Nothing to see here, as Djokovic loses in Indian Wells

It just shouldn’t be surprising.

Only five weeks after Novak Djokovic had surgery on his elbow, he’s lost to world number 109 Taro Daniel.

It’s either testament to Djokovic’s quality, or a great insult to Daniel that this is any kind of surprise. Even prior to the surgery, Djokovic had played just five competitive matches in six months, having spent most of the back end of 2017 out of action.

And it’s often cited that the most important part of Djokovic’s game is his physicality. I would suggest it’s actually his belief in his physicality.

“It felt like the first match I ever played on tour,” he said after the defeat.

800px-Novak_Djokovic,_Qatar_Open_2016

I remember watching him in the days before his remarkable 2011 season. His defeat to Marat Safin at Wimbledon in 2008 – when he hit 10 double faults – in particular points to a mental fragility that is usually masked by supreme physical confidence.

To see him struggle against Daniel, in a three-set battle, isn’t a surprise, just a reassertion of the depth of quality in professional tennis. Daniel was in an excellent place to take advantage of a Djokovic who, in his own words, is starting from scratch.

When the Serb got things together in 2011, it was the start of one of the most remarkable runs in modern tennis; a 41-match winning streak and only one defeat to Nadal and Federer all year. The question is, at the age of 30, has he got the resolve to build that kind of killer confidence again?

I wholeheartedly believe he does – despite the fragility he has sometimes shown, he is one of the most incredible competitors the sport has seen. And his speciality; reinventing himself when times are tough. So this defeat at Indian Wells could help trigger a new incarnation for Nole.

Advertisements

The Big Four – architects of their own downfall?

The Big Four are not as dominant as they once were. For the first time since 1998, eight different men and women have won the respective Grand Slam singles titles. They muscled their way to the top – quite literally – and have shown little signs of relinquishing their dominance before this year.

So what’s gone wrong? Two have spent most of the injured or in surgery. The other is 33-years old and a father of four. And Djokovic, despite his supreme form at Wimbledon, has looked underwhelming ever since.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Roger Federer’s first Wimbledon win in 2003 marked a changing of the guard. From the wam-bam-thankyou-man of Sampras and Ivanisevic, to the more physical game brought about with slower courts and better rackets.

And of course 2005 marked Rafael Nadal’s explosion onto the Grand Slam scene. On clay at least, Federer had to work hard to compete over the course of brutally long matches. Those three or four years of dominance have taken their toll on a 28 year old Nadal. He set the bar and is now struggling to reach it again.

Murray and Djokovic were next; both struggled with fitness in the early stage of their careers and embarked on intensive strength and conditioning regimes. Murray is now once again back on the road to recovery after a punishing season.

As each one has battled for supremacy, it is only natural that they go one step further than their predecessors. But in bringing about the new, increasingly physical, game they have paved the way for their own downfall. As they get older and the challengers get younger, it is only going to get harder for them to keep up.