Success catches up with Djokovic
Every major triumph has its inevitable after-effects, as Novak Djokovic can vouch for. One month on from winning the French Open, the Serb suffered a first-week exit at Wimbledon, his first such elimination in a Grand Slam tournament in seven years. "I knew that mentally it would not be easy to remotivate myself after Roland-Garros", said the world number one, who has completed the career slam in Paris.
Following his third-round defeat to Sam Querrey at the All England Club, Djokovic had a tacit confession to make, acknowledging that he was always going to struggle to lift himself after completing a career Grand Slam in Paris: "It’s an amazing feeling obviously to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time. Coming into Wimbledon, I knew that mentally it would not be easy to remotivate myself after Roland-Garros. I've tried find ways to get inspired, and give my best, but my best wasn’t enough this year."
After putting so much energy into winning the French, a title he has craved for many years and which had eluded him in three previous final appearances, Djokovic can be excused for feeling weary.
The world number one’s last Grand Slam first-week exit came at Roland Garros in 2009, while Saturday’s defeat to the big-serving American – the shock result of the opening week at Wimbledon – was his first loss in one of the big four tournaments since going down to Stan Wawrinka in last year’s final in Paris. What made it all the more surprising was the fact he had been in such superlative form in the French capital, where he became the first man to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time since Rod Laver in 1969, the year the Australian completed a calendar-year clean sweep.
"I believe in positive things in life", commented the Serb, refusing to be downhearted after his loss to Querrey. "I managed to win four Grand Slams in a row - two different seasons, though. I want to try to focus on that rather than on failure." Keen to emulate Laver’s feat following his long-awaited French triumph, "Nole" will have to wait until next year before having another crack at the ultimate achievement in tennis.
The world’s leading player unquestionably has the game and the legs to do it, and the determination, having made his intentions clear in that respect. Yet, as Serena Williams can testify, tennis is as much a mental challenge as anything. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that no two Grand Slams are harder to win back-to-back than the French and Wimbledon. Factor in the pressure that comes with trying to make a little piece of tennis history, and the stakes become even higher, not that Djokovic admitted to feeling any more nervous because of that: "I don’t think it played as big of a factor, to be honest."
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Though that response, it has to be said, was not entirely convincing, the world number one continued to play down his loss to Querrey: "It’s not the first time that I’ve lost a Grand Slam match, or any match for that matter. I know what to do. First things first – put my mind at ease and just relax. Think about something different."
Mapping out his path to mental refreshment and a return to his relentlessly winning ways, he added: "I have a family and a life outside tennis. I’m obviously going to pay more attention to those things than tennis in the next period. I need it. It’s been a very successful year so far, but a very long, exhausting one, in every sense of that word. I need some rest." Despite his shock exit, the all-conquering Djokovic can at least take satisfaction from the fact that his weariness is but a reflection of the scale of his recent achievements.