While the tennis world is witnessing the blooms of Roger Federer’s late spring, it is also viewing the barren spell of Novak Djokovic’s title drought. While the fans of the Swiss maestro are over the moon, the Serb maverick’s fans are down to earth and almost out. Djokovic had been doing well till the French Open last year. He won the French Open and in the process achieved the rare honor of holding all the four grand slam titles at that moment. The honor lasted just one month. He lost the Wimbledon final to Andy Murray. It turned out that he lost just more than a grand slam title.

From that point onwards, Djokovic’s fortunes took a free fall. He has lost all the grand slam tournaments he participated since then. This year’s Australian Open was perhaps the nadir – he lost in the second round to Denis Istomin, an obscure Uzbekistani player who was ranked 117th at that time. Overall, he has won just two of the 11 tournaments he played in since his French triumph last year. That does not befit a player of his stature.

What are the reasons for this eclipse? Does he have any psychological or physical problems? Read on. This article tries to shed light on the various reasons that led to a spectacular collapse of a mighty tennis player.

Story of a Collapse

Djokovic lost to Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final last year. At that time, it was seen as a welcome change from the sheer dominance of the Serb in the tennis world. In fact, he showed no signs of any weakness in the next tournament he participated, the Canadian Open, couple of weeks after the Wimbledon loss. He won the Canadian Open by outclassing the likes of Tomáš Berdych, Gaël Monfils and Kei Nishikori. It was yet another typical flawless performance.

The first visible signs of the decay, in hindsight, were observed in the Summer Olympics in Brazil. Juan Martin del Potro, coming off from long injury-forced break, ousted him in the first round itself. It was seen at that time as a one-off bad day in the office. Moreover, del Potro in his prime is a mean opponent. Bad luck, more than anything, was the presumed reason for the defeat.

Then came the US Open. Djokovic galloped to the finals. He was aided by the retirements of his opponents midway through the match in the second round and quarter final. He faced Stan Wawrinka in the final and lost in four sets. He lost the first set in tie breakers, won the second set and then lost his rhythm to concede the next two sets. Again the pundits found some valid reasons for his failure in the final. Wawrinka is a big match player, who punches well above his weight in grand slam finals. Djokovic merely became the latest victim of this unusual capacity of Wawrinka. Such explanations, however, would soon dry out. He lost in the fourth round of the Paris Masters against Marin Èiliæ. And in the prestigious, season-ending ATP Masters tournament in London, he lost to Andy Murray in straight sets in the final.

Djokovic started 2017 well. In the first tournament of the new season, the Qatar Open, he defeated Andy Murray in the final to win the title. It was pointed out that rest and relaxation during a month-long off-season brought him back to his best. He was in good frame of mind coming into the Australian Open. In fact, he was one of the favourites to win the Australian Open. You know what happened next. A second round exit only confirmed what many has been suspecting for a few months: there is something wrong with Djokovic.

After the Australian Open loss, he participated in the Davis Cup in Serbia’s tie against Russia. He was entirely convincing in the match against Daniil Medvedev. He lost the first set, but came back well by winning the next two. In the crucial fourth set, Medvedev retired and Djokovic won. The next two tournaments confirmed beyond any doubt that Djokovic is struggling and is struggling badly. In the Mexico Open, another hard court tournament, the young Nick Kyrgios dispatched him in the quarter finals in straight sets. Djokovic ran into the same opponent a couple of weeks later in the Indian Wells Open, which he had won five times in the last six years. Kyrgios showed no mercy as he brutally assaulted the Serb and returned with another straight set win. Djokovic was due to participate in the Miami Open. But he withdrew from the tournament, citing an elbow injury. It is not known when he would come back. He is likely to return by the time of the French Open. But will he return to his old self? That is the million dollar question. To answer that, one must search for the reasons of his downfall. Here are some potential reasons.

Lack of Motivation

It is hard to keep the motivation going once you achieve all there are to achieve. You cannot find fault with Djokovic if he gets a sense of being content after holding all the grand slam crowns at the same time – the 2015 Wimbledon, the 2015 US Open, the 2016 Australian Open and the 2016 French Open. Many thought he was well on his way to a proper grand slam in 2016. That was a good enough motivation to get going. However, the dream died in the Wimbledon. Perhaps, Djokovic lost his motivation too.

Sunil Gavaskar, the Indian cricket legend, once revealed how the idea of retirement from cricket crossed his mind. Once he started to look frequently at the clock during lunch breaks, to check how much time remaining for the lunch break, he figured out that he was losing the motivation to play cricket. It can happen to the best of the athlete. Even Sachin Tendulkar, by his own admission, found it hard to do all the fitness regime in the morning towards the end of the career. If there is no motivation in the mind, the body will be unwilling to perform at the best it can. Perhaps, Djokovic too suffers from the same problem.

Change of supporting staff

A lot has been written about the split-up between Djokovic and his most successful coach Boris Becker. The duo split towards the end of the last season. There was not bitter blood between them, as both respect each other. However, there were rumours that Djokovic’s faith in the maverick tennis guru Pepe Imaz may have led to the split. Imaz was a journeyman tennis player, who played in the ATP circuit, before becoming a self-styled tennis guru. He claims he offers peace of mind and mental calmness to the players. Djokovic reacts angrily to any suggestions about the influence of Imaz.

He recently exploded in a press meet when somebody asked about the role of this ‘guru’: “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.” It only indicates whatever advise the new guru offers for keeping Djokovic’s mind peaceful, it is not working.

Loss of Confidence

Confidence is often the elevator that separates the high rises of success from the dusty corridors of failure. After successive defeats, Djokovic’s confidence seems to have taken a beating. He never struggled in his career like he did against Kyrgios in the recent tournaments, especially in hard courts. The frequent outburst of anger are the telltale signs of confidence loss. He has been breaking rackets, hitting the ball towards ball boys, ball girls and even to the crowd in anger, more often than ever before. Even the line umpires had to take evasive action from a galloping piece of broken racket that Djokovic slammed to the court in anger. In other words, he is unleashing inner McEnroe when points are lost.

Injury Worries

As if these are not enough, he has to cope with injuries too. He withdrew from the Miami Open because of elbow injury a couple of days before the tournament. He revealed his withdrawal through a Facebook post: “My doctor has strongly advised against play because my elbow injury, that I keep carrying on for months, got worse in the past week. I will do everything in my power to recover and do all the necessary therapy to be able to return on court as soon as possible.”

There were skeptics who hint there is something wrong with the Djokovic camp. Former champion Andre Agassi believes Djokovic’s problems are mental than physical: “If it was a physical thing it would be obvious. So there’s got to be something emotional, mental, behind the curtain that only he and his team know.” Meanwhile, Djokovic apologized to the fans for his last minute withdrawal from the Miami Open through Twitter. “I apologize to my fans and ppl who purchased tickets to watch me play live at @MiamiOpen. Sadly, I’m injured and won’t be able to compete”, he tweeted.

His fans and people will be more worried if this slump is prolonged. Djokovic is struggling and nobody other than he and his team knows the exact reasons behind it. If he is looking for some inspiration and mental toughness, he does not need to go after mediocre tennis players posing as new-age gurus. He only needs to look at the recent triumphs of the one and only guru in tennis: Roger Federer.

Leave a comment

Cancel reply