Novak Djokovic enters his dimly lit Monte Carlo hotel room at night after a day-long practice session. Exhausted, he begins removing his training suit, when out of the shadows comes a voice.
Voice: Nooooooovaaaaak ….
ND: What the hell? Who’s there?
V: Nooovaaaaak … it’s me …
From the shadows steps a figure in a long green robe holding a Prince Graphite Classic. Around his neck is chained the Coupe des Mousquetaires, which he must bear until his debt is paid.
V: … the Ghost of One-Slam Wonders Present. I’m here to warn you of what you may yet become.
ND: Juan Carlos? Is that you?
V: Si … I mean, yeeeeesssss, it is I ... You have guessed correctlyyyyyyy …
ND: Why are you talking like that?
V: Because I had to get your attention. Since I have it now, I might as well come out and say it: You must change your ways. If not, you will never win another Grand Slam, and I will be forced to haunt the five-star hotels of ATP tour destinations forever.
ND: That doesn’t sound so bad.
V: Okay, forget about me. Do you want to win another major?
ND: Of course I do, but … no offense, I don’t know that you’re the best person to teach me how to back up my breakthrough success.
V: Ah, but it is because of my lack of follow-up victories that you should listen to me! Hearken ye back to 2003 …
ND: Oh, come on! “Hearken?”
V: … when I was one of the big three young players who seemed destined to lead the game into the 21st century! I was at the head of the clay court armada, Roger Federer was the grass court savant, and Andy Roddick the hard court junkyard dog! We won the last three major titles of 2003, and were sparring for the No. 1 ranking at the end of the year!
ND: Yeah …
V: I finished No. 2, got chicken pox the next year, suffered multiple injuries and never got back into form. My 2003 Masters Series win in Madrid was to be my last title for five and a half years, until my Casablanca victory in April.
ND: Really, I don’t know how similar our cases are. I appreciate it, but …
V: In my prime I was a swift mover with a massive forehand, good backhand and a game that adapted to nearly all surfaces.
ND: Yeah …
V: But in the year following my first major I had repeated health problems and struggled with my confidence.
ND. Oh …
V: And the first time I reached a U.S. Open final, I played tentatively and lost in straight sets.
ND: Oh dear.
V: Guess you see where I’m going with this?
ND: But, I’m still in my early 20s. Don’t I have time?
V: Maybe. Pete Sampras won his second major nearly three years after his first. Andre Agassi won his second two years after his maiden victory.
ND: Okay, then …
V: But I was also in my early-20s before my form declined. By the time I was getting over all of my injuries and illnesses, there was a new Spaniard in town; one who was faster, had a heavier forehand and fought for all his major opportunities like a bull fighting to avoid getting a sword stuck in his neck.
ND: That’s a very popular analogy for him.
V: And an appropriate one. Plus, I think he could break me in half with his thumb. Maybe you won’t be made obsolete in the next couple of years, but do you want to waste your opportunities now, when you have time?
ND: No, of course not. What do I need to do?
V: Stay as healthy as you can. For a pro athlete, you blame heat for too many of your losses. Spy on Fernando Verdasco’s training routine with Gil Reyes if you have to. Take all of your Grand Slam matches seriously, even if it’s a second round match and your opponent is past his prime. And, most importantly, swing away when you reach the latter rounds.
ND: Okay, will do.
V: Remember, if you do not win, I will …
ND: Yes, I know, you’ll be forced to haunt five-star hotels on the ATP Tour for all eternity.
V: I admit it’s not the worst gig. You know Nalbandian? I hear he’s going to have to haunt five-star hotels’ buffet lines but not be allowed to eat until the next talented but slightly overweight prodigy changes his ways.
The above image is used courtesy of Charlesdickenspage.com.