It’s not been going great for Novak Djokovic as of late and just when you think he is due a break and his luck might change, news emerges that his right elbow injury has flared up again and he might miss out on defending his title in Miami this week.
The past eight months for Djokovic have been a real mystery and while the high-speed train he was impersonating was bound to slow down, it is the stark contrast between his demeanour up until last year’s Roland Garros final and now that is most alarming.
His negative body language throughout his straight-sets defeat to Nick Kyrgios last week in Indian Wells was quite telling.
After losing to Kyrgios earlier this month at Acapulco, you expected Djokovic to come out with guns blazing against the Aussie in California.
There’s no shame in losing to the uber-talented Kyrgios the first time you meet him, but the fact that Djokovic – arguably the greatest returner in the game – was unable to create a single break point against him in their second encounter this month is bizarre.
Djokovic simply couldn’t get a read on the Kyrgios serve, which granted, sounds like an impossible task sometimes, but for so long, the Serb has been the embodiment of his shoe sponsor adidas’ cliche of a slogan: “Impossible is Nothing”.
What has happened to the warrior-like Djokovic who crushed opponents’ spirit with his unwavering refusal to lose a single match? Where are those primal growls he typically lets out when he misses one single groundstroke?
That version of Djokovic briefly appeared in January in Doha, when he saved five match points against Fernando Verdasco before he beat Andy Murray in the final. It made cameos in his three-set tussles with Juan Martin del Potro. But he hasn’t been around much ever since.
Instead, we saw a Djokovic who looked helpless and frustrated against a power-hitting Kyrgios, walking from one side of the baseline to the other between points while the Aussie dictated with his serve.
Tennis is about many things. It’s about match-ups and surfaces, tactics and mental prowess, injuries and pain, on-court performance and off-court preparation…
This attitude change from Djokovic on court feels more mental than anything else.
It’s true that he has encountered some trouble with his elbow, but if he was playing with anti-inflammatories in Indian Wells as reports are suggesting, why was he playing doubles with Viktor Troicki (they won two doubles ties before losing their quarter-final)?
Wouldn’t it have been wiser to rest his ailing elbow in between his singles matches?
Perhaps playing doubles with a close friend was Djokovic’s attempt to bring back some fun to his life on court.
He had spoken to Serbian media about how the extreme competitive mode he was in and the constant state of pressure he was under started to get to him.
There have also been rumours about personal problems affecting him last season. The true reasons behind his decline have not been openly discussed, but one thing is evident – that Djokovic’s issues seem far more mental or psychological than anything else.
Until that hungry, insatiable beast that was on the prowl up until last summer reappears, Djokovic’s rivals will keep getting more and more confident every time they face him.