Boris Becker once shared a bitter rivalry with Ivan Lendl across the net and now the two former world No. 1s will try to outwit each other from courtside after the German’s shock appointment as coach to Novak Djokovic.
After Djokovic was named International Tennis Federation World Champion for the year, despite being overshadowed by Spain’s Rafael Nadal, Serbia’s world No. 2 announced the first shake-up of his team since a short and unsuccessful spell with Todd Martin in 2009.
Djokovic’s decision to work with 46-year-old Becker means two of the current “Big Four” are now coached by former greats, with Lendl helping Britain’s Andy Murray to last year’s US Open title and this year’s Wimbledon crown.
“I am really excited to have the opportunity to work with Boris,” the 26-year-old Djokovic said in a statement on his Web site. “He is a true legend, someone who has great tennis knowledge and his experience will help me win new trophies from the Grand Slams, and other tournaments. Becker is a great person, too, and I am sure he will fit in our team in the best possible way.”
Becker, like Djokovic a six-time Grand Slam champion, is to replace the Serb’s coach Marian Vajda, although the Slovakian is to remain part of the team.
Becker is to travel to all the Grand Slam tournaments with Djokovic, starting with next month’s Australian Open where the world No. 2 is bidding for a fourth consecutive title, having twice beaten Murray in the final.
“I am proud Novak invited me to become his head coach,” Becker, the youngest player to win Wimbledon when aged 17, said in the statement.
Becker and Lendl in opposite camps is an enticing prospect.
The 22 matches they played in the 1980s and early 1990s always contained an undercurrent of friction, with the stony-faced Czech Lendl clearly agitated by the man nicknamed Boom Boom.
While Lendl edged their rivalry 12-10, it was Becker who won the three Grand Slam finals they contested, most notably the 1986 Wimbledon final, which Lendl had set his heart on winning.
Becker once accused Lendl of not being “mentally tough,” while Lendl hit back saying Becker did not have the guts to say things to his face in the locker room.
The passing of years has mellowed both men, but their competitive edges will return in a few weeks when the new season starts with the build-up to the Australian Open.
Djokovic will hope Becker has a similar impact to Lendl’s on Murray as he strives to regain the world No. 1 ranking from Nadal, who dominated this year, winning the French Open and US Open titles on the way to the top of the rankings.