Novak Djokovic laughs when he’s reminded how he brought the band back together three months ago by rehiring his former coach Marian Vajda and fitness trainer Gebhard Phil-Gritsch.
“Yes, the boy band,” he says with a big grin on his face after capturing a fourth Wimbledon title on Sunday.
Djokovic had parted ways with Vajda in April last season, after spending nearly a decade together, but they reunited ahead of the clay swing this year, and their partnership has already paid dividends, with the Serb snapping a two-year Grand Slam trophy drought with victory over Kevin Anderson on Sunday.
“We talked actually post-match. It seems like he [Vajda] is planning to keep on working with me, which is great news,” announced Djokovic in his post-match press conference.
“We are going to keep on working till the end of the year for sure, then we’ll see after that.
“Obviously I’m so grateful to Marian, to GG [Gritsch], as well, for coming back. After a year of not working with them, them continuing with their lives, doing different things, leaving that aside and coming to join me again, help me to get to where I am at the moment, it’s really nice of them. I love these guys very much.”
An ecstatic Vajda admits he never would have expected Djokovic to be crowned champion this fortnight and that the semi-final victory over Rafael Nadal took him by surprise.
“I didn’t expect to win Wimbledon, this is the biggest surprise from all the years I was with him. All the years we were practicing, I was expecting he can be No. 1, he can win Grand Slams, but this was very unexpected,” said Vajda.
“Queens [where he reached the final] helped him a lot, giving him slight confidence, but he was always doubting how he would be at Wimbledon.
“I think the biggest improvement here was his serving, patterns were fantastic, and the most improvement was on the return. He couldn’t find returns in Paris and in other tournaments but he found it just in time this tournament.
“I didn’t believe so much during the semi-finals he would beat Rafa, because Rafa was mentally much better and winning Grand Slams and coming into the semi-finals much better. But mentally it was something amazing that happened in the fifth set.”
Djokovic had to make changes to his serve due to the long-term elbow injury he suffered from – he eventually had surgery in February this year – and he made adjustments to the specs of his racquet end of last season. At Wimbledon, his serve saved him in the tightest of moments, and he finished the tournament winning 80 per cent of his first-serve points and holding in 104 of 115 service games.
“Amazing, amazing how he found himself really, really under pressure,” said an astonished Vajda.
“He hasn’t had experience against opponents like Nadal in a long time, I don’t know how he found it, but he just went for the balls, he had more courage to go for it and he made it simple. He commanded himself just very simply and then it happened.”
Vajda hesitates to take any credit for Djokovic’s resurgence but the fact remains, the 13-time Grand Slam champion almost only wins when they are together.
“No, no… yeah sure,” Vajda says laughing. “It’s fine. I bring him the routine, I bring him the calmness, the positivity, the confidence in what he’s doing. I see him in his eyes.”
It came as a bit of shock to many when Djokovic split with his whole team last year in April, parting ways with Vajda, Gritsch and his physio Miljan Amanovic, who now works with Milos Raonic.
The Serb hired Andre Agassi and later added Radek Stepanek but the relationship didn’t last. When Djokovic called Vajda for help in April, the decision wasn’t difficult.
“I didn’t feel bad about myself at all. I was actually excited to call him, very much. It didn’t take long. Actually the same night he called me back and said, ‘Okay, let’s do it, when should I come for practice?’ A few days later he was there,” said Djokovic.
Vajda spent time with his family during the period away from Djokovic and he insists there were no hard feelings.
“I felt good being with my family back home, I take it easy, I’m an easy person, I don’t fuss about anything. I really enjoyed the time and I was happy to take time off,” said the 53-year-old Slovakian.
“His decision was made and he just had to deal with it. I am very close to him but he made the decision. I didn’t want to be involved for a time, he made a decision not to be with us as a team, and he had to take it all. I really thought that Andre and the other team would help him. You can make a bad decision but you don’t have a bad intention with anything.
“It was his choice and I used my time the best way possible.”
When they teamed up again, did he have any doubts that Djokovic would reclaim his former glory?
“Sure, every day,” confessed Vajda. “Since I started working with him again I was every day doubtful. Because you never go back, and you have to bring the new Novak. I was thinking critical, negative, which I’d never been as a person. What happened here, for me, I still cannot understand why it happened.”
It seems that the theme this Wimbledon is ‘Comebacks’ and Angelique Kerber’s is no less impressive than Novak Djokovic’s.
After enjoying a dream 2016 that saw her rise to No. 1 in the world and win two Grand Slams, Kerber struggled in 2017, losing in the first round in two of the four majors and dropping outside of the top-20.
Her determination to wipe that year from her memory and undergo a system reboot in 2018 resulted in her capturing a first Wimbledon trophy on Saturday at the All England Club.
So many people doubted her after suffering through last year but Kerber, aided by her new coach Wim Fissette who joined her team at the end of 2017, silenced all those sceptics.
“I have much more experience than two years ago because the last two years gave me so much experience, good and bad things. Without 2017 I wouldn’t be here because I learnt so much about myself, as a person, and as a tennis player,” said the 30-year-old Kerber following her straight-sets win over Serena Williams in the final on Saturday.
Kerber, the first German woman since Steffi Graf in 1996 to win Wimbledon, was overwhelmed by all the attention and the aftermath of her stunning 2016.
But when she partnered with Belgian coach Fissette end of last season, he knew exactly what they should do to get back on track.
“I didn’t feel it was hard because when we started working she really had a very hard desire to go back to the top of women’s tennis and she was also willing to work very hard for that,” said Fissette.
“On the first day I remember, I showed her a video, a compilation of different matches where I showed how I wanted her to play in 2018 and we agreed on that. So our plan started from there.
“We knew what to work on, she knew she had to be physically at her best, not just for running but also to have the power to use her legs to get more quality in her shots. Australian Open in January was already fantastic and was the perfect start of a good year.”
Kerber had a brilliant Australian summer, going undefeated at the unofficial team event, the Hopman Cup, then reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
Six months later, she is back in the winners’ circle and up to No. 4 in the world rankings.
She hopes to do things differently this time around, to make sure she doesn’t suffer another dip.
“I think I’ll give a little bit more time for myself because after 2016 I had not really a lot of time to take a break and realise what I achieved,” said Kerber.
“I was enjoying it [when I got to No. 1] but I wasn’t expecting so many things because when you reach the top you have no idea what you have to deal with in this moment. What I’ve learnt from that time, is that you have to say sometimes ‘no’ not doing everything and taking time for yourself.
Not doing every single day or doing some stuff, you have to give two, three days for yourself. When you do this I think you can enjoy it more. I was enjoying it but not to the end because At some point it was completely too much for me. of course coming back to this moment and situation looking forward, I’ll deal with it a bit differently.”
Sat at the centre of a small groups of journalists in the second interview room at the All England Club, a smiling Kerber had the members’ pin attached to her shirt, which places her among an elite group of players to have triumphed at Wimbledon.
“It means a lot to me, knowing I’m a member here, that’s something huge, I can say that’s forever. Even in 30 years I can come here and watch the tennis,” said Kerber.
The debate over whether it is time to introduce fifth-set tie-breakers in Grand Slam events – bar the US Open which already has one in place – has hotted up since Kevin Anderson and John Isner’s serve-athon in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
The two giants pushed each other to 26-24 in the final set, in a match that lasted six hours and 36 minutes and became the fourth-longest duel of all time.
Rafal Nadal and Novak Djokovic then followed that up with their own fifth-set epic, with the Serb coming through 10-8 in the decider.
The spectacle of a long climax to a match is intense and enthralling, but the efforts of such a long affair leave players little time to recover for the next round – in this case it being Sunday’s SW19 final.
It remains to be seen whether the tennis authorities will implement any tie-break rule changes in Grand Slam play and here we look at five past matches, in all competitions, whereby a traditional final set tie-breaker would have meant these five legendary matches ended all too prematurely and didn’t produce classics…
DAVIS CUP 2013 FIRST ROUND
Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol (Czech Republic) v Stanislas Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli (Switzerland) – Czech pair won 6–4, 5–7, 6–4, 6–7(3–7), 24–22
Lasting seven hours and two minutes, the match was the longest in the competition’s history and is the second-lengthiest of all time.
Held on indoor courts in Geneva, the win helped the Czechs to a 3-2 success overall as the team went on to win back-to-back titles.
Following this, a fifth set tie-break was introduced in 2016.
2010 WIMBLEDON FIRST ROUND
John Isner v Nicolas Mahut; Isner won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7–6 (3), 70–68 (played over three days)
‘The endless match’ divides opinion and perhaps created this debate in the first instance. It took the two big-servers 11 hours, five minutes to complete their epic, over a span of three days in a contest which leads the longest match record by some distance.
The final set, which ended 70-68, took an incredible 491 minutes to complete out on Court No.18 at Wimbledon – where a plaque sits beside the court in reference to an occasion we will probably never see again.
Each player hit more than 100 aces and the match’s entire length exceeded that of Serena Williams’ time spent on court in her run to the title in 2009.
2009 WIMBLEDON FINAL
Roger Federer v Andy Roddick; Federer won 5–7, 7–6 (6), 7–6 (5), 3–6, 16–14
If there was ever a tennis match where a draw would have been the fairest result, then this was it.
Neither player deserved to lose but Federer found a way to win, breaking Roddick in the 30th and final game of the fifth set to secure his sixth SW19 crown.
The win for the Swiss was of extra significance as he surpassed Pete Sampras’s haul of 14 major titles to claim his 15th, in front of the watching American on Centre Court.
The defeat was a bitter pill to swallow for Roddick given it was his third final loss at Wimbledon to Federer and he became the only player in history to have lost a final having only had their serve broken once.
2008 WIMBLEDON FINAL
Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer; Nadal won 6–4, 6–4, 6–7 (5), 6–7 (8), 9–7
Billed as the greatest match in the history of the game, the Spaniard broke Federer’s run of five-consecutive Wimbledon titles in a marathon encounter, which lasted for four hours and 48 minutes, and was disrupted by two lengthy rain delays and completed in near darkness.
Don’t forget, back in 2008, there was no roof at the iconic Centre Court venue. But organisers pushed for the match to finish on Sunday.
Although the Nadal-Federer showdown didn’t stretch long in terms of game in the fifth, proceedings finished at 21:15 local time and only added to the drama as Nadal collapsed on the floor in celebration as Federer struck a cross-court forehand into the net.
1982 DAVIS CUP QUARTER-FINAL
John McEnroe v Mats Wilander, McEnroe won 9–7, 6–2, 15–17, 3–6, 8–6
Played before the Davis Cup adopted a tie-break in all sets, American legend McEnroe downed Swede Wilander in the seventh-longest match of all time.
Three out of five sets went sizaeable distances, not just the decider, as McEnroe finally triumphed after six hours and 22 minutes of play.
The match is also remembered for a clash of styles, with McEnroe, the bad boy of tennis, employing his famed serve-and-volley tactics while Wilander was known as one of the game’s quickest players ever as well as best returners.