Tennis: No star coach to replace Becker

Novak Djokovic (left) training at this year's Australian Open with coach Boris Becker. The Serb went on to win the tournament, one of six grand slam titles he won during his partnership with Becker.
Novak Djokovic (left) training at this year's Australian Open with coach Boris Becker. The Serb went on to win the tournament, one of six grand slam titles he won during his partnership with Becker.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Marian Vardan, part of Djokovic's team since 2006, steps up as head coach this new season

LONDON • Novak Djokovic will not appoint a replacement for Boris Becker in his coaching team for the start of next season.

Despite a successful partnership that yielded six grand slam titles in three years, the world No. 2 announced last week that he and his coach had parted ways.

A spokesman for Djokovic has confirmed that he is not seeking a direct replacement.

Marian Vajda, the former Slovakian world No. 34 who has been a part of the Serb's team since 2006, will step up as head coach.

Despite reports that he was considering bringing in his good friend and Davis Cup team-mate, Nenad Zimonjic, the 40-year-old former doubles world No. 1, this will not be the case.

The Serb on Tuesday posted a photo on social media of him with his family and team. A notable inclusion was the spiritual guru, Pepe Imaz, the 42-year-old Spaniard who was in the players' box in Paris and London.

The presence of Imaz was a contributing factor in the split between the 29-year-old and Becker.

It is understood that Imaz will feature more prominently next season, as will Djokovic's younger brother, Marko, 25.

Djokovic's preparation for the Australian Open, which he has won six times, will begin at the Qatar Open on Jan 2. He will be seeded to meet world No. 1 Andy Murray in the final.

He ended the 2016 season a shadow of the player who swept to four straight grand slam titles earlier in the year, but retired great Patrick Rafter is backing the deposed world No. 1 to recover next year.

Djokovic failed to win a single title after August, before which he bagged six titles, including two Majors - the Australian Open and the French Open - the latter to complete a career Grand Slam.

"Djokovic will have a half-decent year again and win a couple slams," Rafter told CNN.

By contrast, the Australian, a former world No. 1 and two-time US Open champion, is not sure if Murray will be able to replicate his outstanding year.

"Will he be able to solidify it? I don't know," he added about Murray improving his game next year.

Rafter also warned against writing off Roger Federer adding to his 17 grand slam titles despite the Swiss struggling for form and fitness in recent years.

His last grand slam win came in 2012, but Federer has admitted that winning grand slams is one of his targets when he returns from injury next year.

"If he's not winning a grand slam, is he struggling? Because what is his goal? To be No. 5 in the world? I doubt it," said Rafter.

"I think he realistically thinks he can win another slam. Maybe he can. Whenever you are that great, you never write off a champion."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2016, with the headline 'No star coach to replace Becker'. Print Edition | Subscribe