Tennis is one of the more individual sports around, when players are out on the court they are engaged in head to head battle with no help forthcoming, but behind the scenes and between tournaments even the very best players rely on top class coaches to get them to their utmost level. For Novak Djokovic, the main man in this area is Marian Vajda but you are unlikely to have heard too much about him as the Slovak stays in the shadows far more than the likes of Ivan Lendl or Toni Nadal. He is however, a key cog in the near unstoppable Novak Djokovic machine and as such deserves to share some of the spotlight.
Marian Vajda was born on the 24th March 1965 in Považská Bystrica in modern day Slovakia, and went on to become a player on the ATP tour in his own right. In his playing career, Vajda reached a career high ranking of number 34 in the world and managed to collect two ATP Tour titles along the way. The first came on home soil in Prague in 1987, when he defeated compatriot Tomas Smid and this was followed the next year with victory in Geneva over Swedish player Kent Carlsson. This proved to be the Slovak’s final singles title but he did reach the third round of the French Open and also achieved the great honour of representing his country at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
After his playing career came to a close, Vajda went on to both the Slovakian Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams but it is through his coaching relationship with Novak Djokovic which began in June 2006 that he has achieved his greatest success. The impressive duo came together in somewhat unlikely circumstances however, and have a lot to thank Vajda’s daughter Natalia for in bringing them together. When Vajda parted company with former world number six Karol Kucera, Novak Djokovic’s management company approached him to come and meet with their man in Paris. At that time however, Djokovic was not the household name that he is now, and Vajda was not too keen to travel to France and meet the young Serb. He was in fact persuaded to take the meeting by his daughter, who wished to visit the city and its tourist attractions and that, as they say, was history.
Since he started working with Vajda, Djokovic’s game has gone from strength to strength but the Slovak coach has always stayed in the background and not courted the limelight, in good times or in bad. Some of the more difficult times in this coaching relationship came when Djokovic sought outside assistance from both Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, but even with these Americans stepping on his toes Vajda remained understated and saw both of them dispensed with in pretty short order.
Whilst he doesn’t receive copious media attention, Vajda was recognised for his role in Novak Djokovic’s success in 2011 by the Serbian Olympic Committee and is surely well rewarded by Djokovic himself.
After the somewhat turbulent times of Woodforde and Woodbridge’s involvement, the Djokovic, Vajda axis now seems rock solid, but could well be challenged by an unlikely source, in the shape of the girl who brought them together in the first place. Marian’s daughter Natalia is a hugely talented junior who could surely benefit from the insight of her world class coach of a father in her corner. However, Vajda senior has promised Djokovic that he won’t look to take up a coaching role with his daughter, and instead plans to help find the best possible coach for Natalia. If he’s looking for someone who is a better coach than himself, however, he may be searching for some time.