Serbian No. 2 racquet emerged at the ATP Cup as a surprise to many but not to his coach Jose Perlas who explains that Lajovic performance is the result of hard work and a player fully committed to being the best he can be.
Jose Perlas has been coaching Dusan Lajovic since late 2016 in a journey which has seen the Serbian winning his first ATP Title in 2019, playing a high level of tennis to help Serbia lift the inaugural 2020 ATP Cup early this month in Sydney.
The Spaniard has coached players such as Carlos Moya, Albert Costa, Guillermo Coria, Janko Tipsarevic, Nicolas Almagro, and Fabio Fognini (2012-2016) - among others; with Moya attaining the number one ranking under his tutelage.
Sports Pundit caught up with the experienced tennis coach to talk about his partnership with pupil Dusan Lajovic in a conversation that will take you “backstage” to see what goes on beyond the tennis court.
SP: In late 2016 you began a partnership with Dusan Lajovic. Since then, his evolution at the tour level has been notorious.
What are the fundamental aspects that have allowed this evolution seen not only in a significant rise at the FedEx ATP Rankings but also in his level as a professional tennis player?
JP: “First and foremost, the high level of commitment and the capacity to take on significant amounts of work, which has made our labor as a team easier.”
The Serbian who turned pro in 2007, went from being World No. 93 in 2016 to reach the Top 30 last year under the tutelage of Perlas.
“One of the primary fundaments is to find an exact definition of a game pattern compatible with the player’s qualities and personality, that is what distinguishes and sets apart some trainers from others.
“I believe we have succeeded with Dusan in giving the right order to the process and development of the plan we have established,” he added.
In 2019, Dule, Lajovic nickname, contested a record of tournaments (27) in his career, conquering his first ATP title at the 30th edition of the Plava Laguna Croatia Open held in the city of Umag.
OVERCOMING THE INJURIES
SP: How do you work the mental and emotional side with a player coming out of injuries so that he regains confidence in his tennis and himself?
JP: “Dusan has had to deal with a series of inconvenient injuries.Nevertheless, this has also become one of his greatest strengths, the ability to deal and negotiate well with the pain.
“Throughout the years, in no case has physical problems ever stopped us excessively from keeping our progress.
Two of our four pre-seasons have been influenced by those injuries, some of which were affecting him when we met,” Perlas explained.
In 2017, Lajovic experienced some issues with his right shoulder.
During the off-season, the Serbian underwent a hernia surgery he has been delaying by taking anti-inflammatories daily, to help cope with the pain. But something did not go according to plan, and he woke up from surgery with a frozen right shoulder.
Then the pain extended to the elbow, continuing his anti-inflammatory intake.
And though the pain has not vanished from the picture, the 29-year-old decided to stop taking medication that was affecting his health negatively.
“If the player feels that the team is giving him solutions, if he realizes that magic does not exist, it is a pure illusion, then he understands that as it took some time in being damaged, it will also need some time to heal.
Besides, our ability as a team, asserting one of our qualities, our experience, allows us to solve the issues without losing or stepping down from the competition.
No injury has been so severe as to have to stop working.
Also, the work developed by the team in the physical, mental, and technical areas is fundamental. In the case of the latter, settling right some specifics, but furthermore, building trust between ourselves, knowing that as we work to achieve our goals, we will also be working and solving any issues that present us,” the Spaniard remarked.
THE ROLE OF THE COACH
SP: What are the challenges a coach faces when beginning a partnership with a player to get their best performance?
JP: “The significant challenge is to be effective with the process and that the plan established is compatible with the player’s personality, which needs to be patient.
Usually, players of a certain age are in a hurry, and it is not always easy to change or add things that have long been ignored or refused to face them.It is important to trust each other on that we are on the right path.”
SP: What are the usual barriers that prevent a player from achieving the goals settled with the coach?
“The barriers are usually the misinterpretations of the game, and unfortunately, those are the most common ones, or at least the less accurate. It creates a vicious circle, ultimately leading to bad habits, which do not allow move forward, those are the barriers that need to be skipped or skirt.
“Lately, we’ve seen inappropriate environments, caused by profit-seeking or unawareness, ending up to prevent the normal progress and development of a player.”
SP: Serbia won the inaugural 2020 ATP Cup with Lajovic emerging victorious in four out of six singles ties he played in the tournament.
How do you assess the performance of your pupil on the court and the new tournament overall (ATP Cup) when compared to the traditional Davis Cup?
JP: “You always expect the best from your players. We have come from a short pre-season, a very good one but short when compared to what we used to do on other occasions.
We probably had eight or ten days less to prepare, in the other hand, with this being our fourth pre-season, and all the work we have been able to develop, we found ourselves in a position where new opportunities open up.”
The Serbian shined with his performance at the ATP Cup in Australia.
“*His game has progressed extensively, it’s well incorporated by now, which has allowed us to add details, with some ease taking further steps, as seen at the ATP Cup.
On top of that, the format of playing three matches and being involved in a team, having the opportunity to work closely with him - as he could talk with his captain or myself, I believe he felt very supported, and extra motivated,” Perlas noted.
“He arrived at the competition in great shape, altogether it contributed to the fantastic results he achieved while building up in the tournament.”
ON THE OPPONENTS WHO BEAT HIM
“Indeed, Dusan won four out of the six singles ties he played. In the case of Benoit Paire, he brought him to the limit (6-2, 6-7(6), 6-4) he was very close.”
“Perhaps the tie against Roberto Bautista Agut did not begin as expected due to a series of circumstances that took place, including, above all, an uncommon anti-doping process, which I believe it was even out of the rules. Surprisingly, just before the match, it was required to do the anti-doping tests, not only to Dusan but all the players.
Our plan and time had to change because of this, and even so, he played at a high level.
“Overall, we are really happy with the beginning of the season, to see him playing at such a high level from the start of the year.”
Lajovic and Bautista Agut played the opening tie of the day in the decisive ATP Cup finals.
The Spaniard beat the Serbian in two sets 7-5, 6-1 winning his sixth consecutive match at the tournament.
DAVIS CUP vs. ATP CUP
The inaugural ATP Cup featured a similar format to the Davis Cup, which took place in the city of Madrid last November.
The debut of the new competition in Australia caused some controversy and diverse opinions emerged.
“The tournament (ATP Cup) has many things that help us, good things, and others that should be improved. I know, as a fact, relevant work is being done in that regard by the whole team in Australia. I am sure they will succeed in achieving their goals and upgrade the tournament even more,” said the coach.
“Regarding the Davis Cup, it is a tournament where points for the ATP ranking, are not awarded.
“Also, the captain decides as he deems convenient, which player will contest the match, according to his technical interests, or those he takes under consideration.”
“The ATP Cup is different, if you are the No. 1 or No. 2 player by merit, you owned your right to play, no matter what the captain thinks.
The player decides whether, in a certain given moment, it would be best for him or the team for another player to come in and play the match.It’s the same as in an ATP tournament by merits, that’s a big difference,” he explained.
Jose Perlas gives us another view on the different aspects of both group competitions.
“In the Davis Cup, the Serbian captain (Nenad Zimonjic) didn’t have Dusan under consideration to play.
In the ATP Cup, regardless of whether he considered playing or not, Dusan has owned the right to play.I believe he was surprised by the high level shown by Dusan as well.”
RAFAEL NADAL - THE ONE AND ONLY
SP: Spain has presented exceptional tennis players, today the country finds in World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, a notable representative.
How do you see the future of tennis in your country once Nadal retires?
JP: “Clearly, to have another player such as Nadal, will be extremely difficult. If those are our expectations, then we are on the wrong path.There are and will always be new Spanish players, but to reach number one, and to remain at that level for as long as Rafa, that I dont believe is possible. Spain will always be a tennis force, continuing to bring joy to the Spanish people.”
SP: Lajovic achieved his best performance in the Australian Open, reaching the third round of the tournament.
What are the goals set for the 2020 season?
JP: “He did win two matches and played a third in which he got very close, a third-round he had not reached before in the Australian Open.A bad decision, from the referee, took the match to the fourth set of an intense game. I still believe it could have had another ending.
“In any case, Dusan showed consistency in his game, giving continuity to his work, which could mark the rest of the season.”
World No. 14, Diego Schwartzman beat the Serbian in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(7).
THE GOALS FOR THE SEASON
“The goal for the season is to keep consistency throughout the year as much as possible.
As I understand it, the goals have never been about the ranking or a specific tournament, but to keep getting good results and working hard.
And if that means that he won a tournament, that is even better.The results are always related to getting the job well done and the right continuity.”
Lajovic earned a best career-high ranking (No. 23) in singles back in April 2019 and after finishing that year as World No. 34, the Serbian is currently World No. 27 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.