News analysis

Is Djokovic struggling with second serve?

Rarely can so many disbelieving eyes have been trained on Novak Djokovic.

The whole of tennis was watching the best player in the world lose the plot, the match and - however briefly - his aura on Court No. 1 at Wimbledon on Saturday, and it was not a pretty spectacle.

It wasn't just Sam Querrey, the world No. 41, looking out for the merest hint of vulnerability as he served his way to a 7-6 (8-6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5) win, the biggest Wimbledon upset of recent seasons.

There was also a dwindling section of the locker room still in contention who, for all their respect for the defending champion who started the season dreaming of a calendar-year Grand Slam, would as soon see him on the plane back to Belgrade as moving into the fourth round.

So, what went wrong - and what does Djokovic's shock expulsion mean for Andy Murray, Roger Federer and the other hopefuls?

The Scot (Murray) has been catapulted into outright favouritism. The Swiss (Federer), though, will also fancy his chances. The likelihood is they will meet in the final for a second time.

The Scot has been catapulted into outright favouritism. The Swiss, though, will also fancy his chances. The likelihood is they will meet in the final for a second time.

Federer's last Slam victory was in 2012, when he beat Murray under the roof. Murray's last Slam success was in glorious sunshine a year later, when he beat Djokovic. This is a delicious cycle of history.

As to what went wrong, one man thinks he knows.

A week ago, John Alexander - the former Australian doubles star and newly-returned Liberal Member of Parliament for the Sydney seat of Bennelong - predicted trouble for Djokovic.

"There will appear some cracks in his game," Alexander said. "At the Australian Open, there was a hint of what's going on in his mind, because he'd slowed his first serve down to about 185kmh. He was getting a very high percentage of first serves in, but, at one point, he served two double faults in a row.

"I got the feeling that he's lost confidence in his second serve and that's why he's slowing his first serve down. Whether he's lost confidence or he has a little bit of the yips I don't know, but it looked edgy.

"It's happened to other great players. They get the yips in their second serve and it's the beginning of the end. Under pressure over five sets on a surface where serving is very important, maybe that will surface?"

How correct Alexander was in that regard.

Last year, Djokovic's average first-serve speed was 188kmh, his second serve 156kmh. In this tournament, he has been way down the overall maximum speed list, 49th at 196kmh; and on Saturday, his power slippage was marked.

He hit that highwater mark once, but was averaging 179kmh first time (8kmh slower than last year), and 150kmh on second serve (down 6kmh).

The visual evidence was more disturbing: Djokovic lacked zest. There would appear to be a physical as much as a mental problem, because he has frightening inner strength under pressure and there was plenty of that in this third-round match.

Yet, he could not find a way.

He was understandably downbeat at the press conference and admitted he just wanted to get out of the place as soon as possible.

All of a sudden, that makes this tournament a whole lot more interesting.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Is Djokovic struggling with second serve?'. Print Edition | Subscribe