Now that the 2021 Olympics are over and done, some thoughts on Novak Djokovic’s remarkable collapse and more.
1. CREDIT FOR GOING
First, Djokovic didn’t have to play the Olympics. Many skipped it. I didn’t think he would go but he made the trip anyway risking potential injury (which did happen I guess), illness and fatigue in his quest for the Golden and Calendar Slam. But it all came crashing down.
Let’s remember, this was a pressure-cooker event with so much on the line. This was Djokovic first and last chance ever for such an historic sweep, the weight must have been enormous. And given the circumstances, he could have passed all that up and I think most people would have understood.
So he deserves credit for at least trying and taking a swing at it. But the way he missed was remarkable.
2. LEFT WITH NOTHING BUT A BUM SHOULDER
After he looked so good in his first two matches in singles and mixed (granted against pretty easy competition), odds were strong Djokovic would come away with one gold and/or at least two medals, but to leave with ZERO.
I will say when Novak goes down he often goes down remarkably — Wawrinka at the US Open, Nadal in those early French’s, Del Potro in Rio, Querrey at Wimbledon, etc.
He was in complete cruise control against Alexander Zverev in the quarters serving 3-2 in the second just a mere 12 points from a first gold medal match, and in a snap…24 hours later he leaves with nothing but heartbreak after three straight losses and a stunning withdrawal from the mixed bronze match.
3. DECISION TO PLAY MIXED BACKFIRED
Djokovic’s goal wasn’t to win any gold, it was to win singles gold. That’s it. Entering 2021 that was arguably his No. 1 mission on the season. And based on his comments after about being exhausted and then having some sort of shoulder problem, it’s fair to say that playing the mixed didn’t help in those areas, and it likely hindered him.
I’m guessing if he had to do it over again he would not have played in the mixed event. That doesn’t mean he would have won the singles gold, but again, Job #1 was the singles gold and as a player you have to do everything you can to toward that end result. Playing mixed isn’t going to help.
When he goes to New York, he won’t play in the men’s doubles, right? I know this Olympics is for country, but he’s trying to make some serious history and at the time he entered the mixed, he “only” needed to win eight more sets or so. So why take that chance?
I just cannot fathom that his coaching team of Vajda and Ivanisevic — who I don’t think were in Tokyo — would have wanted him playing another event. But it was likely Djokovic’s decision, and we’ve seen in recent years a string of poor decision making on his part –Adria Tour, PTPA, hitting the lineswoman, failed effort to get players out of quarantine in Australia, etc.
And this one totally backfired and his one single chance at a Golden Slam is dust.
4. NINA STOJANOVIC
You have to feel really awful for her. Has there ever been a walkover in an Olympic tennis medal match? If there hasn’t, there is one now thanks to Djokovic.
Stojanovic played really well, appeared to be having the time of her life but in the end she missed out on a chance to win a potentially life-changing, career-defining medal.
Djokovic will have more Slams and big title ahead, but for Stojanovic was her moment of her lifetime.
What an unfortunate finish.
5. SNAKEBITTEN AGAIN
There’s something about the Olympics that gets to Djokovic. He wins everywhere and everything, but at the Olympics he’s now lost three times in the semifinals and only won the bronze medal once.
He’s won the Davis Cup and the ATP Cup but playing individually for your country – and not part of a team – has been his kryptonite. I don’t know why that is, but the numbers and results don’t lie.
Let’s see if he gives it another go in three years in Paris.
6. SHOULDER INJURY
Djokovic’s serve really went wayward the second half of the Zverev match. Not long after, he withdrew from the mixed citing a left shoulder (not his right serving shoulder).
I don’t recall him being in any distress or discomfort, and not on the backhand side, either. Nor do I recall him calling for the trainer at any time during the event. So how bad is it? Is it real? What happened? We really don’t know and likely won’t for a few more weeks until Cincinnati or even New York.
With what’s ahead, hopefully it’s nothing serious.
6. WHAT’S NEXT FOR NOVAK?
He’s not playing Canada and if I were him I wouldn’t play Cincinnati either. After what he went through and now what he’s going through (I’ve read the Simone Biles clickbait mis-quotes), he’s probably best served to rest his body and his mind and reset. Especially if the shoulder is a problem.
Now the goal is squarely on 21 sets and 7 wins in New York. Djokovic and his camp now have to do what they think is best for him to get those 7 wins. Maybe that does mean playing Cincinnati, maybe not.
He missed his one shot at the Golden Slam, he’s can’t miss this one shot at a Calendar Slam.
7. MAD RESPECT
Full credit again to all the players who made the long journey to the Olympics including Djokovic. It’s not easy breaking from your schedule to go to Tokyo, which is far, far off the current tour map. Then go through yet another quarantine, play in front of no fans, miss out on the “true” Olympic experience and then deal with the heat after a cool European clay and grass season.
You saw the emotion from Pablo Carreno Busta, the Brazilian women’s doubles team, Belinda Bencic and the others. Winning medals, they mean something. They are rare, they are valuable and while I think the tennis event would be better served in a team format, what we are left with isn’t bad at the end.
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