far as I go in the tournament, where Andre in Paris had to leave earlier. I’m glad to have them both. I think they contribute in their own way to my game. But most of all, there is great chemistry, great synergy, great understanding, respect for each other,” Djokovic said.
‘Mario has been my friend for very long time. I feel very relaxed next to him. And Andre, as well, is someone that has a personality that is very, very friendly, very kind, and at the same time very committed and professional. It didn’t take us too much to really connect. Everything so far is working great.”
The trio looked as though they’d all been friends for years, during one of Djokovic’s first practices here as the tournament began.
Nothing signed, nothing committed
The arrangements are still, to be sure, being made on the fly. Djokovic’s two advisors are not career coaches thrilled to be working with a former No. 1 and12-time Grand Slam titlist at the exclusion of everything else.
“We don’t have anything formal. We don’t have any contracts. And we don’t have any long-term agreements. First of all, I spoke to Andre. Andre absolutely agreed with Mario being that second person who might potentially be spending a little bit more time with me on the road,” Djokovic said.
Then, he contacted Ancic.
“We had a friendly talk. He was a bit surprised. He wasn’t expecting that. But he was already prescheduled to be in London. I asked him if he would like to spend a time with Andre and I during Wimbledon, while you’re there, if you have time. He was, anyway, planning to be a part … of the Legends tournament doubles,” Djokovic added. “So he accepted. That’s all we have for the moment. There is no really long-term agreements or planning, what’s going to happen. Obviously he’s got his commitments with his companies.”
Djokovic said there was a possibility Ancic might be able to make one or two of the Masters 1000 events in the summer, leading up to the US Open.
But all that will wait until this Wimbledon run is done.
ROLAND GARROS – The premiere of Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi on the Roland Garros courts Thursday drew quite a crowd.
Nole and Andre. Do we have a nickname for them yet? Nodre? Djokossi? Someone will come up with a bon mot.
Notable with Agassi is that after many years with adidas, coinciding with many joint post-career sponsorship associations with wife Steffi Graf, the original Nike tennis rock star has been back under the ‘Swoosh’ for awhile. And it looks good on him. The shuffling walk is exactly the same; you can spot it from across the city.
The reviews on the Djokovic-Agassi association have been universally positive before it has even truly begun. Not that this is meaningful in itself. When Boris Becker joined Team Nole a few years ago, the reviews were decidedly mixed. But while Becker was around, Djokovic posted some otherwordly results.
Long-awaited return to the game
As much as anything, it is the game that is welcoming Agassi back. From his early years as tennis’s outlaw punk, he has matured into a statesmanlike figure, a philosopher. He’s a man whose tennis IQ, on the rare occasions he has displayed it in recent years, is off the charts.
Fans shouldn’t get too excited; Agassi is only expected to be in Paris long enough for the first few rounds. A long-planned family holiday is on the schedule later in the week.
He told the French TV program “Tout le Sport” that he originally had turned Djokovic down.
“Novak called me about three weeks ago and I said no at the start. But my wife (Stefanie Graf) said, ‘You should go, you will love it’. We had organized a family trip during Roland Garros anyway which was planned for a long time,” Agassi said during the program. “So I hope to see one or two of Novak’s matches and try to bring to him what I can because even a small remark can do a lot. What I know, with certainty, is that he can be even better than yesterday. I think he can only improve, because he understands how strong he is.”
Two career Slam champs on the same court
You never know; Agassi might get the tennis jones again after mostly being away from the game for more than a decade.
He has become a teacher by inclination, with the founding of several charter schools. And there’s no doubt there’s much the American, who won the French Open in 1999, can teach Djokovic about how to maximize the latter stages of his career.
Agassi was chased by a pack of journalists as Djokovic and his group made their way back to the locker room. He was congenial, but after just a short time on the court – their first time – he didn’t have much to say.
“With Novak, I’m at the very beginning. I enjoyed it right from this first day together. I can’t tell you a lot; what’s important is him, not me.” Agassi said. “I hope to offer (help) both mentally and technically. But give me time to learn.”
Fans of the player poo-poo the idea as an invention of the media.
And in the end, it turns out it wasn’t a figment of someone’s imagination.
After losing the Rome final Sunday to the quickly-rising Alexander Zverev, Djokovic announced that the Hall of Fame American would be with him in Paris on a coaching trial.
Djokovic also is expected to announce a new sponsorship deal with the French tennis manufacturer Lacoste on Monday. So in 24 hours, his tennis landscape will change on many levels.
“I spoke to Andre the last couple weeks on the phone, and we decided to get together in Paris. So he’s going to be there. We’ll see what the future brings. We are both excited to work together and see where it takes us,” Djokovic said in Rome. “We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit.”
A part-time gig – at best
Agassi has made no secret that he has little interest in going on the road full time as a coach. Like many players who had long playing careers, the road holds neither mystery nor allure at this point in his life.
He’s a busy philanthropist, and his kids are growing up quickly.
That Agassi has no “official” coaching experience matters very little in this particular case. As with other “super-coach” types before him – Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and in Djokovic’s case Boris Becker – it’s more a matter of inspiration.
Djokovic won’t suddenly hug the baseline and take the ball on the rise as Agassi did, merely by osmosis. Just as Milos Raonic and Roger Federer didn’t suddenly start coming to the net for the first time ever when McEnroe and Edberg came on the scene.
But the 47-year-old knows a whole lot about how to maximize the latter stages of his career. Despite starting at a very young age, he kept the fire going as a tennis player well into his 30s.
“He will not stay the whole tournament. He’s gonna stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s gonna happen. Obviously, Andre is someone that I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player. He has been through everything that I’m going through. You know, on the court he understands the game amazingly well. I am enjoying every conversation that I have with him,” Djokovic said.
“But also, on the other hand, he’s someone that nurtures the family values, philanthropy work. He’s a very humble man, is very educated in just — you know, he’s a person that can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. I’m very excited to see what is ahead of us.”
Tennis IQ off the charts
Agassi’s limited appearances as a television commentator give a good indication of exactly how much tennis intelligence he has to share. Five minutes of Agassi on the analysis offers more than a whole match’s worth from some of the very well-paid commentators out there.
As a side issue, it will add a little stardust to a French Open that will be missing some with the absences of Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova.