Per­plexed Djokovic searches for way out of malaise

Weekend Herald - - KRIS SHANNON'S WORLD OF SPORT - Eleanor Crooks

No­vak Djokovic’s 30th birth­day ar­rives at a cross­roads in the Ser­bian’s il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer.

Can Djokovic turn around the slump that sud­denly set in dur­ing the fi­nal year of his 20s or will his great­est mo­ment also prove to be his last great mo­ment?

When he lifted the Coupe des Mous­que­taires in Paris last June, Djokovic was on top of the ten­nis world in a way no man had been in more than 40 years.

Djokovic had not just em­u­lated Roger Fed­erer and Rafael Nadal, he had sur­passed them, be­com­ing the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four grand slam ti­tles at the same time.

Where was the weak­ness for his ri­vals to ex­ploit? Djokovic had closed to within five of Fed­erer’s then record of 17 slam sin­gles ti­tles and over­tak­ing the Swiss seemed a real pos­si­bil­ity.

It was in­con­ceiv­able that, a year on, the man who had won 16 of his pre­vi­ous 24 tour­na­ments would not only have failed to add an­other slam ti­tle but would have claimed just two in to­tal while suf­fer­ing a suc­ces­sion of shock de­feats.

All those cer­tain­ties — his foot­work, his back­hand, his mind — have spi­ralled down­wards to­gether in a knotty mess that he has so far been un­able to un­pick.

Per­haps Djokovic’s 30th birth­day will prove the wa­ter­shed mo­ment he needs.

His de­ci­sion to part with his longterm team of Mar­ian Va­jda — a sec­ond fa­ther fig­ure — Geb­hard Phil- Gritsch and Mil­jan Amanovic was a dras­tic move but one that seemed to show that, what­ever he is lack­ing, it is no longer hunger.

Djokovic has been fight­ing for his place his whole ca­reer.

First to move beyond his coun­try’s trou­bles and then to find his own space in the ten­nis spotlight dom­i­nated by two of the most loved play­ers in his­tory.

As Djokovic him­self mem­o­rably put it, the wolf run­ning up the hill is much hun­grier than the wolf stand­ing on top of the hill.

When he fi­nally won the French Open in his fourth fi­nal, the wolf not only al­lowed him­self to sur­vey the scene but also re­alised how tough the climb had been.

Per­sonal trou­bles took his mind fur­ther off the court and the wolves that had been lick­ing their wounds charged up the hill and seized their chance.

Djokovic, mean­while, moved from wolf to dove, choos­ing the path of in­ner peace and love preached by Pepe Imaz.

The Spa­niard re­mains part of team Djokovic but the search for on- court en­light­en­ment goes on, and now the for­mer world No 1 is hunt­ing for a new coach and a voice to help him find his way back to the top.

“I feel like this is a new chap­ter in my life,” Djokovic said.

“My ca­reer was al­ways on the up­ward path and this time, I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing how it is when the path takes you in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

“I want to find a way to come back to the top stronger and more re­silient.

“I am a hunter and my big­gest goal is to find the win­ning spark on the court again.”

No­vak Djokovic

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages / Herald graphic

Pic­ture / AP

No­vak Djokovic has won just two tour­na­ments in the past year.

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