Rejuvenated Djokovic ready for new chapter
Novak Djokovic hailed his new mentor Andre Agassi as he offered a positive message about his chances of defending his Roland-Garros crown.
Novak Djokovic sounded like a man reborn as he delivered the most upbeat of messages in the build up to the defence of his Roland-Garros singles crown here on Friday. Feeling rejuvenated, with a new confidence level but still with all his old familiar steely resolve, the Serbian great declared that he felt ready to “redefine” himself.
All with a little help from a new friend, too. He had already “clicked and connected very fast” with his new coach Andre Agassi, reckoned Djokovic, as he predicted the American legend would provide him with “a new dose of inspiration” in Paris.
“It feels like a new chapter,” beamed Djokovic in the traditional champion’s pre-tournament news conference, as he talked of a whirlwind few weeks in which his previously sketchy form had improved significantly and he had ditched his old coaching team before linking up with one of the game’s most celebrated players in eight-time Grand Slam singles champion Agassi.
“The change that I have experienced in the last three, four weeks, separating with the team that I was with for ten years and now kind of creating a new team, creating a new vibe, feels exciting.
“It feels right at this moment because I was struggling a little bit on the court over the last five, six months, trying to redefine myself and rediscover what kind of approach is the right one.
“We all felt we needed a change, we needed to go our separate ways. So right now, I feel much better on the court."
That was evident in Rome last week when the 12-time Grand Slam winner offered a fleeting impression of his old dominant self - especially in the thrashing of Dominic Thiem - and revealed that Agassi had already been helping his makeover with some transatlantic phone calls.
“For a couple of weeks during Madrid and Rome, we were preparing for the matches, analysing matches on the phone to each other. That allowed both of us to get to know each other and for him especially, to get closer to my thinking and my mindset about tennis, and about life in general," Djokovic said.
“I was very glad that he accepted to come in person in Paris and spend some time. Thursday was our first day, we had two practice sessions, and then we had a very, very long conversation in the evening. Even though it was the first day, it felt like we’ve known each other for a very long time.
“Andre’s someone that inspires me a lot. That's one of the things I felt like I needed. New inspiration, someone that knows exactly what I'm going through on the court, off the court.
“He’s been through all these transitions, he has been in my shoes before playing Grand Slams, being the best in the world. I'm very excited for him being here, because it's a great opportunity for me to learn. It's a great opportunity for me to grow together with him.”
"Separating with the team that I was with for ten years and now kind of creating a new team, creating a new vibe, feels exciting."
Their link up stemmed from the world No.2 asking for Agassi’s contact number to thank him for being “one of the few people standing on my side and supporting me” during the difficult period since his 2016 triumph at Roland-Garros when his form and confidence dipped dramatically and he felt he was getting berated with criticism.
“I appreciated that very much, and I wanted to thank him in person, and over the phone. It turned out to be a long conversation, and that's where it all started.” It was, ultimately though, Agassi’s decision alone to join Djokovic’s team.
Djokovic was quick to add too that his friendship with his long-time mentor Marian Vajda had not been affected by the coaching shake-up. “The personal relationship stays the same,” he said. “Marian is family to me, and he will always be. We are still very close.”
Is it possible that Djokovic, who is set to open his defence against Spanish journeyman Marcel Granollers, is refreshing himself with perfect timing to reprise happy memories of his 2016 final triumph over Andy Murray, a win that he described as “one of the highlights of my life”?
A repeat, he accepts, will be difficult in an “interesting 2017 edition” with Rafael Nadal, in his eyes, being “the No.1 favourite” to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires for a 10th time. “The level of Rafa and Roger’s (Federer) tennis is quite fantastic,” he mused.
Nadal’s level may have to be if he is to repel the Agassi-powered champ.