Novak Djokovic splits with coach Goran Ivanisevic as he tries to find an edge once more


Through six years and a dozen Grand Slam titles, Novak Djokovic and Goran Ivanisevic had became one of the most steady and lethal duos in tennis, and perhaps all sports.

The sight of the Serbian and the Croatian jawing at each other at the tensest moments of the biggest matches in the world became as familiar as Djokovic winning yet another of his record 24 major championships.

On Wednesday, Djokovic announced in a gushing post on social media that the partnership had ended in recent days, with him and Ivanisevic deciding not to work together anymore. It is rare, however, for tennis coaches to break up with players with Djokovic’s record of success and stature, since their compensation often includes a percentage of the player’s winnings.

“Our on-court chemistry had its ups and downs, but our friendship was always rock solid,” Djokovic wrote. “I am proud to say (not sure he is) that apart from winning tournaments together, we also had a side battle in Parchisi (the board game) going on…for many years. And that tournament never stops for us.”

Ivanisevic, 52, was not available for comment.

The move comes after a tumultuous few months for a player who is often at his best amid turmoil. Djokovic, 36, is one of the great seekers in tennis, someone who is always looking for another answer, another way to find an edge. That is now more pressing than ever, with his years in tennis sport dwindling and his task of holding off the next generation of talent, led by the still-improving Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, growing more challenging every month.

Djokovic had one of the best seasons of his career last year. He won three Grand Slam titles to solidify his claim to the unofficial greatest-of-all-time crown and made the final of the fourth major, losing in five sets at Wimbledon to Alcaraz in a match that appeared within his grasp. He finished the year as the world No 1, despite playing far fewer tournaments than his top competitors, and won the year-end ATP Tour Finals.

Since then, however, he has endured a very uncharacteristic few months, losing three of four matches to Sinner, including the semifinal of the Australian Open, a tournament which Djokovic has won 10 times. Earlier this month, he suffered a dispiriting early-round loss to another Italian, Luca Nardi, who is just 20 years old and was ranked 123rd in the world, at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Djokovic then pulled out of the Miami Open, but still became the talk of the tournament as the quarterfinals unfolded Wednesday.

Off the court, Djokovic has completely altered his management team. In the fall, he split with IMG, the sports and media conglomerate that had handled his affairs for years, and also parted with Edoardo Artaldi, who represented him, as well as his longtime spokesperson, Elena Cappellaro. That move came a little more than a year after his split with Marian Vajda, the former pro from Slovakia who, along with Djokovic, had brought on Ivanisevic in large part to help him with his serve.

Ivanisevic did that, helping turn Djokovic’s serve into a dangerous weapon; one of the most effective in the sport rather than simply a point-starter. The Croatian possessed a lethal serve in his playing days and achieved startling results with Djokovic, whose first serve averaged 120.1 miles per hour in 2023 compared with 115.4 in 2015.

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After the split, Vajda said Djokovic had told him he only wanted to work with one coach.

Like most top players, Djokovic has gone through numerous coaches. In his teens, the two most important tennis voices were Niki Pilic, a top player from the former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and Jelena Gencic, who discovered him at a clinic she was running in his hometown in the mountains when he was a child. He often describes Pilic and Gencic as his tennis godparents.

During his professional career, Djokovic has gone through a roster of established tennis names, including Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Ivanisevic, Wimbledon champions all. He has also worked with the former pros Todd Martin and Riccardo Piatti, an Italian recognized as one of the world’s top tennis minds.

Djokovic


Ivanisevic and Djokovic play football in Adelaide, Australia, in January 2023 (Sue McKay/Getty Images)

The constants with all the changes were Djokovic’s competitiveness and need to find new ways to compete with his biggest rivals, initially Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and now Alcaraz and Sinner, and his willingness to open his mind to new ideas.

None of those coaches, though, had the seeming mind-meld that he enjoyed with Ivanisevic, who also became a great explainer of Djokovic’s approach to the sport and his on-court antics. He spoke of Djokovic ripping apart his team and his own game on the practice court in the run-ups to Grand Slams, even when he was in top form and an overwhelming favorite.

Ivanisevic chalked it up to their Balkan roots, their shared passions, and their mutual comfort with high-volume debates, even when it unfolded on international television, with Ivanisevic bearing the brunt of the tirades.

“It’s fine,” Ivanisevic would say after the matches. “It’s totally fine.”

(Top photo: Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images)





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