Novak Djokovic has been the best player in tennis between 2011 and 2016. In that span he has lost the top ranking two times, but recaptured it later on. Now he has lost it again, but this time to Andy Murray. 2016 started out well for the Serb, but he really fell off in the second half of the season. Now at the start of 2017, Novak Djokovic has a lot of points to defend if he wants to recoup the top spot in men’s tennis. Despite the contrast of his first and second half, Djokovic only slid to no. 2 in the world and has a large edge over no. 3, Milos Raonic in rankings points. At the very end of 2016 he seemed to pick it up a little bit when he reach the final of the ATP World Tour Finals, but lost to Andy Murray, a player whom he had won a majority of meetings with.
From reading people’s comments on social media and other places, many seem to believe that this is the beginning of the end for the Serb, but I am sure Djokovic himself would have a thing or two to say about that. In 2012 and 2014 when he lost the top ranking, he either reclaimed the ranking later on in the season or the following season. The difference here is that now he is 29 and will be 30. This is the age where Federer and Nadal started to go downhill. With age a factor, there is some merit to the idea that he could be declining, but I disagree with the notion.
I firmly believe that Djokovic will have a strong 2017
Entering this season, the doubters will be circling like vultures over Djokovic’s head. In defending his title at Doha in a fierce three-set victory over world no. 1 Andy Murray, Djokovic quashed these doubters for the time being. In doing so he inched closer to proving that he has plenty of great tennis left in him the second half of 2016 was a lull rather than an ending.
For me, I believe that after winning the French Open in June, Djokovic had completed his goals for the time being. He was so exuberant and content that he lost his drive; he had nothing else to achieve at the time other than the lofty 17 Slam total of Roger Federer. He suffered from a victory hangover. When his lackluster play finally caught up to him in he form of losing the world no. 1 ranking, it was a wakeup call. He had not been himself and he knew it.
What also seems to be lost in this drama is how great a second half Andy Murray had. While Novak faltered down the stretch, Murray was busy playing the best tennis of his life. Murray won the Olympics, Wimbledon, Shanghai, and the World Tour Finals all in the second half of the season.
At age 29, slip like this is quite concerning, but the thing is that this is 2017. 30 and over is not how it used to be. People play into their thirties these days. Additionally, Djokovic peaked out in his age 28/29 season which would make a rapid decline as such much less plausible. 30 is only one year older than 29. If a player plays his best tennis at 29, then why not a similar level at 30? Looking at his game and physique would suggest Djokovic has longevity too. He is incredibly fast, lean, and fit. Unlike Nadal he does not play a ruthless game that wears down his knees. Instead he just wears down opponents with longevity: who can run for the longest?
With a title victory in Doha over a recently excellent Murray, perhaps Djokovic has rediscovered himself. I highly doubt his faltering in 2016 is the last we’ll see of his excellence and he will win many more Slam titles (17 maybe?) Up next will be a real test in defending his 2016 Australian open title. Is he back to his 2015 level? We’ll see.