Over the course of the last six years, there has been one major constant in the professional tennis world, Novak Djokovic’s dominance. Sure there have been some down years where he only won one major (it’s crazy that’s considered a down year for him) but since 2011 Novak Djokovic has been the best player on tour. However, over the past six months, he really hasn’t looked like the same guy.
Djokovic’s decline began at last year’s Wimbledon, where he was eliminated in the third round by Sam Querrey. Later in the season he made a run to the U.S. Open final but was beaten fairly easily by Stan Wawrinka. Then he lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray after a few pedestrian performances at some of the Masters tournaments. Most recently he suffered a shocking defeat in the second round of his favorite tournament, the Australian Open, to world No. 117 Denis Istomin.
This most recent loss says a lot, prior to the Aussie many people wrote off the other losses as flukes, but now it seems like something much more than that. To lose to a player outside of the top hundred at his best tournament certainly means something. Every dominant stretch has to come to an end at some point, and while Djokovic is clearly still very relevant and can definitely win more majors, it seems the six-year stretch of dominance Djokovic has enjoyed is coming to a close. The real question is why.
The obvious answer would be his age, after all, he turns thirty in May, and in tennis thirty is a big number. While I think his age is definitely a factor, to me the cause of this decline is his mental game. To be at the top of the tennis world for as long as Djokovic takes incredible levels of focus and determination. In these past few months, I haven’t seen that same level of mental toughness that Djokovic has displayed throughout his dominant stretch. Especially in this recent match with Istomin, Djokovic seemed easily bothered by small things. An example would be anytime Istomin would hit a lucky shot like a net cord, Djokovic would throw his hands up in disbelief. He was extremely vocal, yelling at himself and the chair umpire constantly, and although having fights with chair umpires isn’t that abnormal for a top player, his body language showed a level of vulnerability that Istomin capitalized on. Players don’t feel like he’s unbeatable anymore, and that can lead to even more upsets. Obviously, his career is far from over, Djokovic is an all-time great and will be around for years to come, but as of now his decline is very real and unless he makes a change to stop the bleeding, it will continue.