“Soul-searching”: What’s gone wrong with Novak Djokovic?

Out of the top two rankings for the first time in six years. Novak Djokovic’s slump from winning the French Open just a year ago has seen a remarkable drop of form since June 2016.

Dumped out of Wimbledon in the third round, followed by a second round exit in the Australian Open; Novak has failed to win a major tournament since holding all four Grand Slams just one year ago.

Happier times. Djokovic after defeating Andy Murray in four sets in last year's French Open - Image Source: Twitter
Happier times. Djokovic after defeating Andy Murray in four sets in last year’s French Open – Image Source: Twitter

So, what’s gone wrong?

Mark Petchey, commenting on the Serbian’s defeat, suggested there was a lack of desire from the former No.1:

“Clearly there’s still more soul-searching to do and a way to go in terms of getting himself back with the same hunger and desire in the competitive environment.” Petchey, speaking to Sky Sports

In even harder criticism, John McEnroe, weighed into the debate by implying that Djokovic was lacking effort, as the American believed Novak did not want to be on the court:

“It looked in the third set like he just didn’t want to be out there, couldn’t compete any more, and that’s shocking for a guy that’s won as much as he has and prides himself on competition.” McEnroe, speaking to the BBC

Although it seems fair to suggest Djokovic’s commitment was missing – particularly in the third set – this does not fully encapsulate the Serbian’s drop in form over the last 12 months.

The much documented split with Borris Becker would have had a huge impact on Djokovic mentally, and the new appointment of Andre Agassi, followed by the American’s absence in the second week of Roland Garros must have effected the No.2 from a mental point of view.

Having the support from your bench, just to visualise your team/family in your own box must give tennis players great mental strength. It’s a very lonely sport, you can not depend on anyone else; it’s you and your opponent. Having some form of teammate out there in your box is crucial to success – look at Andy Murray under Ivan Lendl, and Djokovic with his peak years under Becker.

Away from the coaching staff, the widely spoken about troubles of Novak and his partner, Jelena Ristić, add further fuel to inhibit his mental game. So often Djokovic’s success has come from digging deep, and beating his opponent in the mental battle; the accumulation of family and coach disputes/absence has drastically taken its toll on the 12-time Grand Slam winner.

Djokovic's former coach, Borris Becker, was seen in the first week of Roland Garros wishing new coach, Andre Agassi good luck - Image Source: Twitter
Djokovic’s former coach, Borris Becker, was seen in the first week of Roland Garros wishing new coach, Andre Agassi, good luck – Image Source: Twitter

Adding to the struggles Novak is having with his mental game, it would seem that the previous pressures of being No.1, and the expectations that Djokovic shouldered for such a long time between 2011-2016 has taken it out of the 30-year-old.

Tennis is a repetitive game, and the constant stress can have an immediate impact on the top level players; even Andy Murray since turning No.1 has struggled with form at the turn of the calender year.

The physical side of so many games has led to Novak having a reoccurring elbow problem; the Serb has had to pull out of tournaments such as the Miami Open with the injury, and it’s been suggested he’s been carrying the problem into the Grand Slams.

At 30, Novak is still relatively young. He should take note of Roger Federer as the Swiss man manages his tournaments, and adapts with his age as much as possible to generate success.

Tweaks such as racquet sizes, less time on court, and general changes in physical therapy has reaped rewards for Federer; and, with Novak’s athleticism, it would seem he still has plenty of years to turn his fortunes around.

Luckily in tennis, tournaments come thick and fast, so, the Serb will have plenty more opportunities in the year to get it right.