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Tennis: Battle looming for Djokovic and Murray gets Scot-free

Novak Djokovic before his quarter-final against Marin Cilic at the Paris Masters on Friday. Cilic won 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) to prevent the Serb from retaining the world No. 1 ranking he had held for 28 months.
Novak Djokovic before his quarter-final against Marin Cilic at the Paris Masters on Friday. Cilic won 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) to prevent the Serb from retaining the world No. 1 ranking he had held for 28 months.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • Much as Novak Djokovic tries to disguise it, he is a man beset with problems and the fact that Andy Murray has dislodged him as the world's No. 1 does not figure too highly on the Serb's list of issues.

Ever since he experienced his greatest moment of elation on a tennis court, winning a long-awaited French Open title at Roland Garros, the once buoyant and often gregarious player has struggled for motivation.

After completing the collection of every meaningful title there is to win in the sport, apart from an Olympic gold medal, he does not seem to know where to look next.

Given the growing list of disappointments Djokovic has suffered in the past six months, including an embarrassing exit at Wimbledon, a dreadful performance at the Olympics and a US Open final loss to Stan Wawrinka, it would appear that, having climbed the peak, he is in danger of falling down the other side.

As Djokovic lost the Paris Masters quarter-final to Marin Cilic that effectively opened the door for Murray to become world No. 1, he seemed almost resigned to his fate.

PRAGMATIC VIEW

You can't always expect to win and, in terms of what the future brings to me, that's not in my hands.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC, who has been officially replaced as world No. 1 by Britain's Andy Murray today.

Bereft of the spark that had taken him to 12 Grand Slam titles, he admitted: "You can't always expect to win and, in terms of what the future brings to me, that's not in my hands.

"I have to get to that state of mind where I'm able to perform as well as I want to, match after match. I was not able to find that level for last couple of months."

So, is it purely a case of self-motivation for Djokovic or are there other issues that have prevented him from flourishing in a relaxed state after finally winning the title he craved?

The answer is almost certainly: and he has not been properly fit for months with problems up and down his right arm, from wrist to shoulder taking in the elbow along the way.

The injuries caused him to pull out of prestigious tournaments in Cincinnati and Beijing, and require on-court treatment in every other event he's contested.

Yet, surprisingly, coaches Boris Becker and Marian Vajda were not the only absentees from his entourage in Paris last week.

The Serb's long-trusted physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic was also not required - with the mysterious Spaniard Jose 'Pepe' Imaz assuming the role as head of the support team.

Clearly Djokovic is seeking new inspiration from Imaz, who preaches a philosophy of Amor Y Paz (Love and Peace) as the overriding factors when coaching tennis.

Group hugs and affection are all well and good but, as the well-used tennis phrase correctly points out, in this sport love equals nothing.

Plus there is continued speculation that all is not well in Djokovic's marriage, with the rumour mill going into weekly overdrive.

Djokovic is insistent that Becker and Vajda will return to an integral role this week as he begins his preparations to defend the ATP World Tour Finals title at the London 02 Arena that he has held for the past four years but it will be curious to see how much influence the pair exert.

Many of his predecessors as usurped world No. 1s have quickly disappeared from the sport.

Could Djokovic follow, given the fact he will turn 30 next spring and has been winning Grand Slam titles since 2008?

But he insisted: "I love this sport. I love being on the tour. I'm also aware that I have responsibilities, being one of the top players and being in this privileged position."

This year is the first since 2011 that Djokovic has not dominated the lucrative tournaments that heighten the climax to the end of the season.

With one tournament remaining in London, that stands to become a glorious British homecoming for Murray, Djokovic has many questions to answer.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2016, with the headline 'Battle looming for Djokovic as his rival gets off Scot-free'. Print Edition | Subscribe