Tennis Prose




Feb/21

8

Djokovic Needs To Make Statement

Novak Djokovic is the no. 1 ranked player in the world, he’s on the verge of breaking the record for all time most weeks at no. 1, he’s finished as no. 1 six times (tied with Sampras), he’s won 17 Grand Slams, he holds head to head edges on Federer and Nadal.

But underneath the surface of all the tennis excellence and near perfection, Djokovic has to be struggling with some slight confidence issues right now. Last year after the virus hiatus he failed miserably at the US Open and French Open, losing to Pablo Carreno Busta and Rafael Nadal respectively. He also came up short at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. The Djokovic aura of invincibility is slightly cracked at the moment.

But that’s the way most great champions prefer it. They want and need all the extra incentives and motivations that can get, especially when they have something to prove.

At 33, Djokovic has something to prove. The future duration of his time at the top is not known. We know things can change quickly in sports. If Djokovic fails to succeed at his third straight Grand Slam in Melbourne on his favorite court, the logical conclusion is that the Serbian machine may have peaked and stagnated, and the other young lions are passing by him.

It’s imperative that Djokovic must win this Australian Open, to re-establish his aura of dominance – and prove to all the ambitious challengers that he can still win major titles.

Because right now we don’t know if Djokovic can still win majors anymore. Thiem, Zverev, Rublev, Tsitsipas, Korda, Shapovalov, Sinner, Auger-Aliassime, Sonego, Musetti. Fritz, Opelka, deMinaur, Alcaraz, Carreno Busta, Agut, Moutet are all coming on strong now. Their experience is expanding, their confidence is growing, their aspirations are more reachable. And there is Rafael Nadal still out there looming large and as hungry as ever.

Djokovic needs to make a big statement in Melbourne, not only to his rivals but also to himself. To my eye he looks a little more physically stronger, particularly in the chest area. For sure, he’s totally prepared himself the best he possibly could to win his ninth AO and third consecutive (last year’s final was a dramatic exhausting tight five-setter vs Thiem, a win from a 2-1 deficit).

Anything short of winning this title will diminish Djokovic’s own confidence while also injecting every other player with a boost of belief of knowing “Djokovic isn’t Djokovic anymore.” If he loses, Djokovic will have to wonder, is he now a fading force on the decline, like his peers Andy Murray, Ernests Gulbis and Gael Monfils? And how could he expect to be better at 34 and 35? Could all those miles on his engine and legs be taking their toll?

After beating Jeremy Chardy in three routine sets yesterday, Djokovic said, “I’m always motivated and inspired to achieve big goals and records, one of them being all time weeks as no. 1 and the most Grand Slams as well.”

He added that he still savors the thrill of combat because of his “passion, love and pure enjoyment – that is why I’m still playing.”

Djokovic surely knows he will need every ounce of passion, love and pure enjoyment he can summon to assure a triumph in this very important, unique edition of the Australian Open

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