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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, May 21, 2017

Andre Agassi, Novak Djokovic

“We’re both excited to work together and see where it takes us. We don’t have any long-term commitment," said Novak Djokovic on new coach Andre Agassi.

Photo credit: Australian Open/Tennis Australia

Novak Djokovic was seeking a coach who has thrived at the highest level.

Andre Agassi is the man for the job.

More: Djokovic Catches Fire

The world No. 2 confirmed he will work with Agassi as his new coach on starting during Roland Garros practice week in a pairing of iconic champions who hold career Grand Slams.

The pair will work together on a trial basis.

The reigning Roland Garros champion said Agassi will not stay in Paris for the entire French Open fortnight.

Djokovic said the pair have not committed to a long-term partnership and will assess the future as their relationship evolves.

“I spoke to Andre the last couple of weeks on the phone. We decided to get together in Paris,” Djokovic told the media in Rome following his straight-sets loss to Alexander Zverev in the final. “So he’s gonna be there and we’ll see what the future brings.

“We’re both excited to work together and see where it takes us. We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other. In Paris, he will not stay the whole tournament. We’re see what’s gonna happen.”

It’s the first foray into coaching for Agassi, though the former world No. 1 and his wife, Hall of Famer Steffi Graf, have both hit with several pros near their Las Vegas home, including Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep, who is coached by Darren Cahill, Agassi’s former coach.

The 47-year-old Agassi, who like Djokovic owns a career Grand Slam and is one of the greatest returners in the sport's history, discussed a role as Djokovic’s coach or a coaching consultant earlier this month, revealed The Telegraph's Simon Briggs.

There are similarities between Djokovic and Agassi.

They own two of the best two-handed backhands, both can take the ball on the rise, both well-balanced off both forehand and backhand and both used the return of serve as an offensive weapon. Both men admitted to struggling with their motivation and passion for the sport at times, both have spoken about how fatherhood had profound impact on their perspective and approach to their careers.

Additionally, both have pursued their support of education and philanthropy through their foundations. Both have at times tried to use tennis as a platform for philanthropic pursuits and tap into the power of playing for a cause greater than their own self interest.

Can Agassi, a philosophical and inquisitive soul who has spent his post-playing career immersed in expanding education, be the tennis coach and life coach Djokovic seems to be seeking?

“Obviously Andre is someone I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player,” Djokovic said. “He has been through everything that I’m coming through on court. He understands the game amazingly well. I’m enjoying every conversation I have with him.

"But also, he’s someone who nurtures family values, philanthropic work, he a very humble man, a family man. He’s a person who can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. So I’m excited to see where this leads us.”

It may lead Djokovic to take a long look within.

In an interview with The Guardian in March, Agassi said Djokovic’s struggles were between the ears rather than between the lines and suggested the power of perspective could be transformative.

“If it was a physical thing it would be obvious,” Agassi says of Djokovic. “You don’t lose it quickly unless you’re dealing with a significant injury. So there’s got to be something emotional, mental, behind the curtain that only he and his team know. But he’s way too good to not find the solution.

"He’s also going to find perspective given his history. After clearing the courts of bomb shrapnel to practice I’m sure he understands how cruel and tough life can be.”

The analytical Agassi, who like Rafael Nadal won every Grand Slam title and the Olympic gold medal in singles, believes this is the game's golden age.

Hall of Famer John McEnroe has called Agassi and Jimmy Connors the two greatest returners he faced. Agassi himself says Djokovic's elastic ability to both attack and defend off the return makes the second-ranked Serbian the best returner tennis has seen.

"When Lleyton Hewitt came along I remember thinking, 'How does Hewitt's return game compare?' Because Hewitt has so much lateral coverage and he puts so many balls back in play," Agassi said. "The same with Federer—he gets so many balls back in play. Well, if you can take the best of me, the best of Hewitt, and the best of Federer and then you stick it in one guy, that's Djokovic. Because the truth is Djokovic can stay right up on the baseline and hurt you with the return if he chooses to, or he can stand back and defend if he needs to.

"See, Hewitt really didn't have the ability to hurt you off the first serve. He could hurt you occasionally off the second serve. I had the ability to always hurt you, but I got aced a lot because I took educated chances. Djokovic has the ability to do both and his pocket is bigger than mine and the ball above his shoulder—he handles that better than I did."

Agassi could help Djokovic assert his return game as a more offensive weapon, but Djokovic's biggest on-court issue now is his cracked confidence playing pivotal points.

How much time and travel can Agassi dedicate to a coaching role? A devoted family man, Agassi has said he values his time at home with wife Steffi Graf and their two children, 15-year-old-son Jaden and 13-year-old daughter Jaz.

Agassi has declined television commentary offers in the past because he doesn't like to travel as much as his playing days.

Former Agassi rival Ivan Lendl has thrived in a part-time coaching role with world No. 1 Andy Murray so it's not out of the question Agassi could contribute to Djokovic as a part-time coach.

Agassi talks tennis with his former coaches, Brad Gilbert and Cahill, who are both ESPN analysts and has said he still follows the men's game watching matches on TV from his Vegas home. Whereas Lendl completely divested himself from the sport for a period yet still returned to coaching success with Murray. 

An astute analytic mind, Agassi has faced two of Djokovic's traditional rivals on court—Federer and Nadal—and will try to help craft solutions for Djokovic's generation next rivals, including Nick Kyrgios, who defeated the 12-time Grand Slam champion in back-to-back tournaments this spring, and the 20-year-old Zverev, who swept the Serbian in the Rome final to become the youngest Masters champion since Djokovic in 2007.

Agassi's presence in Paris give Djokovic the rare experience of working with one of the game's most dominant servers—former coach Boris Becker—and one of its greatest returners in Agassi.

Agassi and Becker were bitter rivals during their days on the ATP Tour.

In his memoir, Open, Agassi recalled asking a US Open security guard to stand between the two men prior to a Flushing Meadows match to prevent a potential pre-match fist fight from erupting.

"Tennis is non contact pugilism," Agassi wrote in Open. "It's violent, mano a mano, kill or be killed. Beat or take your beat down...

"Before we take the court, as Becker and I stand in the tunnel, I tell the security guard, James: Keep us apart. I don't want this f--king German in my sight. Trust me, James, you don't want me to see him."

Djokovic celebrates his 30th birthday tomorrow trying to reignite his passion for the sport in the City of Light with the Vegas visionary in his corner.


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