Laid low-spirited by a chronic elbow injury, Novak Djokovic must rebuild his competition like Roger Federer to have the expectations of climbing back to the top
Fading in recollections of Roger Federer’s barely plausible progress to his 20 th major at the beginning of this year is a 35 -shot rally in the fourth round of the Australian Open between the bristling Hyeon Chung and the genius who had flickeringly in the past consigned the Swiss to the margins of greatness, Novak Djokovic.
It was the most memorable exchange of views among the season’s first slam, a confection of elegant skill by the Serb and the 21 -year-old South Korean prodigy, who would then snuff out the challenge of Tennys Sandgren but could do little to refuse Federer near his imperious good in the penultimate round of the fortnight. Youth had head-butted the champions, and, for the time being, had been repelled by its oldest warrior.
But back to that fourth round. What is seared in the remembering is not so much better the drilled, acutely angled backhands and strong line drives on the run by Djokovic( not to mention commensurate replies by his precocious tormentor ), because he has given so many of those gratifies in the past. As he strains now against day and the degradation of his tennis, it is easy to forget that this is the musician regarded by his peers as the finest defender of the modern era.
A YouTube highlights reel of Djokovic’s extraordinary staman, flexibility and resolve under pressure lasts 10 minutes and 28 seconds. But the epitome that endures this time is of Djokovic, sweating sides on weary knees, seconds after over-cookinga strained backhand in the first activity of the third largest prepare which, had it property legally, might have given him two breaking places and a flash of hope to eat into Chung’s two-set lead.
Within the hour, the deed was done. Djokovic, who had won the claim six experiences, had suffered his first straight-sets loss in Melbourne in 11 times. The 30 -year-old, so used to succes, had to reset his goals.
The previous European outpouring, after Monte Carlo, he had split with Marian Vajda, his coach since 2006. We were told “its been” reciprocal. Djokovic had been searching for spiritual sustenance through a life-coach announced Pepe Imaz, formerly a periphery Spanish player. Seemingly content in Pepe’s world, he nevertheless continued to look bewildered on the place that had always offered him familiar convenience, the tennis court.
Djokovic flourished short-tempered with correspondents who inquired about his private life- understandably so- and his recreation suffered along with his intellect and his person. He required to reinvent himself. But, even with Andre Agassi on board as he headed for Roland Garros, you are not able to get past the parts in 2017′ s second smash- nor at Wimbledon, where he quit in the second set against Tomas Berdych, despondent and injured. Where formerly he reached finals virtually by right , now he was red-lining five coincides into the quest. His form was rebelling aloud. He would not play again that season.
While he smiled through the glooms, speaking more now about personal contentment, about wider social issues and responsibilities, there was no hiding his public nervousnes. He arrived in Melbourne in January living on the steams of hope rather than experience.
Condensed into that 35 -shot rally with Chung were all the elements that inspire and deflate. The gap this time- and subsequently- was that Djokovic would not prevail. His hopelessnes in that spent last gasp was not just because he lost a spot, but that he had been bested by a younger, evenly ambitious opponent. He was staring at the future.
The elbow injury that troubled him so much that he had to rebuild his serve, then resort to minor surgery, had been chronic rather than transfer, he afterward exposed. It is testimony to his grit that he played so often through the pain. The quandary for him in the autumn of his occupation- as it is for Andy Murray returning soon from a hip activity- is the way to tap into what worked for him in the first decade, to trust his core flair and science, much as Federer continues to do at 36.
Djokovic was almost an asterisk in Barcelona during the week. His three-set loss to Martin Klizan in the second round was his fifth in ten matches since he went back on the Tour in Australia. It was not a wipeout: he played brilliantly in the second largest mounted- but he collapsed where it mattered, in the third largest- against an erratic if knack rival graded 140 in the world. Djokovic again searched consume, keen to get away, to forget the experience and move on.
He also did not appear as physically robust as “hes having” done at his indomitable heyday, in 2011 when he prevailed 41 coincides in a row. He was 10 -1 against Federer and Rafael Nadal that time, and set to predominate the game for as long as he chose. He knew it wouldn’t last-place. He told us so. But he surely did not apprehend the tumble would be so tough. It is said one of the reasons Agassi left him was the musician would not heed his advice to put on some bulk.
There is a lot of goodwill out there for Djokovic. One British follower tweeted after the Klizan embarrassment:” Totally unwavering backing , no matter what. You will always be our favourite. You have given us so much better joyfulnes over the years and for a few more times I’m sure. It’s not just your play-act, but you, as person or persons. Kind, fun, honest, philanthropic, strong, humble, perfect .”
Perfect is not a word that fits tennis( sport in general, or life, for that are important ), because there are as many moments that bode ill as accompanied success. The character that obliges elite contestants is their willingness to overcome flaw. As Tiger Woods alleges of his golf: it’s about managing the bad shots.
For all that he can rarely be hard to penetrate, Djokovic is an open and participating personality, alluring and smart. Of the many public testimonies, a chitchat he had with a friend when he was seven years old in war-torn Serbia is the most enlightening. Asked by his junior inquisitor if tennis is” for you, a game or obligations ?” he responds:” Tennis is for me an obligation. The destination for me in tennis is to become a champ .”
Even allowing for a mangled rendition and the innocence of children, the letter was unambiguous. Triumphing is what matters most to Djokovic. Without it, he is not complete.