Novak Djokovic’s weekend of tennis in the 2012 Olympics may have just shifted the axis of tennis power. The Serbian’s far-flung empire has nearly vanished in the reclamation of old foe Roger Federer and hot Scot Andy Murray.
The Djokovic disintegration has had its warning signs, but it’s now undeniable. Juan Martin del Potro has also thrown off the shackles and raised his banner for US Open rule.
The Serbinator is struggling, but finds himself at another important career crossroads. Will he once again wield indomitable power?
The Rise and Fall of an Empire
Imagine you are Djokovic. You fight and train your whole life to become the best tennis player in the world. You bide your time behind two ruling superpowers who establish awesome dynasties and forever change the landscape of the ATP tour.
You get an early taste of success, but you must find your way to the top in a Brave New World of uber-competitive tennis war. It becomes a system of ultimate ruling power where only the strong survive.
Then you succeed. You personally destroy your rivals through nuclear shot-making and grueling ground wars. You establish your muscle and undisputed rule. You threaten to dominate the four Grand Slam corners of the Earth and banish your former tormenters forever.
There is talk that maybe you will surpass their dynasties with your own supreme legacy.
But in four months, moderate rebellion quickly becomes a series of coups d'état, and your hard-fought success is fragmented.
Old powers return, and you suddenly find yourself beaten by a long-suffering contemporary who is showing the hunger and fight that made you master of the universe.
The rules have changed, and others are dividing the spoils.
You know you are still great, but do you still have the heart and might to rebuild your power, brick by brick?
Is your epic reign only to live on in memories?
Half Full or Half Empty?
Maybe things are not so bad for Djokovic. He pushed Rafael Nadal in the French Open finals and lost to Federer in the semifinals on indoor grass. Is this unpardonable?
There were opportunities to defeat Murray in his Olympics backyard, but Murray was more resilient. After all, he did go on and win the gold medal match with the most dominating performance of his career. It was bound to happen.
And credit should go out to Del Potro’s fine play. Fair enough?
But this will not sit well with Djkovic. Regardless of the level of his opponents, his game has fallen. And Rafael Nadal has not been around recently to add extra kicks to the ribs.
Twenty years ago, Jim Courier rose to No. 1 in the midst of four Grand Slam titles in 20 months. He hit hard ground strokes, hustled more and trained harder than the rest of the ATP. But he lost his edge, and Pete Sampras took over tennis. Courier never recovered.
Djokovic is a great champion, but what can we expect now?
Maybe 2011 was an aberration. Djokovic, who had once struggled with his serve, became a very good if not excellent server. Are opponents now catching on to his tendencies?
He dictated play with overpowering groundstrokes, the kind that pick up speeding violations in a jet stream. He took chances, hit harder and dispirited his opponents with uncanny returns.
Then Nadal mixed in new patterns by attacking the Djokovic forehand.
Federer unleashed enough slice shots to take out an army.
Now Murray has thrown in more aggression to his once finesse play.
Yes, his opponents have devised new blueprints, but the biggest change of all has been a war of the mind.
The other top players no longer fear Novak Djokovic.
The other players have plenty of respect for his talent. Djokovic has proven his warrior’s heart and has wonderful belief and confidence to fight back when the chips are down.
But they know they can beat him.
It’s Your Career
You are Djokovic, and despite the heavy bumps and bruises, you are still the No. 2 player in the world. You can close out the year with a second Grand Slam and regain your No. 1 ranking. It’s all on your racket.
Just win your next match, and then win again. Bring out the heavy artillery, and do it now.
Stop pacing yourself. If you hold yourself back, you lose what you are. You knew this when you faced Nadal, but now that he is gone you must still summon up your mental toughness.
Fight harder. Then keep fighting.
You hope to see Murray in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. You want to defend your title by showing the world you are the best hard court player in the world. It can’t come soon enough.
There’s plenty of time to rebuild your empire, and you once got there through patience and desire. Now you need your champion’s urgency. You know what it takes.
How bad do you want it?