Djokovic/Boris Partnership at an End?
A recent interview/article with Boris Becker was posted by the Daily Mail, and it painted a sombre picture for the future of the tennis legend’s future (or lack thereof) with Novak Djokovic. I won’t rehash a load of quotes—you should check out the article itself for that—but I did want to offer my thoughts on the matter.
Firstly, though nothing has been stated officially, it seems fairly clear that Boris will be leaving Djokovic’s team. At this stage I think it will be something of a shock if he hasn’t departed come next year. Boris has come across as almost despairing in some recent interviews; the helpless coach who can’t understand why his player is under-performing and can’t figure out how to turn it around. I get a very definite sense from the post-ATP World Tour Finals interviews with Becker that he feels like one half of a married couple trying to fix their relationship while the other half just doesn’t want to try.
Don’t let my metaphor confuse you; the “marriage” is Djokovic’s tennis. I’m not speculating on how their friendship has fared.
As Mike Dickson in the aforementioned article observed, Boris’ wording in his interview at some point moves to past tense. It came across as more a person reflecting on an old part of their life, a part that has ended, rather than just taking stock of past events. Add to this the rumours that Boris had issued an ultimatum that Djokovic choose between Becker and his spiritual guru, Pepe Imaz, as well as the decision to head to the Paris Masters without half of his coach staff (including Boris), and we start a bigger picture that doesn’t involve the two working together.
What Does This Mean?
Here’s where I might draw a few jeers from Boris fans, but I honestly don’t think Becker has had that big an impact on Djokovic’s career. Prior to Becker joining, Djokovic had racked up six Grand Slam’s, had one of the most dominant seasons of tennis in men’s singles history, and spent two years at the very top of the rankings. Then he had a bit of a slump.
By his standards.
He went the whole of 2013 only winning one Grand Slam, and dropped to the lowly position of second in the rankings. I mean, he may as well retire at that point, right?
But he brought Becker on board, won himself another six Grand Slam titles, had another season of dominance to rival his 2011 tear, spent another two years at the top of the rankings… and then hit another slump. This time was Murray that deposed him instead of Nadal, but the symmetry is clear.
When you look at Djokovic’s career pre and post Becker, his achievements are almost identical. Six Grand Slams, two year-end number one rankings, one year utter dominance, and a bunch of Masters events and World Tour Finals. He also competed in the Olympic games during both periods and failed to win a medal either time.
Now, don’t take this as me completely dismissing Becker’s coaching ability—I’m sure he has been invaluable to the Djokovic camp—what I’m saying is I don’t think it is necessarily Becker himself that was the cause of the successes Djokovic has had since appointing him. I feel Djokovic has periodical motivation issues, and who can blame him? When you’re sitting at the very top of the game and beating everyone you come up against, it must be difficult to hold that level of intensity. What made the difference was the change.
Djokovic is one of the greatest players in the history of the game. When everything is clicking, he could have a stuffed teddy in his coaching box and he’d still win everything. For whatever reason, by the end of the 2013 season, and by end of this season, things aren’t clicking for Djokovic anymore. Becker was the change that saw Djokovic rediscover his form and desire in 2014, maybe Becker leaving will be the change that sees the same thing happen in 2017.
It’s a stark contrast to the Andy Murray/Ivan Lendl relationship, where all of Murray’s Slam’s and both of his Olympic gold medals came under the tutelage of Lendl. Whatever Lendl brings to the Murray camp, it seems crucial to the Scot’s success. I don’t think Djokovic needs Becker the way that Murray needs Lendl.
Djokovic just needs motivation, and Becker seems at a loss on how to provide that right now.