Struggling Novak Djokovic advised by ‘guru’ who advocates long hugs

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Novak Djokovic is in serious danger of losing the No. 1 ranking in the world to Andy Murray, a coup that would end Djokovic's 122-week reign at the top spot, hurt his chances of challenging Roger Federer's all-time record for most weeks at No. 1 and move the Scotsman to the top of the rankings for the first time in his career. It could all come this week in Paris (possibly) or at the ATP World Tour Finals later this month (more likely but far from certain). So Djokovic has enlisted a new member of his team to help defend his ground atop the tennis world. And that new face just happens to be a guru who preaches “amor y paz (love and peace)” and believes in the healing power of really long hugs.

The relationship between Djokovic and Pepe Imaz, a former tennis journeyman turned spiritual tennis leader, first came to notice when Paz was shown in a YouTube video leading a lengthy spiritual seminar with Djokovic by his side. There was talk of emotions and metaphors about inner peace. It's all cool if you're down for that.

Djokovic seems to be down, bringing Paz with him to this week's big tournament in Paris. His two main coaches – Boris Becker and longtime advisor Marian Vajda – are nowhere to be found. But Djokovic doesn't want anybody to get it wrong, stressing that Paz is not his guru just, I suppose, a guru. He told reporters:

“I don't know where you heard that he's a guru, first of all. He's been in tennis for all his life. I'm just glad that he came this week, together with my brother, to be with me and work with me.

“I'm not going to go into details, because there is no sense. I know certain media is trying to find a story here in calling him guru. I'm not going to give any room for speculations anymore. He's been there, and he's part of the coaching team and that's all.”

Interesting semantical choices here. Djokovic doesn't say that Paz isn't his guru, but he also doesn't say he is. More than anything, Djokovic, notoriously guarded and a bit chippy here, seems annoyed that anyone found out about this. His statement though is just basically semantics.

Paz believes in the power of meditation, long hugs and, obviously, paz y amor. Though Djokovic played coy when asked about him, the timing of Paz's arrival, with Djokovic in a relative slump since his French Open title, fits. Whatever his role is, the title is irrelevant.

You say tomato I say Maharishi. Who knows. The difference between Djokovic and the Beatles is that it was perceived as cool to hang out with Mia Farrow's sister in India and seek transcendental consciousness in the '60s but for the world No. 1 in a sport in which so much is placed on mental strength, it might appear weak, hence Djokovic's defensiveness. But why fret about that? Djokovic has made a living while being a little off the beaten path.

While Federer plays the role of regular tennis guy with sublime technique and Nadal dials it to 11 every time he takes the court, Djokovic's first “thing” was being a bit soft and kind of a whiner. (Witness his beef with Andy Roddick at the 2008 U.S. Open.) It wasn't until he turned to gluten, started sleeping in an egg and, it was assumed, took on a different kind of healthy lifestyle in all respects that he was able to get the most out of his talent. So if talking it out with some journeyman tennis player who's really into hugs and sharing feelings like a mystical Buddy the Elf then so be it.

Djokovic losing the No. 1 ranking would be a fitting end to an uneven season, one in which he entered Wimbledon halfway to the Grand Slam before suffering his earliest major exit in seven years and then losing the U.S. Open final to Stan Wawrinka. He has four Masters 1000 titles but also was ousted in the second round in Monte Carlo – he hasn't had a worse performance in one of those tournaments since 2006.

And with the struggles, which seem to turn on like a light switch for Djokovic. He wins four of five Slams into 2011 then wins just one of the next nine including losses in five finals. He completes the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros and then goes into a funk. Something's off and if he can fix it by talking to a guru, a confidant, a friend, a hippie former tennis player or whatever he wants to call him, then so be it.


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