Tennis Prose



Djokovic Aura Of Invincibility Has Been Broken

2020 was a bittersweet year for ATP world no. 1. He opened the year with perfect 6-0 mark to power Serbia to win the inaugural ATP Cup, besting Daniil Medvedev in the semi 61 57 64 and Rafael Nadal in the final 62 76.

Djokovic blasted through the AO draw, pummeling Roger Federer in the semi 76 64 63 and Dominic Thiem in the final 64 46 26 63 64.

Then he won Dubai, topping Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final 63 64. The 32 year old was a perfect 18-0 for the year.

After the virus hiatus, Djokovic won Cincinnati Open in NY, besting Milos Raonic in the final 16 63 64.

Then the perfect season in paradise would encounter a surprise storm at the US Open. Cruising through the draw, Djokovic met Pablo Carreno Busta in the round of 16, a player he enjoyed a career 3-0 head to head record against.

On Ashe stadium, the first set appeared to be on course for the expected Djokovic win as the top seed earned three set points on the Spaniard’s serve at 4-5, love-40. Then, as if the tennis gods conspired against him, Carreno Busta somehow managed to escape and win the game, hitting a couple of lines to add insult to injury.

Djokovic was now enraged by the turn of events and then was broken in the following game. So instead of being ahead with a set in his pocket at 64, Djokovic was now behind 56 having blown three set points. Instantaneously after losing serve, Djokovic fired a ball to the back wall behind him – where he surely knew a linesperson and ballperson were stationed. The ball hit the woman in the throat and she collapsed. After a long discussion, the rules were enforced and Djokovic was defaulted from the tournament.

Overlooked by many was the reason for the outburst by Djokovic. It was not a randon tantrum. He lost control of the match and Carreno Busta. This was the first ominous sign that Djokovic may have been losing his powers on the court. He had Carreno Busta under control but let him slip off the hook and this failure caused him to lose his composure and mentally break.

Djokovic and Carreno Busta would cross paths again in the Roland Garros quarterfinal and though clay was supposed to be the surface advantage for Djokovic, Busta won the first set 64. It was an extremely tense, dramatic duel but eventually Djokovic survived and prevailed 46 62 63 64. Djokovic then beat Tsitsipas in five sets in the semi. The final would be another disastrous defeat, 06 26 57 to Nadal, one of his worst thrashings ever to the King of Clay.

The losses to Nadal and Carreno Busta were two heartbreaking defeats, not only because they were a golden chance to win major number 18 but also because Djokovic showed weakness and vulnerability in the big moments, when he previously had been so dominant and destructive. There is no doubt Djokovic is a wounded champion right now and the other players know it.

Djokovic lost to world no. 42 Lorenzo Sonego 26 16 at Vienna QF but that loss can be excused because Djokovic had the no. 1 ranking locked up and his focus was surely more on doing well at the ATP Finals in London than winning an ATP 500 title.

In London, Djokovic beat Diego Schwartzman and Alexander Zverev in RR but lost to Medvedev 63 63. He did advance to the semi and lost to Thiem in a sensational clash of titans 57 76 67.

This was another devastating loss for Djokovic as he saved four match points in the second set and persevered with some of his finest tennis for a 4-0 lead in the third set tiebreaker, which he squandered by losing seven of the last eight points.

Once again Djokovic showed vulnerability and inability to finish off an opponent he had on the ground and under his boot.

The aura of invincibility is gone now, the now 33 year old Djokovic, though he is still ranked no. 1, he will have to regain and rebuild his lost confidence. Because in three straight big tournaments he put himself in the position to be champion but he came up empty each time. He was not able to summon his greatest tennis when he needed it most. Or perhaps, he did play his finest A plus level tennis in those moments – but it was not enough.

Djokovic will have to figure out this off-season what went wrong? Why did he fail to finish Busta, Rafa and Thiem? Has he lost a fraction of power, speed, anticipation, agility, courage, arrogance?

Djokovic is a wounded animal right now. But a certain truth can work in his favor … the wounded animal is the most dangerous.

(Djokovic art by Andres Bella.)

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