Novak Djokovic: The Top Five’s Biggest Mystery
Ask any tennis die-hard who they predict will eventually overtake Roger Federer’s number one ranking and they will point to one of five, or maybe six, men. Rafael Nadal was once the obvious choice with his ability to cover all surfaces. As we all know, Nadal’s injuries have proven to much for him of late, and people are no longer questioning when the twenty three year old will regain number one, but if. The new man most likely now appears to be Andy Murray, but with his lack of weapons and failure to capitilise on two Grand Slam finals, people now question if Murray has what it takes to dominate in the future. Then there is the mighty giant from Tandil, Juan Martin del Potro. Having already won at only twenty years old, del Potro possesses the weapons and mentality to be a legitimate force for the future. Of course there is always a but, and in this case it is the injuries del Potro has struggled with over his career, the latest a wrist injury from the US Open. Others unsatisfied with the current candidates look towards Marin Cilic, who demonstrated amazing mentality to go with a big game in his last two Slams. However, having only just reached the top ten, it seems too soon to consider him in the long-term just yet. That leaves one more to consider. Novak Djokovic.
Djokvoic spent the end of 2007 and the start of 2008 known as the next big thing. The first man to break the Federer/Nadal reign, Djokovic soared to victory at the Australian Open 2008 with a punishing backhand and more confidence than Muhummand Ali. However, success does strange things to tennis players, and despite Djokovic’s continued success in Masters Series and his ability to stay in the top four, he could be considered a disappointment since that lone Slam win.
The question on everyone’s lips is why. With every other player inside the top ten, it is easy to spot the reasons they haven’t stopped Federer winning a copious amount of Slams. Djokovic, however, is a horse of a different colour. He has no obvious weakness in his game. His forehand and backhand can be both aggressive and defensive, his serve tops Nadal’s and perhaps Murray’s. He achieves a reasonable first serve percentage, he can put away a volley, and he’s no dummy. This all court game works on every surface, so why hasn’t Djokovic made a Slam final since 2008?
The next place any tennis fan looks to is the head. Djokovic may get a little frustrated at times, and perhaps he has a slight mental block against Federer in Slams, (who doesn’t?), but overall he appears sound. He isn’t known for smashing rackets and he rarely chokes. It is hard to blame the game or the mentality of Djokovic for his lack of Slam success.
Djokovic has been known for retiring in macthes, and his fitness has been questioned many times. Djokovic must have had the same concern, as he has been working with a new fitness coach since late 2009. As a result, Djokovic does seem able to hang in there more often. When Djokovic does struggle with his body it is hardly career threatening. He is more likely to have stomach pains, breathing issues, and problems with the heat than sore knees and wrists. This has given Djokovic something he shares with only Federer inside the top five: an impressive lack of withdrawls or injury breaks.
It is no wonder than tennis experts continue to pick Djokovic in Slams and as a future number one. The problem with Djokovic is that there is no obvious problem that needs to be worked on, except that he continues to lose. He doesn’t lose to his equals either, Djokovic has most recently lost to Mikhail Youzhny inexplicably in Rotterdam. I don’t think anyone will disagree that the newly crowned world number two should never lose to Youzhny. Looking at his opponents he lost to in Slams is equally baffling. Sure, Tsonga, Haas, and Kohlschreiber hit an Ok ball, but they do not hit a ball like Djokovic. The fact that he loses to them whilst previously playing very well is part of the mystery surronding Djokovic.
Maybe the problem with Djokvic is the very thing that Nadal, Federer, Muray, and del Potro have in bundles. Desire. Djokovic has made no secret that he wants a longer off-season and stated at the start of the year, after another unexplained loss to Verdasco, that he was a little bit sick of tennis. Whether this is the comment of the hurting loser or the comment of a tennis star who has lost the passion he once had is hard to say. With Djokovic’s interest in acting and buisness ventures, it is obvious that tennis is far from his be all and end all. In fact, the Saturday before the Australian Open this year, Djokvoic was to be found partying in the early hours of the morning with girls on a hen’s night. Although this is a completely normal thing for a twenty two year old male to be doing, you can bet your left leg Federer, Nadal, Murray, and del Potro would not have been doing the same. The quest to be as fit and as ready as possible for the year’s first Slam was, without a doubt, their top priority.
Novak Djokovic has everything he needs to be a champion of the future and vie for the number one ranking. One thing is for certain, he has to want it bad. If not, there are plenty of others that are up for the challenge.