There’s no doubting the skill, the determination and the dedication of 12-times Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic; but with a flurry of recent painful losses, is there something seriously amiss with the man deemed almost impossible to beat in recent years? Is it possible that the steely focus of an incredible champion is wavering under the impact of self-doubt or is there a more significant problem? Certainly, the unexpected Wimbledon loss and his teary exit from the Olympics may signify a serious issue.
A gentleman on and off the court, Djokovic is always magnanimous in defeat on the rare occasions that it happens and he is quick to praise those who beat him, seemingly reluctant to take away the enthusiasm of their win by talking about his own problems. But in various interviews, there’s a notable mystery. It is more about what he does not say than the information he imparts. Since Wimbledon, there has been much speculation about his abilities and even the great player himself has fuelled the fire of doubt by refusing to talk.
When a tennis player is consistently successful, a loss – especially those of considerable importance – will only serve to create a ripple of disbelief among the media, the fans and of course, the other players. Suddenly, Djokovic’s titles are no longer out of reach but up for grabs. There’s an intrinsic belief that his crown is potentially available to all who dare and no doubt, Murray, Federer and Wawrinka will be quick to spot the cracks appearing in Djokovic’s defences. All players suffer from self-doubts from time to time; sometimes, these are minor issues and easily eradicated, but some players struggle to overcome this downward spiral. Failure at such a high level and in the public eye can damage confidence and the natural flow of their technique yet further. They start to question these formerly instinctive techniques, missing those shots which were previously guaranteed. If this is the case, Djokovic may not have sufficient time to reset the core foundations of confidence before the battle begins at Flushing Meadows.
A crisis of confidence may have a far greater impact on the reigning champion than most injuries would. The body can heal but the mind takes far more work. If left unchecked, doubts can become a destructive force, working against him and not for him. Super coach Becker who teamed up with Djokovic in 2013 will have to identify the cause of Djokovic’s fragility and they’ll need to work on this with some urgency. Although it is uncertain whether Djokovic will be crowned US Open champion this year, none will underestimate his desire to win and to retain his title. It’s a countdown for the battle of the fittest but is Djokovic ready for the challenge?