Where does Novak Djokovic go from here? What’s next for him? And how do we explain his unthinkable fall from grace?
The answers to those questions are blurrier now than they’ve ever been.
The Serb sent shockwaves through the tennis world on Friday morning when he announced that he’s split with his longtime coach, Marian Vajda. He also parted ways with his fitness coach, Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and his physiotherapist, Miljan Amanovic.
“I want to find the winning spark on the court again,” Djokovic wrote on his website, explaining the reasons behind his decisions.
A little more than a year ago, Djokovic was on top of the world, and pundits and fans alike were wondering whether we were witnessing the greatest player of all time. He had just won five of the last six major tournaments, and with his title in Paris had completed the career Grand Slam. With 12 majors before the age of 30 and no signs of slowing down, Roger Federer’s then-record 17 Slams looked well within reach.
Then, inexplicably, Djokovic came back down to earth. He still won, mind you, but was human again. He lost to Sam Querrey in the third round of Wimbledon and, after taking the title in Toronto, would fall to Juan Martin del Potro in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He breezed into the U.S. Open final—two retirements and a walkover helped—but was outclassed by Stan Wawrinka in the title match. He failed to win titles in Shanghai and Paris after the Slam season wrapped up, and ended up losing his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray.
Djokovic was still arguably the best in the world, but was his best behind him? The sight of him walking off the court in defeat no longer left you in shock; it was still rare, but far from unimaginable.
Djokovic later admitted that he lost some of his competitive spirit after finally capturing Roland Garros, which had eluded him so many times over. Rumors of personal turmoil—we still don’t know what, if anything, transpired—were also floated as potential reasons for his sudden humanization on court.
In the offseason, Djokovic’s three-year partnership with coach Boris Becker ceased, capping a 2016 that started on a magnificent high and ended on a dreary and unknown low.
Beginning the season as the world No. 2 for the first time in what seemed like forever, Djokovic appeared to be back in full form. He took the title in Doha—just his second trophy since winning the French Open—defeating Murray in straight sets in the final.
But after that tournament, Djokovic again looked like he did in the latter half of 2016. He was bounced in the second round of the Australian Open by 117th-ranked Denis Istomin, and his legacy took a hit when Federer went on one of the most memorable runs in Open era history to capture his 18th Grand Slam title.
Remember when Djokovic—more than five years younger than the Swiss—trailed Federer by just five Slams and looked like he could win 10 more? Fast forward to Melbourne in January: Federer now had six more than Djokovic, looked as good as he had in years and it was now a question of if—rather than when or how many more—Nole will win another.
In between the Australian Open and the start of May, Djokovic lost to Nick Kyrgios twice, in back-to-back weeks, and then to David Goffin in Monte Carlo.
That was when Djokovic decided he needed to make a change.
Djokovic is calling this period “a new chapter in my life.” For the foreseeable future, he will ride solo on the tour, hoping that the support of his family will be enough to get him back on the right track.
Is it smart for him not to have a coach? That strategy hasn’t traditionally bred success, but you can’t blame Djokovic for trying to shake things up yet again.
What’s next for Novak? At this point, it’s anybody’s guess.