Novak Djokovic will go into the record books as a great player and will also enter the Tennis Hall of Fame after he retires some day. But he continues to be an enigma sometimes.
For all of his wins in Toronto recently, his loss to Roger Federer in the Cincinnati final was a very weak effort, and it reflected his fear of Federer and Rafael Nadal that he used to carry in 2009-10.
It is disappointing because Djokovic is a warrior and is equally as talented, maybe more, than both those players. However, it is the space between the ears that sometimes lets him down. It was never more evident than when he was No. 3 in the world and consistently playing second fiddle to both Nadal and Federer.
In fact, Djokovic lost to Federer consistently in the Grand Slam semifinals. One felt that after that semifinal victory over Federer in the US Open in 2010, things would turn around for Djokovic. And they did, and by some degree, for 2011 was one of the best years any tennis player had had.
It is therefore disappointing to see Djokovic cave in like this, in both Wimbledon and Cincinnati. In fact, at Wimbledon, it almost looked like Djokovic expected to lose and did not even put up a fight. Even Federer would have had to be surprised by his victories in both places, because deep down, even Roger, by his own admission, had thought Novak to be the favorite.
These mental edges are extremely important in sports and should not be handed over easily.
Yes, there can be no argument that Nadal is easily the strongest competitor mentally you can ever find in any sport. However, Federer has not been weak in that department either. Despite his meager returns in most of 2010 and all of 2011, he didn't lose hope, stayed close to the top and struck when he had his best chance.
And now, Roger is the man to beat.
He must have been disappointed with his Olympic finals loss to Andy Murray. However, he has brought his focus back and has to be the heavy favorite to win his 18th Grand Slam at the US Open. It is staggering when you think of that number.
For his part, Djokovic has to kill his inner demons, as it seems he is fighting those more than he is fighting Federer, Murray or Nadal. If he can be at peace with himself and rid himself of any mental baggage, he is still easily the favorite to win most titles on any surface, even with Federer and Nadal at their absolute best.