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, and might yet help the Serb in his pursuit of Andy Murray at the top of the ATP rankings
They are parting because the recently demoted world No2 needs a lift that the six-times 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 for the rest of us, it is the traditional clearing month for tennis players as they retreat to their winter training camps before the new season.
The Serb had been toweringly unconvincing in dodging questions about rumours of a break-up with Becker since the beginning of November, but the inevitable divorce gives him at least a momentum shift to chase down Murray as world No1 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 Greenwich 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 grand slams together, including the annexation of the 2016 French Open that completed the set. Djokovic seemed to suffer an emotional crash after the landmark win over Murray in the final at Roland Garros.
“The goals we set when we started working together have been completely fulfilled,” Djokovic said on Facebook.
“I want to thank him for the cooperation, teamwork, dedication and commitment.”
Becker replied on Twitter: “Thank U! We had the time of our life.”
In Becker’s place now – as the game’s caravan moves to the first major of 2017, in Melbourne next month – sits not only the player’s long-term friend and coach, Marian Vajda, and his tight-knit back-up team, but a new mentor, the serene but distant life coach, Pepe Imaz.
If the Spaniard – a fringe player on Tour in his playing days – has played a part in Becker’s removal, it would fit the Shakespearian scenario that has been building up around Djokovic all summer.
Djokovic was teasingly candid about “private issues‚“ which “everybody goes through on a daily basis”. His wife, Jelena, was happily by his side again in London. Rapprochement would seem to have provided impetus for a fresh start on the court.
One of the game’s all-time greats is on the prowl again.