Home > Opinion, Tennis > Envisioning the Future: Novak Djokovic’s New Challenge

Envisioning the Future: Novak Djokovic’s New Challenge

What Novak Djokovic has achieved in the past year and a half is phenomenal. It is not just a hall-of-fame worthy effort, but it is worthy of its own chapter for the history books. And yet, as unfair as it may seem, history is what he will be judged against. Five Grand Slam titles, and a year on top of the rankings is just not enough to compete against the guys who are his contemporaries.

Djokovic is already close to being a tier-2 great. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are one step ahead in the top tier of greats. It is a hard step to take—to jump a tier. John McEnroe endured years of frustration at the hands of Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl, Lendl skipped majors in his unsuccessful quest for Wimbledon, and Agassi had to completely reinvent himself just to get to the second tier. Federer had to sustain years of excellence. Nadal had to overcome a plethora of disappointments, and keep reinventing his game. For Djokovic, it will be a combination of both.

He has already found that there will be periods where he will not play at the level he did in 2011. He overcome that in Australia, but couldn’t do that in Paris—despite making it clear right from the start of the year that winning in Paris was one of priorities. Even though he was on the edge in Paris, this is a devastating loss, the same way as it was last year when he dominated the year, and the clay season against the greatest clay court player, only to lose out on the biggest prize of them all. He skipped the tune up tournaments ahead of Wimbledon, and the rest is history. That was Djokovic’s first test towards greatness. He passed it with flying colors.

The next few months—with Wimbledon, Olympics and US Open ahead—will be his next biggest test. Will he overcome the disappointment of losing out on a golden opportunity of achieving the “Novak-slam?” Will he be relieved now that the pressure is off, or will the motivation fade away?

Nadal always says that losing is not something that is an aberration. It is a norm. For a player of his caliber, it may not necessarily mean on the match to match level, but more at a tournament level. But it is true. In the open era, only Federer has been able to maintain long streaks. Greatness is established not by creating a streak, but by creating a second one when the first one ends. And a third when the second one ends. Or to give it all to maintain an existing streak. This is what Federer has done for so long. This is what Nadal is striving hard to do.

As you may have noticed, Djokovic’s future of tennis, like this article, is tied to those of his successful peers—Federer and Nadal. No matter how much he achieves, he is in an era where there will always be comparisons—many times unfair ones. And this is what is in store for Djokovic. From being somebody who is always compared, to become the source to which all the future comparisons are made.

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