The now World No. 4 Novak Djokovic took a late Wild Card into the 250 event in Eastbourne, which shocked many and maybe would have stunned Djokovic at the beginning of the 2016 season. A lot has changed for Djokovic since then. He hasn’t been winning the matches he usually wins and has fallen early in a lot of his tournaments this year, with the Doha title win sticking out as the really good period for the Serb.
The need for change in the Serbian’s routine was seen in his decision to fire his whole coaching team and bring in Andre Agassi. Drastic times lead to drastic measures and that is exactly what Djokovic resorted to. The decision to play Eastbourne is another one of those desperate decisions as he rarely plays 250 level events and rarely ever plays the week before a Grand Slam. The last time he played an event the week before a major was at Sydney in 2009, over eight years ago. Djokovic said it himself. He needs the matchplay. He needs the victories and the return of some form of self belief to get him through the tough moments. That’s how Boris Becker assisted him at the Majors and now Agassi will try to reignite the fire in the belly of one of the best tennis players of our time, who really has transcended our sport significantly.
Djokovic started his press conference by stating how nice it is to see a new place on the tour. He referenced how he plays the same schedule almost every season, so this is a new experience for him: “For me it is great to visit a new place, be part of a new event. I don’t get to experience that too often. We have more or less the same schedule each year over and over again, so it’s great to be back, to be actually in Eastbourne for the first time.
Djokovic’s account for the sudden change in scheduling and reformation in mindset came down to his successes in previous years. He talked about the fact that he normally does very well down in Melbourne (this year he went out early to Denis Istomin) and he normally has a very good Roland Garros and a heavy clay schedule. That wasn’t the case this time around, so Djokovic made the decision to broaden his horizons and try to improve his game and return to some semblance of form that he had maintained for so many years.
Djokovic said: “And because of the old schedule, we had a week less. Usually the Queens and Halle tournaments were starting the week after Roland-Garros, which was a bit challenging obviously coming from the slowest to the fastest surface of the sport. But that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t participated over the years in any lead up events up to Wimbledon. This year I knew I wanted to play one, but I thought Queens and Halle would be too early for me.”
The interesting story coming out of that pre-tournament press conference was the revelation that Andre Agassi would not be in Eastbourne. So if Djokovic wants to produce any kind of results that he usually does then he will be advised from afar by the American great Agassi. Djokovic revealed that Agassi would join the team for Wimbledon and not Eastbourne: ” Yes. Not here. He will be in London for Wimbledon. He will stay as long as I stay in the tournament, so that’s great news. Obviously Roland Garros, the eight or nine days that we spent together, were very valuable for me to get to know him, to learn from him. We shared a lot of experiences on and off the court, you know, things that he has been through that I can relate to and vice versa.”
Djokovic was renowned for his fighting spirit, his mental fortitude, and his never-say-die attitude on the court. We’ve seen less of that this season and ticking the boxes in those three categories will be a starting point if he wants to save his season and reassert himself as a Grand Slam winner. One good week in Eastbourne may silence the critics who ever doubted this champion would stay away from the lofty heights for a long period.