Novak Djokovic's coach Marian Vajda admits he never expected the charge to win Wimbledon 2018.
Novak Djokovic laughs when he’s reminded how he brought the band back together three months ago by rehiring his former coach Marian Vajda and fitness trainer Gebhard Phil-Gritsch.
“Yes, the boy band,” he says with a big grin on his face after capturing a fourth Wimbledon title on Sunday.
Djokovic had parted ways with Vajda in April last season, after spending nearly a decade together, but they reunited ahead of the clay swing this year, and their partnership has already paid dividends, with the Serb snapping a two-year Grand Slam trophy drought with victory over Kevin Anderson on Sunday.
“We talked actually post-match. It seems like he [Vajda] is planning to keep on working with me, which is great news,” announced Djokovic in his post-match press conference.
“We are going to keep on working till the end of the year for sure, then we’ll see after that.
“Obviously I’m so grateful to Marian, to GG [Gritsch], as well, for coming back. After a year of not working with them, them continuing with their lives, doing different things, leaving that aside and coming to join me again, help me to get to where I am at the moment, it’s really nice of them. I love these guys very much.”
An ecstatic Vajda admits he never would have expected Djokovic to be crowned champion this fortnight and that the semi-final victory over Rafael Nadal took him by surprise.
“I didn’t expect to win Wimbledon, this is the biggest surprise from all the years I was with him. All the years we were practicing, I was expecting he can be No. 1, he can win Grand Slams, but this was very unexpected,” said Vajda.
“Queens [where he reached the final] helped him a lot, giving him slight confidence, but he was always doubting how he would be at Wimbledon.
“I think the biggest improvement here was his serving, patterns were fantastic, and the most improvement was on the return. He couldn’t find returns in Paris and in other tournaments but he found it just in time this tournament.
“I didn’t believe so much during the semi-finals he would beat Rafa, because Rafa was mentally much better and winning Grand Slams and coming into the semi-finals much better. But mentally it was something amazing that happened in the fifth set.”
Djokovic had to make changes to his serve due to the long-term elbow injury he suffered from – he eventually had surgery in February this year – and he made adjustments to the specs of his racquet end of last season. At Wimbledon, his serve saved him in the tightest of moments, and he finished the tournament winning 80 per cent of his first-serve points and holding in 104 of 115 service games.
“Amazing, amazing how he found himself really, really under pressure,” said an astonished Vajda.
“He hasn’t had experience against opponents like Nadal in a long time, I don’t know how he found it, but he just went for the balls, he had more courage to go for it and he made it simple. He commanded himself just very simply and then it happened.”
Vajda hesitates to take any credit for Djokovic’s resurgence but the fact remains, the 13-time Grand Slam champion almost only wins when they are together.
“No, no… yeah sure,” Vajda says laughing. “It’s fine. I bring him the routine, I bring him the calmness, the positivity, the confidence in what he’s doing. I see him in his eyes.”
It came as a bit of shock to many when Djokovic split with his whole team last year in April, parting ways with Vajda, Gritsch and his physio Miljan Amanovic, who now works with Milos Raonic.
The Serb hired Andre Agassi and later added Radek Stepanek but the relationship didn’t last. When Djokovic called Vajda for help in April, the decision wasn’t difficult.
“I didn’t feel bad about myself at all. I was actually excited to call him, very much. It didn’t take long. Actually the same night he called me back and said, ‘Okay, let’s do it, when should I come for practice?’ A few days later he was there,” said Djokovic.
Vajda spent time with his family during the period away from Djokovic and he insists there were no hard feelings.
“I felt good being with my family back home, I take it easy, I’m an easy person, I don’t fuss about anything. I really enjoyed the time and I was happy to take time off,” said the 53-year-old Slovakian.
“His decision was made and he just had to deal with it. I am very close to him but he made the decision. I didn’t want to be involved for a time, he made a decision not to be with us as a team, and he had to take it all. I really thought that Andre and the other team would help him. You can make a bad decision but you don’t have a bad intention with anything.
“It was his choice and I used my time the best way possible.”
When they teamed up again, did he have any doubts that Djokovic would reclaim his former glory?
“Sure, every day,” confessed Vajda. “Since I started working with him again I was every day doubtful. Because you never go back, and you have to bring the new Novak. I was thinking critical, negative, which I’d never been as a person. What happened here, for me, I still cannot understand why it happened.”