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Another defeat for Djokovic. Is the last of the holy trinity lacking motivation? | Tennis News

We are well into the third month of the year and Novak Djokovic continues not to be himself. He has played two very important competitive tennis tournaments so far (not counting the United Cup) and has failed to live up to his billing. Not something you would expect from a player of that class and calibre.

Is Novak Djokovic lacking motivation? (Getty Images via AFP)
Is Novak Djokovic lacking motivation? (Getty Images via AFP)

In January at the Australian Open which he has won a record 10 times, he lost to eventual champion Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals. Ahead of the Happy Slam, the odds were heavily stacked in the 36-year-old’s favour to win the tournament and become the first athlete in tennis to win 25 grand slams. But Sinner dispatched him in a four-setter. If not the defeat, then the manner certainly shocked many. In the previous matches, he had also lost three sets which kind of indicated something was amiss with his play.

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On Tuesday at the Indian Wells, Djokovic lost to the world’s 123rd-ranked Luca Nardi in a three-setter in the Round of 32. Can you believe that? In the Round of 64 against Aleksandar Vukic he had also dropped a set.

You don’t expect this kind of performance from the Serb in two important tournaments, especially in the early season when it’s important to set the tempo, and when he looked kind of invincible last year with three grand slam trophies and a final appearance at Wimbledon.

One wonders if Djokovic is the same player who has achieved so much over the years. What could be the reason? Is motivation the problem? Looking at what Djokovic said ahead of the Indian Wells… one can put two and two together. When Djokovic started playing, Roger Federer was the hottest property in tennis. Before long Rafael Nadal joined Federer in that elite league. It took the Serb some time before he could compete with these two, some more time before he could join their league and an awfully long time before he could surpass the Swiss and the Spaniard, if not in popularity, then certainly in achievements.

Is Federer and Nadal’s absence hurting Djokovic?

The 20-time grand slam winner Federer retired from the sport in 2022 and Nadal is troubled by injuries in recent years. Last year, Nadal, winner of 22 grand slams, played just one tournament – at the Australian Open – before a hip injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. He returned to the sport at the Brisbane International in January but lost in the second round after which another hip injury forced him to opt out of the Australian Open which was to kick off a few days later. Nadal was also supposed to play at the Indian Wells but at the last minute, he had to pull out because he felt he wasn’t ready yet for such a high-profile event.

For a very large part of his illustrious career, Djokovic competed with Federer and Nadal and did a great job of it. They brought out the best in him but now when they are not around, could it be that Djokovic is not as motivated as before? It appears so. The following words uttered by him ahead of the Indian Wells are worth paying attention to. “…And I remember John McEnroe was saying in one of the documentaries that I’ve seen recently that when Bjorn Borg retired, that he felt like part of him also retired, even though he kept going.

“That’s, I must say, a similar feeling that I have with Roger retiring and Rafa not playing much at all. It’s a strange feeling.

“I mean, I try to find a new rival, and I had some great matches with Alcaraz and Sinner lately, but they still remain the two biggest rivals I’ve ever had,” Djokovic said.

It’s clear their absence has taken the steam out of Djokovic. He is right, Carlos Alcaraz, who had beaten him in the Wimbledon final last year, and Sinner, who, before the Australian Open, had also beaten him at the ATP finals and the Davis Cup last year, have given him a tough time but they are far, far from the quality of Federer and Nadal, at least at present.

In the long run, it’s not good news not only for Djokovic fans but also for tennis fans. He is the last of the holy trinity and it will be great for the sport if he can play a little longer at full steam.

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