As tennis writers we are all privy to it. Exacerbating a story to conjure up a desired narrative. When Novak Djokovic crashed out of Wimbledon to a rampant Sam Querrey everyone was asking the same questions. What does this mean? Is the Novak Djokovic era of dominance over? Where does he go from here? How naïve and foolish we all were.
Last week’s Rogers Cup reminded everyone exactly why Novak Djokovic is the most dominant player of the decade. It has to be said that it was far from vintage. His performances throughout the opening few rounds were laborious and far from inspirational. It was reminiscent of the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United. It may not have been sizzling displays week-in-week-out, but the results were always there.
Novak Djokovic Made Everyone Look Foolish in Toronto
Despite the valiant efforts of Roger Federer to divert attention, the build up to the Rogers Cup was dominated by what kind of condition Novak Djokovic was in. He had not graced a court since his early departure from Wimbledon. Even though that loss was only his fourth of the year, the word ‘slump’ began to appear in articles. Caroline Wozniacki is in a slump. Vasek Pospisil is in a slump. The world number one who has won six titles in 2016 and five of the last seven Grand Slam’s is not in a slump.
Everyone is allowed a bad day at the office from time to time. His loss to Querrey was nothing more than that. It may have been the last match he played prior to the Rogers Cup, but should their really have been questions about his hard court capabilities? This year he has lost just once on hard courts – against Feliciano Lopez in Dubai after suffering discomfort with his eye. He retired after dropping the first set. Throughout his career he has won 84 per cent of matches on his favourite and most successful surface.
On the most recent Tennis Podcast, Catherine Whitaker declared “there was a feeling that Djokovic was there for the beating this week, if only somebody could just believe”. This statement perfectly encapsulates why he has been world number one for so long. Put simply, nobody truly believes they can beat him. He has conjured up an almost immortal perception as an athlete. For example, Kei Nishikori had already had to endure four encounters with Novak Djokovic in 2016 before Sunday’s final. Despite Djokovic visibly not being at his peak and the Japanese #1 playing some excellent stuff, there was never any indication that Nishikori truly believed he could topple the Serbian.
“There was a feeling that Djokovic was there for the beating this week, if only somebody could just believe.”
On his way to the final, Djokovic also brushed aside Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils. Both have been in notable form of late, yet neither were able to make a dent in Djokovic’s armour. Berdych in particular had chances. Retrospectively he will wonder how he didn’t manage to snatch the first set of their quarter-final clash. The simple reason is that these players who regularly face Novak Djokovic know they are fighting a losing battle from the outset. The world number one’s abrasive style grinds down opponents mentally and physically, leaving them at a loss for ideas and without hope.
Over the course of a season every player should be expected to lose a few matches. Last year Djokovic lost just six matches in one of the greatest calendar years in tennis history. His loss to Querrey was surprising given that last year he lost just once to a player outside of the top ten. This year he has already succumbed to defeat three times. Ivo Karlovic was the man to find a way to penetrate the virtually impenetrable Serbian in 2015. The losses to these two show that Djokovic can – on rare occasions – be caught out by powerful servers.
Above anything else, Novak Djokovic has earned the right to not be questioned. His consistency over the last five years means that he is perfectly entitled to the odd slip up. What he has always done remarkably is bounce back from these slip-ups. The simple collection of his fourth Masters title of 2016 is just the latest example of this. The word ‘slump’ being used in the context of Novak Djokovic is remarkably naive. Until he gives us a genuine reason to suggest otherwise let’s just assume that he is going to win everything.