Around the same time last year, people were talking about Novak Djokovic’s quest for the calendar slam. Having won his sixth Australian Open, it seemed as if this tennis machine from Serbia was invincible. Dominating a sport for such a long period of time needs a fair share of luck, and luck is something you cannot control. Djokovic soon found himself on the other end of it. But it’s not all about being unlucky. After completing his career slam, the Serb has looked a shadow of his imperious self. Is there a technical loophole in the armor of tennis’s most complete player? Or like the man said himself, the game is not his number one priority anymore? Let’s explore some of the possible reasons for Djokovic’s recent failures.
Federer and Nadal, two of Novak’s biggest rivals have 32 slams between them, however, since turning 29, they have won just 2. So does the age of 29, start the slow decline of a player? Novak won’t be turning any younger, he would perhaps follow a similar physical trajectory like Rafa-being lot more prone to injuries in the future- and not like Federer. His body will show signs of vulnerability, now that he is inching closer to 30. Novak still is not far from his peak physical form, so turning 30 would not make a drastic difference to his chances at majors, but surely he is running out of time to surpass records of his rivals.
Novak sans Boris
In December 2013, Djokovic announced on his website that Boris Becker will become his Head Coach for the 2014 season. And after three years and six Grand Slam titles, Djokovic and Becker decided to call it off. One of the most successful partnership in modern era, Becker transformed Novak from someone who lost 4 out of his last 5 finals, to a player who went on to win 6 of the next 8. It was the mental aspect that the German elevated. But after completing the career slam in Paris, Becker felt that Djokovic was not spending enough time on practice courts.
“He needed time to reflect on that, he needed time to be with his loved ones. As a coaching staff our hands were tied a little bit, we couldn’t do the work we wanted to do because he had more important things to do, so then we questioned ourselves. Why are we going to New York? And once you raise that question, that is the beginning [of the end].” said Becker.
Becker also went on to comment on Novak’s loss to Dennis Istomin, stating that the Serb was too defensive and didn’t fight his way out of trouble. Naturally, to not have a composed figure like Boris in your camp, could have serious implications. And so far, this mutual decision to part ways, is not looking a wise one.
Belief among opponents
They rightly say that half of the battle is won before entering the court, in the minds. Ever since Sam Querrey put on a fine display of tennis to knock Novak out of Wimbledon’16, it seems like players have started believing more about the fact that he is beatable. Of course, no one remains invincible for eternity, but just the fact that someone like Querrey was able to beat him, might have given someone like Istomin the required courage and belief that he can do the almost unthinkable.
With Nick Kyrgios beating Novak in two successive weeks, this belief is bound to grow even more. It’ll be interesting to see how Federer plays Novak in the coming days, if they meet. Federer has lacked that belief on all the three previous occasions, when he has met the Serb in majors.
Injury and off court endeavours
Finally, something that no athlete is immune to, injuries-play a big part at the biggest stages. Novak has already withdrawn from Miami due to an elbow injury and over the last few months, there had been constant news and rumors regarding him not feeling well. Maybe this is the reason that he has been unable to focus completely on tour. Also as Novak has stated himself, he prefers spending more time with his family, especially his young son and tennis is now no longer his main priority. Having achieved everything there is in the tennis world, it’s hard to criticize Novak for his outlook. He probably needs this much needed time off court after giving almost everything to complete the dream of his maiden French Open title.
Expect the return
Having said all of this, Novak Djokovic is too great a champion to not bounce back from this slump, he still remains a player who you would bet on to reach at least the final of a tournament. This mortal version of Novak has only increased the excitement of people watching the game. With Roger Federer back after an injury, Rafa finding his lost mojo, the men’s section looks a lot more exciting than it did a couple of years back. The answer to the question whether Djokovic will dominate the game again or not rests on the fact that how quickly he will be able to get the same desire to win, the same hunger to be the best, back in himself. Expect Novak to come back from the brink like he has always done. Ajde Nole!