The Volley podcast #5: How team continuity has taken Djokovic to the top

In the fifth episode of The Volley, Tennis Majors’ new podcast, host Max Whittle talks to Serbian journalist Sasa Ozmo about Novak Djokovic’s team.

July 7, 2021

Novak Djokovic is dominating the ATP Tour in a big way right now. He is No 1 in the world with room to spare and has won seven of the last 11 Grand Slam tournaments. He is a heavy favorite to make it eight of 12 when Wimbledon ends on Sunday – which would tie him atop the all-time slam title list with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Of course, not even the great Novak Djokovic can do it alone. In the latest episode of The Volley podcast, reporter Sasa Ozmo talked to Tennis Majors host Max Whittle about the team behind the Serb’s success.

The method to the madness

Despite all of the success for Team Djokovic, it’s not all fun and games. Heck, that might be why the team is so successful.

“I had an interview with Goran Ivanisevic two weeks ago and it was not the first time that he told me that working with Novak is a specific challenge,” Ozmo recalled. “It can get nasty and intense, exactly because he is not the kind of player who wants people around him to tell him what he wants to hear. He wants to be challenged. I know it’s a cliche, but it is really the truth in his case. He wants to improve every day. Even when something in Goran’s opinion cannot be improved further, [Djokovic] pushes you to make something up for him to become even better…. I think that’s one of the traits of his character that has allowed him to improve so much over the course of his career.

“We are at Wimbledon. If we are talking about Novak’s improvements, I think that is one aspect of his career that no one saw coming: five Wimbledon titles, being so successful on grass. Early in his career, no one expected that.”

Vajda is the constant

Ozmo says that longtime coach Marian Vajda is the glue that keeps Djokovic’s team together.

“I think Novak is very smart when it comes to picking his team,” Ozmo says. “One thing I feel he appreciates the most is loyalty. If you look at the greatest players – Novak and Roger and Rafa – one of the things they have in common is that continuity when it comes to their teams. There have been very little changes. When there are frequent changes of coaches and people around you, it’s really hard to have success.”

Nobody has been more loyal than Marian Vajda.

“If you look at his relationship with Vajda, apart from that one year when they were taking a break they have been working together for 15 years,” Ozmo points out. “It’s a really specific relationship. It’s not just player-coach; they’re like family to each other…. [Vajda’s role] evolved a lot. Of course it’s not the same thing speaking to an 18-year-old and speaking to a 34-year-old man. He was basically a teacher in the beginning. He’s still a teacher, but I think sometimes people, because of Vajda’s good nature and his friendly relationship he has with Novak, underappreciate what he does as a coach for Novak.

“If you look at Novak’s practices even during slams, you’re always going to see a lot of talk about the shots. He’s always showing [Novak] something. It is x’s and o’s for Vajda as well, but he means tremendously in terms of support…. They get along personally, and that is something that cannot be overstated. In order for a relationship to succeed it has to be good on both a professional and personal level.”

Ozmo: the best way to approach the calendar Slam is match by match

“When you see the past of tennis, you know why it’s really hard, but I think the only right approach to this is the one that Novak is taking – match by match,” Ozmo said. “It’s the only approach that in my opinion, can make him stay sane.”

Ozmo believes that Djokovic will only create problems for himself if he thinks too far ahead. He points to 2016, when the Serb held all four Slams at Wimbledon but lost to Sam Querrey in the third round and didn’t win another Grand Slam title for two years.

“Nothing is set and stone and I feel the competition is great,” he said. “Tsitsipas was very close to winning in Paris, he was two sets to love up. It’s a long road ahead and I think match-by-match is not the best but the only approach.”

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