"He's Not an Easy Guy" - Goran and Times with Novak

Nov 30, 2023, 1:52:28 PM | by Craig Gabriel

Novak Djokovic is brilliant on a tennis court but working with a genius is not easy at all and Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach made that abundantly clear recently, writes Craig Gabriel.

It should not come as a surprise that artists can be eccentric and also demanding. To be the best, to be creative more often than not there is a drive for perfection and there is an expectation those around in supportive roles have to be there to respond to the demands. 

Recently Goran Ivanisevic provided an insight to being there for Novak Djokovic who would is as demanding as they come. That is not said in a negative way. Djokovic wants to be the best and remain the best, so he needs the best from his lead coach as well as the supporting cast.

While Djokovic is not unique, he is often seen screaming at his box during matches. For sure you know who the boss is and watching what unfolds can seem uncomfortable but that support group has belief in the person they are working with.

A good analogy would be to title Novak Djokovic as a CEO of a corporation, and he is looking for and demanding profits. Those profits set him apart from everyone else. Like losses in a corporation, if he loses, he loses market share which results in a ranking drop. Djokovic, like any elite player, finds that too tough to handle.

Ivanisevic knows Djokovic back to front and inside out, but you come to the realisation how demanding the job is, and sometimes finds the going tough. He has spoken his mind and at times Goran would likely feel like a punching bag.

“He chain us with handcuffs for three days,” Ivanisevic, who often leant to the dramatic, said after Djokovic won this year’s Roland Garros. “He's not an easy guy, let’s put it this way. Especially when something’s not going his way.

“He was torturing us, taking our nails off. A lot more things but I cannot tell you that. But we are still here, we’re alive. My heart is still okay. I’m an old man, I need to be careful of my heart. So, he’s okay.

“We are here for him to feel better, for him to perform better. Sometimes it’s not easy. Sometimes it’s very complicated.”

Djokovic is constantly looking for ways to find something extra in his game to allow him to stay ahead of the field. Whether it is to find an extra bit or energy or become a step faster or get a bit of extra zip on his serve and he expects the likes of Goran Ivanisevic to discover those elements to make him better. 

Novak was definitely not happy losing to Jannik Sinner twice out of three matches in under two weeks and right at the end of the season too, when he had no more chances to settle the score.

“It’s very tough to improve with him,” Ivanisevic said with a hint of a sarcastic smile, “but he wants to improve. That's the good thing and bad thing for me as a coach and the rest of the team. 

“I think he improved a lot his volleys, his game at the net, and his position at the net. Now when he comes to the net generally and this year, he plays some amazing volleys. 

“His position at the net is a lot better. Is very tough to pass him. Before he was very easy to pass. Now he knows what he's doing at the net. He's comfortable at the net. Final of US Open he played two, three most important volleys in the final against (Daniil) Medvedev. He's not afraid to come to the net. He's hitting the forehands much, much harder. He's going for the shots. Serving, I think second serve, sometimes he's hitting over 200. He's just going for it.”

So, for someone like Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion and a former world No.2, who was erratic and eccentric and temperamental when he was a player but always likeable you wonder how he maintains a visible composure when Novak wins and then when he loses? How does he handle those extremes? What happens when Djokovic loses? Does he get angry with him? Those conversations would be fascinating, and you’d love to be a fly on the wall to gauge those situations.

“Who am I to get angry at him? He's the best player in the history of tennis,” Ivanisevic said. “I can be only angry with him sometimes when he's yelling for no reason at us. When he loses the match, he's always giving his best and he's trying.

“But it's not easy to deal with him when he's losing the match. On Tuesday night (of the ATP Finals), he finished late. On Wednesday we didn't see him at all. Till Thursday we didn't know what's happening, to be honest. We were in the room. We didn't know if we are going home, if we are going to the warm-up against (Hubert) Hurkacz. We were sitting, sitting. We finally find out that he's going to play. As soon as that click... 

“Like every human being, he has some fighting with himself. I think he made good decision to stay calm. I know is not easy. I know is not easy to motivate himself. He won everything. He finished No. 1. But he always finds motivation.

“We were patient. Actually, I had my family. I went for shopping. Actually, I had a good day on Wednesday. It was beautiful day. I enjoyed it. It was a good year, so how can I be mad on anybody? You see, now I'm sitting here and celebrating his victory.

“Is not easy. Is not easy. Is not easy. That's life. He's No. 1. He wants always more. He wants something better all the time.”

But to show how well Ivanisevic knows his charge, when Sinner beat Holger Rune to allow Djokovic to secure his place in the semis of the ATP Finals, Ivanisevic said “from that moment I knew that Novak is going to win the tournament”. And he did for a record seventh time.

“When the real Novak Djokovic arrives on the court, then at that moment nobody can play with him,” Ivanisevic said.