It was a hot summer day in Paris. Following his 2016 French Open win after defeating Andy Murray in the final, Novak Djokovic was holding all four grand slam titles. He had become only the third man in history and the first since Rod Laver in 1969 to achieve this feat. With 12 majors now in his kitty, the Serb, at 29, looked set to threaten an ageing Roger Federer and an injury-hit Rafa Nadal for their overall slam tallies (17 and 14 respectively at that point in time).
Cut to today, weeks away from the 2018 French Open. Djokovic turns 31 on Tuesday and he has failed to claim even one of the seven major tournaments since — missing the 2017 US Open, making it to the final of the tournament the previous year and recording three exits even before the quarter finals.
He’s currently ranked 22 in the world while his closest rivals, Federer and Nadal, have shared the last five majors between them.
So what exactly went wrong for Novak Djokovic in the past couple of years?
The year 2016 ended for him with no title after Roland Garros. It meant a split from Boris Becker, who had coached him for three years. An erratic start to 2017 had him part ways with his long-time coach Marián Vajda, fitness specialist Gebhard Phil-Gritsch and physiotherapist Miljan Amanović, citing the need to “find a winning spark.”
Under new coach Andre Agassi, he won at Eastbourne but had to bow out of the subsequent Wimbledon, in a quarter final clash against Tomas Berdych. He would later announce that it was because of an elbow injury that had been bothering him for a year and a half.
After many months on the sidelines, Nole has gradually slid back into action. He even made it to the semi-finals of the recently-concluded Italian Open, where he lost to eventual winner Nadal.
“It would be a lot to expect him (Djokovic) coming back and winning his first tournament at a Grand Slam,” recently said Becker. But he certainly thinks that it’s not yet the end of the road for his former protege.
“Mentally is going to be the biggest challenge. How much you accept to do the dirty work like Monday morning practice, the first and second round of tournaments you are expected to win and it is hot and windy conditions.”
Becker said legends Nadal and Federer had shown it was possible to succeed after long injury absences. The latter in fact has won three slams after turning 36 as inspiration isn’t too far for Djokovic to seek. Comebacks are difficult, not impossible, but only time will tell how things turn out for Novak.