Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi need to be fully committed to a formal coaching agreement rather than just a marriage of convenience that defeats the entire idea of the project, writes Desmond Kane.
“I do it on my own time, and on my own dime,” commented a forthright Andre Agassi as he explained the tenets of his agreement to work with the former world number one Novak Djokovic earlier this month.
That he was airing the situation to his fellow multiple Grand Slam winner Boris Becker, a coach who was culled after being deemed dispensable by the Serbian player last December, made it all a bit eyebrow raising.
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If ever there was one quote that sums up who wears the long shorts in the embryonic, informal and slightly eccentric coaching relationship between Djokovic and Agassi, it was that one from the French Open.
Agassi once wore a pair of denim shorts at the US Open in the late 1980s which hints at a figure who tends to do things his own way.
Nothing much has changed when you study the curious beginnings of his work with Djokovic, a 12-times Grand Slam champion who has only emerged victorious in Toronto and Qatar since last June.
Djokovic made what feels and continues to resemble a panic move after sacking his coaching team prior to the French Open by calling Agassi, an eight-times Grand Slam winner on every surface, out of Cali.
The pair apparently chatted on the phone before Agassi flew to Paris to work with Djokovic. But he made it clear that unlike Boris, he was not at the Becker and call of Djokovic when quizzed about his commitment to the relationship.
“I don’t want anything, and I don’t need anything,” said Agassi. What he was really saying was: he doesn’t want anything and need anything. The message couldn’t be clearer than an Andre return.
In such a respect, it is difficult to call Agassi a coach. He is a former player passing on some tips to a current player in his free time.
He is certainly less involved than Becker was with Djokovic, or Ivan Lendl is with Andy Murray, Ivan Ljubicic is with Roger Federer or even John McEnroe was in helping Milos Raonic reach the Wimbledon final a year ago.
“If I ever decided to work with Milos and I showed up two days before Wimbledon, at that point it is really hard to make any impact,” said McEnroe.
“At the every least, you need to get a feel for his routine, and what makes him tick, and what you can add. It looks great on paper when you bring in Andre Agassi, and it is great for tennis.
“He did have this career renaissance so there are reasons why it makes sense, but it is hard to think that could make sense so fast. If you’re only here for a few days, with any person it’s going to take some time.”
Agassi is not at fault. At the age of 47 and clearly enjoying his retirement, he has been true to his word, wheeling himself out of Roland Garros due to family and business interests before Djokovic reached the death throes of the event.
He was nowhere to be seen when Djokovic was gutted in straight sets by Dominic Thiem 7-6(5) 6-3 6-0 in the last eight. It didn’t look good yet Djokovic seems to have accepted it.
Agassi will again be missing at Eastbourne this week with Djokovic facing Vasek Pospisil in the last 16 on Tuesday.
But he will wash up in London in time to coach Djokovic at Wimbledon which begins on Monday. He has apparently promised to stay for the duration of the player’s participation in the event.
“He will stay as long as I stay in the tournament so that’s great news. Obviously, at Roland Garros, the eight or nine days that we spent together were very valuable for me to get to know him, to learn from him.”
It would suggest that their arrangement remains free and loose. There is no contract, and probably no money changing hands. Monetary demands are irrelevant, but some sort of contract would be beneficial. Agassi clearly does not want to be tied down. Which is surely an issue in itself.
Djokovic is arguably the sport’s most elite athlete, who has lost his way after emulating Agassi by winning the career Grand Slam a year ago. His most successful times in the sport has been supported by the certainty, stability, purpose and discipline that a learned coach brings to his professional life.
Over a two-year period, Djokovic doubled his Grand Slam haul to 12 in a dominant 223-week spell as world number one between 2013 and 2015. Not all Becker’s work, but he was certainly beneficial to Djokovic.
Becker feels he needs a coach who is in it alongside him for the long haul.
“He started to work with Andre Agassi – a new super-coach. However, Agassi missed the second week when Djokovic needed him there the most. He has to find a new tour-coach.”
There are as many questions mark over Agassi’s form as they are over Djokovic at the age of 30, but the Las Vegas counter puncher was asked to help out. He never went looking for Djokovic.
You could say that Agassi may be more trouble than he’s worth in terms of what Djokovic craves.
But you can’t say that because Agassi is working on his own dime and his own time. Perhaps because he is working for free, he can bail if and when he likes, which, in tennis terms, is about as reliable as a zero hours contract.
Which begs the question: if Djokovic doesn’t want to settle for second best, why he is content with a coach who has yet to make him number one? Such a marriage of convenience rarely works when one party seeks more.
In Djokovic’s case, the alchemy that made him such a winning machine before it all broke down exactly a year ago.