12-time Grand Slam champ Novak Djokovic back with former coach Vajda
MONTE CARLO — Novak Djokovic said on Monday it feels like a “fresh start” to be reunited with long-time former coach Marian Vajda at the Monte Carlo Masters.
Djokovic, a 12-time Grand Slam champion, split from Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek earlier this month and has been training with Vajda for the past 10 days in Monaco.
“It’s a fresh start I think for both of us. I missed him. I have a feeling that he missed me or tennis or both,” Djokovic said after a confident 6-0, 6-1 thrashing of Dusan Lajovic in Monday’s first round.
“Marian knows me better than any tennis coach I’ve worked with.
“He’s a friend. He’s someone I can share a lot of things with, whether it’s professional or private life. He’s always there for me.”
Djokovic confirmed he is not yet working with Vajda on a full-time basis, after the two parted ways following last year’s tournament in Monte Carlo.
The 30-year-old also played down reports of a rift with Agassi, thanking the American for “helping his career” over an 11-month period.
“This doesn’t affect our personal relationships that we established over the years with both Radek and Andre,” he said.
“We just decided that it’s better to part ways because, you know, both sides felt that was best for me and for them.”
Monday’s win was his first since the Australian Open in January, after being dumped out in Indian Wells and Miami by Taro Daniel and Benoit Paire, respectively.
The joy was less because of the first-round victory — he is a two-time champion here — and more about his nagging right elbow injury not resurfacing.
“I thought it was good considering the amount of matches I’ve played. I mean, I’ve played probably six, seven matches since Wimbledon last year,” said Djokovic, who next faces Borna Coric of Croatia. “So after two years, finally I can play without pain.”
He came to the tournament with a 3-3 match record this year, losing his last three since the Australian Open.
Now, Djokovic has gone full circle and is working with Vajda again, albeit in an informal coaching capacity since they do not have a long-term agreement.
Djokovic sees him as part coach, part confidante.
“He’s more like a brother, a father ... someone I can share a lot of things with, whether it’s professional or in my private life,” Djokovic said.
“He’s always there for me, knows me inside out. He knows what I need to do in order to get to the highest possible level of play.”
Djokovic took the second half of last year off and then had a medical procedure in February.
He then lost his opening matches in March at Indian Wells — to a qualifier ranked outside the top 100 — and Miami.
“I might have rushed my decision to play a little bit,” Djokovic said. “Playing well below the desired level, it wasn’t easy for me to cope.”
He touched upon his split with Agassi and Stepanek, insisting there was no acrimony.
“I didn’t know in which direction I wanted to go after Indian Wells and Miami. I was questioning which way I want to move ahead,” he said.
“Nothing personal, no bad feelings. We just split in a very normal way. We’re going to be seeing each other and still keep on being friends.”
The Serb confirmed he is now playing pain-free.
“After two years, finally I can play without pain,” added Djokovic. “Indian Wells, Miami ... especially Indian Wells, was not like that.
“I still obviously wasn’t ready game-wise, physically. So Indian Wells and Miami were really kind of a struggle on the court for me mentally.
“I knew that I can play much better than that, but I just couldn’t.”
Novak Djokovic of Serbia acknowledges the crowd as he celebrates defeating compatriot Dusan Lajovic in the first round at the Monte Carlo Masters in Monaco on Monday.