On Friday, 11 months after winning the French Open and capping the greatest Grand Slam run in modern tennis history, Novak Djokovic hit the reset button on his career, firing longtime coach Marian Vajda and the rest of his team after a stunning career free fall that’s seen him suffer the biggest upsets of his career, lose his spot at No. 1 after having the biggest lead in ATP rankings history and seemingly lose all the confidence and mental fortitude that helped make him the best tennis player in the world.
Djokovic made the announcement on his website, saying he needs a “spark” and that the split with his coach, trainer and physio was amicable. “Without their support I couldn’t have achieved these professional heights,” Djokovic wrote. “It was not an easy decision, but we all felt that we need a change.”
And he’s right. It’s a rare example of change simply for the sake of change being the right move. Vajda has been with Djokovic since he was a fiery, listless teenager, known as much for his mid-match breakdowns and post-match antics as he was for his surprise Australian Open title in 2008, which came when he was 20 years old. (No one younger has won a major title since.) He’s seen Djokovic through three seasons of failing to get back to that summit; through his breakthrough in 2011 that began with a 41-match winning streak and ended with three Slam titles; through his post-2011 malaise that saw him fall in five of six major finals. It continued with Boris Becker’s arrival in 2013 and through that magical 2015-16, when Djokovic won four straight Grand Slam titles, had almost double the rankings points of No. 2 Andy Murray, earned the career Slam and was as dominant in majors as Roger Federer ever was, even during the G.O.A.T’s prime.
And then came the slump.
Djokovic lost in the third round of Wimbledon last summer, his earliest Slam exit in seven years. He didn’t get out of the first round at the Olympics. And at the Australian Open, a tournament he’d won five of the past six years, he was taken out on Day 3 by journeyman Denis Istomin. At his three tournaments since then, Djokovic didn’t win a match past the round of 16, losing twice to Nick Kyrgios and once to David Goffin.