Novak Djokovic announced in Monte-Carlo on Monday that he has dumped former World No. 4 Todd Martin from his coaching team. The news isn’t exactly surprising. Nole’s disappointing runs in Indian Wells and Miami last month – while under Martin’s care – were representative of the puzzling results he’s suffered since hiring the American last August to tag-team with longtime coach Marian Vajda of Slovakia.
Djokovic cited communication problems for the break-up. Via CNN:
“I’m no longer working with Todd Martin,” the top seed told reporters on Monday. “Todd found it difficult to understand who I am, how I like to work. It seems there will always be a problem having two coaches.
“Todd has specific ideas on some issues of work. There were no major problems, but changes in my service did not work out. It was a good experience and I’m not sorry for it.”
He spoke in more detail about those serving issues (via FoxSports):
“At the ATP Finals in London my shoulder was tired and the body automatically started to make adjustments because of that,” Djokovic explained. “Then we tried a slightly different [service] action and it all got very complicated. So now I am just going back to my original action.”
. . .and sticking with his original coach.
“They did not understand each other very well.” Djokovic said of Martin and Vajda (via Reuters)
Anyone who’s ever dealt with a mom and step-mom, a boyfriend and a pet cat, or a choice between wearing skinny jeans and taking seconds of chocolate cake understands how complicated things become when two important aspects of your life are at odds with one another.
Judging from last year’s ATP profile of the Vajda/Djokovic relationship, the two Europeans understand each other perfectly:
Two things stick out from this: 1. Nole calls Vajda a “second father” and there’s no replacing that. 2. Both men talk about being emotional people and how that helps them understand and work together.
Richard Evans of Fox Sports has an interesting take on the cultural and personal differences between Djokovic and Martin:
Without suggesting that Martin is not emotional — anyone who saw him reach the final of the U.S. Open in 1999 would never accuse him of that — it would be fair to say that he is a very different personality from the outwardly cocky and self-confident but inwardly uncertain Serb.
Word from the Djokovic camp emphasized that the breakdown in understanding between the two men [Djokovic and Martin] was all about Europeans and Americans living in different worlds. “Speaking the same language — and, as you know, Novak’s English is excellent — is not enough,” an insider told me. “It’s just the different way one expects to react to certain situations; how to approach problems. We all liked Todd but it just didn’t work.”
Okay, so it’s obvious that there were both cultural and personal issues behind the split. These are often intertwined – though labeling Europeans as more “emotional” than Americans seems a little simplistic. Perhaps Vajda, as a longtime mentor, felt less pressure to drastically change something like Nole’s serve. Martin, as the hot new hire, needed to prove his technical genius and pushed for something that didn’t work. Given the choice between “second father” and the guy who f’ed up his serve, Nole probably made the right pick.
What do you think – is there a coaching culture clash between Americans and Europeans in the compact cosmos of the ATP World Tour? I admit that I can’t think of too many successful Old World/New World partnerships – (Stefanki and Kafelnikov? Annacone and Henman?) – though I wouldn’t mind being proved ignorant. Or should we look to practical matters like geography and language instead of vague issues of “culture” for an explanation?