Novak Djokovic’s split with Boris Becker, predictably described by each of them as “mutual”, was one of the worst kept secrets in tennis.
Speculation was already rife that the German legend wouldn’t be part of the Serb’s team next year after his struggles in the later part of the year, and Djokovic took to social media to announce the split yesterday. “After three very successful years, Boris Becker and I have jointly decided to end our co-operation,” he said on his Facebook page. “The goals we set when we started working together have been completely fulfilled…”
It is a relationship that has run its course. If December is the season to be jolly for the rest of us, it is the traditional clearing month for tennis players as they retreat to their winter training camps before the new season.
The Serb had been toweringly unconvincing in dodging questions about rumours of a break-up with Becker since the beginning of November, but the inevitable divorce gives him at least a momentum shift to chase down Andy Murray as world No. 1 after a kaleidoscope of woes, on and off the court, had engulfed him since his shock early exit in the first week of Wimbledon.
Djokovic and Becker, brought on board three years ago to vivify the recently-demoted world No. 2’s close-quarter tennis, won six grand slams together, including the annexation of the 2016 French Open that completed the set.
Djokovic lost his world number one spot after 122 weeks in November to Murray in November, having exited Wimbledon in the third round and lost his opening match at the Olympics. He talked of personal issues and also struggled with injuries in a disappointing second half of the season.
“I think the last six months have been challenging on many levels,” said Becker. “Our hands were tied a little bit because we couldn’t do the work we wanted to do. He didn’t spend as much time on the practice court in the last six months as he should have and he knows that.”
Djokovic, who had beaten Murray to win the French Open, did reach the US Open final in September before losing to Murray in the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals last month. “My professional plans are now directed primarily to maintain a good level of play,” the Serb added, “and also to make a good schedule and new goals for the next season.”
In Becker’s place now - as the game’s caravan moves to the first major of 2017, in Melbourne next month - sits not only the player’s long-term friend and coach, Marian Vajda, and his tight-knit back-up team, but a new mentor, the serene but distant life coach, Pepe Imaz.
If the Spaniard - a fringe player on Tour in his playing days - has played a part in Becker’s removal, it would fit the Shakespearian scenario that has been building up around Djokovic all summer. One of the game’s all-time greats is on the prowl again.