Novak Djokovic out for the season

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Ahead of a scheduled press conference in Belgrade, Novak Djokovic went on Facebook Live, with some beautiful clay courts in the background, and made a personal announcement to his fans.

He will be out for the rest of the season, and plans to come back even stronger in 2018.

It is exactly a year, to the day, that Roger Federer made a similar announcement in the wake of Wimbledon. That break seemed to work out pretty well.

Here’s what Djokovic said:

“Hello from Belgrade, I have a little announcement to make today.

Just wanted to share the news with you, After obviously a year and a half of carrying the injury of the elbow that has culminated the last couple of months, I have made the decision to not play any competition, any tournaments until the rest of the 2017 season. Unfortunately this is the decision that had to be made at this moment. Wimbledon was probably the toughest tournament for me in terms of feeling the pain that has escalated.

Only time can heal

I have consulted many of the doctors and specialists and various people from both ends of the medicine in the last 12 to 15  months, and especially in the last couple of months when I felt the injury was getting worse.

They all agreed that I need rest, that I need time. This is one of those injuries where nothing can really help instantly. You just have to allow nature, natural rehabilitation to take its course.

Professionally this is not an easy decision for me. But I’m trying to look from the positive side everything. I believe everything in life happens for a reason.  I’ll try to use this time as best as I can.

Obviously spend quality time with my family.  In about a  monthmonth and a half’s time hopefully Jelena and I, with Gods’ help, will become parents again. And obviously I will take this time to heal, do all the different suggested methods of healing processes so I can get back on the court ASAP.

A couple of months off the court

It will take a couple of months at least without the racquet. And then I’m hoping I can start after that, to train. I’m looking forward, to be honest, I can build my body, my game, my team as well.

I’m happy to share that Andre Agassi is committed to staying with me next year. I’m looking forward to getting back on the practice courts with him and of course having him in the box for any big tournaments.

Djokovic

I just want to say, lastly, that I’m very grateful. And that’s probably the strongest emotion I’m feeling lately even though, as I said, professionally, it’s not an easy decision, not an easy decision to swallow.

Obviously I have never faced this particular situation before in my life. I haven’t skipped any big tournaments. I’ve played all the Grand Slams and probably 90 per cent of the Masters 1000 events. I was blessed to have a lot of success. I’m very grateful for that. I’m also very grateful that I’ve kept my body very healthy throughout the years. I haven’t had too many injuries, especially no big injuries like this one that would keep me away from the tour for longer than a month, month and a half.

Plans to come back better

It’s completely a new experience or me, new circumstances. But I’m trying to look at it from a brighter side. I have time where I can dedicate to healing, to building up my body, and strength and obviously focusing on some aspects and elements of my game that  I really never had time to work on.

Now I have time to perfect it and to build a foundation for the next five years or more – God knows. I really want to play professional tennis for many years to come.”

UPDATE: Click here to see the press release after Djokovic’s Belgrade press conference. He said that Agassi was with him in Toronto as he consulted specialists. And that he would return in 2018 by playing a warmup tournament before the Australian Open.

How about Hopman Cup? It worked for Federer. 🙂

DCup doc says Djoko out 6 – 12 weeks

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Caveat: There has been no official word from Novak Djokovic himself.

But according to Serbian media, Davis Cup physician Zdeslav Milinković, who also is an orthopaedic surgeon and a friend of the former No. 1, has examined the country’s star player and said he will need six to 12 weeks off.

Dr. Milinković said Djokovic, who made a trip to Toronto, Canada last week to be examined by a specialist, has a bone bruise in the elbow. He considers it an overuse injury. He also said that the symptoms had calmed down somewhat from Wimbledon.

Djokovic can do fitness, but not put a racket in his hand while he undergoes treatment. Dr. Milinković added that the next examination would either maintain that time frame, or modify it.

Djokovic
Djokovic’s arm issues in Rio were probably the most heartbreaking. He was a rockstar down there, and his devastation after a first-round loss to Juan Martin del Potro was tough to watch. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Big tournaments upcoming

If this is accurate – and a Djokovic press conference in Belgrade is to take place this week – the current world No. 4 not only would miss the Masters 1000 tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati, but also the US Open.

Serbia also has the Davis Cup semifinals against France right after the US Open.

The bad news can’t be considered a surprise.

Retiring during a match at a Grand Slam isn’t something a top player does without careful consideration and a fair bit of pain.

And Djokovic’s arm issues have been visible, off and on, at least as far back as the Summer Olympics in Rio a year ago.

Is he gone until 2018?

The question remains, if the recommendations are accurate and Djokovic expresses his intention to follow the medical advice, will he simply decide to pull the ripcord on 2017?

To do all that work and come back for a few big late-season tournaments in Asia (granted, they are among his favorites and he’s hugely popular there) and risk compromising the start of 2018 is a dilemma Djokovic will have to wrestle with.

The Serb is currently No. 7 in the race to the ATP Tour Finals. But if he misses out on a potential 4,000 ranking points between Montreal, Cincy and the US Open, that point likely will be moot.

The stories in Serbian media are here, and here. They use the same quotes.

Berdych is wearing Djokovic’s shoes!!!!

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The Djokovic model of adidas tennis shoes is nothing new for Tomas Berdych. 

He wears them all the time.

But the Internet and the tabloids discovered it during his Wimbledon semifinal against Roger Federer on Friday.

And so it became a pretty big deal for a few hours.

The tabloid headline writers clearly didn’t quite grasp how low the odds were that Berdych would be paying tribute to another tennis player who had not, to our knowledge, passed away or otherwise suffered great trauma.

It was definitely not a Jack Sock – Bethanie Mattek-Sands situation.

The Telegraph blared:

“Tomas Berdych pays classy trainer tribute to injured Novak Djokovic”.

The Express yelled:

“TOMAS BERDYCH wore a bizarre tribute to Novak Djokovic against Roger Federer!”

When you think about it, it was pretty ironic.

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Berdych wore Djoko shoes in Indian Wells and Miami, too. They didn’t have a Djoko-face. But they did sport the Djoko-logo.

Novak Djokovic was the man who theoretically should have been standing across the net from Federer in this semifinal. 

But the three-time champion retired after a set and two games against Berdych in the quarterfinals with a chronic elbow issue.

And so, the Czech, who reached the singles final here in 2010, benefited from a somewhat free pass.

Shoes are a tough fit

The Czech player has the same issue many players have when switching clothing brands. In his case, from Nike to H&M to adidas in a short period of time.

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Djoko shoes, as worn by the real Djoko.

Djokovic wears the adidas shoes (the company he used to endorse) for a reason.

For one thing, when you find a comfortable pair of shoes, you stick with them. Blistered feet are painful, loser’s feet.

The Serb’s subsequent sponsors, Sergio Tacchini and Uniqlo, didn’t make shoes. And most of the players who wear clothes made by his new clothing sponsor, Lacoste, wear other brands of shoes.

(Tacchini used to be in the tennis shoe business. But there were always complaints about their footwear. Pete Sampras, who represented the Italian company back in the day, used to suffer from shin splints and was concerned the shoes didn’t do enough to protect his feet. So he had to negotiate his way out of his deal. Martina Hingis, back in the day, filed a lawsuit against them.)

Officially, Berdych endorses the adidas Barricade model. But he said in the press conference after his loss to Federer that he has to wear the Djoko-sneaks, the “Novak Pro” model.

“I’m wearing Novak shoes because the other shoes just doesn’t fit well to me, so that’s why I have to play in the shoes that they are fitting well and doesn’t hurt my feet,” he said.

If Djokovic couldn’t be there, at least he was representing. Which probably brought him no comfort at all.

Djokovic advances, criticizes scheduling

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WIMBLEDON – Novak Djokovic got the job done Tuesday under the Wimbledon Centre Court roof.

He completed the men’s singles quarter-final lineup with a 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over unseeded Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

But the three-time champion will have to play his quarter-final match Wednesday on about 24 hours rest. Opponent Tomas Berdych will have had more than a day’s extra time to recover and prepare.

And that, Djokovic blames on the Wimbledon schedulers.

“We spoke with the referee, supervisors, trying to understand the thought process that they are having. I just think it was a wrong decision not to play us last night, because we could have played. I think the last match on the Centre Court was done before 7:00. Having in mind that Centre Court has the roof and lights, we could have played till 11:00,” Djokovic said. 

“We went to the referee’s office before 8:00. There was security reasons. That was the only excuse, that basically there were explanations that we were getting,” he added. “I just didn’t see any logic in not playing us on the Centre Court. If the Court 1 ticket holders cannot go to the Centre Court, only the second Centre Court ticket holders can go, which they were already at the hill. They could just make the announcement, move them in, and we could play.”

At least, Djokovic said, they were scheduled on Centre Court Wednesday, first up, on a day that was forecast to be interrupted by rain (as it turned out to be). So they were able to play it on time, without any interruption, and move on.

The postponement was in large part due to Wimbledon not having a fifth-set tiebreak, which meant the match scheduled right before Djokovic’s match on No. 1 Court, Nadal vs. Muller, went on and on until it finally ended at 15-13 in the final set.

Third-set tiebreak, please

Djokovic is in favour of a fifth-set tiebreak at Wimbledon.

“I just don’t see any reason why not. Because Isner and Mahut made a history with an 11-hour match once. Is that a reason why we’re keeping it?” he asked. “Yeah, it is great drama. But that player has to go out tomorrow. It is, for a spectator. But for a player to play a five-, six-hour match, then come back the next day or within two days and perform, it’s not really what your body’s looking for, to be honest.”

More than the postponement, Djokovic had issues with the lack of information he and Mannarino were getting, and the failure to make a quick, firm decision. 

“Obviously was not happy not to play last night. I wanted to play. I thought we could have played. We were kept for two and a half hours in the dark, in a way, without knowing what we are going to do. So you were on your toes warming up, cooling down. Referee’s office was completely indecisive,” he said. “Finally when the (Nadal) match was over, we thought, ‘Okay, we have two and a half hours, we can go to Centre Court.’ They said, ‘No, it’s going to take too long to get the crowd in.’

“It was frustrating last night, I must admit. But I quickly just turned the next page and just focused on what I need to do today. I’ve done it in straight sets. That’s all that matters,” he added.

Physical issue for Djoko?

Djokovic had a medical timeout in the third set to have his upper arm/shoulder area treated.

He said in his post-match interview with the BBC that it was something ongoing. With the enforced shortened turnaround before his match against Berdych Wednesday, that’s 24 fewer hours he has to get any treatment required to recover fully and play another best-of-five set match.

We’ll see on Wednesday if there’s a spillover effect.

Djokovic vs. Mannarino postponed to Tuesday

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WIMBLEDON – The fate of the eighth and final fourth-round men’s match on Manic Monday was a long time coming.

Would Novak Djokovic and Adrian Mannarino play on No. 1 Court, after the marathon between Rafael Nadal and Gilles Muller? And if so, how long could they play before darkness fell?

Would Djokovic and Mannarino be moved to Centre Court? The net was still up, the umpire’s chair still in place during Nadal vs. Muller.

Would Djokovic and Mannarino start on No. 1 court, then be moved to Centre Court to finish up? There was precedent for that.

But there was no news of any kind, as Nadal and Muller kept holding serve, and holding serve again until Muller finally completed the upset.

Information blackout

It seemed Djokovic might have an inkling about what was to happen.

Then again, surely he was keeping wife Jelena apprised, right?

In the end, Wimbledon cancelled the match. Officially, at 8:49 p.m.

And not only did that create more questions than it answered, it also will have a ripple effect on the women’s quarter-finals on Tuesday.

The reasoning was, well, considerate. But debatable. 

“The safety and security of all visitors to The Championships is of paramount importance. The preference was to play the Djokovic v Mannarino match as scheduled on No.1 Court.

When that was no longer an option, it was determined the match could not be moved to Centre Court due to the number of spectators remaining in the Grounds.

As late as 8.30pm, 30,000 people still remained in the Grounds, and therefore moving the match would have created a significant safety issue.

Both players were explained the rationale of postponing the match until tomorrow, which is now scheduled for a 12noon start on Centre Court.”

No stampedes at the AELTC

It’s worth noting that Wimbledon is a place that makes a friendly announcement over the public-address system shortly before the gates open at 10:30 a.m. There are thousands of people waiting outside to sprint for the court they plan to set up on for the day, and the announcer asks them not to run.

And they pretty much don’t ever run.

It’s a place where thousands of people camp out every night just to get inside the gates the next day, and it’s all quite peaceful. As well, it’s a place where fans line up forever to get into one show court or another, and we’ve never seen a contretemps.

It’s also worth noting that as popular as Novak Djokovic is, he’s not Andy Murray or Roger Federer in this particular context.

Does it seem as though Wimbledon – generally a well-oiled machine of the highest caliber – is having a few extra bumps this year?

And we don’t mean only the bumps (and divots) behind the Centre Court baseline that some players have been pointing out. 

Would they for Fed?

Djokovic never even got on court to hit the behind-the-back shot he was practicing early in the week. Now, his schedule, and that of opponent Adrian Mannarino, will get jammed. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

It begs a legitimate question: had it been Murray or Federer on No. 1 Court waiting to play, would they have made the same decision?

The world No. 1 Brit, and Federer – the player many would have pulled heaven from earth to wrangle a ticket to No. 1 Court to see play Monday.

They probably won’t answer that question. Wimbledon makes its decisions – and they’re well thought out and reasoned per all of the parameters they have to deal with, even if people disagree with the outcome. And that’s that.

Wimbledon’s basic philosophy about the roof is that even though it is in place, Wimbledon is an outdoor tournament and, as much as possible, they try to keep it that way.

But if it suits them, they can be “flexible.”

Bouchard hits Centre Court

Last year, Genie Bouchard and Magdalena Rybarikova began their first-round match on Court 12 on the Tuesday, were delayed a full day but when persistent rain blew the schedule up, the tournament made the unusual decision of relocating the match to Centre Court to get it finished Wednesday night.

There were plenty of other deserving candidates. Why this match? It ended up being the only one to get finished while so many players waited out two solid days of rain.

 

Mannarino
The special treatment Genie Bouchard received during a rainy first week at Wimbledon last year had everything to do with the need to schedule second-round opponent Johanna Konta on Centre Court. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The reason became clear when Brit Johanna Konta got the one women’s slot on Centre Court for her second-round match the next day. She was playing the winner of the Bouchard-Rybarikova match and if that match hadn’t been completed when it was, there would have been no match.

And the more the schedule was pushed back, the harder it would have been to justify putting Konta (then only the No. 16 seed) on Centre when so many more accomplished players were waiting to play.

Frenchmen moved mid-match

In 2015, another unusual situation arose as Frenchmen Gilles Simon and Gaël Monfils were playing their third-round match on No. 1 Court on the first Saturday night, when darkness fell.

If they didn’t finish, they would have had to wait until Monday. And if they waited until Monday, the entire Manic Monday concept would have gone all wrong as the winner of that one could not play a second best-of-five singles match that same day.

Mannarino
Gilles Simon and Gaël Monfils found their No. 1 Court match moved to Centre Court on the first Saturday of the 2015 tournament.

So … they relocated the match to Centre Court.

Except, they didn’t announce it. The fans on No. 1 Court, who were only told play was being suspended because of bad light, didn’t know it was being moved. The majority of them went home, and were cheated out of a dénouement and even a chance to get onto Centre Court, if they never had before.

There ended up being, perhaps, 2,000 people on Centre Court as anyone who was still hanging around the site was allowed in.

The difference between that one and Monday’s confusion was that the club stated there were exponentially more people still on the grounds than there were for that Simon-Monfils match.

Tuesday forecast: grim

One parameter Wimbledon probably needed to factor in with this decision is that the forecast for Tuesday is … awful. The tournament got a little lucky Monday, with the possibility of showers and maybe even a thundershower forecast. They never materialized.

They won’t be as lucky on Tuesday.

Mannarino
The forecast for Tuesday at Wimbledon is for the wet stuff. Pretty much all day. Just to add to the intrigue. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Light rain through the morning and early afternoon, then it gets heavier later in the afternoon and into the evening.

Lunchtime with Mannarino

The Djokovic-Mannarino match was rescheduled to be first up on Centre Court Tuesday. And the usual start time of 1 p.m. was moved up to noon. The winner will have to play against on Wednesday, with the men’s quarter-finals scheduled to go that day.

What that means, practically, is that Venus Williams and Jelena Ostapenko, who had a firm 1 p.m. start time for their women’s quarter-final, must now sit and wait.

The men’s best-of-five set match could take two hours. It could take three. It could – as Nadal and Muller did Monday – take four hours and 47 minutes. Or someone could pull a hamstring in the second game of the match, and it could take 10 minutes.

Then comes the other quarter-final from the bottom half of the draw: No. 2 seed Simona Halep vs. No. 6 seed, Brit Johanna Konta.

Men’s postponement affects the women

Those three matches will be played. But what about the top half?

Svetlana Kuznetsova and Garbiñe Muguruza are set to open play on No. 1 Court at 1 p.m., followed by Coco Vandeweghe and Rybarikova.

But … what if the weather forecast is right?

If there were no men’s match on Centre Court, it would be no problem. Within the window of play that must necessarily conclude by an 11 p.m. neighbourhood curfew, they could get all four women’s matches in.

With the Djokovic-Mannarino match a wild card in that mix, there’s no chance that could happen. So what do they do? Play one, leaving the winner of the other to be the only player to have to play on back-to-back days? Play none, postponing both until Wednesday to at least give put that semi-final on even terms?

Likely the latter. Which means that five-time champion Venus and British hope Konta have a nice advantage.

Djokovic: new team, old fire

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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

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Agassi isn’t just making a cameo this Wimbledon. He’s here for the duration. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.

Is Tiger Nole back in the house?

It’s far too soon to conclude that Djokovic has the eye of the tiger back. But he likes his form, and he likes his team. Andre Agassi, who made a cameo appearance at the French Open, is here for the duration. And former world No. 7 Mario Ancic, now a lawyer and an investment banker in New York City, has joined up.

“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.

It may have plenty of legs left.

Djokovic adds Mario Ancic to team

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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.

ancicThat 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.

ancic
Ancic practicing on Court 2 at Aorangi Park in 2008. He lost to Roger Federer in the quarter-finals there that year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.

Here he is talking about Djokovic (and other subjects) to the BBC last year.

 

Djokovic to Eastbourne before Wimbledon

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For years, Novak Djokovic didn’t play any Wimbledon warmup events at all.

It has worked out well for him. The Serb has won it three times (2011, 2014 and 2015, beating Rafael Nadal in the first one and Roger Federer in the other two).

The last time he played on grass before the main event was 2010.

But that was then; this is now.

Djokovic’s last grass-court memory was a shocking third-round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon a year ago. He’ll put that in the rear-view mirror by playing the small ATP 250 event in Eastbourne next week.

Rarely will top players compete the week before a Grand Slam. The top-ranked player at the Eastbourne entry deadline was American John Isner, at No. 24.

But that was then; this is now.

The tournament sort of spilled the beans by listing Djokovic as a wild-card recipient on its website last week. In fact, there had merely been an inquiry from Djokovic’s people.

Not that he’d really need to beg. This is the biggest thing to happen to the tournament in Eastbourne, especially on the men’s side – probably in decades.

Finally, the acceptance of the wild card was confirmed Wednesday morning.

Gaël Monfils, short on matches, had earlier decided also to play Eastbourne. And the world No. 1 on the women’s side, Angelique Kerber, is also planning to play although her withdrawal this week, and a reoccurring hamstring injury, certainly leave that in doubt.

 

RG men’s quarters almost true to form

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ROLAND GARROS – Milos Raonic, the No. 5 seed at the French Open, played spoilsport in what turned out to be a true-to-form final eight.

The Canadian was upset, 8-6 in the fifth set after four hours and 17 minutes, by No. 20 seed Pablo Carreño Busta in the fourth round on Sunday.

But the other seven top seeds made it. And along with Carreño Busta, they make up a top-quality, if predictable, elite eight bracket.

Which is not to say that they all arrived here in thoroughly predictable fashion.

Here’s a look at their twists and turns through the first week of the tournament.

No. 1 – Andy Murray

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Murray was in good spirits before the tournament began, and might even have avoided chiding coach Ivan Lendl for wearing the same way-too-big polo shirt two days in a row (he really did). (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The top seed went about it all bass-ackwards. He lost sets to players he probably shouldn’t have (Andrey Kuznetsov, Martin Klizan) and didn’t lose sets to players he maybe could have (Juan Martin del Potro, the powerful Russian Karen Khachanov).

But along the way the Brit appeared to rebuild some of the confidence lost along the way this season – just in time for the pointy end of the tournament.  

He even managed to make jokes!

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [8] Kei Nishikori

No. 2 – Novak Djokovic

Much was made of the new face in Team Nole, as Andre Agassi arrived with great fanfare shortly before the tournament began. 

Agassi is reportedly gone now, but promises to be back when and if Djokovic needs him. While he was here, he watched Djokovic navigate some pretty good players routinely. Except for Diego Schwartzman.

The Argentine was right in there until his body failed him in the late going of their five-setter in the third round. He even led two sets to one. With Djokovic’s up-and-down results this season, it would have been an unlikely upset, but by no means an impossible one.

Whether his earlier rounds – he had, by most measures, a good draw – were enough preparation for what his quarter-final opponent will bring to the table is a question that will be answered on Court Suzanne Lenglen Tuesday.

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [6] Dominic Thiem

No. 3 – Stan Wawrinka

The only big (Swiss) cheese in the draw this year with the absence of Roger Federer, Wawrinka’s season has been below his standards. But while it’s a cliché to say a player peaks for the Grand Slams, the 32-year-old REALLY peaks for the Slams. Which probably is why he’s won three of them, including this one.

Wawrinka faced two of the more dangerous lower seeds in the tournament in Fabio Fognini and Gaël Monfils, and got through both in straight sets. Again with Fognini, the body didn’t cooperate.

Against Monfils on Monday, everyone was hoping for a blockbuster. But these two good friends made it more like a fun match for beers in their local Swiss public park. 

When it was over, Wawrinka looked as though he almost felt badly that Monfils couldn’t put up more resistance. He knows more than most that his great friend, at 30 but with a fragile body, won’t have many more chances to make a deep run at his home-country Slam.

“It was a mentally exhausting match, I think. We were both tense. And we know each other so well. We knew how important it was, for him or for me, to play well,” Wawrinka said.

On the worrisome side, the Swiss star’s back locked up from the beginning of the match. It’s what he calls the most fragile part of his body, always managed but never worry-free.

 

Fitness for battle: 7

Quarter-final opponent: [7] Marin Cilic

No. 4 – Rafael Nadal

It appeared the nine-time French Open champion was back for real in 2017 after a great start to the season. But who knew to what extent?

His French Open prep was vintage, although stubbornly deciding to play Rome despite already having won three titles looked like a bad call when he was on fumes by the quarterfinals. He lost to Dominic Thiem there, after beating him twice earlier in the clay-court season.

Raonic, slotted to be his quarter-final opponent, might have posed a few more challenges than Nadal’s young countryman Carreño Busta. Nadal is pretty much money when he’s playing fellow Spaniards. And Carreño Busta is coming off a draining, emotional marathon win while Nadal is fresh as a margarita amarilla.

Fitness for battle: 11

Quarter-final opponent: [20] Pablo Carreño Busta

No. 6 – Dominic Thiem

With his efforts during the spring clay season, and with fellow youngster Alexander Zverev winning Rome, it figured these two would be in the mix in the second week in Paris.

But Zverev flamed out in the first round against Fernando Verdasco. And so it was left to Thiem to make his seed. He did so very much under the radar, without dropping a set and ceding more than four games in only two of the 12 sets he played. 

Had he faced David Goffin in the fourth round, rather than Horacio Zeballos, Thiem might have been tested more. But Goffin’s nasty ankle injury, suffered in the first set against Zeballos, took him out.

In the quarter-finals, we’ll find out if he has a Plan B, after getting just one game against Novak Djokovic in the Rome semi-final a few weeks ago. On the plus side, he won’t have to play him the day after he has to play Nadal.

Fitness for battle: 8

Quarter-final opponent: [2] Novak Djokovic

No. 7 – Marin Cilic

With Nadal, Djokovic and Thiem all in the final eight, no one is talking about Marin Cilic.

He’s used to that – especially in Paris, where he is a quarter-finalist for the first time in his career a year after losing in the first round, to No. 166-ranked Marco Trungelliti of Argentina.

Cilic has had a sweet draw, and hasn’t lost more than three games in any set. He caught a break in the fourth round Monday as opponent Kevin Anderson retired in the middle of the second set due to injury.

The last time Cilic faced Anderson was in the third round of the 2014 US Open. For what it’s worth, he won the tournament.

Fitness for battle: 7

Quarter-final opponent: [3] Stan Wawrinka

No. 8 – Kei Nishikori

In the third round, Nishikori caught a break when rain came to suspend his match with the younger, bigger, stronger Hyeon Chung of South Korea. When play resumed Sunday, Nishikori still looked dead on his feet, his stiff back  – or something – limiting his movement to a major degree.

Somehow, he got through that one.

Then on Monday, he faced Fernando Verdasco and looked basically the same in losing the first set 6-0. Somehow, he warmed up the body parts and got through that one as well. Let’s face it, though, he got help from Verdasco.

This is kind of the story of Nishikori’s career; his inability to keep his body as strong as his will has held him back from … who knows what?

Fitness for battle: 3

Quarter-final opponent: [1] Andy Murray

And, finally, the outlier

No. 20 – Pablo Carreño Busta

No one gives the 25-year-old a shot against his much-decorated compatriot in the quarter-finals. Maybe not even the Carreño Busta family, for all we know.

The man himself said after his win over Raonic that if he didn’t think he had a shot, he wouldn’t take the court. He might get his behind kicked, he might pull off a miracle. But he can’t ask for more than playing the clay GOAT and his good friend on a big stadium court in the French Open quarter-finals.

Hopefully his family, who had to leave to catch a flight back to Spain in the third set of his match against Raonic, will fly back to see this one.

Fitness for battle: 5

Quarter-final opponent: [4] Rafael Nadal

Nadal vs. Carreño Busta is on Court Philippe Chatrier Tuesday, while Djokovic vs. Thiem is on Court Suzanne Lenglen. You have to think the champion is going to come out of that group.

Nishikori vs. Murray and Wawrinka vs. Cilic will be Wednesday, with far less fanfare.

The Big Premiere: Nole and Andre

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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.

Here’s how they looked together Thursday.

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.

premiereHe 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.”