Changes are afoot in the world of the supercoach. Even as Andre Agassi steps out of the limelight, resigning from Novak Djokovic’s team, it seems that Ivan Lendl could be on his way back.
Agassi has been part of Djokovic’s support staff since last May, when the Telegraph exclusively revealed their partnership. He later admitted that “I do it on my own time and on my own dime.” But their 10-month alliance was finally sundered this week as Agassi told the American broadcaster ESPN that “We far too often agreed to disagree.”
It sounds like Agassi is as confused by Djokovic’s fitful commitment and performance level as the rest of us. Having cut last year’s season short after Wimbledon, Djokovic was encouragingly competitive at January’s Australian Open, only to lose back-to-back matches at Indian Wells and Miami in half-hearted style.
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During the off-season, Djokovic added Radek Stepanek - the creative Czech player who retired last year - to his team as a coaching assistant. And it will presumably be Stepanek who takes on this intriguing challenge as we move into the busiest part of the tennis season. The first clay-court Masters event will be staged in Monte Carlo – which is also Djokovic’s home – in a fortnight’s time, though he seemed doubtful last weekend about whether he would participate.
Meanwhile Lendl was spotted at Crandon Park on Friday night while Sascha Zverev, the world No 5 from Germany, was overcoming Borna Coric in the Miami Open semi-final. This sounds like an exciting potential signing for Zverev, whose most recent coaching arrangement with the former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero dissolved acrimoniously in January.
Ferrero left with a parting shot, saying “Among other things I asked him to be a little more punctual.” Zverev’s game has been developed by his parents, Alexander Snr and Irina, who were both high-level players in Russia. The whole family, which also includes Sascha’s brother – the world No 55 Mischa Zverev – continues to travel to every tournament together, and the transition to an external coach was bound to be tricky.
But Lendl, who was Andy Murray’s coach throughout his most successful spells on the tour, has established a reputation as someone who can transform a career. This is not to say that Zverev is in crisis: on the contrary, he is widely seen as the man who will take over the world No 1 spot from the reigning group of 30-somethings in the next season or two. He does have an issue at the majors, however, where his deepest run in 11 attempts is an appearance in the fourth round of last year’s Wimbledon.
The Zverev-Lendl partnership remains a rumour rather than a reality at present, but it would make perfect sense, especially as Zverev’s English fitness trainer Jez Green knows Lendl’s methods from the couple of seasons they spent working together for Murray.
Zverev will have a chance to impress his prospective mentor tomorrow, when he contests the Miami Open final against John Isner. This is the last final at Crandon Park, the site that has hosted the last 31 tournaments in Miami, and if Isner comes away with a win then he will be the first American to win a Masters event on home soil since Andy Roddick here in 2004.
The 6ft 10in Isner had arrived in Miami on such a terrible run of form that he had won just one match on tour all year. But he has beaten two former slam champions here, in Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro, as well as the fast-rising South Korean Hyeon Chung. His ferocious serve, often described as the best in the history of the game, is sure to be a significant factor in the final.