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.
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