The Journey from Mental Toughness to Mental Lapses - What is wrong with Novak Djokovic? ( Part I)

Just 3 years back, nothing could go wrong with Novak Djokovic whose historic 70-6 record in 2011 was considered as amongst the best ever in tennis history. Not only this, his comeback wins from match points down had given him a nickname of Rasputin of tennis – the player who refuses to die. 

The world was just perfect for Novak Djokovic. Nothing could go wrong it seems and then suddenly a wave of transformation hit him. All of a sudden, from the Rasputin of tennis, he has now become one of the most vulnerable tennis players when it comes to crunch situations.

More often than not, there seems to be a hollow look in his eyes during the matches when he is in the latter stages of the matches. You could see a line of doubt in his eyes and as a fan you know that he is going to falter sooner than later. The fiery wide eyes which used to be a common sight earlier on in 2011, has been replaced with a slightly dejected look, not to mention even his receiving stance has changed.

It is not surprising that even in the matches in which he has the lead, he seems to be falling apart. Even by his own standards, he admitted about his mental lapses and hired Boris Becker specifically to address this issue this year.
What is more interesting is that this trend only seems to be there in Grand Slams big stages? During the other tournaments, he is pretty much the invincible Djokovic of 2011.
I really suspect and this might be a speculation but this all started during last year French Open - when at 4-3 and deuce in the fifth he had a simple volley on top of the net, but was so eager that he could not stop himself running into the cord before the ball had bounced twice, therefore losing the point.

Had he won the point, the outcome could have been totally different and as it happened, Rafael Nadal went on to win probably the most important match of Djokovic’s career as the victory denied Djokovic the golden opportunity of achieving his Career Grand Slam.

And since that crucial point in French Open semifinal in 2012, if we look at Djokovic Grand slam record, it has never been the same. He has gone on to lose matches in grand slams in which he has had lead on his opponents during so many sets. He has not been able to make a strong comeback against Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray since then in grand slams. Not only that he has failed to take any one of them to a five set match whereas just two years back, it was a normal phenomenon. He has lost in the last 3 grand slams finals in which he has played (which in my opinion is complete injustice to the talent that he has) 

So one has to wonder what is wrong with him really?

To me it seems the French Open net cord point still seems to subconsciously affect him in crunch situations…He has yet not been able to shrug it off completely as one would think.

That net cord is the difference why Djokovic does not have a career grand slam in his list of accomplishments – something that has been achieved by only a handful of players in tennis history so far.

It has now resulted into Djokovic giving up leads in sets, not only that he plays cautiously during the crunch moments and feels the pressure to such an extent that he committed a double fault at match point during French Open finals this year. Yes, the fan shouted in between the serve motion but then athletes are trained to handle such distractions. Do you think the 2011 Djokovic wouldn’t have handled it? 

 So what can he really do to overcome this recurrence of events in his life? Any thoughts..

 I will be back with my views tomorrow with PART II where in I will write down my thoughts on how Djokovic can overcome this….

In 2012 just before Australian Open, I wrote on how Nadal can overcome his mental barrier against Djokovic consecutive 6 losses and we all know what happened after that… here is the link:

Who knows this time it may be Djokovic’s time for a turnaround ;)

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