Five questions on new Novak Djokovic-Boris Becker partnership

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Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic made a surprising coaching move ahead of the 2014 season. (Marko Drobnjakovic/AP)

Novak Djokovic surprised everyone when he announced the hiring of six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker as his new head coach on Wednesday. Marian Vajda, Djokovic’s coach since 2006, will remain with the team but will cede the main job to Becker, who has never had a notable coaching appointment before.

The news left me scratching my head. Here are five questions that keep swirling:

Why now?

The last two high-profile hires of former Grand Slam champions came from two people who very clearly needed a change and a boost. When Andy Murray hired Ivan Lendl at the end of 2011, he had stalled out trying to break through to win his first major and was the odd man out from the ATP’s Big Three. This past summer, when Maria Sharapova surprisingly hired Jimmy Connors after Wimbledon, she was coachless and looking for someone to fill that role.

Djokovic is far from either of those situations. His highly successful partnership with Vajda continued through the 2013 season. Sure, there were those disappointing losses to Rafael Nadal at the French Open and U.S. Open, and a few more bad losses outside of the Slams than he was used to. But he finished the season in the right way, going on a 24-0 tear and solving Nadal twice. In other words, there was no cause for concern around the Djokovic camp going into 2014, which makes this seem like an unnecessary gamble.

What we don’t know is where Vajda’s head was in all this. Peter Bodo of speculates that Vajda may have been burned out after seven years of traveling the globe with Djokovic. That’s definitely plausible. During the last two years, Vajda has taken a few weeks off here and there to stay home with his family while Djokovic played tournaments. If that’s the case, the move makes more sense and any questions as to how Vajda feels about being put in the garage for a flashier model would be addressed.

The reaction on Twitter has been along the lines of “Wow. That’s interesting. We’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.”

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Is this Sharapova/Connors 2.0?

I’ll just come out and say it: Djokovic/Becker is no Lendl/Murray. Lendl came in at a time when Murray had yet to win a Slam. In that way, Lendl was the perfect mentor. “I’ve been there, kid. I know what it takes. Trust me.” And trust him Murray did. But Djokovic is a multi-Slam winner who is chasing a trophy, the French Open, where Becker never even made the final.

Put two champions in a room, and there’s going to be some ego with which to deal. The ego issue is one that people keyed into quickly when Sharapova hired Connors. Can these two intense and ambitious people find a way to work with each other toward a common goal? Again, the Murray/Lendl partnership brought together two people who didn’t love the limelight and were just about the tennis. It was easy to see why that would work. It’ll be interesting to see how Djokovic, a born entertainer who seems to enjoy the attention, handles Becker.

Will Becker have an impact on the mental side?

Becker isn’t known for being a tactical or technical master. He was a fireball on court and a world-class competitor (sounds a bit like Djokovic, doesn’t it?) who was famous for his ruthless killer instinct. That killer instinct is what was missing from Djokovic through the first three-quarters of the season, when he suffered some surprising losses after first putting himself in a winning position. Aside from the loss to Nadal at Roland Garros, where he led 4-2 in the fifth set, there was the loss to Juan Martin del Potro at the BNP Paribas Open, where Djokovic led 3-0 in the third set, and the loss to Tomas Berdych at the Italian Open, where the Serb led 6-2, 5-2.

NGUYEN: How new coach Becker can help Djokovic

Is Becker ready to get back into the grind of the tour?

Becker has reportedly committed to be at all four Slams in 2014, as well as Dubai, Miami, Rome, Cincinnati, Shanghai, Paris and London. In addition to attending tournaments, there’s also the issue of working with Djokovic during training blocks. Is the 46-year-old German ready for all of that? He’s spent much of the last decade serving as a BBC commentator and a spokesperson for poker and gambling companies while shaping himself into a TV personality. This is going to be a huge change. I honestly can’t imagine seeing Becker sitting under a towel for four hours while Djokovic grinds out a match under the searing Melbourne sun.

Will the hire help Djokovic’s image in Western Europe?

It’s a tertiary thought, but Becker really could help Djokovic get more of a PR presence in Western Europe. When it comes to brand building, being associated with such a popular figure in the region is no small endorsement in its own way. The spotlight always seems to find Becker. It wouldn’t hurt Djokovic’s image at all to get in on that.

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  • Published On Dec 18, 2013

    first of all boris becker is not replacing anybody of the coaching staff. he is just an addition to help novak on his net play which is the part that he can improve on.


    Does anyone seriously think this has anything at all to do with Murray-Lendl? That's preposterous. As for Novak's "image in Western Europe", is it really so terrible? 

    There's little Becker can bring to Djokovic in terms of mechanics/shot production/technique. But he's a player who has long understood the value of intangibles in tennis, and is a worthwhile addition while Vajda gets some well-deserved family time. 

    I wonder what Christopher Clarey thinks of the fact that Tio Toni has never played a professional tennis match.


    It's a strange hire, but not anything that will change Novak's game in a way that will be irreparable. Novak, personality notwithstanding, is a robot. He adds tools and installs new programs, but it won't be a complete reboot. We've seen that in his game the past few years where he got his serve back and made it a mission to finish at the net more, for better or worse.

    Novak knows that he has the athleticism, the game, and the mentality to win the French Open. I think the Becker hire has much more to do with Vajda needing a breather and him getting along with Boris than him needing something in his game that only Boris Becker can provide. Djokovic is an emotional guy and he values trust and companionship, and I think he saw something in Becker that makes him feel comfortable, yet adds a fresh voice to his expansive team. Hopefully, the first thing they work on is Novak's overhead and avoid anymore #DJOKOSMASH fails.

    Should be a fun Australian Open with him around. Like most of the "commentariat," we'll see how this shakes out. Becker is such an unproven entity and the fact that few seemed to like him (with reason) during his BBC gig isn't helping the public digest "Boris Becker as Novak Djokovic's head coach" very well. Who knows, maybe it won't change anything.


    Boris Becker said in an commentary " I will never be a coach I'm happy with this role as commentater as it is easy one." But now what I think he is greedy and Novak offers him lot of million dollars he can't refuse.


    Courtney, I think you bring up a good point: it is much easier to imagine this move being driven by Vajda wanting a break, rather than Djokovic throwing a man to the wholves who has been so loyal to him for so many years. It may sound strange to fans who don't like Djokovic, but I think loyalty is something he prizes in all his associations & forms part of his notion of how to conduct himself honorably. (Which I think is very important to him, all the old allegations about gamesmanship notwithstanding.)

    As for whether Becker will help Djovkoic become more competitive or aggressive or technically better at the net, I think we are right to be skeptical. We have heard ad nauseum about how the game has evolved away from the net & toward the baseline over the past few decades; and yet of course it is true. Becker's reckless abandon in approaching the net, esp. on grass, was a joy to watch; but that's not what wins matches these days, even at Wimbledon.

    Another big question for me about Becker is whether he will even be able to communicate with his charge beyond uttering enthusiastic cliches. As a commentator he is charming and attractive, but I've yet to hear him provide anything resembling insight into a match in progress, whether about tactics or strokes, or about what's going on inside the players' heads. Good PR for D's image in Western Europe? Maybe. But beyond that, I dunno.