Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press
These days, its hard to predict a lot about the most consistent player in tennis. While that may seem like a paradox, there is evidence that Novak Djokovic is momentarily stuck in traffic.
There's nothing overly wrong to label him a "loser" for this column. He ended 2013 on a tear, and it could be argued that had he slipped past Stanislas Wawrinka, he might have held a fourth consecutive Australian Open title.
On Friday's Dubai semifinals versus Roger Federer, he had a set in his pocket and a break point on the table. From there, he floated to the finish as Federer worked his magic. No shame in that, but was he just off, or was Federer too brilliant?
Behind his focused eyes and never-die spirit, there is fatigue.
He's grinding, scraping his elbows with effort and yet falling short of big-match wins these days.
Going forward, he will be one of the usual top favorites for Indian Wells, Miami and the clay-court season. Nobody would be surprised if he won them or fell a bit short. There's a sense that he has "been there, done that."
Nothing in the next few months will drastically alter his current ranking or playing form, unless he catches another hot streak and starts burning up his nearly 4,000-point deficit to Rafael Nadal. (Djokovic lost 320 points for not defending his Dubai title, but Nadal lost 500 points for not showing up to defend his Mexico Open title.)
So when will he escape his career gridlock and floor it on the open highway?
Win the French Open. That's it. That's all.
In the next three months, nothing short of dethroning Nadal and nabbing the French Grand Slam hardware will matter much one way or the other.