8 Things I Think I Thought About Novak Djokovic’s Loss To Denis Istomin
by Sean Randall | January 19th, 2017, 5:09 pm

It’s happening. The decline of Novak Djokovic right before our eyes. In real time. We saw it with Roger Federer, we saw it with Rafael Nadal. Now, it’s Djokovic’s turn. It’s how the game works.

Is there a comeback? Was that loss to Denis Istomin Thursday at the Australian Open just a blip? Some thoughts.

1. Disbelief
Honestly, I thought Djokovic was susceptible to defeat in Australia, just not in the first week, not with that draw. I didn’t really even think Fernando Verdasco had much of a chance. Not in a best-of-5 format. But Denis Istomin?

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s simply a bad loss.

That’s on that Sergiy Stakhovsky level. And let’s count how many Grand Slam titles Federer has won since that loss. Yup.

2. Pancake Flat
I didn’t watch every point of their 4:48 match – it was too long, too boring at times – but from what I did see when I wasn’t fast forwarding on the DVR was an uninspired, flat Djokovic. Credit Istomin for finishing the job, but at times Djokovic was good, but then there were some uncharacteristic misses, poor serving and he just didn’t look right. And he said as much.

Was it because he was playing Istomin, a nondescript veteran who had just one career Top 10 win entering the match? Could be. Had he been playing a Fernando Verdasco or a bigger, more threatening player, I think we would have seen a better, more determined and focused Djokovic. I think he did (as just about everyone else did looking at the draw) take Istomin lightly.


3. Tennis No Longer A Priority
Watching his press conference, how many times did Novak smile? I watched the NFL playoffs last weekend and after the games, were the losing players smiling? No.

And I go back – and keep going back – to his words last fall, when he said that tennis was no longer a priority. So I don’t think it’s a blip, it’s just a continued shift.

That said, I thought after he won Doha, some of those competitive juices returned, I guess they haven’t. Will they ever?

4. Coach Boris
And it’s no wonder the two split. Do you think Boris wants to coach someone who is the best player on the planet – sorry Andy, he is – but no longer wants to put the time in or no longer has that desire?

5. The Externals
We still don’t know what’s really going on back at his home. Jelena wasn’t with Novak this week in Melbourne, nor was Pepe, I don’t think. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s something.

6. The Future
Murray will keep playing for many years, but could Roger and Rafa really outlast Djokovic on the pro tour? They could. And if Novak has lost his desire, how much longer will he play? Another year maybe?

7. His Choice
Again, in tennis or in any sport everyone has their own expiration date. For Federer, it’s probably late 30s. For Andy Roddick a few years ago, it was early 30s. What was Bjorn Borg? 26? Pete Sampras? Early 30s. Steffi Graf? Maybe Djokovic has hit that breaking point, that wall, and tennis has become a chore. It’s getting or has gotten in the way of other things.

8. Opportunity
If this Djokovic fade is real, then that blows the doors right off the top of the men’s tour. It’s open season and again, sorry Andy, but these new kids are going to bust right through and take over the tour sooner than I thought. We could be looking at a new No. 1 player by the fall. And that’s not a bad thing (though I fear that could be Milos Raonic).

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49 Comments for 8 Things I Think I Thought About Novak Djokovic’s Loss To Denis Istomin

Travis Bickle Says:

Sean and I have fairly similar thoughts, so I thought it would be nice to repost my post from an earlier thread here…

Djoker was, as usual, gracious in defeat but there was something different than usual I noticed at the yesterday post-match press conference.
For example, after losing to Nadal and Wawrinka at FO finals in 2014 and 2015, he was gracious and classy in defeat, said some truly nice things but I could see the anguish on his face, the feeling that those defeats really hurt. Not this time, however! He was nice, gave credit to Istomin, polite and patient with jourbalists, but I didn’t get impression he was hurt very much. It looks to me the famous “Djoker-desire” and his killer instinct is not there anymore! After all, he said himself after FO last year that he liked other things in life and tennis was not the priority any more. I kind of ignored it when I heard it thinking it was just a rhetorical game to throw journalists and media off his back, but it appears he was serious about it…

Technically speaking, his tennis level is still solid. He clearly didn’t have his A-game last night, but even Djoker’s B-game should be enough to beat Istomin (who played at very high level). Even with his B-game, Djoker should have played more inside the court and have a bit more pop in his groundstrokes, which would have prevented Istomin from setting his feet to hit his forehands and backhands down the line. That’s all. Djoker’s B-game could easily do that, and despite weak serving and too many DFs, he would have ended up the winner like truly elite champions usually do. It is indicative last night that Istomin, even after 4 hours of play, looked like one of the world best movers (e.g. Murray or Nadal), and we know he is not even close to that level – Djokers shots were lacking that extra pop that would have forced Istomin to run around and defend and not being able to execute his attacking shots. Bottom line – it is now clear to me that Djoker does not care too much about his tennis any more and is not putting himself fully into it – and consequently his killer instinct required for winning big titles is not there. It may be temporary and it will come back and we’ll see the old Djoker who cares deeply about winning/losing, or this is permanent and this “philosophical” Djoker will milk sponsorship deals for a few more years and experience many similar defeats by low-ranked players. I guess only he knows the answer to that and, frankly, it is his business only!

As for his fans, we are left to ponder few oddities such as:
1. Why is he emphasizing family so much? It’s almost as if he is the only person in the world who has wife and kid. You don’t hear Murray or Federer talking that much about how they love their wives and kids (and I’m sure they do). Honestly, Djoker looks to me as if he did something horribly wrong to his wife and kid and now has his entire life purpose to try to fix it…
2. Why was only his wife absent at AO? All other married players had their spouses supporting them (Fed, Murray, Cibulkova, etc…). Especially after he was at Doha which was half-way from Europe to Australia and he had to come back to Europe for a SINGLE day to see his wife and kid! I would totally understand if he did that, so they could travel to Australia together. But this way, it looks like he had to make way to much extra traveling just to see his wife for a day. If they are so full of love how about being all together at AO?
3. Why is he suppressing his true self by trying to be all philosophical about love and meaning of life, etc…? All his fans fell in love to “tough warrior” Djoker who, against all odds, single-handedly ended Fedal era and denied both of them potentially astronomic levels of historical greatness. If you’re not yourself, you cannot be great, very simple! And Djoker is not himself last 8 months or so…

Finally, I will always like the guy for all the moments of joy he has given me by destroying Fed/Nadal media hype. For instance, beating poor Rafa in 7 or 8 consecutive finals in 2011/2012 basically crippled Rafa’s career – Rafa could have had 20 slams by now had Djoker not done that. Or, famous return against Fed at 2011 USO and Fed’s sore-loser press conference afterwards, followed by denying Fed Wimbledon titles in 2014 and 2015, culminating with “This is Sparta” win at USO 2015 when everyone and their mum fanatically wanted Fed to win. And as a cherry on top – the most dominating beating of Federer in AO semis last year – which essentially ended Fed’s belief that he can ever beat Djoker again.
Those just some of moments of joy Djoker provided his true fans with, and with that he in my eyes deserved to do whatever he wants of his life and career, and his fans should not complain.

I just hope he doesn’t do Federer and play next 5 years without winning a single slam. Djoker is too good to have such sorry fate.
If he is not fully into tennis and doing it for sponsorships and $$$, I’d prefer him retiring and leave the spotlight to younger guys who deserve it more…

January 19th, 2017 at 2:45 pm

Vince Says:

Don’t retire Nole… Fedal has chance to even their B2B this year..same way how you took advantage since their decline..

Vince Says:

H2H I mean.. sorry for the typo

J-Kath Says:

I read Travis’s earlier statement and respect what was his sincere comments.

Nole will be back – perhaps not in the role of “I’m going to win every tournament” but he will remain a significant opponent.

As for the end of the “big 4 era” – yes it will end sometime but not for another 2 years. The dismissal of Andy Murray as a potential regular loser that will enable Milos Raonic to be No. 1 by the “Fall” I guess you mean Autumn?) is one of the
most absurd statements you have ever made.

Milos is already 26 years old and has never won a GS. He does not have the inate talent that the so-called top 4 have demonstrated. In his whole career I estimate a generous 2 GS’s if the number of GS’s won is to be the measure by which we decide success. He will do well but will never dominate to the degree that you are forecasting. PS: How many coaches has Milos employed and discarded, searching, searching for a magic potion?

If you want a private bet – let me know.

Meanwhile – yours is not an easy task – let me know if you want a replacement.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

RZ Says:

My armchair psychologist analysis: Novak needs (and deserves) a proper vacation. After winning the French Open last year, he was due for an emotional letdown, but Wimbledon was just 3 weeks after that, followed by the Olympics and U.S. Open. And he had a bunch of points to defend in the latter part of the year. So it was tough to take time off, and then the off season for the men is so short. I think a vacation between now and Indian Wells (when not much is happening on the tour other than Dubai – I don’t think Novak usually plays Rotterdam or Rio) would be a benefit for him to come back strong in time for Indian Wells and Miami.

skeezer Says:

Great read as always. I too raised an eyebrow(aka Spock) when I read “Tennis is no longer a priority.” You do not say that and believe it without ramifications.
But there is no way no how I think Novak is retiring or not going to come back. He needs to go through whatever he needs to go through, but he did not become a champion just to do………………..this……and then bye bye.

Eric W. Says:

There’s no way to sugarcoat this loss as anything but a disaster and potential career ender for Nole. Clearly, winning Roland Garros last year signified the end of his hunger for further achievements in his career. And the interview between the horrible Querrey loss and the Wawrinka US Open smackdown turned out to be 100% truthful. The man doesn’t care about tennis any more, hasn’t cared in months, and unless that changes he may as well pack it in. It really does look like he’s finished.

sinha71 Says:

Albeit a bit later in life, Nole is the New Borg.

Spent before his time.

Tragic from a sports perspective.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Entertaining as always Sean, but to J-Kath’s point, the idea that Murray will suddenly be lapping for crumbs from Milos and Nishikori, or Thiem and Zverev, is more than far-fetched.
Andy Murray is by far the beneficiary of a Novak decline. He is heads and shoulders ahead of 3,4,5… at some point, like his Big Three predecessors, he will decline. But there’s no reason to assume thats happening today.

And what have you got against Milos’ game anyways? Sure, he was an ugly and limited player 3 years ago, but now he’s great to watch, exciting, varied with his net game and super-aggressive.

Truth Says:

Milos improves and is smart, despite what many tennis fans say.
He isn’t bipolar.

Novak is bipolar and gets defensive when you point out his bipolar mental illness.
To him, he’s perfectly fun, calm and ok. He lies a lot and can’t believe anyone says he has anger and depression.
If you watch Carrie Fisher, the bipolar, very talented actress’s interviews, you could see that she learned to cope with depression and had a successful career.

Chrisford1 Says:

Gordon – “Don’t get me wrong, giving the finger to the crowd, berating ball boys, swearing in your native tongue and smashing racquets is colorful and were mainstays of Nastase, Connors and McEnroe. But remember Djokovic used to subscribe to those types of antics as well.”

Yes, but why are you bringing up Federer?? Fed, when he was younger than 23 with not only fugly bad blonde hairsyles, but smashing rackets, throwing towels in ball bay’s faces, giving some fans the bird, and berating the crowd in native Swiss German when not playing in Basel or Krautland proper?? Mighty nice to think Djokovic and Andy) follows in the footsteps of Roger, Andre, Mac, Connors, Nastaste…

Rafa of course is different but I belief the other 3 were treated better regarding being kids and human on the tennis courts. Rafa forgets water, he gets none during a 4 hour practice. At 9, he hits a ball in anger, Uncle Toni stops practice and makes Rafa walk several miles home. Then when Rafa arrives is told Uncle Toni said he had to go to be without dinner because of his poor behavior on court..

Colin Says:

The interviews Djokovic gave after the loss that took Andy to No 1, and he one after the Istomin match, were disturbingly similar. “I never had a chance”, etc. He sounded resigned, and if I were his coach I’d be more worried by that than by the actual performance on court.

As for the family stuff, as TB says, it’s as if he were the only guy on tour with a family. We ought not to speculate too much – it’s disrespectful to Jelena – but you do wonder.

Meanwhile, Andy should feel good, Sam Querrey is just the step up he needs after th

Colin Says:

Couldn’t complete that posting, as it froze on me, but you see my point.

Chrisford1 Says:

Only thing close to this is Borg. Novak was at the peak of his talent last spring after the greatest year ever, statistically, in the Open Era (most points, 6 masters, 3 Slams,most wins against Top 10 (31-1) Then for no physical reason, fell off a cliff after the French Open.
A great unraveling. The cause still unknown.

theDA Says:

eh this was the site that predicted John Isner would become ‘the most destructive force in tennis’, sorry sean,

jane Says:

thanks everyone for your thoughts on novak’s form; enjoyed reading them. travis you got it right about what some of us fans are missing – warrior nole, “this is sparta” nole, the fire that always burned brightly. i hope rz’s armchair take is right.

how annoying for him to win more points than dennis but lose the match, sigh.

Van Persie Says:


Agree…Nole speaks a bit to much about his family “at work”. I suppose he feels guilty that he was more preocupated about the FO quest than about his family in the last years. Imo

Van Persie Says:

P.S. for Travis,

allow Nole to get bored about the life of an “ordinary family guy” and perhaps he will get back the passion for tennis.

kjb Says:

It wasn’t gonna last forever. He has been on top for the better part of the last 6 years. If he wants it enough he will come back and win, he just will not be winning everything anymore.

Margot Says:

Sorry Sean, but 4 and 8, just rubbish. Especially as I have just seen a display of “Murray Magic” as good as any. Have a look.
And I agree with Colin, people should stop speculating about Nole’s private life.

Van Persie Says:

“And I agree with Colin, people should stop speculating about Nole’s private life.”

Since Nole speaks about it in public (a bit too much also for my taste), we are also allowed :)…and it is not illegal.

Margot Says:

VP, no it’s not “illegal” but it is distasteful. Has Nole said anything much about Jelena? In fact, it seems to me, Boris has been much more forthcoming.
These guys aren’t movie stars courting publicity like billy-o, they are private individuals with enormous talent who happen to find themselves in the spotlight.

Van Persie Says:


See link below…so many fotos from Djoko and Jelena. They act like movie starts, if you ask me. OK, Nole is a star, if you ask me..like Roger, Rafa and Andy.


Van Persie Says:

^^ am talking about the pictures from the covers of some magazines…

Van Persie Says:

And Tennis X is an open tennis forum after all. Live of tennis players is inevitable debated here, like it or not.

Danica Says:

A few months ago, there was Vajda’s interview in Serbian where he said that after the FO, Nole gathered the whole team and asked: “Now what?” Where could be the motivation found now? After winning almost everything there is in tennis, after completing the biggest goal, how one motivates himself to continue? He obviously sacrificed a lot privately, and it seems to me he just needed to make up for some “lost time”.

As far as family problems, I know for a fact that there were no problems between him and Jelena. Family problems can be broader.

I don’t find it suspicious or strange that Jelena and Stefan were not traveling that much with him. I am not questioning their decisions. I see it as a mutual agreement with a big reason why behind it. Jelena was always present before the baby came.

J-Kath Says:


I take it you watched Andy’s match. I thought I was up in time but evidently not. From what you said, I’m assuming Andy’s ankle behaved itself.

Chrisford1 Says:

Agree with VP. When Novak was winning, he constantly was going on about winning was due to a holistic balance with all other aspects of his life.
So, the obvious inquiry is – what changed in his life? Assuming you take Novak at his word about all the family stuff, diet, etc. was the root of his success….what happened. What in the smooth running Djokovic machine threw a gear?
Him? Wanting to do other things? His wife wanting him around a lot more? Arguments over money, having more kids? Just hates the grind now that is what it takes to be Top 4? Roger met with him and transferred 30 million in Swiss bullion to Novaks secret Swiss bank vault on condition Novak lays off going after his records? Decided to let Andy have his fun and not challenge him until clay season?

These are valid questions. Not prying when it comes to a star that lost it…Just as some fans cling to the idiot notion that if it is low class for a loser to blame health, injury in postmatch interviews – it is also unacceptable for fans to point out Rafa was holding the small of his back last Wimbledon, or that Novak was beat up and exhausted from playing Delpo in the 2013 Wimbledon semi, and had little left when he played the Final against Andy.
The closer what ails Djokovic is to family, though, the higher the likelihood he will ever tell until many years later what happened after the 2016 French Open.

Supposedly, Djokovic is taking all February off, showing up next at Indian Wells.
A month in which I hope he fixes the cause and gets his shit together.

Willow Says:

I Think this was a big shock, like Kimberly from the other thread i also thought it was a misprint on teletext, Novak at the AO was the closest thing to Rafa at the FO, and Federer at W, which were their most dominant GS, when he lost to Querry at W, it wasnt that big a shock as Novak is good on grass but not as dominant as he has been at the AO, i expected Novak to find a way through after DI had won that 4th set ….

Agree with Rogernadfan, in that we should stop making excuses, and blame losses on mental issues, family issues, this, that or the other, its quite possible Dennis just played better on the day, and had a lights out moment ….

Anyhow the other half is wide open, and the question for me would be, if Andy gets to the final, who on the other half will he face, cant be Federer as they are on the same side, cant be Stan so is he, could be a repeat of the W between Andy and Milos, or if Rafa gets that far, we could have a first time ever Andy v Rafa in a GS final, i would love to see that, and hope we get it, my two favorite players ;-) ….

Danica Says:

Absolutely! No excuses. Denis was better. Nole was not in great shape but that really was not Istomin’s problem. He fought hard and played great.

PS: Evans is leading Tomic 2:0!

Willow Says:

Danica ive seen hardly any tennis this week, all the ones i wanted to see were on in the middle of the night, either that or i was at work, thankfully i can watch as much as i want today ….

And indeed Dan looks very good lovely shot making, and moves very well, needs to reign it in with the language, hope he can finish the job ….

Margot Says:

Exactly VP, this is an “open forum” and I too can voice my opinions.
Kath: Andy was moving like a dream…..boat! ;)
Meanwhile C’mon Dan!

Van Persie Says:

Agree Margot, we are all free to voice opinions. Your “people should stop speculating about Nole’s private life” was weird for me, coming from a person with democratic view. That’s all.

Margot Says:

OK VP! Apologies if I trod on your toes. I just feel Jelena gets too much blame TBH.

Willow Says:

^ Also there is no such thing as butting in on a conversation on an open forum, after all thats the whole reason why its called an open forum, the clues in the name ” OPEN FORUM ” ….

Van Persie Says:

Well Margot, no worries, my toes are just fine.
Some of us do not like Jelena, like others have a problem oncle Tony :). We live in a “sexist” world after all

Danica Says:

Agree with you. Nole’s problems have nothing to do with Jelena. And this is not my subjective opinion because I like her, this I know from an authority :).

Danny Evans did win! Wow, impressive. Congrats!

J.S. Says:

Evans played awesome against that Australian crowd!! Good For Him!!
Tomic’s DAD was furious….I thought he was banned from tournaments, I guess not!

Glad to see the “bad boys’ out of the tournament, hopefully they take the annoying crowd with them!

Federer time….

Anyone think Rafa can get past Zverev and Raonic? I will be sitting on the edge of my seat w/ fingers crossed!

Andy has smooth sailing to finals, he looked awesome today!

Truth Says:

Yeah, manipulating a top player and saying yes to his stupid decisions are not butting in because the manipulator is a family member?!
It doesn’t take a genius to see that Novak is immature and has mental problems.
If no one corrects that problem, he will lose not only tennis, but the “marriage”.
His life doesn’t revolve around his clingy brother and Jelena. He obviously can’t handle saying no.
There’s no room for bullshit games off the court.
The huge fakeness is mostly off court, where he doesn’t give smiley faces and rehearsed lines.

Butting in means making him a better player in addition to better person.
Sacrificing the fantasy hugging life that he pretends he lives in.

He can demand the hugest salary, but no effort equals unfairness to players that give real effort/sacrifice the perfect fantasy lifestyle.

J.S. Says:

Did you guys see this regarding Tomic/Evans?


Willow Says:

J.S Hmm People should really be careful about what they say, things have a habit of coming back to bite you on the backside, as we say in GB be careful who you kick when climbing to the top, as they can kick you twice as hard, on the way back down ! ….

J.S. Says:

I wonder if Evans is “good” enough to hit now??
Shame Shame and Sweet Revenge for Evans.

Margot Says:

Brilliant JS. Tee hee!
I think his dad pulled a similar “you’re not good enough” stunt with Hewitt.
Last year Dan was dropped by Nike so he had to go out and buy his own Tee shirts for the AO. Lol. Expect clothing companies will be queueing up now to sponsor him.

Daniel Says:

Hei Trais,,

Be carefu! Fedal are still playing and in decent form. Imagine if they indeed happens to play finals here… The haters will go ballistic with all the “media attention” it will get. I kind of want it to happen, just for it to be the nail in the coffin for some Djoko fanatics;-)

RZ Says:

@J.S.- hahahaha. Karma is a b!tch, but a beautiful one at that.

J-Kath Says:


Are you still certain Andy will reach the finals? – I saw bits from a re-run of Fed v Berdych and read a lot of “OOO’s” and “Aaa’s” on the other thread re. Fed’s performance. It sounds like he has become the favourite to get to the finals?????

Vince Says:

It’s surprising loss for sure. But, I picked dimitrov to win gf against him. His USO final run was shaky with all retirements. His fall season was worst compared to his previous years

J.S. Says:

Murray is moving so well…he will be hard to beat!

Hoping for a FEDAL FINAL!

Willow Says:

Murray isnt world number 1 for nothing, this is a different Murray, and one thats much mentally tougher these days, moving better, assuming both get that far, Murray will move Federer around more than Berdych did, and can chase more balls down the way Berdych cant, i think it will be a different story ….

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