LONDON • Novak Djokovic's split with Boris Becker - predictably described by each of them on Tuesday night as mutual - was one of the worst-kept secrets in tennis. But it might yet help the Serb in his pursuit of Andy Murray at the top of the world rankings.
They are parting because the recently demoted world No. 2 needs a lift that the six-time Grand Slam champion, struggling physically to keep up with the hectic pace of the Tour, can no longer deliver.
It is a relationship that has run its course. If December is the season to be jolly, it is also the traditional clearing month for tennis players as they retreat to their winter training camps before the new season.
The Serb had been unconvincing in dodging questions about rumours of a break-up with Becker since the beginning of last month.
But the inevitable divorce gives him at least a momentum shift to chase down 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 had appeared edgy when sniping at his perceived British media enemies during the season-ending World Tour Finals in London last month.
All the while, Becker, brought on board three years ago to vivify the player's close-quarter tennis, sat broodingly in the player's box, probably aware that his days were numbered.
They won six Major titles together, including the annexation of the French Open this year that completed a career Grand Slam.
However, Djokovic seemed to suffer an emotional crash after the landmark win over Murray in the final at Roland Garros.
"Boris Becker and I have jointly decided to end our cooperation," the Serb wrote on his official Facebook page.
"The goals we set when we started working together have been completely fulfilled, and I want to thank him for the cooperation, teamwork, dedication and commitment."
Becker reacted on Twitter by posting a photo of himself and Djokovic celebrating this year's French Open title, saying: "Thank U! We had the time of our life... #teamdjokovic."
However, the German was more harsh in his assessment of the split yesterday, claiming that Djokovic lost his momentum in the second half of the season because his work rate dropped. Becker added that the 29-year-old's need to spend more time with his family - his wife and two-year-old son - also derailed him on the court.
"He didn't spend as much time on the practice court in the last six months as he should have and he knows that," said the 49-year-old.
"Success like this doesn't happen by pushing a button. Success like this doesn't just happen by showing up at a tournament. You have to work your bottom off because the opposition does the same."
In Becker's place now - ahead of the first Major of 2017 in Melbourne next month - sits not only the player's long-term friend and coach, Marian Vajda, but a new mentor, the serene but distant life coach, Pepe Imaz.
Djokovic did not reveal whether he would replace Becker but has indicated he wanted to make his own choices.
"My professional plans are now directed primarily to maintain a good level of play, and also to make a good schedule and new goals for the next season," he said. "In this regard I will make all future decisions."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS