What is happening to Novak Djokovic?

Novak Djokovic in action at the French Open
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A little over six months ago, Novak Djokovic sat at the mountain of omnipotence. Djokovic was set to complete the Grand Slam at the US Open – the Holy Grail of men’s tennis which has remained unconquered for half a century. But he was overcome by nerves and a determined opponent, and ultimately stumbled at the final hurdle in his quest to match Rod Laver’s calendar-year Grand Slam of 1969. Still, he put a capstone to his 2021 season by winning a record 37th Masters crown in Bercy.

The Serbian star was expected to dominate the tour in 2022. But recent developments have precipitated a doom cycle of just two match wins this year. His decision to remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 locked him out from participating in a number of high-profile events. So far, Djokovic has been limited to just two tournament appearances in 2022.

Djokovic’s latest defeat at the Monte Carlo Masters posed more questions rather than answers in what has become a chaotic start to his campaign. Is he losing motivation? Could this be the start of his decline? Is the balance of power shifting in men’s tennis?

If history is something to lean on, we know for a fact Novak Djokovic will turn the tide. Even when seemingly overwhelmed, battered, and bruised, Djokovic is the kind of player who will always find a way to triumph. His name amongst the tennis immortals is engraved in gold. So what is happening to Djokovic in the most peculiar season of his career?

Start of 2022 season was far from ideal

In all fairness, Novak Djokovic has for the most part of his career fought through adversity. Nothing has been handed to him on a tea tray. This explains why every time he hoists a trophy, he speaks fondly of his tough upbringing and his desire to get to the top.

His unceremonious deportation from Australia in January had graced almost every media outlet for all the wrong reasons. His stance against Covid-19 vaccination portrayed him as a pantomime villain in the eyes of the Australian faithful. And following the public’s uproar, the authorities Down Under were left with no choice but to expel him from the country.

His absence at the Australian Open opened the door for his old nemesis Rafael Nadal to add to his Grand Slam tally. And the Spaniard duly took matters into his own hands, battling to win a 21st Major title.

Djokovic kicked off his 2022 season in Dubai, almost two months late from the official season’s start. His intermittent appearances have produced two wins and two defeats, hardly the kind of form which would strike fear to the rest of the field during the clay-court swing. While the Serb is a man ordinarily famed for his comebacks (most notably in 2018), this feels different.

Novak Djokovic hit another low on Monte Carlo Masters return

Djokovic has won the Monte Carlo Masters twice in his glittering career. He famously took down Rafael Nadal in their 2013 showdown, ending the Spaniard’s eight-year reign at the tournament. He is also a Monte Carlo resident and knows the city like the back of his hand.

But you would have to rub your eyes in disbelief at one outrageous stat in his shock 3-6 7-6 1-6 defeat to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. He was broken nine times by the flamboyant Spaniard –  the most service games he has ever dropped in a best-of-three match. And if he was looking for some sort of headstart, this was a nightmare start to his clay-court season.

What was even more poignant, Djokovic did not hold back in his brutal assessment of that lackadaisical performance. Had it not been for a momentary lapse of concentration, Davidovich Fokina looked set to round off a routine straight-sets win.

“I would like to congratulate Alejandro, he was the better player,” Djokovic candidly told reporters after his second-round exit at the Principality.

He continued, “I was hanging on the ropes for the entire match. He could have won this match in straight sets. I fought my way through to the third, but then I just physically completely collapsed. I couldn’t move anymore.”

Will Djokovic get his season back on track on home soil?

Djokovic is clearly in need of matches. He might cling to his number one ranking for the next two weeks. But he needs to return to the winner’s circle to keep his top spot status. While he was self-critical of his performance in Monte Carlo, he was concerned about his own fitness levels.

Djokovic as he put it, ran out of gas, and could not feel his legs for pretty much the entire third set against Davidovich Fokina. He won a measly 45% first-serve points as he bombed out of the tournament in the second round for the second straight year.

Ahead of his return to the Serbia Open, Djokovic remains optimistic about his chances of finding his best form in time for Roland Garros.

“I’m going to look with my team into reasons why that was the case and go back to the drawing board,” Djokovic said in regards to his alarming drop in form in the third set. “Hopefully next week will be better in Belgrade.”

Last year Belgrade hosted two ATP tournaments, with Djokovic spearheading the draw each time. He finished as a semifinalist in the first event and would win Belgrade 2 just before the French Open.

Main Photo from Getty.