Around this time of the year in 2016, Novak Djokovic held four slams. This year, he holds none. After his embarrassing defeat to Dominic Thiem this year in the French, many questioned if Djokovic had lost the fire he needed to win matches. John McEnroe, known for his no nonsense attitude, commented saying that Djokovic has lost his killer instinct, and questioned the influence that Imaz had on the “troubled Serb”. His form this entire year has been extremely shaky, from winning Doha to crashing out in the Australian open, from losing to Kyrgios twice in a row and to Goffin in Monte Carlo to demolishing Thiem in Rome, only to lose in straight sets to Sascha Zverev.
And then comes the French Open loss to Thiem. The first set and a half saw Nole play a decent game of tennis. From there onward was a whitewash. So bad was his performance in the last set that many claimed the Serb tanked and gave up. Some thought that Agassi’s absence affected him enough to lose focus. After all, you do look at your box for moral support.
Many have questioned Imaz’s influence on Djokovic, and McEnroe puts it perfectly:
“From an emotional standpoint he perhaps felt he wanted to bring in somebody who wants to give people a lot of hugs. That does not necessarily translate to having that killer instinct. It does not automatically lose it, but you don’t want to get into a situation where it is all peace and love and then have to go out and try to stomp on somebody’s head in competition.”
This statement from Djokovic during the pre-tournament press conference also indicates some changes in his mentality and outlook. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Novak’s sentiment, but at the same time what McEnroe stated is just as applicable as well, because if you spend most of your time when away from the court dedicating to something that takes away from what you do, there will be conflict, and that’s exactly what happened. Novak’s goal of peace and love is all fine and dandy, but in the process of his self exploration he forgot that tennis isn’t the same as his everyday life. There has to be a balance.
So What’s Different?
Agassi. A man who knows exactly what Djokovic is going through. Djokovic this Wimbledon has been considerably better in comparison to 2017, and one of the reasons is Agassi. The man is more his mental coach than anything else, because his game is more or less the same, but his confidence is higher and his motivations stronger.
What’s the biggest difference in Djokovic this Wimbledon?
How expressive he is. An important point or a crucial break has seen Djokovic scream and roar. This, apart from being refreshing to see, is also Djokovic channeling his inner angst and frustrations in a positive manner. Cathartic, almost. Letting loose. It’s refreshing to see because it shows he cares, that he’s motivated and that he wants to win. It’s refreshing because it means he’s out for blood. And whether he wins or loses doesn’t matter, because it means that good days are to come.
Don’t ever discount Novak Djokovic.