We look into the quite sudden loss of form of Novak Djokovic, who not so long ago was the most feared opponent in men’s tennis.
This time last year, the Serb was well on his way to a record fifth Indian Wells title and still celebrating a record sixth Australian Open title.
It was the perfect start to the year, continuing on his simply outrageous form in 2015 when he went 82-6 for the season and notched up 11 titles.
Djokovic carried his form into the 2016 French Open, where he would finally complete his career grand slam. The win also saw him complete what the media dubbed the ‘Nole Slam’, as he had won four consecutive grand slams, elevating his name to the heights of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Times were great for the Serb. He and his wife Jelena had welcomed baby Stefan into the world and he was playing some of the best tennis ever seen.
But this is precisely when things started to unravel for Djokovic.
A third round exit at Wimbledon – after which Jelena was seen holidaying without Novak – was followed by a first round loss at the Olympic Games. While he reached the US Open final, an inspired Stan Wawrinka won in four sets.
Further losses in Masters 1000 events to opponents that are simply not on Djokovic’s level followed. All the while, a consistent Andy Murray was nipping at his heels and to make matters worse, rumours were circulating about his marriage being on the rocks.
The Scot went into the season-ending finale at the ATP World Tour Finals as the top seed trumped the Djoker in the final. Shortly after, he split with coach Boris Becker, which was another head-scratcher for many fans given their success together.
Djokovic had admitted to losing some drive during the latter part of 2016, but he was nonetheless expected to bounce back, especially given the appearance that all is well at home with Jelena and Stefan.
But unfortunately, this has not been the case in 2017.
While he edged Murray to claim the season-opening Qatar Exxon Open, it’s important to note that the 12-time grand slam winner has not been falling at the final hurdle of late. He has been failing to even get there.
Djokovic’s second round exit at the hands of world number 117 Denis Istomin at the Australian Open was a shock to all and since then, he’s lost twice in straight sets to bad-boy Nick Kyrgios, a tennis travesty if there ever was one.
While a humble Djokovic was full of praise for Istomin in Melbourne, the same cannot be said following his first loss to Kyrgios in Mexico, where he delivered a 12-word press conference and marched out.
This is a far cry from the Djokovic fans around the world have come to know and love, adding fuel to the fire that something is clearly amiss.
In his second loss to Kyrgios, Djokovic heaped praise on the Australian for his powerful serve. This was odd, given that Djokovic has been lauded as one of the best returners in the history of the game. Surely, those are words from a man mentally fatigued and down on confidence.
The media can only pick up what is put down (well, for the most part) and Djokovic has blamed “personal problems” and mentioned the importance of family after many of these upsets.
Is this just his ‘go to’ excuse, or should we read more into his words?
One theory is that times must be tough at home for the Djokovic’s. The proverbial breadcrumbs are there, with the sudden distance between Jelena and Novak after Wimbledon and her persistently glum look at the US Open, where she was seen leaving games early.
After over six months of poor results by Djokovic’s standards, it’s clear that that something needs to change, as the current model is not working.
Admittedly, there is not much left for Djokovic to achieve so why not take a six-month hiatus for some family time and physical recovery? At just 29-years-old, there is still time for break and a successful return.
Federer is proof that this can be done, even at the advanced age of 35, as the Swiss has arrived back on the scene fit, fresh and playing some of his best tennis.
Happiness is important..let’s hope Djokovic goes after it, wherever it leads him.