Djokovic ap­pears back to his best

Nelson Mail - - SPORT - SI­MON BRIGGS

No­vak Djokovic did not just come home yes­ter­day; he came back to him­self.

Play­ing a stone’s throw from his Monte Carlo apart­ment, Djokovic ended a grim spell of al­most three months with­out a win by crush­ing Ser­bian com­pa­triot Du­san La­jovic in just 56 min­utes.

Then, in the in­ter­view room, Djokovic ad­dressed re­ports that there had been an ac­ri­mo­nious edge to his part­ing with former coach An­dre Agassi.

It is true that, when he con­firmed his coach­ing changes at the start of this month, he had barely men­tioned Agassi, pre­fer­ring to heap praise on an­other now-de­parted as­sis­tant, Radek Stepanek.

But when asked about Agassi’s de­ci­sion to an­nounce the split first – via an in­ter­view with ESPN that aired a fort­night ago – Djokovic played the is­sue down.

‘‘I don’t care who comes in and says things in the press first,’’ Djokovic replied. ‘‘I mean, no­body of­fended any­body. We’re still in a very good re­la­tion.

‘‘You have to un­der­stand that, first of all, we didn’t have any com­mit­ment. He was gen­uinely want­ing to help and to give me ad­vice and to share his ex­pe­ri­ence with me. The last eight, nine months with An­dre was just amaz­ing.’’

The one mis­take that Djokovic did ad­mit on Mon­day was that he had raced back too quickly from el­bow surgery in late Jan­uary. With hind­sight, he should not have par­tic­i­pated in In­dian Wells and Mi­ami, the two big Amer­i­can events of the spring, where he suf­fered un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally list­less de­feats against a pair of un­her­alded op­po­nents in Taro Daniel and Benoit Paire. On the back of his fourth-round exit from the Aus­tralian Open, this was the first time he had gone on such a lean run since 2007.

If Djokovic now ap­pears to have put such strug­gles be­hind him, that may be be­cause he has re­united with Mar­ian Va­jda, the avun­cu­lar Slo­vakian coach who had been his men­tor and fa­ther fig­ure since the age of 19. They stopped work­ing to­gether last May and Djokovic, frankly, has not been the same player since.

‘‘To­day, fi­nally af­ter two years, I was pain-free,’’ Djokovic said.

‘‘Ob­vi­ously hav­ing Mar­ian is a lot of pos­i­tive emo­tions. He knows me very well, so we worked on a lot of great things in the last 10 days. Phys­i­cally I think I’m get­ting in a bet­ter shape as the weeks go by.’’

It is vir­tu­ally un­heard of for Djokovic to find him­self in ac­tion on the Mon­day of Monte Carlo. On his last 10 vis­its, which in­clude ev­ery­thing but his de­but ap­pear­ance in 2006, he has en­joyed the bye of­fered to the top eight seeds.

But Djokovic did not look at all dis­grun­tled by his early start, grab­bing the op­por­tu­nity to ease into the tour­na­ment against a lesser op­po­nent. His re­ward for this 6-0 6-1 de­mo­li­tion will be a much tougher-look­ing sec­on­dround meet­ing with ath­letic young Croa­t­ian Borna Coric, in the form of his life.

GETTY IM­AGES

No­vak Djokovic plays a back­hand while on the move in the first round of the Monte Carlo Mas­ters.

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