Time to reflect, or beginning of the end for Novak Djokovic?

Djokovic’s decision to call off rest of season raises eyebrows, and the Serb has plenty to do if he is return to the top of men’s tennis.

Novak Djokovic currently sits fourth in the ATP World Rankings. Very respectable given that the top three are Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and the evergreen Roger Federer. After a tricky start to the year, Djokovic would have been quietly pleased with his run to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, which was sadly ended by injury. That elbow issue has caused him to hang up his racket for the rest of 2017, meaning the world number four will miss both the US Open and ATP Tour Finals at the end of the year.

At the age of 30, this is a time in which Djokovic should be trying to play as much tennis as possible, so it is a huge surprise that the 12-time Grand Slam Champion will not be seen again in 2017. However, Roger Federer did the exact same thing last year, suffering from an ongoing back problem, and after Wimbledon, the G.O.A.T. was not seen again until the start of this year, and he even skipped the entire clay court season to prepare himself for the grass. His eighth Wimbledon crown vindicated his decision.

But Novak is not 35 years old, he’s 30. Also, despite his success, he will never be treated with the same awe and respect as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Federer and Nadal changed the face of tennis, creating perhaps the greatest rivalry the game as ever seen, whereas Novak just cleaned up whilst they struggled with form at fitness, and there was still a considerable gulf from the rest of the field until Andy Murray caught up. It’s easy for tennis lovers to forget that Djokovic did hold all four Grand Slams at the same time between 2015-16. That different attitude towards him means that big decisions, such as those to take time out of the game, will be treated with question marks.

His almost-capitulation since reaching world number one hasn’t helped his reputation. He blew the world away between 2011 and 2016, winning half of the Slams between 2011 and 2016. His final goal was to win the French Open, which coincided with him holding all the Slams, but he hasn’t won one since. In fact, Novak has lifted just four tournament trophies since then, only one of which is an ATP 1000 title.

But this can happen, and there an even more obvious example out there. World number one Andy Murray topped the rankings after winning the ATP Tour Finals at the of last year, but 2017 hasn’t been the best for him. The Scot has lifted just one title, with his highlight being a trip to the French Open semi-finals. It can be difficult to motivate yourself for new goals once you reach the top.

When things aren’t going Novak’s way, he does appear to be disinterested. It is not quite the Bernard Tomics and Nick Kyrgios of this world, but he does seem to lose focus. Perhaps this break from the game is not just only to sort his injury out, but to make sure his head is in the right place.

When Rafael Nadal suffered a shock loss to Robin Soderling at the French Open in 2009, the Spaniard revealed he refused to retire injured as he didn’t want to take anything away from the Swede’s achievement. Nadal would go on to miss the grass court season due to injury.

Djokovic’s retirement to Tomas Berdych in Wimbledon quarter-finals robbed fans and spectators of a contest, and gave Berdych a massive leg up for the semi-final. Players have their reasons to retire, but the respect for the game should never be undermined.

He recently replaced Boris Becker with Andre Agassi on his coaching team, and perhaps the eight-time Slam champ believes that some R&R, as well as taking your mind off tennis may be good for Djokovic. Plus, if Novak is not going to be ready to go for the US Open in September, why bother with the rest of the season. Expect a different animal when he returns for the Australian Open in January.

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