THE DJOKOVIC MYSTERY

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Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

At his peak, Novak Djokovic dominated.

Late in 2010, he led Serbia to its first-ever Davis Cup and then won three of the next four Grand Slams. He was an unstoppable force. Just ask Federer, Nadal or Murray. But now, like many a great player deep into their careers – Connors, Agassi, Capriati and Davenport all come to mind – Djokovic is struggling mightily. For 233 weeks he reigned as No. 1, but now is No. 18. He’s 6-6 so far this year, and he told Sky TV, “I haven’t lived up to your expectations – not even to my own. It’s hard to deal with these types of gains and defeats. I’ll try to continue and see where it takes me.”

Over the past years, Djokovic has taken a lot of time to do a deep-search journey to touch his soul. He’s worked extensively with a Spanish spiritual teacher, Pepe Imaz, and he told IT that he meditates daily. But some of his decision-making has been suspect. He admitted that he waited too long to get surgery on his right elbow and he came back to the tour too soon. He probably shouldn’t have played Indian Wells and Miami.

His support team is in disarray. Boris Becker, who led him to six Slams, left late in 2016 because he questioned Djokovic’s intent. Experiments to bring on former players Agassi and Radek Stepanek as his coaches faltered, and he fired his physio. Now Djokovic is back with his long-time coach Marian Vajda. Some wonder if he has really ever recovered from the devastating personal issues that hit him in 2016.

He no longer dominates from the baseline. His movement is not what it used to be. Clearly, he no longer intimidates. His confidence has been shattered. He longer closes with certainty. In Madrid he beat Kei Nishikori before falling to Brit Kyle Edmund. Now he’s won his first match in Rome, where he’s a four-time champion. One of the greatest players of all time is not trending in the right direction. But it would be foolish to give up on this popular champion, who is gifted with sublime talent and has prevailed so many times.

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