|Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 28 May- 11 June|
|Coverage: Listen to live radio commentary and follow text coverage of selected matches on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and online.|
Andre Agassi has attracted as many camera lenses as Novak Djokovic in the opening days of this year’s French Open, but the question remains whether this is a fleeting glimpse or the long-term return of one of the game’s greats.
The 47-year-old Las Vegan began working with Djokovic via phone calls to Madrid and Rome last month, and took up coaching duties in person last week in Paris.
There is no clear idea yet of how long the relationship will last.
“That’s a question for him, to be honest,” was all Djokovic would say on the subject before the tournament.
What we do know is that Agassi is scheduled to leave Paris at the end of the first week to carry out prior engagements, and there is no clue yet as to when, or if, he will be back in Team Djokovic.
“I will be very surprised if this relationship is going over the US Open,” said Fabrice Santoro, a former rival of Agassi now commentating at Roland Garros.
“I think it’s going to be a very short relation between Andre and Novak,” the Frenchman told BBC Radio 5 live.
“Andre Agassi knows the game very well, he loves the game, he likes Novak, but it’s not his life at the moment.
“He has his own life at home with his foundation, with his family, and I’m not sure he’s happy to spend much time in the locker room.”
It was in Paris 12 months ago that Djokovic finally cemented his place among the very best by completing the career Grand Slam, and holding all four major titles at once – something that has eluded Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But with 12 Grand Slam titles to his name and seemingly set to dominate for the foreseeable future, the Serb’s form deserted him.
“I think Novak needs to be back as a warrior, like he was a few months ago,” said Santoro.
“It’s not like 10 years ago – when he won the French Open last year he was not giving one free point to the opponent, he was sliding all over Paris to win a point. You could see in his eyes how big his ambition was. He’s lost that.”
“Private issues” contributed to Djokovic’s early exit at Wimbledon, he later revealed, while a wrist injury curbed hopes of a quick return to form.
But by his own remarkable standards, the fact that he has since lost his grip on three of those Slams and seen the number one ranking go to Andy Murray is little short of a disaster.
“Shock therapy” was what he felt necessary, and it came with the surprise announcement late last year that he was parting ways not only with ‘super coach’ Boris Becker after three years, but his entire team, including long-time coach and confidante Marian Vajda.
“All these beautiful memories we shared with each other on and off the court cannot be forgotten just like that,” said Djokovic. “We are still very close.”
‘Novak needs to replace Vajda’
Djokovic won six Grand Slam titles over three years with Becker, and all 12 since starting work with Vajda in 2006.
The Serb’s employment of Becker in 2013 was seen by many as a response to the success Andy Murray had after taking on another legend of the past in Ivan Lendl.
But even in his current, second coaching spell, Lendl is likely to spend up to 18 weeks of the year working with Murray, with Jamie Delgado alongside the Scot throughout the season.
“I think Andre Agassi’s help could be enough if Marian Vajda was still there, but he’s not,” Santoro said of the fledgling Djokovic arrangement.
“So Novak needs someone to replace Vajda first, and then find a super coach like Andre.
“I know that if Andy Murray was travelling only a few weeks a year with Ivan Lendl, but without Jamie Delgado, he would be in trouble. This is the situation now with Novak.”
Murray himself was a huge Agassi fan growing up and once discussed working with the American, but it never came to a formal offer.
“He was always really, really nice to me, which is great,” said Murray.
“I’m sure he’ll help Novak as well. I’m not sure exactly what their deal is or the situation is, but having someone with that much experience around can only help.”
Djokovic is currently just working with his brother, Marko, a former professional but with no coaching credentials, and Pepe Imaz, a former world number 146 who now runs a tennis academy that preaches a philosophy of love, peace and meditation.
“I’m not convinced that this person helps Novak Djokovic a lot,” said Santoro. “Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. On court, for sure not.”
For all the scrutiny that his relationship with Imaz has come under, the lack of a settled fitness trainer and physio is incongruous for a player who wrote a book on the value of physical and mental well-being.
“I have certain people and methods that I have been trying out lately,” said Djokovic on Monday. “I am working on something, for sure, but still not ready to be shared.”
‘Agassi’s personality fits with Djokovic’s’
So what can Agassi bring that will rejuvenate and enhance the Djokovic game?
Djokovic turned 30 a few weeks ago, and Agassi won two of his eight Grand Slam titles in his 30s.
He also returned from the depths of 141 in the world in 1997 to regain the number one spot and complete the career Grand Slam in 1999 – a mountainous challenge compared to Djokovic’s relatively minor slide.
Technical changes are rarely the major issue when elite players call upon greats of the past, and Djokovic is sure to look more for emotional support from Agassi, with neither man averse to a bout of introspection.
“On the first day we had two practice sessions, and then we had a very, very long conversation in the evening,” the Serb said of their first day together in Paris.
Becker, the man who used to provide that support, gave Agassi a very public welcome to the role in the stands of Philippe Chatrier Court during Djokovic’s opening match at the French Open.
“I think it’s an excellent choice,” Becker told the BBC. “Andre’s personality fits with Novak’s.
“Ideally you don’t want to start a new relationship at a Grand Slam because you have to get to know each other but that was their decision, so I wish them luck.
“Ideally you have to spend a lot of time together – even in smaller tournaments to really get to know each other and trust each other – but it is what it is and hopefully successful.”
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