After Changes, Djokovic Embracing Transition In Madrid
Novak Djokovic enters this week's Mutua Madrid Open in a situation unlike any he has experienced during the past decade. The defending champion arrives at the Spanish capital after having severed ties with his long-time team of coach Marian Vajda, fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic.
But Djokovic, who announced the split on his website last week, said he's excited about this new phase of his career and is energised by the challenge of returning to the top of the ATP World Tour.
“It was not an easy decision, neither for my team nor for me... This team has been there with me ever since I started a professional career. So it's been 10 fantastic, successful years,” Djokovic said during his pre-tournament press conference. “But we all felt like we needed a change. We all felt like we needed to enter a new chapter. It was a mutual decision... We just accepted it in a very good way... We move on, excited, all of us to see what the next chapter of our career and life brings.”
Djokovic said the group discussed their future together at the end of last season and agreed to continue as a team in 2017. But after the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters last month, where Djokovic fell in the quarter-finals, the group came to an agreement that it was time for a new start.
“We tried to work things out another time, but we just needed to move on. It was all in good spirits. I cannot be grateful enough to them for the sacrifice that they have made and the professionalism, the commitment, the friendship,” Djokovic said.
The decision comes after what has been an up-and-down 10 months for the Serbian. Last June, Djokovic completed his career Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros. He became just the third player to hold all four major crowns at the same time, joining Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 & '69).
But since his Paris breakthrough, Djokovic has failed to live up to his previous historic level of play. During the second half of 2016, the Belgrade native captured just one title after Roland Garros, his 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown in July at the Rogers Cup in Toronto (d. Nishikori).
He slipped to No. 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings in November, and Andy Murray ascended to No. 1, where the Scot has remained. Following that uncharacteristic finish to the season, Djokovic made the first change to his team, splitting with Boris Becker, with whom he had been with since December 2013.
Now Djokovic's team includes only a physiotherapist he's been working with since October, his brother, Marko, and former Spanish tennis player Pepe Imaz, with whom Djokovic has worked with the past few years.
“In the last six months, I haven't had too many great results. That's why I've felt like I needed some changes and I needed to approach things a little bit differently,” Djokovic said. “I'm comfortable and excited and as motivated as ever, of course, to compete on a highest level and see where it takes me.”
Djokovic has positive memories to rely on in Madrid. The World No. 2 won the Masters 1000 tournament last year, beating Murray in the final, and in 2011, when Djokovic knocked off then-World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. The second-seeded Serbian will face a Spanish wild card in the second round, either Nicolas Almagro or Tommy Robredo.
“Life always throws new challenges at you. Instead of avoiding them and ducking them, I'm trying to confront them and trying to embrace them. In the process, I'm trying to get better as a person and as a tennis player,” Djokovic said. “How long this process is going to last before I get to the winning terms again, I don't know. I'm just hoping I will get there again. That's all I can say.”