Every star has a bad day on the court now and then.
But it was what Novak Djokovic said after his defeat by Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday that surprised me.
Djokovic said, via ESPN, "I didn't prepare myself so good. For 12 days after Monte Carlo I haven't touched the racket."
My question is, why?
Djokovic was 26-2 coming into the Madrid Open. He had just won in Monte Carlo, defeating the red-hot Rafael Nadal in the final in the process.
But that's no excuse to lie back.
Djokovic has the ability to beat opponents on his talent alone, but the true greats are never satisfied. They always find something wrong with their games. They display an almost maniacal obsession to improve their games day in and day out.
Perhaps Djokovic was just in a 12-day funk, if you will. Perhaps after Dimitrov upset him in the second round, he will wake up. But, I'll tell you one thing: If he wants to be a true great, he better wake up quickly.
Djokovic has won five Grand Slam singles titles since 2010. The year 2011 marked his ascent to No. 1 in the world, when he won 41 straight matches, second only to John McEnroe's record of 42 straight. But, as you may remember, Djokovic lost his No. 1 world ranking quickly (March 2012) after that spectacular run in 2011. You have to wonder if his funk will last past the Madrid Open this year.
There is no question, when Djokovic is on, that he's the best player in the world. But to be a great, you can't simply put down a racket for 12 days. You have to have the desire to work on your game relentlessly until the day you simply can't move on the court anymore.
After Nadal lost to Horacio Zeballos in his first tournament since missing action with tendinitis, he roared back with 19 straight victories before losing to Djokovic in Monte Carlo. That didn't just happen by itself. I can guarantee you Nadal worked his tail off after that embarrassing loss to Zeballos. He also worked through left knee problems.
If Djokovic wants to eventually be mentioned along the likes of Nadal and Roger Federer, he needs to have the same mindset as Nadal had when he lost to Zeballos. That doesn't include taking nearly two weeks off.
Djokovic's loss to Dimitrov on Wednesday should knock some sense into him. The question is, will he regress enough to lose his No. 1 world ranking again, or will he fight back?
A legend is measured not only by his talent, but by his heart, too.
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