Zverev Wins First Masters Title in Rome, Agassi to Join Djokovic in Paris

Congrats to Zverev on his first Masters title today in Rome when he defeated Djokovic 6-4, 6-3. I always thought Zverev was the real deal but Djokovic was a disaster today. Since yesterday he moved from one extreme to the other.

Just no confidence or mojo whatsoever. He dropped serve in the first game of the match and never recovered as he got broken two more times in the second set. It has to go down as one of the worst matches he’s ever played.

Not that I’m complaining. Djokovic improved with every clay court event this season and went a round further in each. If he continues in this fashion he will defend his French Open title. The match against Thiem was also unexpected and cause for optimism.

The drop in form today was in a way expected after the high of yesterday. When a player comes out of a slump he will still experience ups and downs until he finds consistency again. And as long as Djokovic keeps improving that will happen.

It’s been a gradual improvement since the beginning of the clay court season and if he wins the French Open he will be officially back. But even if he doesn’t and just comes very close he can still announce his return with a Wimbledon title.

So I think there are plenty of positives to take from this week for Djokovic and now there is news that Agassi will be joining him in Paris to see if they can agree on a long-term coaching arrangement.

  • Djokovic = Agassi 2.0

Ever since I first heard Djokovic split up with his team and was looking for a new coach Agassi was the first guy that came to my mind. As a huge Agassi fan when he was playing, I could see the parallels between his career and Djokovic’s but I also knew that he was a busy guy and that he didn’t really want to coach on tour.

So the news that Agassi was going to join Djokovic in Paris, even though it was nothing long-term yet, made me happy. I think of Djokovic as Agassi 2.0. There are many similarities in their career trajectories, games styles, and personalities but Djokovic is obviously better.

 

Career trajectories – Agassi had three distinct phases in his career. He was a bit of a late bloomer who lost his first two slam finals at the French Open. He broke through in 1992 when he won Wimbledon seemingly out of nowhere and then slumped, a lot like Djokovic who won his first slam at the Australian Open at 20 and then had a bit of slump before he won his next slam in 2011.

Whereas Djokovic’s second distinct phase started in 2011 Agassi’s began in 1994 when he won the US Open and the Australian Open in 1995. During Djokovic’s second phase he won double that amount of grand slam titles from the 2011 Australian Open until the 2012 Australian Open.

They both then went through a kind of slump although Djokovic’s was more of a lull while Agassi slumped all the way to #141 in the world. Djokovic was still number one and won another grand slam at the Australian Open during his lull period but when he hired Becker in 2014 they went through a period where Djokovic won 6/8 slams including the career and personal slams.

Agassi’s corresponding phase was from 1999-2000 where he won 3/4 slams and just missed out on the personal slam after losing to Sampras in the 1999 Wimbledon final. That period corresponds to the period where Djokovic won the personal slam and was both player’s peak.

After that run of Agassi, he didn’t really slump again but fell from #1 to #8 in the rankings and it took him another year to win his next slam at the Australian Open at the age of 30 and won another Australian Open two years later at the age of 32.

Djokovic is now at a similar stage that Agassi was in after he went through that hot run where he became so close to winning the personal slam. He was just on fire during that period the same way Djokovic was in 2015-2016.

If the similarities in career trajectory continue Djokovic is also now past his peak but could have several more slam titles left in him and Agassi’s input can prove invaluable in that regard. If there is anyone who can identify with Djokovic and help him to get the best out of his career in his 30’s it is Agassi.

Agassi played until he was 36 and still made the US Open final at 35 where he lost in a close match to Federer. If he can do that imagine what Djokovic can still do. It’s not irrational to suggest that Djokovic can win slams at 35 given the parallels of their respective careers and the fact that Djokovic is clearly the superior player.

Game styles – There are strong similarities in the way they play tennis too. Even though Agassi was an attacking baseliner and wasn’t anywhere near the as good a defensive player as Djokovic they are still both predominantly baseliners.

But the biggest similarities which are almost uncanny is their world class two-handed backhands and returns of serve. Agassi had a more attacking backhand and return of serve but Djokovic is arguably even better in both areas.

Agassi revolutionized the return of serve but I think Djokovic has taken it to a higher level. Djokovic has a much better defensive backhand and he makes more returns of serve than Agassi. But Djokovic can also be offensive on his backhand and returns.

Some other similarities are that they can adjust well to all surfaces. In Agassi’s time it was even harder to win the career slam because the surfaces were much less homogenized than they are today and like Djokovic the French Open also became a cursed slam for him after losing two finals there before eventually winning the title in 1999 after coming back from a two sets to love deficit against Medvedev.

More similarities in their games are that neither are very comfortable at the net but Djokovic has better volleys and a better serve as well. Their forehands are about equally good although again Agassi was, in general, more offensive and always stood very close to the baseline and took everything on the rise.

The main similarity is that they are both extremely solid from the baseline with great techniques that very little could go wrong with.

Personalities – They are both extroverts and showmen. Agassi had the cool/flamboyant image from the beginning while Djokovic came to be known as the Djoker due to his imitations of other players and sense of humor. They are both characters and entertainers.

At first, I didn’t warm to Agassi but like Djokovic, he grew on me over time until I eventually became a fan of him when Sampras’ personality and dominance started boring me. Much to the dismay of Fedfans, I have done a similar thing with Federer and Djokovic, although it took me much longer to get bored of Federer.

Again, the similarities seem almost uncanny because like Agassi Djokovic recently started his own version of bowing to all four corners of the court after a victory the same way Agassi did.

It is also striking how both players matured and evolved over time where many players are early bloomers and then tail off toward the end of their career or just kind of stay the same.

It is therefore also no surprise to me that whenever I heard Agassi speak about Djokovic he always seemed to take a keen interest in the Serb and always had positive and supportive things to say.

  • Agassi Could Hold the Key for Djokovic

So now you know why I always wanted this partnership to happen and why I am excited about this initial arrangement. I really hope they can work out a long-term partnership because I really believe it can work out well for both.

There is also the factor of Gil Reyes who is a great physical trainer but is probably quite a bit different than Djokovic is used to. Reyes is big on weight lifting and strength and I don’t think it can hurt Djokovic to gain some muscle and strength.

He is so skinny and weight lifting will help him with longevity as well. Obviously, Djokovic’s movement is important so he doesn’t want to become heavy on the court but as he ages, he will probably have to adjust his game to be more offensive.

That is another reason for him to work on his strength and being able to hit the ball harder. Some have said that Agassi won’t be able to help Djokovic because Djokovic needs someone who can teach him to volley better but I think the fit is so good that that is not really a factor.

Djokovic had Becker for that after all and Agassi will thus be a change which is good. There is no guarantee that they will work together in the long-term yet or that the relationship will even be successful if they do, but I think in an emotional sense Agassi could be priceless for Djokovic and that is where his problem have been of late.

I just think they are a great fit and this is an added bonus after Djokovic’s form this week so I am looking forward to the French Open. I also hear a New Crocodile is on its way tomorrow on Djokovic’s 30th birthday…

  • Highlights

Djokovic Returns to Best in Rome

In my last post, I said Djokovic was showing signs of returning to his best when he defeated Agut 6-4, 6-4. Since then he defeated Del Potro 6-1, 6-4 and Thiem 6-1, 6-0. The display against Thiem was especially impressive.

I started noticing an improvement in Djokovic’s game against Lopez in Madrid, especially in his backhand. It could be the greatest backhand of all time and it is a key shot for him. When he hits it will full confidence it is an absolutely devastating shot like it was today against Thiem.

Djokovic’s return of serve is another contender for greatest of all time shot and that is another thing that he is hitting with confidence again. When his backhand and return of serve is on song then look out. Those two things alone inflicts immense damage.

Thiem defeated Nadal 6-4, 6-3 in a masterful display himself but Djokovic made Thiem look like an amateur. His return of serve is especially troubling to Thiem because it rushes him and Thiem doesn’t cope very well with being rushed at all.

That is a shortcoming of his game and why he is most comfortable on clay where he has plenty of time to set up for his shots. Except when he plays Djokovic. But he’s done very well this clay court season and he will definitely be a factor at the French Open.

As for Nadal, he sure has good timing with his losses. Almost as if he recognizes what is coming. In the form Djokovic was in today he would have defeated Nadal in any form. It’s the highest level of tennis ever seen and probably can’t be defeated.

That is the level of Djokovic from 2015-16 and if Djokovic keeps it up Nadal and Federer is in serious trouble. But I don’t want to hype his form too much before he wins the Rome title. He did the same thing against Nishikori in the London semi-finals last year only to lose to Murray in straight sets.

And although I don’t think we will have a repeat of that I think it is important for Djokovic to win his first big title since Toronto last year. If he does that I think he will have a great shot at defending his French Open title.

It will also give him the sole title record for Masters events again after Nadal equaled him at 30 in Madrid. So that would be a nice way to go into the second major of the year and if he keeps his current form up Nadal won’t be able to stop him at the French.

It is a ridiculous level of tennis. You almost want to laugh. Like you’ve seen pigs flying. But we will see what happens in the final tomorrow when Djokovic faces Zverev who made his first Masters final in Rome.

So congrats to him but if Djokovic continues his form of this week so far he may wish he didn’t make the final. I don’t expect it to be as one-sided as the against Thiem anyway. This will be Djokovic and Zverev’s first meeting so it will be interesting to see how they match up.

One other thing that is worth a mention is Djokovic’s body language today. It’s as if all the pent-up frustration from his slump was released as he showed a lot of emotion and let rip with several loud come-ons in important moments.

It’s been a difficult and frustrating time for him but he kept grinding away and with the seemingly rigged scheduling in Rome he took matters into his own hands and seems to be peaking right in the nick of time.

But first things first…

  • Highlights

Djokovic Shows Signs of Returning to Best in Rome

It’s quarterfinal time in Rome and Djokovic and Nadal is one match away from playing each other in consecutive clay Masters semis. But they both have tough quarterfinal matches coming up. Djokovic faces Del Potro and Nadal faces Thiem who he also faced in the Barcelona and Madrid finals.

Djokovic has shown some signs of returning to his best level this week so far with straight-set wins over Bedene and Agut. Today he defeated Agut 6-4, 6-4 which is a good scoreline against a tough competitor.

This was Djokovic’s third straight-set victory in about a week which bodes well for his confidence. His next opponent Del Potro will be another test. Del Potro is a very talented player who already beat Dimitrov, Edmund, and Nishikori in Rome.

And that after playing only one other clay court match during the season in Estoril. Today he defeated 7th seed Nishikori 7-6(4), 6-3. Djokovic defeated him in Acapulco and Indian Wells but Del Potro is always a danger.

At least it is very unlikely the Del Potro will withdraw like Nishikori did in Madrid because if Djokovic is going to stand a chance at defeating Nadal he will need at least one more big test. That said, Thiem is no pushover either and saved three match points in the third-set tiebreak against Querrey today.

In the top half, Murray and Wawrinka lost early again and the quarters will be Zverev vs Raonic and Isner vs Cilic. Murray has been a very poor number and Djokovic will pass him in the race if he defeats Del Potro.

Djokovic is starting to find some form now but it is yet to be seen if it will be enough to defend his French Open title. I don’t like to look further ahead than one match but if he does meet Nadal in Rome he will probably need to defeat him to have any chance at defeating him at the French.

Let’s see what happens tomorrow. Looking forward to good tennis!

  • Highlights