Why Is Tennis No Longer A Top Priority For Novak Djokovic?
by Sean Randall | November 10th, 2016, 12:53 am
  • 40 Comments

Andy Murray aside, the story of the 2016 season has been the stunning collapse of Novak Djokovic. Back in early June, Djokovic was an unstoppable force. He completed the Career Slam at the French Open, vanquishing his rival Murray once again.

At the time, Djokovic was far and away the best in the sport with a 44-3 record and seven titles in nine events. Murray, who had just reached his first career French final, was a distant second. Entering Wimbledon, the 2016 No. 1 ranking race was really an afterthought, it was all but over.

But pro tennis is funny that way. The minute we think we have it figured out, we don’t.

So what happened? The Sam Querrey match at Wimbledon happened. And the unknown events leading up to it happened.

There’s no confirmation of what triggered Djokovic strange, disinterested behavior on court that first day against Querrey, only Djokovic admitting there was a “private” issue. That issue, according to rumors, is that Jelena Djokovic had just learned of a fling Novak had with another woman.

Now connect the dots and there’s probably more truth to this rumor than fiction. It adds up.

For those that are or have been in a serious relationship that runs long enough, there are always issues, arguments, and differences. Some big, some small, but it happens. Now imagine having to deal with the worst possible one (infidelity) and then having to do your job in front of the world with it still fresh in your mind.

And you too might act like Djokovic did in that Querrey match. And you can understand why he’s just 17-5 over his last six events with just one title.

Now I know he talked about being wiped out after winning Paris, and there have been some injuries, but let’s be honest, a very unhappy wife outweighs all that.

As I’ve said before, tennis is such a mental sport and if you are not right in your head, there’s not much you can do on court. It’s a losing battle. And one can only imagine – if these rumors are indeed true – what was going on behind the scenes at the Djokovic household and then having to play a tournament with all that rattling in around in your head. That’s brutal.

So an unsteady Djokovic wins Toronto, then goes to Rio where he is in search of a first gold. The pressure is back on. But Del Potro takes it to him and we then see the emotion pour out on court after the loss. And that emotion is not just from the defeat, but I still think it’s from what he’s been going through at home.

With the marriage in limbo, he skips Cincinnati to get things right, but it’s still not at the US Open as we again see Djokovic acting oddly, showing the frustration, ripping shirts, etc. But at least Jelena is back in the box giving the appearance things are probably moving in the right direction.

Thereafter, as a further sign of commitment to Jelena and to truly win her back, Djokovic comes out and publicly declares what he probably told Jelena in private, and that is that tennis and the chase for all the records will no longer be a priority.

“Tennis is not the only thing in the world,” Djokovic said.

Translation: It’s family first, family second and family third. And if there’s time, I’ll play some pro tennis.

So that’s how I see it, feel free to prove me wrong, etc. But I’ve had my share of issues with my wife (nothing to the extent of cheating) and it’s awfully hard to function properly in the hours and sometimes days after until things are resolved.

And I cannot imagine trying to repair a marriage while trying to play on the pro tour. I think Agassi has talked about it before, maybe Wawrinka also, but mentally that must destroy you. And that’s what I think has been going on with Novak. Again, I have no proof, I’ve just read the rumors and his quotes however when you piece it together and with the sudden decline in play and the odd pattern of behavior, it does make some sense.

Djokovic has come off to me as a family kind of guy. A faithful, loving father and husband. He speaks well of his wife and son so if the rumors are indeed true then it must have been devasting. And we saw the fallout in front of our eyes.

The good news is it does appear like they’ve overcome it. So that’s a positive. And after London, they’ll have another month to 45 more days to continue to work things out if needed (I doubt Novak plays in India or any pre-2017 exos).

While that competitive fire in the Novak’s belly doesn’t go away overnight, neither does his family. It sounds like he’s made the choice, he will make the sacrifice. And it’s the right one. Family first.


You Might Like:
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Novak Djokovic On Catching Roger Federer’s 17 Slams: I Don’t Think About It At All, It’s Not A Goal!
8 Things I Think I Thought About Novak Djokovic’s Loss To Denis Istomin
Andy Murray Is Still Not Sure If He’ll Play The ATP Finals, The Davis Cup Is His Priority
Novak Djokovic: I Will Say It Again, Winning The French Open Is My No. 1 Priority This Season

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40 Comments for Why Is Tennis No Longer A Top Priority For Novak Djokovic?

jane Says:

why does everyone say “career slam” – it was more than that; he held all four slams at once, something not done on the men’s side since laver, and he did it on 3 different surfaces, something *never* done before. that’s an achievement that’s been so undervalued by tennis pundits and the entire community. kind of sad.

as for the rest, it’s merely speculation – as you rightly admit, sean.

some of us novak fans, who follow novak and jelena on instagram and elsewhere, have wondered if maybe, after winning the french, jelena was getting fed up with how he’d achieved his dream but then there was still pressure to do more (from his team, himself? i don’t know): for e.g., the calendar slam, next fed’s 17, etc., and that if anything maybe they argued about that, about how it was time to focus on his fam. following this line of thought, if you watch his speech post FO he sort of apologises to his team for “tolerating” him. it’s clear he felt a lot of pressure to win the french – again, some prob self-imposed, some from others – and it must have weighed heavily on him. maybe after some time to think, he agreed with his wife. time to recalibrate, reset, etc.

all that said, novak’s arm still bothers him and i suspect much frustration, b/c his serve is an ongoing problem, comes from there

Carole Bouchard
‏@carole_bouchard
Asked Novak about the injury : confirms right arm still bothers him, especially on serve. Fixing it ? “Quick fixes are never good fixes”..

i suspect that novak’s “slump” (which includes winning toronto and reaching the USO finals – luckily but still) is caused by a combo of things: letdown, exhaustion (mental), “private issues” (which we don’t know) and injury.

we’ll see if he can bounce back for WTF or maybe next year. for me, ofc, it’s fingers crossed.


Van Persie Says:

Nole idemoooo!

P.S. to politics. Am not American, but I wanted Republicans to win. I personally liked Ted Cruz. Can’t stand Trump, but neither Hillary.


Margot Says:

I’d rather read/write about politics than read/write/speculate about people’s marriages, Sean, ON A TENNIS WEBSITE.
Just saying….as Skeeze says.
CRUZ!!! OMG! He makes Trump look like a sweet, snowy haired, rocking-chaired old gandpoppy! Opposes all abortion, even in the case of rape/foetal abnormality/age of mother etc. etc.


Van Persie Says:

Margot,

To be honest, I was not very interested in what they said about abortions, and so on. Do tot think this will change in USA….also not my problem.
I was more interested in external politics, and hated the way the Clintons handled that.
Come on, do not be that scared. I am sure, Trump is not that dangerous.


Van Persie Says:

I just hope that this thing with challenging Russia with Ukraine and other buffer zones will stop now.
No more on politics from me :)


FedExpress Says:

jane, weak era. hence.


J-Kath Says:

The above link pertains to the 2016 Awards – dated 10th Nov. You all may know the results already – if not….hit the above link.


Yolita Says:

If you are digging up story lines from months ago, why not be bold and give Novak the recognition he deserves for what he achieved by winning Roland Garros.

1. First man in 47 yearss to hold all 4 GS titles at the same time
2. First man ever to win 4GS in a row on 3 different surfaces
3. First man ever to hold at the same time the 4 GS titles plus the WTF s titles, the 5 biggest titles in the ATP calendar.

Those achievements have been so undervalued, as if by not talking about them, one could make them go away. So yes: Novak achieved something that neither Roger nor Rafa ever did. No big deal, the earth still revolves around the sun.

You could mention Novak’s recurrent injury this year, which seems to be another taboo subject for some reason, and might have something to do with the collapse of his serve and his slump in form.

Now, if what you really want is to talk about people’s marriages, I suggest you get some training first by reading some Hollywood star/celebrity magazines:. To be catty in style is more difficult than it looks at first sight.


Dennis Says:

The fact is, we just don’t know what is going on in Novak’s private life. You say he was caught cheating. I also heard rumors that it was Jelena who was “cheating” (apparently not in real life, but some kind of online thing involving chats and pics).

The fact is drops in form happen, and sometimes for apparently inexplicable reasons, especially as a player nears 30. It’s happened to Roger and Rafa too.

Look at Federer after the 2010 Australian, when he was 28 1/2: He had just won his 16th slam; he’d been in 23 straight slam semis (almost 6 years worth!); he’d been in 18 of the last 19 slam finals (almost 5 year’s worth!); after losing the world #1 ranking in 2008, he’d won 3 of the last 4 slams, having regained the world #1 ranking in 2009; Rafa had been, since the 2009 Australian mostly injured or in a slump; and Djokovic was a steady world #3 but nowhere near the all-time great he has since become. No one at that time expected anything other than that Fed’s dominance would continue for the foreseeable future (and no one would have predicted Novak to have a dozen slams by 2016!). Yet, in the nearly 7 years since then, Roger’s been in only 5 slam finals and won only 1.

Or look at Rafa. He turned 28 during the 2014 French. That year he won his 9th French Open and 14th overall slam. The previous year he won the French and US Opens and regained the #1 ranking. Some people thought he was primed to make a run at Roger’s record of 17. People though he’d win at least 2 or 3 more French Opens. Yet, he hasn’t even been to a single slam final since then.


lyle nubbins Says:

Nice column, Sean. I wish Novak and his family the best. Rooting for him to right the ship and come back strong!


jane Says:

good point margot, re: marriages
at least politics are public.


RZ Says:

I won’t speak to any private or family issues that Novak might be going through, but I will add that I think a letdown after an enormous achievement that took a whole lot of hard work was to be expected. 4 slams in a row and finally the career slam no doubt would have led to an emotional high, so a letdown for a while was inevitable. The short timing between the French and Wimbledon probably didn’t help as there is such a short time to move on. If Novak was also dealing with an injury, that also makes sense why he is “struggling.” It’s hard to have time to heal when you are winning everything week in and week out, and it’s hard to choose taking time off to heal if you keep winning despite injury.


Okiegal Says:

Novak has an injury problem…..when he gets that issue taken care of, he will be back with a vengeance…..When you continue to play with injury you are asking for a day of reckoning. Being number one in the world…..added pressure. He needs to get healthy……if that means not going for the year end final then so be it. IMHO I don’t think it’s internal family woes that is plaguing him…..but one never really knows what goes on behind closed doors plus a person’s head can get in the way of things, as in the case of Rafa……


Mark Says:

Sean, you are a disgrace for speculating about a person’s personal life based on “rumors.” You have revealed yourself to be against Novak on many a occasion, but this time just takes the cake. You obviously don’t see how loving a family they are through his and Jelena’s social media accounts. There is nothing to suggest anything you are describing. But go on, write tabloid-worthy articles on someone’s so-called marriage strife based on no real sources at all.


Willow Says:

Hi Okie, he had an amazing run till after winning the FO, and i think that took alot out of him emotionally, the other stuff is merely tabloid fodder, and pure speculation anyway, im sure he will bounce back from his slump i mean he still made the USO final, whether or not hes ever at that level again remains to be seen, and hell hes still world number 2 not 92, and it could also be possible that the players he lost to were just better on the day, i little perspective wouldnt go a miss, playing at that level for as long as he has must take some doing both emotionally and physically, the desire certainly still looked to be there at Paris last week by the looks of things ….


Martha Says:

I had another theory about ND at Wimbledon. While Federer was playing under the roof in the star stadium, Djokavic, defending champion and #1 in the world had to play on a smaller court with no roof. After 2 rain delays he was so angry that Roger still gets all the love that he wants that he just lost it. Some therapy got him to let go of competing with Roger for love and he announced that he was no longer competing with Roger for titles. But that killed his motivation.


J-Kath Says:

Mark:

Sean was reminded to write about Nole’s surprising tennis slippage – so please don’t be too hard on him. The guy tries. Take it as water under the bridge/Nole will very likely be back to being his normal self at the O2 and Sean will be full of remorse.


Patson Says:

@Margot

With Trump becoming the president of the US, I’m perfectly fine seeing marriages being discussed on a tennis website. Nothing seems ridiculous to what just happened.


Wog Boy Says:

Martha,

That was understatement, you are too polite, particulary since they knew it is going to rain and match won’t be finished, but then again, it is not first time they disrespected Nole, it is rather norm than exception when it comes to Nole.
We were also told that everybody (big four) is due to play on Court 1, but guess what, Nole was the only one that played on Court 1, and he was the best player in the world at the time, for quite a while!
Of course he was pissed off, same as he was at USO when he lost to Nishikori and just wanted to get off the court, after they scheduled him match after match in the middle of the day, hot and humid.


Farah Diba Says:

It’s irony,only one year ago we’re all witnessed one of the GOAT,Rafael Nadal suffered the same fate as Novak right now..Although in Rafa’s case,it’s started a little bit slow and steady since AO14..And in Novak’s case,the slide is really fast and stunning in just a short time..It’s really really hard to see this two great warriors have to suffer like this..But then,they’re only human being who has to succumbed to the father nature no matter how great they are before.But,one thing for sure..being a great warrior and champion,they’re going to find a way to climb back to the top,because it’s their nature to be there.


Tennis Vagabond Says:

Its a tennis website, and Sean is discussing why Novak is not the #1 tennis player.

And if there were anything to substantiate his theory, then maybe it would be worth talking about it. But to simply say “rumours” (noticed no link or source there), and “it fits” is kindergarten level writing.

Some people are saying (cant tell you who, or where I heard it) Novak was abducted by aliens and this novak is actually a replica. It fits! Its hard to be the #1 tennis player if you’re not from Earth! But he also won Toronto and made the finals at the USO. Just the exact level an alien replicon would be at! It fits, I tell you!

Jane, your comment should be the blog post.


Margot Says:

@Patson
So true, alas.
Meanwhile RIP Leonard Cohen.
Such a dreadful year this, for all sorts of reasons.


jane Says:

RIP indeed. his new record is lovely (his son produced it with him).
can we just fast forward to 2017 and hope for better? :( sigh…

thanks TV… i am a huge fan of nole’s so i guess that impacts my interest level.


Giles Says:

Hope he ends 2016 on an all time low. Hasn’t he won enuf?!


SG1 Says:

I don’t know about this “affair” stuff though it’s certainly plausible. His serve looked pretty wonky the back end of the year. Not sure how an affair affects his serve.

There are very fine margins between winning and losing at this level. If Novak’s head isn’t 100% in the right place, he’ll lose matches he normally wins. The same is true of something physically hindering him. Perhaps caused by his better half slugging him with a tennis racket.

Who knows why Novak has fallen off and to be perfectly honest, who cares? Tennis players go through ups and downs just like the rest of us. I’m sure Novak will hit his stride again. One thing’s for sure. With Nadal and Federer at the end of their runs, tennis needs Andy and Novak to lead the way until the Rublev’s, Zverev’s and Aliasimme’s step up.


Wog Boy Says:

Since there is no WTA thread I put this news here, Maria and Nole are very good friends (if not more than friends;)
From the UN:
___
“The UNDP is glad to learn that Maria Sharapova can return to the sport she loves sooner than expected and we will lift the suspension of her role as our goodwill ambassador once the reduced ban expires,” the UN said in a statement.
___

I just hope that she won’t renew her contracts with sponsors that dumped her last year.


J-Kath Says:

Wogboy: Yes I read of Maria’s return and her return to ambassadorship. Am a bit puzzled by the two opening lines of your post.


Wog Boy Says:

JK,

Since this is thread about Nole infidelity it was appropriate to mention what some people believe including mat4, btw where is mat4 I miss him. Years ago, in NY, apparently Nole had a fling with Maria (she was in his box at USO) and that had something to do (or happened) in Robert De Niro restaurant in NY. That was the year when De Niro was in Nole’s box too. I am sure if mat4 is here he would explain it better, or maybe TB knows more about that, he is New Yorker, I miss him too.


Wog Boy Says:

Ohh sugar, TB is back, I saw him on the other thread.


J-Kath Says:

WB: OK. PS: Nole did look really back to his cheery self on that “picture/manikin” thing – gave me new worries.!


chrisford1 Says:

I’ll weigh in as a guy on this “fling” or “infidelity” or “untrue rumor” think with Novak.
The guy has had only one true GF who he then marries. As far as is known he has turned down hundreds of not just “I’m available” looks but hundreds of outright propositions in the last 10-12 years.
That is pretty well-behaved in my book, considering other pro athletes proclivities.
Jelena Djokovic lucked out. Hope she hasn’t forgot that. If rumors are true, it should put Novak in the doghouse for a few months. If he is still in that doghouse half a year later, she risks a permanently damaged marriage from her ire not ending.
If Novak has had 1 night or so a fling…a fellow tennis pro is possible. But he gets along well with the ladies of the WTA – and several might be interested in a bounce. He is maybe closest to his Serb compatriots, the Italian gals, Daniella Hantuchova, and Sharapova. But Sharapova is just constantly surrounded by a posse of staff, paparazzi – no way to be discrete with her. Danny the Legs lives in Monaco and a devotee of the same guru. But a fling is different than a rival relationship.
Lets say for the sake of argument that it could be something other than an affair….Novak ticked her off by replacing a Ristic relative with a professional nanny and vetoed her objections, or said no to something she demanded as a Foundation objective, ignored her wishes for more downtime away from courts, or they had a huge fight over their kids diet or a guru…The behaviors would be very similar to the scorned wife act that many writers thought at Wimbledon had to be an affair…not seeing significant turmoil can happen in non-Western families with an honor culture held high..


Travis Bickle Says:

This guy is not your typical Brit journalist, i.e. not rabidly pro-Murray and anti-Djokovic. Thus, I tend to trust his press-conference quotes.

He reports that Monfils today said this about Murray:
“I’m here for him. I really hope he wins this tournament.”

Here is the link:
https://twitter.com/BellshawGeorge/status/797106551140007937

I realize that English-speaking media has agenda to promote Murray as much as possible, which results in all kinds of crazy statements, like “The New King of Clay” just before RG or “the best player in 2016″. Even making Dimitrov recently say Murray is “the best player in the world”, etc… (Credit to S. Randal though who was realistic when writing on Murray’s #1 on this site few days ago – but Tennis X is a minor player in the world of tennis media)
However, the aove statement they made Monfils say takes the cake!!!
What kind of professional athlete, even Top 8 in the world would participate at a tournament and hope for his rival to win? Practically impossible! Theoretically impossible!
All of which makes me think that Gael was told to say it, to promote this pro-Murray agenda. Horrible stuff… It could be Gael’s bad English and it came out that way, and he didn’t want to say exactly that, but I doubt it. This was the pinnacle of propaganda machine – a Top 8 player comes to the ATP Final tournament and sincerely hopes for his opponent to win.
Kyrgios was fined and suspended for tanking and letting other guy win. What about Monfils who is hoping for other guy to win before even stepping on the court? Should he not be suspended for not trying to win? Why is he playing at the tournament if he is hoping Murray wins it?

I wonder what is Randal’s take on all this…


Wog Boy Says:

CF1,

Good restaurant owner, with Italian background, as smart as Robert De Niro, and wit his share of experience on that side of life always makes sure that his guests aren’t disturbed by intruders in whatever they are doing. Looking from that point of view fling was possible regardles of Maria’s popularity at that time, I am not saying it happened but is possible, particularly being privet dinner without any outsider invited, no witnesses or Don Corleone would use his “lupara” and Don Corleone is good at it:)


Wog Boy Says:

Has anybody noticed that all the courts were made faster this fall, Shanghai extremly fast this year, Paris much faster this year, O2 much faster too…coincidence?


Ronn Says:

Wog Boy, it might be because of this new movement they’re trying to start to speed matches up. I hope not, but…


Danica Says:

J-Kath,
That NZ article is biased of course. When talking about Novak’s alleged slump, somehow it missed to note that winning Toronto and playing USO finals injured was no small feat. Nole withdrew from two tournaments where he traditionally plays finals. The most unfair was saying how Andy was now calm after the birth of his daughter and yet, somehow, Nole is not. They conveniently forgot that Nole’s son is over two years old and that Andy is now at the place Nole was months ago. One just has to look how dominant he was and he won from October 2014 to September 2016.

Top story: Halep, Wozniacki Lead Loaded Wuhan Field; Kerber v Keys, Svitolina v Sabalenka Tues.