Come 16 July 2017, and Novak Djokovic could be receiving the coveted Wimbledon Trophy at the hands of the Duke of Kent. This, if it transpires, would be his fourth Wimbledon singles crown, adding to the one dozen major titles that he already has in his bag.
On the other hand, the prodigious Serb could make an early exit, perhaps losing to a qualifier; for that is the sort of form he has been in recent months.
All important will be the mind-set that he carries onto the beautifully manicured grass courts at the All England Club this English summer. What goes on in the space between his ears will decide whether he wrests back the Wimbledon crown or bows out with a whimper.
Boris Becker’s coaching contract with Djokovic was terminated last year after the German legend — along with Marian Vajda — had helped him win six majors, including a Career Slam. Becker’s essential role was to create that ‘mental edge’ which Djokovic believed was required — and he was lacking — to win a Grand Slam title. Last May, he also parted ways with his long-time coach Vajda and his team. The reason he gave for the split-up was that he needed to reenergise his game and raise it to a new level.
American legend, Andre Agassi, who is Djokovic’s new coach and mentor, is now entrusted with the task of reigniting that spark in his ward that went missing after the French Open win of 2016. ‘Djoker’ said that he was impressed with Agassi’s candour and frame of mind after he read his autobiography, and therefore approached him with the coaching offer. It is said that Agassi, who wasn’t interested in a coaching job, was goaded into it by his wife, the legendary Steffi Graf.
‘Djoker’s’ roller-coaster year
After Djokovic won what was termed as the ‘Nole Slam’ — holding all four major titles — with his victory at Roland Garros in 2016, it has been more of a downhill slide for the brilliant Serb. He lost to Sam Querrey in the third round of the Wimbledon Championships last year. He then won his fourth Rogers Cup title in July 2016 only to suffer an ignominious exit at the hands of Juan Martin Del Porto in the first round of the Rio Olympics.
In the US Open of 2016, Djokovic entered the finals but lost to Stan Wawrinka in four sets. He was then beaten in Shanghai by Roberto Agut in the semi-finals and in Paris by Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals, thus losing his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray. ‘Djoker’ ended the roller-coaster year by finishing runner-up in the World Tour finals.
At the Australian Open in 2017, he was dumped in the second round by Denis Istomin, a little known player from Uzbekistan, despite winning the Doha title in the run on to the event, where he had beaten Andy Murray in three sets. At the Mexican Open and the Indian Wells Masters, he was defeated by Nick Kyrgios in the early rounds. Then in the Monte-Carlo Masters, he lost to David Goffin in the quarter-finals.
At the Madrid Masters, he lost to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals and then finished runner-up at Rome. At the French Open, in June this year, defending his title, he lost to the talented Austrian, Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals, thus finishing off a miserable 12 months on the circuit.
Why Djokovic is a great player
Anusha Rasalingam summed up Djokovic beautifully in an article last July, in ‘The Changeover’. She wrote, “There’s a suffocating quality to a Djokovic win. He figures out his opponent’s strengths and dulls them to the point of uselessness. So, you’re a big server? He will return your hardest serve for a winner. You can run like a gazelle? He will track down your last shot, and hit an unreachable response in a position that resembles yoga more than tennis. You fight hard? He will stay with you as you wear yourself out, and then he will take you out. By the end, his opponents forget they even had strengths to begin with.”
She believed that Djokovic is what he is because of a changed mind-set. There were indeed times when he would mimic other players, joke around with linesmen and retire from matches at the first sign of pain. Boris Becker has instilled in him that steely tenacity to win ‘big matches’ and that has made a huge, colossal difference to his career during the last four years.
Craig O’Shannessy, the tennis strategist of renown says that Djokovic was No. 1 for a long time because he served better, was so much tougher to be broken, returned like a man possessed, and was way above par from the back of the court, and the front. “Nowhere to run; nowhere to hide!” asserted O’Shannessy. "Novak’s nirvana is a state of misery for anyone standing on the other side of the net.”
Other aspirants to the Wimbledon crown — and the No. 1 position in world tennis — had better watch out, because Djokovic’s is an extraordinary talent. The day he sets his mind to it, he’ll be back … and with a bang!
Who can stop Djokovic?
The evergreen Federer, at 36, could probably stop Djokovic from winning the Wimbledon title in 2017. He, like Djokovic, is from a different planet. Other top ranked players who could be a thorn in his flesh are Nadal, Murray and Wawrinka.
Djokovic has been seeded second this year. There’s Murray above him at number one, with Federer and Nadal following him at numbers three and four. Wawrinka is at five. The good news for ‘Djoker’ fans, therefore, is that he won’t meet any of the ‘Big Four’, except Wawrinka, till the quarter-finals.
Federer won the last of his seven Wimbledon titles in 2012. Since then, the only major he has won is the Australian Open in the beginning of 2017. Nadal (31), the ‘master’ of clay courts, recently won his 10th French Open title. Not very comfortable on grass, he won the second of his two Wimbledon titles seven long years ago.
Murray (30) won Wimbledon titles in 2013 and 2016, besides winning the US Open crown in 2012. Wawrinka (32) has won the Australian Open (2014), the French Open (2015) and the US Open (2016) but is yet to lay his hands on the Wimbledon Trophy. Looking at past and recent performances, therefore, only Murray, besides Federer, could be a serious threat to Djokovic’s successful comeback.
A resurgent Djokovic, with a new determination, and technical superiority over his opponents, should be able to beat anyone from amongst Federer, Nadal, Murray and Wawrinka on his day. How useful Agassi’s technical inputs are and how successful he is in pepping him up before a big match remains to be seen.
Others who could seriously challenge him in the early rounds at Church Road would be Milos Raonic (Canada), Marin Cilic (Croatia) and Nick Kyrgios (Australia). Of course, in a Grand Slam event, every round poses a challenge and any of the following named could give Djokovic a run for the money: Alexander Zverev (Germany), Dominic Thiem (Austria) and Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria), depending upon the draw.
Djokovic can mess up his comeback bid
After losing his hold on the Wimbledon crown in 2016, Djokovic spoke to the media about ‘personal issues’ that led to his defeats. He also had wrist and elbow injuries to deal with. Pundits believed, at that time, that he had hit the wall and, perhaps, lost the will to win. The staleness showed in his performances over the last season.
The super Serb can, therefore, either botch up his own comeback bid or motivate himself to regain lost ground. He can begin climbing back to the top by regaining the all-important Wimbledon singles crown.
Djokovic’s now estranged mentor, Becker believes that he can come back and regain the No. 1 spot and become the most dominant player in the world in tennis again. Federer and Nadal were the superstars in world tennis till Djokovic came along and snatched the numero uno position from them. He stayed there for 120 weeks and more.
Will Wimbledon 2017 be the major in which Djokovic makes his comeback? We’ll know in a couple of weeks!
The author is a sportswriter and caricaturist. A former fast bowler, he is also a mental toughness coach for sportspersons.
Published Date: Jul 01, 2017 12:12 PM | Updated Date: Jul 01, 2017 12:16 PM