Editorial

Comeback man: on Djokovic and Wimbledon

The sporting wilderness is a cruel, unforgiving place. Not even the greatest of champions avoid its desolate landscape; only a few find their way out of it. Ever since Novak Djokovic won his 12th Major at Roland Garros in 2016 — becoming only the second man, after Rod Laver in 1969, to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once — he has wandered the wastelands that strugglers frequent. The mask of invincibility he had worn for the best part of two years cracked. Indeed, when he bowed out of the French Open this June, he appeared broken, damaged. He said he wasn’t sure if he would play on grass. And yet, a little over a month later, he was back on the most famous court in tennis, bending to extract some of its hallowed turf so he could chew it — a victory celebration that had all but slipped from collective memory. In many ways, the performance against Kevin Anderson in the Wimbledon final was vintage Djokovic: ruthless, complete, untouchable. Granted, the 6’8” South African looked a shadow of the player that had returned from the dead to dethrone Roger Federer and had drawn on every last reserve to outlast John Isner. But even Anderson at his fittest and finest would have struggled against the Serb in this mood, on that stage.

 

So, just what is behind Djokovic’s renaissance? It helps that the 31-year-old is healthy again. He was forced to retire from last year’s Wimbledon quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych because of an elbow injury. He underwent surgery this January, but was back sooner than advised — this, Djokovic admitted, contributed significantly to his slump. At this year’s Championships, he looked match-tough at last, close to his elastic best. His game has always suited grass — or modern-day grass, at any rate. Wimbledon’s courts no longer play like “ice slathered with Vaseline”, as Andre Agassi famously said, but they still favour fleet-footed movement and a flatter stroke, pared of top-spin. These two attributes — added to a secure serve, a considerable improvement on the abbreviated eyesore his elbow injury had forced him into — made Djokovic a contender. But it wasn’t until his epic semifinal against Rafael Nadal that he and the rest of the tennis world truly knew he was back from the beyond. It was his ‘dark night of the soul’ — an inner torment he had to master, for the consequences of failure might have been too heavy to bear. This he did, relaxing into the moment and entering a zone only a select few have access to. And like Federer and Nadal have over the last year and a half, Djokovic showed that the elite can never be written off. Reports of the deaths of their careers are often greatly exaggerated.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 12:48:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/comeback-man/article24445851.ece

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