The men behind the man – Novak Djokovic’s backroom team.
Marian Vajda – Coach. He has remained Djokovic’s permanent coach since 2006 despite cameo appearances from both Todd Martin and Mark Woodforde, both of which proved unsuccessful. Vajda, a Slovakian former World No. 34, won two ATP titles on clay in his relatively short career that ended in 1994. The Olympic Serbian Committee awarded Vajda with the award for best coach following his success with Novak in 2011. Djokovic may not have found his “second father” in the first place had it not been for Vajda’s daughter Natalia.
When Vajda parted company with former world No 6 Karol Kucera, Djokovic’s management group contacted him and asked him to meet with Djokovic in Paris. Vajda admits that he did not want to at the time as he had no idea who Djokovic was, but was persuaded by his daughter because she wanted to see the ‘city of love’. Vajda has said on working with Djokovic: “My job is an easy one, I am working with such a talent and he is such a quick learner too. His return is his best, it’s an absolute gift.”
With Natalia being a very talented junior, Vajda has promised not to leave the Djokovic camp to pursue a father/coach role with her; he has instead said he’ll try and find her the best coach in the world… He may have to look in the mirror to find him.
Miljan Amanovic – Physio. Described in the Serbian press as “the most professional man you’ll ever meet”, Amanovic insists that he has the easiest job in the world working with ‘Nole’. Croatian by birth, Miljan’s family fled to Belgrade when he was a child. As a long-term friend as well as a professional colleague, the Djjokovic-Amanovic relationship is a 52-weeks-a-year partnership, but despite this, the world No 1’s physio still managed to find the time to tie the knot with his fiancée last year – Novak was the best man at the wedding. Djokovic took to the microphone to perform a few numbers, which apparently went down a storm with the guests.
Amanovic has previously worked in the NBA and also with football team Red Star Belgrade, but his understanding and cooperation (he participates in many of the same treatments) with Djokovic is much deeper: “If Nole needs an ice bath at 4am to prevent an injury, he will do it. We’ve made a deal, if he gets in, I get in.”
Gebhard Phil-Gritsch – Physical Trainer. Nole had started to gain a reputation for retiring from too many matches. That was why Gebhard Phil-Gritsch was hired. Phil-Gritsch had previously worked with Thomas Muster, a former World No 1, 1995 French Open Champion and a man who had a reputation for being a physical machine. And he went to work straight away with Djokovic, building up Novak’s physical condition and improving his flexibility.
Ever present in Djokovic’s box alongside Vajda and Amanovic, Phil-Gritsch is the man who could easily be mistaken for Detective Kojak. Djokovic’s incredible 2011 season was underlined by his astonishing improvement physically, a result of his work with Phil-Gritsch. “In this stage, if we can improve one per cent, he might make a big jump. These guys are so good. We are already talking about the optimum. It’s just a little bit here and a little bit there” Phil-Gritsch said. Djokovic’s dominance in 2011 would suggest that he improved by far more than one per cent. He may need to repeat these improvements if he wishes to complete the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros, and retain his Wimbledon and US Open titles.
Dr Igor Cetojevic – former nutritionist. He deserves a mention in this piece, despite having split from the Djokovic team following the Serb’s Wimbledon triumph. Dr Igor, a nutritionist who specialises in traditional Chinese and Indian medical practices, was the man who discovered that Djokovic was allergic to gluten. This allergy can cause tiredness and could explain Djokovic’s sometimes early loss of energy and previous retirements. Novak was prescribed with a gluten-free diet and went from strength-to-strength, notably outlasting Mr Endurance himself, Rafael Nadal, seven times consecutively. Sticking to this diet has reaped the rewards for Nole, as long as the reward isn’t a pizza.