By the time Becker came on board Djokovic’s team in 2014, the Serbian had been on the losing end of four out of his last five Grand Slam finals, and it can be agreed that at this stage of his career it would be more the little nuances of his game.
Djokovic’s serve and volley skills improved, and he was completely dominant as a World No. 1 returning to that spot after winning Wimbledon for the second time in 2014.
By the end of that year he had secured the year-end No. 1 ranking at the World Tour finals, winning his seventh title of 2014, and a fourth World Tour Finals crown ‘three-peating’ his win. He continued his form into Australia – winning a fifth Australian Open title and in 2015 he scooped three Slams including a third Wimbledon title, six Masters titles and his win over Roger Federer in the US Open final saw him reach double-digits in Slam titles.
Again he capped the year with the World Tour Finals title and year-end No. 1 and was the first player to win the title four straight times.
The start to 2016 could not have been any better. Having set a rankings record last year, he broke his own record raising the rankings points to 16,790 before going on to win a sixth Australian Open, and winning the French Open to become the eighth player to win a Career Grand Slam, and the third player in history to hold all four majors at the same time. He looked unstoppable.
Where did it all go wrong?
It all started to unravel for Djokovic in Wimbledon. He lost surprisingly early in the third round to Sam Querrey, with hints of personal issues affecting him. That downward trajectory continued though as he lost in the opening round of the Rio Olympics to an inspired Juan Martin Del Potro, before being beaten by an equally inspired Stan Wawrinka in the US Open final.
As he also battled with an elbow injury that saw him miss out on Beijing, a tournament where he enjoys a staggering 29-0 record, and on his return to the tour, lost in the Shanghai semi-final and the Paris quarter-final before being beaten in the final of the World Tour Finals, losing the World No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray. What is key is that in the second half of the year, Murray overhauled an 8000 point deficit to bring it all down to one match at the end of the season.
The Brit was there for the taking. He had two gruelling battles at the World Tour finals breaking two records for the longest matches at the season-ending finale and to be honest he looked totally exhausted in his final training session before the final. Yet it was Djokovic that looked the more vulnerable, and his usual money-shots let him down badly.
Let’s face it – ‘tis the season for coaching splitsbut Becker offered his reasons for the split, which to be fair many saw coming for a while. Speaking to Sky Sports, Becker admitted that the decision to part had been mutual, and on the cards.
“A decision like this does not happen overnight. It is a progress. I think the last six months have been challenging on many levels. Our hands were tied a little bit because we couldn’t do the work we wanted to do.
“He didn’t spend as much time on the practice court in the last six months as he should have and he knows that. Success like this doesn’t happen by pushing a button. Success like this doesn’t just happen by showing up at a tournament. You have to work your bottom off because the opposition does the same.”
After achieving his goal of winning the French Open, Djokovic’s focus seemed to have wavered, according to the six-time Slam champion and former World No. 1.
He continued: “I don’t know if he had any personal problems based on what I know. He is happily married. He has got a beautiful son. But the profession of a tennis player is probably the most selfish one in sports because it has to be about you and he is the first to say he is a family man so of course his wife and the rest of his family had to take back seats.
“That can’t be forever and I think that is what he meant. I don’t think there were problems. I have met his wife – she is lovely and very, very supportive of her husband. But they don’t spend enough time together. I had it too, 20 years ago. It is just the nature of the beast, being a tennis player.”
He still has Marián Vajda in his team, presumably continuing as his head coach, although it is unclear how much travelling he will be able to commit to. It also appears that he will retain Pepe Imaz, a former player and tennis coach who now focuses on calming techniques such as meditation as part of his coaching approach.
Djokovic has big points to defend in Australia, aiming to defend his title for a third time, as well as targeting a record seventh title in Melbourne. And of course there is still the matter of reclaiming his spot at the top of the rankings.
“I am sure the fact that he lost the No 1 ranking to Andy Murray is going to hurt,” Becker said. “I know the US Open loss in the final against Stan [Wawrinka] hurt. I think that is what he needed maybe in a funny way was to lose a little bit, to realise what it is like to lose, because he hasn’t been losing for two and a half years.
“I’m convinced that he will come back and regain that No 1 position and regain being the most dominant player in his sport. But he has got to go back to work. He has to go back to the office and practice these hours and refocus on what made him strong in the first place.”
Djokovic will begin his season in Doha, which starts on 2 January.
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