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By Chris Oddo | Friday September 30, 2016

 
Djokovic

Novak Djokovic opens up to reporters, telling them he wants to put the passion back in his tennis.

Photo Source: AP

Novak Djokovic made headlines today in Belgrade (that’s what World No. 1 tennis players do when they speak to media), but in a different way than he normally does.

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Normally, Djokovic makes headlines by winning matches, matches and more matches. The Serb has won 199 of them since the beginning of 2014, and six Grand Slam titles, which doubled his total and put him smack dab into the conversation among the all-time greats, tied with Roy Emerson and sneaking up on Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras on the all-time major title list like a thief in the night.

But we found out today that there has been an emotional toll taken. Djokovic’s intense, tireless quest for more wins, more titles and more accolades has been a grind and he’s starting to tire—but not in a physical sense. Sure, the Serb, who will turn 30 next May, has had an alarming share of nagging injuries, but if there has been any real crisis in Djokovic’s game since he completed the career Grand Slam with his first Roland Garros title in spring, it has been an emotional one.

Well, crisis is a strong word. Let’s go with and emotional dilemma. Djokovic opened up to reporters in Belgrade this week and told them that he hasn’t really felt right emotionally since his French Open title. “Since Roland Garros I haven’t succeeded in finding emotional fulfillment on court,” he said, according to translator Ana Mitrić. “I felt too psychologically burdened in pre-tournament training and official matches, and I didn’t like that at all because I don’t play tennis only to win titles and be No. 1 in the world.”

It’s interesting that Djokovic, always known as a soulful, deep thinker, is re-thinking his approach at this stage of his career. Naturally, the media is looking heavily into the fact that Djokovic said he doesn’t play tennis only to win titles and be No. 1, but clearly Djokovic’s words don’t mean that he’s lost any desire to compete or to succeed. It just sounds like he wants a little better balance in his life. He wants to avoid being a machine and instead to be a human. Perhaps it could be perceived as a step down in commitment, and the beginning of the end of Djokovic’s domination, but from where I’m standing it sounds like he’s an athlete that is preparing to recommit to greatness on his own terms.

“I want once again to enjoy every training and every moment I spend on court,” he said. “The psychological approach and attitude is changing and I want neither to talk nor to think at all about No. 1 or winning titles.”


A lot has happened in Djokovic’s life in recent years with marriage, fatherhood and astronomical success in tennis. Maybe he’s been so busy with the success part of the equation that he hasn’t had time to come to terms with his own role as a father and a husband.

It’s refreshing to hear that Djokovic is so self-aware that he can actually realize the need for change and evolution and embrace it. As a younger player he was always intense, fiery and driven, but he was also a free spirit. He was warm, inviting, quick to laugh or play a joke. Maybe somewhere along the line he found that a certain innocence had been lost. Maybe his wife tipped him off?

Whatever the case, there’s no need to read into Djokovic’s comments as a back-step in commitment. This is a man who is curious, and eager to find what he feels has been missing since the spring. He’s not a man retreating or saying his best days are behind him.

If anything Djokovic is searching for the answers, for the way to prolong this magical ride. At 29, he’s heading into the legacy building years of his career. He may not want to talk about titles or holding on to the No. 1 ranking, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t dying to win just as badly as he always has been—he just wants to have a little fun and feel a little more free while doing it.

 

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