Novak Djokovic is the No. 1 ranked ATP player, but has been unable to create a resurgence of his epic 2011 season. He has battled fatigue, injuries and galvanized opponents, but has fallen short of his Grand Slam goals. Even the most diehard Djokovic fan must be wondering if the Serbian can once again rule the ATP with an iron fist.
His greatness has already been assured as one of the top ten players of the Open era with six Grand Slam titles and 90 weeks with the No. 1 ranking. He is is 26 years old and primed to win multiple Slams each of the next few years.
Except, his dominance has receded. His conquests have been slowly recovered by his biggest rivals.
What has gone wrong?
He won four Grand Slam titles in five attempts from 2011 through the 2012 Australian Open. But since February 2012, he has won only one Slam in six attempts. It has now been nearly two years since he won a Grand Slam title outside of Melbourne, Australia. He has dropped the following big matches:
French Open 2012: Lost four-set final to Rafael Nadal (weather unusually wet)
Wimbledon 2012: Lost four-set semifinal to Roger Federer (Rain—match completed indoors)
U.S. Open 2012: Lost five-set final to Andy Murray (swirling wind)
French Open 2013: Lost five-set semifinal to Rafael Nadal (weather very hot and dry clay)
Wimbledon 2013: Lost straight sets final to Andy Murray (weather very hot)
The losses illustrate a few important points:
- Djokovic has lost to other great champions on their preferred surfaces.
- Djokovic may be more affected by weather than his opponents.
- Djokovic was perhaps worn down by prior matches with the Murray losses.
Despite his continued success, there are numerous details that surrounded his losses. For instance, he was understandably fatigued from his superhuman efforts that peaked at 2012 Aussie Open. It likely took months to recovery, physically. It certainly took a mental toll when the unstoppable winning no longer occurred. The tour had become a grind again, but with increased pressures and expectations.
Other problems emerged when his serve began to leak, when his grandfather died during 2012 Monte Carlo tournament and when Nadal made determined strategy adjustments on clay. Later, Djokovic showed a less-aggressive form and spent increasingly more time scampering on defense.
But something even greater was lost: his indomitable aura.
The Awe Factor
Djokovic in 2011 was like Alexander the Great, with his driving hunger to conquer the ATP. He built up invincible confidence, and exhibited delight with seizing new territory.
Wherever he played, there was an awe factor about his fearless tennis. He cleared the streets and drove through all manners of challenges, many of them surrendering upon arrival.
Djokovic also had more escapes than Odysseus. He thrived on the edge of chaos by rolling the dice for all the spoils. He successfully staved off two match points against Federer in the 2011 semifinals, and he survived Nadal's fifth set, open-court miss in their 2012 Australian Open marathon.
He matched up well with Nadal, using his great backhand to neutralize his rival's topspin forehand and pen the Spaniard at his backhand corner. He was in Nadal's head as he reeled off seven-straight wins including Madrid, Rome, Wimbledon, New York and Melbourne.
Djokovic was one win away from the 2012 French Open and a calendar Slam. It seemed that he could grab two or three Slams a year and extend his dynasty for years to come. He was the heavy favorite for nearly every match and had created a fear factor in his ATP world tour conquest.
More Worlds to Conquer
Djokovic's rivals have reloaded. Even through injuries, Nadal has defended his French Open titles with increased ferocity. Federer took Wimbledon. Murray turned the tables on their rivalry, emulating the Serbian's toughness and mixing his own troublesome strengths.
Meanwhile, Djokovic has watched his empire become partitioned similar to the aftermath of Alexander's death. If Djokovic wishes to recapture his territory and be its undisputed ruler, nothing less than the US Open title will compensate. There is still time to regain his aura and set up an epic 2014.
He can sound the alarm by seizing Montreal and Cincinnati, and set up a dominant run at the US Open. Then, he needs to crush his competitors in the semifinals and championship at the US Open; beatings over Nadal and Murray would especially reinstall his iron rule.
Djokovic must do more than traipse into Grand Slam finals. He must deliver crushing fatalities and dispirit his biggest rivals. There is still a great opportunity for a few more years of imperial rule.
Perhaps he too will one day weep because there are no more worlds to conquer.
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