Andre Agassi, the eight-time Grand Slam winner who has largely kept his distance from the tour since retiring in 2006, is about to take on his first-ever coaching project: the slumping Novak Djokovic. The world No. 2 revealed this new partnership after his loss to Alexander Zverev in the Italian Open final yesterday. (File this under thin, seemingly grandiose rumors that the Telegraph reported two weeks ago, but eventually materialized.)
The gig sounds more like an initial flirtation rather than a stable contract. From the New York Times:
“We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit. He will not stay the whole tournament. He’s going to stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s going to happen.”
“I don’t know Andre that well, because it’s only a couple weeks that we are in communication, let’s say ... But I already feel like we are very kind of close to each other and creating this nice vibe.”
Djokovic, who fired his entire coaching staff earlier this month in an attempt to “shock” himself out of his funk, briefly looked to have regained his form this week at the Italian Open. He wrapped up a cool, rain-delayed defeat of Juan Martin del Potro, 6-1, 6-4, and later that same day dismissed Dominic Thiem—who had been playing well enough to snap Rafael Nadal’s 17-match win streak—in a 6-1, 6-0 rout. That semifinal starred the imperious Novak of old, peppering the corners with deep groundstrokes, smooth-moving and unrelenting.
But that was not the same man who showed up at the final the next day, losing to 20-year-old Alexander Zverev 6-4, 6-3, failing to find a single break point all day and spraying 27 errors. This is the mess Agassi will get to tinker with in Paris: an all-time great who controlled the tour a year ago but now only fleetingly matches his former dominance, and who has completely cleared house, desperate for novelty.
Spiritually, the choice makes sense: Djokovic has discussed issues with psychological motivation over the last year, and Agassi famously struggled on that front over the course of his career, having been coerced into stardom by a domineering sports dad. “I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have,” Agassi wrote in his 2009 autobiography.
Stylistically, too, it’s an apt pairing. Djokovic and Agassi are two of the best players to ever return serve (here’s nearly an hour of proof), and they share a sturdy baseline game and penetrating two-handed backhand. Agassi played with a little more aggressive flair—he hit a much flatter ball—and it’ll be interesting to see if he can transmit some of this to the defensively minded Serb, whose groundstrokes have visibly lacked punch as of late. Keep an eye out for any improvements as Djokovic begins his French Open title defense next week.