Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps Novak Djokovic’s start to this 2017 season.
Almost three full months into this 2017 season and this much appears clear: maybe something’s wrong with Novak Djokovic? *thinking face emoji*
Alright alright, in the grand scheme of things, not a whole lot, we know. The man is married, a dad, rich and famous, etc. etc. And if we’re looking at just, you know, #tennis, the answer again is still not really much that is wrong. Djokovic, on the 2017 season, has amassed a cool 387,219$ in prize money and won 11 matches against still just three losses—but again, that’s the point.
We’re barely into April and already, the Serb has three losses, losses that have come against Nick Kyrgios (twice) and Denis Istomin. In a very recent past, those are losses he wouldn’t suffer, hardly ever.
Sure, maybe Djokovic would drop a quarterfinal match against a Kyrgios from time to time, like he has this year in Acapulco, but early matches at the Australian Open and Indian Wells? No, the Serb would always show up and come through. This year’s BNP Paribas Open main draw might have been the craziest ever, and pitted Djokovic smack in the middle of things, but over the years the Djoker had usually been the one with the last laugh.
So what gives?
Does this point to a larger issue, namely that there’s been a problem since his 2017 Roland Garros title? Finishing the career Grand Slam probably stopped Djokovic’s competitive juices if only ever slightly—it’s only normal that it would have—but otherwise that’s about it. He’s just slightly behind Andy Murray over the previous 52 weeks while ranking third, first and second on tour for returns, percentage of 2nd serve points won and performance under pressure.
There’s a “Come on, trop trying so hard to find faults” outlook there if you want to look for it. Tennis is a gruelling sport and the Djoker has been at the forefront of the battle, of just about every single tournament of note, for the better part of five years even. After winning last year’s Roland Garros title, Djokovic had made 21 finals, and won 17 titles, at the last 22 Grand Slams, Masters 1000 and World Tour Finals that he participated in. That’s a stretch that takes a toll on any player, including the (at the time) best one in the world.
Novak Djokovic’s results in the last 22 big (Slams, Masters, tour finals) events he has played:
— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) June 3, 2016
Because at some point Djokovic is probably, like, hey guys all good I can be the driving force but won’t you pick me up for once?
Maybe that’s just it, the pick-me-up. There’s nothing all that wrong with Djokovic, it’s just that the previous five seasons have taken their toll on him and he’s entered somewhat of a new phase, the pick-me-up phase. Maybe the Serb won’t be quite as central as everything unfolding on planet tennis, he’ll still win quite a few titles and win even more prize money, and that’s fine.
Because for just about anyone else, Djokovic’s 2016 season (i.e. a 65-9 record, 7 titles, $14 million in prize money) would be a career highlight. The Serb isn’t quite at peak performances and whatever, but he’s still no. 2 in the world.
What have you done for me lately?
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG