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The man behind the No.1

Slovak coach Marian Vajda with his charge, Novak Djokovic.
by Mark Hodgkinson
Thursday 15 March 2012

You will possibly know more about Ivan Lendl's German Shepherds than you do about Novak Djokovic's coach. You will certainly know more about Lendl, Toni Nadal or Paul Annacone than you do about Marian Vajda, the man who guided Djokovic to the Wimbledon title and the world No.1 ranking.

Greg Rusedski said that the Slovak has sensibly stayed in the background. "Everyone on tour knows that he's a great coach. Coaches don't always get great recognition because they don't do the superstar bit. On tour, guys knows who the good coaches are. The general public won't know. He has been very clever. He has sat in the background," Rusedski said.

In the six years that Djokovic and Vajda have worked together, one of the trickiest times came when the Serbian was also employing Todd Martin as a consultant. Rusedski said he admired how Vajda coped with having a third person in their tennis marriage (Martin was subsequently pushed out of bed when Djokovic realised it was not working out). “Marian dealt with the issue of Todd Martin showing up. Djokovic's serve was terrible, and his serve was bad and there was the change of rackets, all sorts of things. I saw Marian at Queen's in 2010, and I said, 'Novak's serve looks terrible'. He said, 'I know, we're working on these things, we're getting things together'. He knows how to handle the personality and that's part of being a great coach,” Rusedski said.

“These guys are already great players, and it's about fine-tuning the technique - he fixed up the serve, he fixed up the forehand. On the mental side, he knows that he has to let Novak do his thing and have a good time when he needs to, and then to ask him to knuckle down when he needs to knuckle down. It's about finding that balance as a coach. It's about communication. He has a great reputation on tour, but he should have more credit."

Vajda was crucial to Djokovic's success at the All England Club last summer. "It was special, wonderful, amazing - there aren't enough words to describe what winning Wimbledon meant to him, and to us as a team. Since I started working with him in 2006, winning Wimbledon was the goal," Vajda has said. "The defeat to Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open ended his undefeated run, so that was bitter and took away some of his mental strength. But my role as a coach was to get him to forget that defeat and to prepare as well as possible for Wimbledon."

Yet Vajda could stroll through Wimbledon Village this summer without too many second glances. "That's a good thing about certain coaches, they are willing to take a step back," Rusedski said. "Sometimes, you can have a good coach and they like to be at the forefront, and the relationship doesn't work out. That's probably why he has lasted so long, he is willing to take a back seat and focus on what Novak needs, to say, 'Ok, Novak, if that's what you want'. That takes character and personality to accept that."


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