Newly crowned Wimbledon champ Novak Djokovic might look a lot like his old dominant self, but he’s still coming off a two-year major title drought and psychological slump. During that span, his support staff was constantly churning.
Djokovic fired head coach Boris Becker at the end of the 2016 season, and after starting the 2017 season on a shaky note, he nuked the rest of his coaching staff—some of whom, like Marian Vajda, had been working with the Serbian star for over a decade. He then brought on Andre Agassi in an informal role, as well as former pro Radek Stepanek, then split with both of them to make space for Vajda’s return this spring. But as Metro reported, one of Vajda’s conditions for returning to his old charge was the expulsion of someone else in Djokovic’s camp: spiritual advisor Pepe Imaz, who is perhaps the person most readily linked to the Serbian star’s on-court struggles. “When you see the opponent, you must focus on where to hit the ball, not think about Buddha,” said Vajda, pointedly.
Pepe Imaz, a 44-year-old former Spanish tennis player and coach, has been a staple in the player’s box since Djokovic won the 2016 French Open, though he’s there to discuss concepts much bigger than second-serve returns and point construction. He specializes in a New-Age, lightly Buddhism-inflected philosophy that preaches the power of long hugs. His motto, emblazoned on all his t-shirts, is “Amor & Paz.” An excerpt from his personal page:
Human beings have infinite capacities and skills, the problem is that our mind limits us. Telepathy, telekinesis and many more things are all possible. The problem is that we have never been helped to develop these skills, on the contrary we have been made to believe that these things are impossible.
Here’s a two-hour session with Djokovic and his brother, Marko, where the three discuss the benefits of Pepe Imaz’s philosophy:
Djokovic was sometimes prickly when characterizing his relationship with Pepe Imaz, as he did when talking to reporters in November 2016:
“I don’t know where you heard that he’s a guru, first of all,” Djokovic said. “He’s been in tennis for all his life. I’m just glad that he came this week, together with my brother, to be with me and work with me.”
Pressed further about the nature of their working relationship, Djokovic wasn’t keen to elaborate.
“I’m not going to go into details, because there is no sense. I know certain media is trying to find a story here in calling him guru,” Djokovic said. “I’m not going to give any room for speculations anymore. He’s been there, and he’s part of the coaching team and that’s all.”
Were the hugs holding Djokovic back? It might’ve been the hugs.