Remember when Roger Federer was losing to just about everyone? How about when Andy Murray on his comeback trail could barely compete with top players? Or maybe even when Spaniard Rafael Nadal looked like he may never make another Slam quarterfinal again? All the big names in our sport have had periods where they’ve struggled, just like Novak Djokovic is experiencing now; it just seems many people have forgotten about that.
In 2013, Roger Federer found himself going into Wimbledon with five consecutive losses against Top 10 players. This was followed by a second-round loss as defending champion at Wimbledon to World #116 Sergiy Stakhovsky, ending his streak of ten consecutive quarter-finals or better at the All-England Club. Things only got worse with back-to-back straight set losses against World #114 Federico Delbonis and German Daniel Brands. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, in the final Major of the year he found himself on the wrong end of a rout from Tommy Robredo, someone who he had beaten all ten previous times while just dropping three sets. Following that loss came a better but still disappointing fall with no titles, or wins against top four opposition.
A year later, Andy Murray was still on the comeback trail and it took him until September to reach his first final of the year. Before that came nine losses to players outside the Top 10, including four losses to those outside the Top 35. Whilst he was still impressively making some quarter- and semifinals of events, he found himself more often than not getting destroyed by his fellow big rivals. In fact, for the whole year he found himself with a 0-9 record against Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer combined, winning just two sets. That includes a match where he only won a single game against the Swiss man and six games against the Spaniard over three sets on the clay at Roland Garros.
The same can be said about Rafael Nadal and his comeback in 2015 after appendix surgery late 2014. The current World #1 found himself without a single Grand Slam semifinal all year–and in the two quarter-finals he did make, he didn’t win a single set, not even against Tomas Berdych (whom he had beaten 17 times in a row, just dropping a handful of sets). He actually found himself just winning two games in the first two sets against the Czech, including receiving a bagel. For the first nine months of the year, the King of Clay found himself winning just two of a possible nine matches against Top 10 opposition, whilst other losses include against two to players outside the Top 100. Against the likes of Djokovic, Federer, and Murray he went 1-6, with just a single set won in the losses.
Novak Djokovic is no different. Yes, the former World #1 has disappointingly not made a quarterfinal this whole season, but we need to realize that prior to the start of the season the 12-time Grand Slam champion hadn’t played a single match in six months. Let’s not forget that after his comeback began at the Australian Open he has since had elbow surgery just to further add to the matter.
His results may be somewhat worse than the other three had during the periods I mentioned, but at the same time the end result is still the same–early losses almost every event to players he shouldn’t be losing to. All I’m going to ask is this: when those other guys weren’t playing well in the periods I mentioned, did you ever think they were completely done? If you did, they proved you wrong as all came back to win at least one more Grand Slam and become #1 (again).
Djokovic’s game looks to be improving despite the losses, and in an interview recently he said he still loves the sport which is why he keeps playing. With that motivation the only way is up. It will be a long hard road which could take several more months or even the whole season, but you would have to be a fool to completely write him off.