Novak Djokovic’s journey back to superstar form appears ready to occur sooner rather than later. After losing to a qualifier in the French Open quarterfinals, it was evident that Djokovic’s injury troubles were hindering his performance.
But this week at the Queen’s Club Championships, the Serb put on a display of superb tennis. He would make his first final at an ATP tournament since the Rome Masters 1000 event in May 2017.
Although his opponent Marin Cilic would come away with the victory in a hard-fought three-setter, it appears that the Serbian fan favourite is knocking on the door to making a return to greatness that saw him reach #1 in the world.
Novak Takes Tumble in Rankings Due to Injury
After winning the 2016 French Open to give him the Career Grand Slam, Djokovic was at the peak of his game. He was the top player in the world and had just won his 12th Major.
Given the injuries and age that had hindered Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s performance at the time, Djokovic was making a case to go on and win the most Grand Slam tournaments of all time.
During the stretch from 2011 to 2016, Djokovic dominated the game. In two of those years, he would win three of the four Majors. And from Wimbledon 2015 to French Open 2016, Djokovic all four Major trophies at once. He even has a winning head-to-head record over Federer (23-22) and Nadal (26-25).
To see someone who would take control of his matches with his relentless defense and groundstrokes, not being able to because of injury, leaves a giant hole in a sport relying on its top stars for revenue and popularity. This is why Novak Djokovic’s comeback will be crucial to see if he can compete once again with the household names of tennis and generate success on the tour.
Djokovic Showcases Glimpses of Former Self Against Cilic
En route to the Queen’s Club Final, Djokovic had not dropped a set. In all those matches, the Serb had an average first serve percentage of over 60%, crucial in dictating points early with his powerful groundstrokes.
But his opponent in the final would prove to be a great deal tougher. Croatian Marin Cilic boasts one of the fiercest forehands on tour. He made the Australian Open Final earlier this year, losing to Federer in five sets. And his success on the grass courts has been evident as in 2017 he was a finalist at both Queen’s and Wimbledon.
At the start of the match, it was clear Cilic had the earlier edge, running Djokovic around the court with carefully crafted shots. But after saving six break point opportunities, Djokovic would strike first to win the first set 7-5 in 67 minutes.
Novak showed his defensive prowess in the second set, giving him the opportunity to win his 69th ATP title with a match point. But Cilic saved a match point, came back from 4-1 down to force a tiebreaker, which he ended up winning 7-4.
The Cilic we have seen this year came alive in the third set. Despite only serving 48% for the entire match, he would be able to raise his game, winning 85% of his first serve points to wear down the fatigued Djokovic. Cilic would win the third set 6-3, en route to his first ATP title of 2018.
While the Croat was beaming with joy after winning, he was happy to see Djokovic back being competitive.
“Novak had such a great week, and it’s really good to see him coming back so well, health‑wise, playing at the top level,” Cilic said. “Last year I had a match point and couldn’t convert it, this year it was Novak. I definitely am relieved. I’ve waited six years to win again.”
Djokovic Close but Expectations are Low
It was clear that the Serbian superstar was grateful to be back competing for tournaments. After being off for so long, the tennis world is joyful to see his return and continued success.
“It’s a tough loss but I have to see it from a positive side,” says Djokovic. “I haven’t been in any finals for a year, so this felt great. It came at the right time ahead of Wimbledon, the most prestigious tournament in the world, and I’ve had the fortune to win it three times.”
Even after a fantastic result at Queen’s, Djokovic is realistic about his chances for winning the upcoming Wimbledon Championships.
“I have to keep my expectations very low, considering my results in the last 12 months,” he said.
Tennis players, like Djokovic, often are very modest about the state of their game. We can never truly be conscious of their feelings on a day-to-day, match-to-match, basis.
But for the Serbian, his result from Queen’s shows he is close to reaching that top form from a few years ago.
So is it foolish to count him out of Wimbledon? It is safe to expect the unexpected with Djokovic.
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