Novak Djokovic, who had what you could call an “off-year,” if only by his obscenely high standards, split up today with coach and six-time Grand Slam winner Boris Becker. In the three years that he worked with the German, Djokovic tightened his chokehold on the entire men’s field, only slackening his robotic grip in the last few months.
This summer, after a third-round Wimbledon exit and first-round Olympics upset (admittedly by Juan Martin del Potro), there were signs that Djokovic’s motivation was flagging. He said he had other priorities besides clutching the No. 1 ranking, which he’d held for over two years, and discussed dealing with heavy psychological strain. He withdrew from the China Open and took some time to visit sites from his youth. To his inner circle, he added a heart-clad master of meditation and hugs named Pepe Imaz; the star grew slightly defensive when batting away the notion that he’d fallen under the spell of some “guru.” (The day before his dismissal, Becker declined to discuss the internal politics among Djokovic’s coaching staff.)
And in November, Andy Murray wrung the No. 1 spot away from Djokovic, ending a reign that stretched back to July 2014. Then he secured that year-end ranking at the ATP Finals, notching a 6-3, 6-4 win that made Djokovic finally appear fallible. But it’s worth maintaining a broader perspective: earlier in the same tournament, he made opponents like Kei Nishikori and David Goffin look like toddlers. And it was just months ago that he had strung together four consecutive Grand Slams, from the 2015 Wimbledon to the 2016 French Open. This could be considered a lapse in quality, if the standard is “clinically dominate every single tournament you enter.” I still don’t expect the 2017 Djokovic to look meaningfully different from the one who held every major title simultaneously, no matter the shakeups in his coaching.