For a couple of old ladies, a routine daily walk in Belgrade delivered a memorable moment last week. They bumped into Novak Djokovic and promptly took a picture. Djokovic shared the beaming image on his Twitter page, exclaiming delightfully that he was back home and making new friends.
Djokovic, of course, was only in Belgrade because his stint at the Madrid Open was ended in the second round by Kyle Edmund. While it was a tightly contested match that extended to three sets, this was the latest setback in a stumbling comeback for Djokovic.
The clay court season began encouragingly for the once mighty Serb with a couple of wins in Monte Carlo in April, but subsequently he has been beaten by 140th ranked Martin Klizan in Barcelona and 22nd ranked Edmund. It was in fact, his first loss at the hands of Edmund in four matches. The only positive for Djokovic from Madrid was an encouraging straight sets win over Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the first round.
Though Djokovic showed signs of finding his best form, especially in the second set of the clash against Edmund, he continues to struggle to rediscover the menace in his once formidable game. Since returning at the start of the year after missing the second half of 2017 with an elbow injury, the former world number one has lost six of his twelve matches.
He’s been cheery in public appearances and made attempts at overhauling his off-court methods by parting ways with coaches Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek and reconnecting with childhood coach Marian Vajda, but somehow body and mind are yet to align.
“There are obvious things that are not working well for me,” he said without elaborating on what those were. “But I have to keep working on them and pray that — and hope that — my game will get stronger, get better as the matches go the distance.”
As the clay court season heads towards its crescendo, the French Open at the end of the month, Djokovic will be desperately eager to construct a strong sequence at the Italian Open next week. He has won the title on four occasions in Rome and also reached the final in both 2016 & 2017, making this among his happier hunting grounds on the surface.
“I think he’s going step-by-step to be able to recover and be at the category he deserves.” said Rafael Nadal, no stranger himself to bouncing back from injury. “What Novak did on this sport is amazing. He will continue doing a lot of great things in the future. I don’t have any doubt of that.”
By his own admission, Djokovic wasn’t entirely healthy on his return to competitive action in Australia at the turn of the year, forcing him to play through the pain and subsequently undergo surgery.
Keen observers reckon Djokovic needs to find the accuracy on his serve again, a key component of his precise playing style that relies on solid groundstrokes off both flanks. It was at the French Open in 2016 of course, when Djokovic achieved the career Grand Slam by clinching the title. Two years on, he continues to battle an inexplicable extended funk. However, Djokovic is still only 30 and continues to believe that a resurgence is not beyond him.
“Nobody is forcing me to play this sport,” he said. “I do it because I like it. I want to do it. And that’s something also that makes me fortunate to play the sport.
“So that’s where I draw my strength. And as long as I keep going, as long as I love the sport, I’ll keep going. And that’s all it is.”
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.