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June 6, 2018
By Max Kelang, Contributing Columnist
Back from elbow surgery in January of 2017, Novak Djokovic showed
flashes of his signature brilliance in the clay court season of 2018. He
had played solid tennis in the lead up to Roland Garros, losing in the
round of 16 to Domonic Thiem and reaching the semi-finals against the
King of Clay in Rome. It was enough of an achievement to remind us all
of the massive talent of Djokovic. I, for one, was looking forward to a
deep run by Djokovic in Roland Garros.
And he almost got there. Facing Italian Marco Cecchinato, Djokovic had
every right to expect almost a walkover. I mean, who is Marco
Cecchinato after all? Ranked at the start of Roland Garros at World
Number 72, Cecchinato had never won a Grand Slam match before the
tournament. None of that mattered. In a thrilling display of strategic
tennis, Cecchinato exposed Djokovic's forehand and his nerves, and
booked a 4-set victory over the 12-time Grand slam champion.
Djokovic Is No Longer the Djokovic of Old
Despite his gains in recent month, his better results, Djokovic is still a
shadow of his former self in one important aspect -- mental toughness.
Mental toughness was the bed rock of Djokovic's game. Once beset by
breathing problems brought on, some believed by nerves, Djokovic
transformed his game by transforming his thinking. He did not allow fro
doubt, not an ounce. He willed himself to believe that he was the best
player in the world, that he could beat anyone, anywhere on any
surface. He proved that by winning 12 Grand Slam titles on all surfaces.
But that Djokovic is gone. The Djokovic of today hired then fired then
re-hired his coaching team. The Djokovic of today hired a guru to fix
his head while on tour. He is noticeably less steady in his temperament,
even yelling at ball boys on occasion and seeming to give up in 5 set
Some have pointed to his marriage and status as a new father as the
source of the emergence of this new Djokovic but no one really knows.
Federer seemed to integrate his status as a father with more
equilibrium and ease.
From where I sit, it appears that Djokovic might have hurt his drive to
win by becoming a family man in his twenties. There used to almost an
unwritten rule that active players should not marry, especially those in
the prime of their careers. Todays players are more likely to break that
old rule, some more successfully than others.
Djokovic Will Win More Grand Slams
Nonetheless, I believe that there are more Grand Slams in Djokovic's
future. The evidence is his reaction after losing to Cecchinato. He went
directly to a small interview room, one without a microphone or a
stenographer to record his remarks. He was seething, barely able to sit
through the few minutes of the press interview before bolting.
One thing I have seen since I began watching tennis in the late 1970's
--- show me a good loser and I will show you a loser. Champions love
to win. But more than that, they hate to lose, to anyone.
The fact that the fires of anger were so hot after his lost to Cecchinato
bodes well for Djokovic for the remainder of the season and his career.
He is still only 30, young enough to sustain that anger and use it to
continue to elevate his form for several more years, baring injury.
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|Djokovic will win more Grand Slams.