Marian Vajda: Win over Rafa made the difference

Djokovic's coach says the importance of a win over the Spaniard at Roland-Garros cannot be overestimated.

 - Chris Oddo

Marian Vajda, long-time coach of Novak Djokovic, says that the confidence gained in notching an epic semi-final victory over Rafael Nadal made all the difference in Sunday’s Roland-Garros final against No.5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas

He says that Djokovic, who won 6-7(6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to claim his second Roland-Garros and 19th Grand slam title, was able to work through rough patches against Tsitsipas because of the belief he built up in his victory over the Mallorcan. 

“I think Rafa's game gave him a lot of confidence, believing in himself that he can win Roland-Garros,” Vajda said. “First two sets it took him [a] little bit off [guard] because maybe he was thinking too much ahead. Then he was able to be present after first two sets. Then he just prevail [with] his tennis.” 

Vajda told reporters after the final that the world No.1 was in a much better place mentally in 2021, compared to last autumn, when he fell victim to Nadal in straight sets in the 2020 final.

“I think he was much better than the last year mentally,” he said. “Then I was also more calm because I see he found the game just before the Roland-Garros. He won the tournament in the hometown, Belgrade, that gave him a lot of good confidence before [coming] here.” 

Clan Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros 2021, semi-final© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

'Roland-Garros is the toughest Grand Slam'

Despite the good vibes Djokovic carried into the tournament, there were no guarantees, says Vajda. Not when you are playing in Paris, where Nadal is a 13-time champion and considered to be the most formidable challenge in all of tennis. 

“If you are really good clay-court specialist, like Rafa, he has a special game for the clay,” Vajda said. “He doesn't need to work that hard for the clay because he has everything, the shots, the selection of shots, technically he's just perfect to stay on the clay for longer.” 

Djokovic’s coach said that even after he became the first man in history to earn two victories over Nadal at Roland-Garros, the 34-year-old's fate was still very much up in the air ahead of Sunday’s final with rising Tsitsipas. 

“I never know what's going to happen,” he said. “You can predict him as the winner, but Roland-Garros is the toughest Grand Slam in the history. Always tough because it's clay and it's tiring. It's different game. You have to adjust to the clay basically. You have to come through a lot of tough times.” 

Novak Djokovic, fans, Roland Garros 2021, final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Djokovic sets sights on 'Golden Slam'

Now that Djokovic has won the first two majors of the tennis season for the second time in his career, and has become the first man in Open Era history to have won all four Grand Slams two or more times, many are wondering if this could be the year that a man finally captures all four Grand Slam titles in the same season.

It’s a feat that has not happened on the men’s side since 1969 when Rod Laver accomplished it for the second time. 

With the Olympics looming this summer, there is even the potential for a 'Golden Slam', something that only the legendary Steffi Graf has ever achieved.  

33 years after Graf’s amazing 1988 season, where she won all four majors and Olympic gold in singles, Djokovic’s Roland-Garros performance has his coach thinking about the possibility. 

“Obviously his goal and our goal is to win the Olympics and then win the Grand Slam,” Vajda said. “That would be the absolute top of this year. But it's still far away from us. We have to still focus on the next one.”