The Achilles' Heel for Novak Djokovic | Sportwalk Times
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The Achilles’ Heel for Novak Djokovic

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A year back, if Novak Djokovic had lost in the semifinals of a tournament, it would’ve made the headlines. The news media would’ve gone absolute bonkers, diagnosing every little mistake committed and proposing that the loss might mean the end of Djokovic’s domination. This year, things have taken a 180-degree turn and Djokovic making semifinals of a Masters tournament is a signal of his probable comeback to form. And him losing to Rafael Nadal in straight sets is rather expected, in spite of his huge mental edge over Nadal.

Last year at the same point in time, he was an absolute beast that everybody feared, making the finals of almost every tournament he entered and mostly winning them. In a sharp turn of events, this year, he’s lost before the finals more often than not, making it tougher for him to reach the zenith, mentally. And that’s exactly what he needs right now — a proper mindset — to get back in the flow and back at the top where he belongs. And, a proper set of coaching stuff as well, to make sure he doesn’t get distracted and demotivated again. It’s almost unbelievable that the legend who became the first man in 47 years – since the great Rod Laver – to achieve a Grand Slam, would have to experience such a hard fall. But, that’s what’s happening and it’s startling to see what an apparent lack of motivation and a definite lack of confidence can do to a player – even of Djokovic’s calibre.

Rafael Nadal, Indian Wells, 2016, Nadal and Djokovic, Tennis, Sportwalk
© Photographed by Beth Wilson

Djokovic’s historic 50th face-off against the King of Clay, was evidence enough that he needs a coach, the sooner the better before it gets completely out of hand. He looked out of sorts and barely made Nadal work hard for the win. As a matter of fact, the match against Nadal was his second match of the year against a top-10 opponent, first one since his win over world no. 1 Sir Andy Murray in January. It’s quite self-explanatory how badly his game has gone on the downward spiral, failing to make the final of even a single tournament since January.

Apparent lack of motivation

Novak Djokovic’s destructive run came to an end right after his Roland Garros dreams coming true, that had eluded him for so long, and ever since, he has been struggling to find a way out. Drowning in the midst of a rough patch, he has often indicated that tennis doesn’t top his priority list anymore.

“I try to be the best possible husband, father and tennis player. At the same time, I can not be the best everyday in each role. Tennis was my number one priority, before my son was born.” 

It’s not every 12 months that a player wins 4 majors in a row and Novak Djokovic is the only one to have done it since the great Rod Laver in 1969, and it is quite understandable, that a sense of achieving the ultimate arises, making it difficult for the player to motivate himself for future objectives. But, failing to take control of this situation, would mean, he is not going to sit in the same row as his two legendary compatriots – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who hit rough patches a few times in their careers and got out of it every time, no matter the difficult path they had to cross.

Furthermore, the inclusion of Pepe Imaz — a spiritual Guru specializing in long hugs and meditation — in his team, hasn’t had any positive effect on his form. Djokovic turning to a spiritual Guru instead of his coaching stuff, in times of despair, is a bright example of his lack of motivation, and the fact that he’s been forcing himself to get back to form, rather than easing through the process.

Definite Lack of Confidence

From the beginning of 2015, to the later stages of 2016, until his loss at the US Open final to Stan Wawrinka, Novak amassed a stupendous 138-12 win-loss record (win index 0.920) with an astonishing 24 finals in 29 tournaments entered, winning 18 of them. But, ever since he hit the slump, he’s won only 25 of his 33 matches (win index 0.758), winning only 1 of the 2 finals reached in the 9 tournaments entered.

© Getty Images

His successful partnership with super-coach Boris Becker ended after three long seasons, having already been one of the best stints ever. Recently he cut off all ties with his other coaching team, including his coach for the last 11 years, Marian Vajda, as a part of a forced shock-therapy that is supposed to bring him back to his best. It’s a bit too early to comment on the effect that his decision of firing his complete team will have on his game, but it definitely was a relatively wayward decision to make. As for Becker, ending a 3 year old partnership on the basis of 3 months of off-form was a bit hasty. And, firing Vajda and others from his team as a part of a forced shock-therapy was farcical to say the least. A shock-therapy is supposed to be exactly what it’s called, a sudden incident to improve performance, and not a planned one.

There was a sense of invincibility in his game when he was at his peak, a calmness that came from within, something that happens only when a player is at the peak of his confidence. He believed and made everybody else related to the sport believe, that he was going to win no matter the situation; that he was to going to win any and every tournament he entered. That’s not there anymore. His hunger has definitely subdued, and in it’s place, the persona of a weary traveler’s drooped shoulders seem to have taken the front seat. That is, indeed, until he rediscovers his lost charm and starts contending for titles once again.

Djokovic’s lack of motivation has meant that he has been unsuccessful more often than not, which has further led to his lack of confidence – on himself and on his ever-so-trusted team, that resulted in those reckless decisions one after the other. The state of mind that he’s in, with regards to his game, is his Achilles’ heel at the moment. And he needs to shake it off sooner than we expect, so as not to make it grow into a permanent wound.