Andre Agassi was winging his way towards London at the same time as Novak Djokovic was winning the title in Eastbourne on Saturday, the Serb’s first tournament victory since January. Having decided to play an official event in the week before Wimbledon for the first time since 2006, it was a big boost to his fragile confidence and after 12 months in which he went from invincible to mere mortal, things are looking up.
Just six weeks into their collaboration, though, surely Agassi cannot have made such a difference that Djokovic can win Wimbledon for a fourth time, this year, despite losing his aura of invincibility? “Don’t be surprised,” said the 47-year-old American.
“I wouldn’t say that at all. Can a guy like this objectively find his way back to the trophy? Heck, yeah he could. Of course that could happen. That’s the plan, that’s always the plan – to get better – and the belief in winning has to be yours and yours alone. I think there’s enough momentum that could build to give that particular dream, hope or objective a real shot.”
It was in late May that Djokovic announced Agassi, a former world No1, would be joining the growing list of “super-coaches” who are back on Tour, a generation after their own playing careers. The American went through a similar, albeit more exaggerated dip in form in his career but came back to regain the No1 ranking.
Having been out of the game since his retirement in 2006, Agassi was alongside Djokovic for part of his French Open run, but he had left by the time he was well beaten by the young Austrian Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals.
Agassi gave Djokovic a couple of days of space and was then straight on the case. “We’ve been speaking on a daily basis,” said Agassi, speaking in his role as ambassador for Lavazza, the Italian company which last week signed a three-year deal as the official coffee sponsor at Wimbledon.
“I know him so much better now than I did coming in and that’s so important. I can effectively say there is belief in what the plan is and how we’re going to go about it. It will get more nuanced and layered as we go – it’s problem solving and I am enjoying learning, I’m enjoying giving some tools and I have the utmost belief that it’s going to make him once again the best of who he is.”
What makes Agassi different to the other super-coaches is that he is not being paid, something he sees as crucial. “This isn’t a business transaction and nor will it be,” he said. “I don’t really need anything, so we need to come to the table on equal terms so that there’s a healthy respect and a healthy trust.”
Part of what attracted Agassi to the role is that Djokovic does not need “moulding” as a young player would, something that would be impossible given his existing commitments, notably The Andre Agassi Foundation, which provides education for underprivileged children in Las Vegas. “I’m learning and I’m putting some tools in the tool chest.
“So I don’t quite feel like this is the coaching that I know. I think it’s important and Novak is smart and I think he’s very persuasive and he’s doing this the right way, he now has a couple of guys around him that have his back and I think he’s going to do a lot with a little.”
One of those “guys” will be Mario Ancic, the former Croat player who reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2004 before his career was cut down by illness and injury.