Novak Djokovic’s longtime coach, former tennis star Marian Vajda, got the Serbian player to improve his game so drastically in the past year, that Djokovic walked into Wimbledon 47-1 (with only a loss to Roger Federer during the French Open), after winning only two of 19 tournaments in 2010.
“At the start of 2010, he was in serious trouble,” Vajda told the BBC. “He managed to win a few matches and stay in the world’s top three, but he had no serve. He had to get back to his old routines. In men’s tennis, the serve is the number one issue. We worked hard and about 12 months ago he started to improve, but he was still far away from where he is now.”
There are a few things Djokovic did to completely up his game this past year.
First, he kicked one of his coaches to the curb. He had briefly employed former tennis pro Todd Martin to help him perfect his serve, while still working with Vajda. It was a huge mistake. Djokovic said it became complicated working with two coaches with different styles.
“There was bad communication,” Vajda told Tennis.com. “It was really counterproductive. He went down with the serve; he couldn’t serve last year. It was terrible. Everything was tough. Novak never had the impression to [avoid] work, but the communication was different. Todd was a big player and also wanted to try something new. But Novak was all set up, he only [needed] small improvements.”
Once Djokovic shook Martin, he could re-focus with a coach who knew him well. Vajda made him condition harder than he ever had before, and instructed him to kick gluten to improve his allergies (Djokovic once worked with an opera singer to improve his breathing). Vajda tells BBC: “He is able to breathe better and take in more oxygen. His body is much healthier and this is the key.”
These physical changes fueled Djokovic’s mental strength. Soon he started beating Rafael Nadal and Federer in “giant battles,” and launched his winning streak that would carry him into Wimbledon.
Before the big event, Djokovic took a vacation in Monte Carlo — which his coach also attributes to his success. Then, “from the moment he stepped on to the grass he looked unbelievable,” Vajda told the BBC. “To become world number one was something we were all focused on achieving. We prepared in a very professional way. He was ready.”