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.
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.
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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