May 22, 2017
Andre Agassi’s appointment as new coach to Novak Djokovic stole the limelight from German “Wunderkind” Alexander Zverev in his big breakthrough moment.
We should of course be heralding a first massive title win for the 20-year-old Zverev, who thumped Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 with a serving master-class and a further lesson in ice-cool composure.
Charismatic “Sascha” put on such a glorious display to win the Italian Open in Rome that he surprised even himself – no mean feat for such a super-confident character.
‘It was maybe the best match I’ve played, I knew I had to be aggressive from start to finish and that’s what happened,’ he said.
Earlier in the week, Djokovic had been so devastating in his own dismissal of the improving Dominic Thiem.
And of course it was Thiem who had overpowered Rafael Nadal to reach the semi-final.
So it was surprising to see Djokovic so comprehensively beaten by a young man he has known since Zverev was a small child.
Despite the defeat, Novak is back – make no mistake. And his new coach, the great Agassi, former darling of Wimbledon, can already take some of the credit.
‘We have been speaking a lot over the last couple of weeks and we already have a nice vibe,’ said Djokovic.
That translated onto the court in Rome, where Djokovic had revealed after his victory over Thiem: ‘The joy is back – and I had lost that.’
Agassi is helping Novak on an emotional level above all. He has been there, done it, got the T-shirt.
There were times when the flamboyant Andre hated tennis as a player, so he can relate better than anyone to the stale sense of anti-climax that Djokovic experienced over much of the last year, after achieving his Career Slam at Roland Garros.
Since Novak has confirmed that Agassi will be in Paris for some (though not all) of the French Open, we can assume that the same will be true of Agassi’s role at Wimbledon 2017.
Who would have thought that Agassi, as passionately loved by the Wimbledon crowds as any player in living memory, would return in this way? The man who once said he loathed tennis with a passion, back at Wimbledon as a coach once more, to help Djokovic continue to rekindle his love for that very same sport!
The tour is a strangely addictive and unpredictable world. Who knows what Andre’s wife, the great Steffi Graf, will make of his decision?
Only recently, Agassi said that the time was probably not quite right for him to coach one of the big players, because he wanted to devote all his energy to his teenage children for now.
So the agreement – and compromise – with Novak can only be that Agassi’s kids will always come first, and that he can only help in a part-time coaching role.
That should be enough for Novak, the way things are going. With that all-important joy returning, Djokovic can summon the technical expertise and athleticism – qualities that were always deep within him and brought greatness in the first place – independently of his coach.
Agassi just has to help sustain Novak’s joy and improving appetite for gladiatorial competition. He can do that by phone a lot of the time – as has already happened.
We can no longer rule out the former world number one tasting fresh triumph at one of the big Slams this year – Wimbledon included.
Roger Federer, who was at a society wedding with British royalty at the weekend, had better get back into training sooner rather than later.
It’s no longer a question of the Fed just having to beat a resurgent Nadal if he wants another Wimbledon title. Djokovic and Thiem could be formidable on grass too – and never write off Andy Murray on home turf.
And let’s remember the new kid on the block. In case we have forgotten already, the guy who won the title in Rome – and was promptly upstaged by Agassi – is going places too – and fast.
Alexander “Sascha” Zverev could be the new sensation at Wimbledon 2017.
And, as we saw at the weekend, he won’t be willing to show too much respect to Djokovic, Agassi or any other legends from the past – not in the heat of battle, anyway.
What a tournament Wimbledon 2017 promises to be. If the prospect was already mouthwatering, it just got even more irresistible.
We can’t wait. Can you?
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