Novak Djokovic : Is the monster waiting to get out?

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Novak Djokovic : Is the monster waiting to get out?

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Subhayan Dutta

06/05/2018

Novak Djokovic was clearly not the favorite against Fernando Verdasco after his near four-hour struggle against Roberto Bautista Agut last round. However, the Serb played some magnificent strokes in his win against the Spaniard, hinting that he has finally started breaking his mental shackles.

For those who are well-acquainted with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the franchise did grave injustice for its audience in the ‘Infinity Movie’, where they never unleashed the invincible green monster off Bruce Banner’s body which surfaced quite a few times but never really came out to create the havoc that he is known for. However, it only points to the fact that we would eventually see him in the big fight in the second installment. 

Watching Djokovic against the explosive Verdasco in his last Rolland Garros game was very similar. The Serb went on with his scrappy winners repeatedly, but occasionally did show signs of getting back to his old, imperious form. It was like the magical grease was again seeping slowly into his worn and torn machinery, which had suffered for months, and was getting its elements back one at a time with each and every clinical winner.

The old Novak Djokovic, who became stronger the longer the game stretched was resurfacing. His win against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut had lasted an industrious three hours and 48 minutes across four hard-fought sets, before he had emerged victorious 6-4, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-2. While many saw it as a lucky escape, perhaps one of the last ones for the Serb, the win against Verdasco had indicated that Djokovic was making a habit of it.

Coming back from an elbow injury, the world had set its eye on the baseline maestro with immense expectations. Especially after what the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had done in the last one year. Coming to the 2017 season as the world No. 16 in ATP Rankings, the Swiss maestro went on to win the Australian Open and the Wimbledon that were among the seven title he had won last year. Nadal had a similar downward curve in 2016 as he had to prematurely end the season owing to a wrist injury by pulling out of French Open before he returned in 2017 to win six titles that included the US Open and the Rolland Garros.

Hence, since Djokovic has returned to the big stage following his injury, everyone has been seeking a similar fairytale ending for the 12-time major champion. It was very important for the Serbian not to get carried away with the initial fumbles, some of which brought a premature end to his campaign through frustrating defeats like in Indian Wells, Miami, and Barcelona before he finally produced a slight spark in the Italian Open before losing to Nadal in the semis.

In this age of social media, where every quality of a top athlete is revered and every flaw debated over repeatedly by experts and critics, Djokovic wasn’t spared either. From criticizing his decision to get back with old coach Marian Vajda, to questioning his dietary habits, having self-belief was Djokovic’s biggest challenge. 

“What we are seeing are the results of anorexia that can be defined as the obsession for a diet based only on apparent healthy food. Djokovic looked for a radical solution in his diet without considering the long-term consequences. And reducing carbohydrates and totally avoiding the sugar is a big error. At the begining you feel stronger because cells start to store more oxygen but muscled produce less and less lactic acid. The moment when he starts losing the possibility to produce and burn lactic, results are dramatic,” Swiss nutritionist Jürg Hösli had claimed.

He had even added that Djokovic would “feel even worse when he reaches the limit of his strength, he will suffer stress issues as the quality of sleep decreases and a social isolation of the person gets produced.”

Finishing two back to back tedious games had definitely pushed Djokovic to his limits and what we instead saw was a fallen hero slowly getting his pieces back. While experts and critics would still see his one-sided 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win against Verdasco as a cagey with quite a few unforced errors (29) that were more than his winners, his fans would actually revel at his beautiful crosscourt backhands that showed signs of his nimble elbows getting strength again and was a tremendous tool in winning rallies. 

However, make no mistake here. The win against Verdasco still saw many of Djokovic’s down-the-line backhands going haywire, his drop shots falling short in his own court and his groundstrokes nowhere near at the proper distance. But, Djokovic remained indifferent towards them like a newcomer who was solely focused to just grind himself in the tedious journey and get the basics right in the first three-set that alone took 30 minutes. With time, Djokovic improved and drastically. He ended the game with 73 percent of his first serves and winning 69 % of points behind his second serve. By the end, his swinging groundstrokes were also finding the perfect places landing within a few inches of the baseline with regularity.

While many have credited Djokovic’s unbelievably easy draw for his success at Roland Garros so far, his falling back to old coach Marian Vajda has been evidently effective. The duo has produced a whopping 12 Grand Slam titles in the past and being almost like a family member, Vadja has known Djokovic very well. However, even he acknowledged that the player was slowly coming back to his might self and was nowhere near his regular self.

Djokovic remains the favourite to overcome his former Italian practice partner Marco Cecchinato before he faces the winner between Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, who have stamina, form, and momentum going their way before he goes on to play the final where would meet Nadal in all probability. Before regaining all his precision and vision on the court, Djoker needed his body to be fully committed to his cause - something his last two wins against Bautista and Verdasco have given him. And it looks just a matter of time before we can see the Hulk coming exuding out.

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