Novak Djokovic hits back at reports of acrimonious split with Andre Agassi after crushing defeat of Dusan Lajovic

Simon Briggs
The Telegraph
Novak Djokovic took just 56 minutes to beat compatriot Dusan Lajovic - AFP
Novak Djokovic took just 56 minutes to beat compatriot Dusan Lajovic - AFP

Novak Djokovic did not just come home on Monday; he came back to himself.

Playing just a stone’s throw from his Monte Carlo apartment, Djokovic ended a grim spell of almost three months without a win by crushing compatriot Dusan Lajovic in just 56 minutes.

Then, in the interview room, Djokovic addressed reports that there had been an acrimonious edge to his parting with former coach Andre Agassi. It is true that, when he confirmed his coaching changes at the start of this month, he had barely mentioned Agassi at all, preferring to heap praise on another now-departed assistant in Radek Stepanek.

But when Djokovic was asked specifically about Agassi’s decision to announce the split first – via an interview with ESPN that aired a fortnight ago – he played the issue down. “I don’t care who comes in and says things in the press first,” Djokovic replied. “I mean, nobody offended anybody. We’re still in a very good relation.

“You have to understand that, first of all, we didn’t have any commitment,” Djokovic added, with regard to Agassi. “He was really genuinely wanting to help and to give me advice and to share his experience with me. That speaks enough about him as a person. The last eight, nine months with Andre was just amazing. The amount of things that I’ve learned, not just about tennis, but life in general. For that I’m very grateful.”

The one mistake that Djokovic did admit on Monday was that he had raced back too quickly from elbow surgery in late January. With hindsight, he should not have participated in Indian Wells and Miami, the two big American events of the spring, where he suffered uncharacteristically listless defeats against a pair of unheralded opponents in Taro Daniel and Benoit Paire. On the back of his fourth-round exit from the Australian Open, this was the first time he had gone on such a lean run since 2007.

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If Djokovic now appears to have put such struggles behind him, that may be because he has reunited with Marian Vajda, the avuncular Slovakian coach who had been his mentor and father figure since the age of 19. They stopped working together last May and Djokovic, frankly, has not been the same player since.

“Today, finally after two years I was pain-free,” said Djokovic. “Obviously having Marian is a lot of positive emotions. He knows me very well, so we worked on a lot of great things in the last 10 days. Physically I think I’m getting in a better shape as the weeks go by.

“I came back five weeks from the moment I had the surgery. That’s amazing [but] I still obviously wasn’t ready. So Indian Wells and Miami were really kind of a struggle on the court for me mentally.”

It is virtually unheard of for Djokovic to find himself in action on the Monday of Monte Carlo. On his last 10 visits to this event, which include everything but his debut appearance in 2006, he has enjoyed the bye offered to the top eight seeds.

But Djokovic did not look at all disgruntled by his early start. Quite the reverse, this presented an opportunity to ease into the tournament against a lesser opponent. His reward for this 6-0, 6-1 demolition job will be a much tougher-looking second-round meeting with Borna Coric, the athletic young Croatian who is in the form of his life.

Meanwhile, Tuesday afternoon’s schedule features a first European appearance of the season for the new British No 1. Having rushed back from Marrakesh, Kyle Edmund will face Andreas Seppi – the Italian he beat in the fourth round of January’s Australian Open – on Court 9.

Edmund played his first ATP final on Sunday in Marrakesh, losing to experienced Spaniard Pablo Andujar, and then followed that debut up with another first as the absence of any commercial airline connections forced him to hire a private jet to Nice Airport.

Edmund explained on Monday that he had previously travelled “a few times” on planes booked by his friend and mentor Andy Murray. These days, he stands alone as British No 1 – and his prize money of a little over £570,000 so far this season will help defray the costs.

“It was fun,” said Edmund of his glorified taxi ride, after a short practice session with the Serbian No 3 Viktor Troicki in Monte Carlo. His morale seemed buoyant, despite the disappointment of coming up just short of a maiden ATP title. “I guess it’s a good problem to arrive here with less time, as it means I did well [in Marrakesh].”

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