Two years ago, when Novak Djokovic won the Montreal hard court event over Federer and then made the finals of the US Open, it was presumed he was the next great tennis player. He followed that up by winning the Australian Open, and the tennis world was abuzz.
This was before Federer came down with mono or back problems, but it was generally assumed that Federer couldn't stay on top beyond another couple of years anyway. This was also before Nadal expanded his game to be able to not just compete on grass but also win there, before he won the Olympic singles gold, and before he won his first hard court slam at the Australian Open.
And this was before Andy Murray's rise to prominence.
Now, Djokovic has lost consecutive grass court tournaments to one of the oldest guys on the tour. And he bowed out in the fourth round at Paris even though some were calling him the "second best clay court player" and was projected to be the only guy who could hope to dethrone Rafa.
In fact, here is Djokovic's record this year against players ranked in the top 30 (either currently or at the time they played)...
- Nadal 0-4
- Murray 0-1
- Federer 2-0
- Roddick 0-2
- Del Potro 1-0
- Verdasco 1-0
- Tsonga 1-1
- Wawrinka 2-0
- Haas (will be top 30 upon new ranking release post Wimbledon) 1-2
- Kohlschreiber (will be top 30 upon new ranking release post Wimbledon) 0-1
- Berdych 1-0
- Ferrer 1-1
- Simon 1-0
- Cilic 1-0
- Collectively against top 30 players 12-12
- Collectively against top 10 players 4-7
For the year to date, Djokovic is a guy that's in the top 10 but has a losing record against the top 10. In fact, you have to go all the way down to including the top 30 before his record breaks even. He is only "profitable" (aka has a winning record) when you expand the field beyond the top 30.
Federer seems to have solved his woes and is now playing as well as he has played in a a long time. Murray doesn't seem to be giving any ground. And, if Nadal can come back from his knee problems, he shouldn't have any trouble with Djokovic.
Del Potro is only 20 years old so he is destined for bigger things (no pun intended), and Roddick hasn't played this well in quite some time, due to his new coach and fitter physique.
By the end of the year, it seems highly likely the Djokovic-Murray battle for number 3 will have been well decided with Murray solid in the number 3 spot.
Furthermore, if Djokovic keeps under performing, depending on the performances of Del Potro and Roddick, he may slip down to 5 or 6. However, given the way the ATP point system works, Del Potro or Roddick would have to outperform him significantly the rest of the way.
Some might think this would be unlikely. However, playing in such a lackluster way today in the Wimbledon quarterfinals makes it seem like he's going through the motions. Doing that for an extended period of time will get you passed by in this game.
On the plus side for him, we now move from grass courts to hard courts and that seems to be Djokovic's favorite surface.
On a more sobering front, Djokovic has said that he has had a hard time getting over the loss-at-Madrid mentally. He made this statement over a month after it happened.It appears that it may have changed him in a lasting way.
The jury is out. We'll wait and see.