Will Novak Djokovic Return to Form and Win Elusive Titles Before 2016 US Open?

Joe Kennard@@JoeKennardFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2016

Djokovic will look to regroup in Toronto after a shocking defeat at Wimbledon.
Djokovic will look to regroup in Toronto after a shocking defeat at Wimbledon.Pool/Getty Images

We’ve become so accustomed to seeing machine-like perfection from Novak Djokovic that when he loses a match, it feels like the Earth might stop spinning. But he’s not some cyborg sent from the tennis gods to hunt down every trophy in sight; he’s mortal and has off days like any other player.

At Wimbledon, Djokovic’s aura of invincibility took a hit with his stunning third-round loss to Sam Querrey. Ranked 41st entering their match, big-serving Querrey dropped 31 aces and kept an error-prone Djokovic at bay, winning 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5) over the course of two days.

His dreams of a third consecutive Wimbledon victory and calendar Grand Slam dashed, Djokovic’s remarkable streak of 28 straight major quarterfinal appearances came to an unexpected end before a shocked Centre Court crowd.

From the start, he just looked off against Querrey, both in terms of his execution and body language. Weeks after his triumphant journey to a first Roland Garros championship, the world No. 1 seemed to lack the requisite energy. 

While Djokovic wouldn't go into specifics as to whether injury played a part in his performance, he made it clear to reporters after the match that he needed time off to relax and clear his head:

It’s disappointing, of course. Losing at a Grand Slam hurts more than any other tournament. There’s no doubt about that. Thankfully, I have a family and a life outside tennis. I have plenty to look forward to. I’m obviously going to pay more attention to those things than tennis in the next period. I need it.

It’s been a very successful year so far, but a very long, exhausting one, in every sense of that word. I need some rest.

It sounds like Djokovic might have encountered an emotional hangover after leaving Paris. He couldn't flip the switch back on in time for Wimbledon. Stepping away from the game and spending more time with family in the interim should help add the perspective Djokovic needs as he tries to recharge the batteries. 

Because of his early exit and Andy Murray’s subsequent championship run, Djokovic’s enormous lead in the rankings shrank to 4,845 points—enough of a swing to give the Scot a chance at stealing the No. 1 ranking by the end of this season.

There's Djokovic's motivation to put the foot back on the pedal. 

Murray’s decision to skip the upcoming Rogers Cup and not defend his crown puts that scenario on hold for a while longer, however. Djokovic will travel to Toronto as the prohibitive favorite after the withdrawals of Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He’s even entered in the doubles field there, slated to team with countryman Nenad Zimonjic.

A fourth Rogers Cup title would help restore some of the momentum he lost with that Wimbledon exit. But there are bigger things on the agenda for Djokovic in the coming weeks: the Olympics and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Now that he’s finally conquered the French Open, Olympic gold and a win in Cincinnati are all that’s left for Djokovic to check off his list.  

Djokovic accepts the runner-up trophy at the 2015 Western & Southern Open.
Djokovic accepts the runner-up trophy at the 2015 Western & Southern Open.John Minchillo/Associated Press/Associated Press

His best previous result at the Olympics came in Beijing eight years ago, when he won bronze—the only time Djokovic has medaled. Make no mistake: Bringing a gold home to Serbia would mean everything to him.

“It’s definitely right up there at the top of the priorities of this season,” Djokovic told the Telegraph's Simon Briggs in January.

Granted, the equation has changed since then, with the growing concern over the Zika virus. As of now, Djokovic is still full-go for Rio. "When I get more information, I'll be able to make my final decision," he said earlier this month, per Mark Hodgkinson of ESPN.com. "But for now, I'm planning to go."

There, he'd have a chance to join Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal as the only male singles players in history to win a career Golden Slam. Doing so would add another arrow to his quiver for the debate over the greatest of all time. 

Right as the Olympics wrap up, the Western & Southern Open will kick off. A five-time runner-up in Cincinnati, Djokovic has fallen painfully short many times in his quest to win that tournament. Whether it's because of Federer (three times) or Murray (twice), he's yet to get over the hump in finals there.

Djokovic is a completionist, and a title in Cincinnati would make him the first player to win all of the Masters Series events. That accomplishment would only further bolster his legacy.

So with his focus turned toward those two destinations, Djokovic should be well past the malaise he ran into at Wimbledon. And a victory at either would be the perfect preparation for his title defense at the U.S. Open.

All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com, unless otherwise noted. 

Joe Kennard is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 


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