US Open 2014: Why has Novak Djokovic gone from wonderful to woeful in space of months?

The Serb is struggling to find form heading into last Grand Slam of year

New York

Novak Djokovic has a solution to his on-court problems. Having made early exits from the two tournaments he has played since winning Wimbledon, the world No 1 was asked how he might add something extra to his preparations for the US Open, which begins here on Monday. “Two rackets,” Djokovic laughed. “I’m going to play with two rackets.”

“The Djoker”, as he is sometimes known in these parts, may need a sense of humour given his woeful performances at this summer’s Masters Series tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati, where he won a total of just two matches before losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tommy Robredo respectively.

He is still the bookmakers’ favourite to win the title here at Flushing Meadows, but that could be down to a shortage of alternatives. With Rafael Nadal absent through injury and the likes of Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka seemingly short of their best form, Roger Federer is the only major contender near the top of his game.

Djokovic was having the summer of his life until he set foot on court in Toronto. Having won his second Wimbledon title – his first Grand Slam trophy since his appointment of Boris Becker as coach – and reclaimed the world No 1 ranking, he went on to marry Jelena Ristic, who is expecting their first baby later this year.

What has gone wrong subsequently? “Many, many, many things are not clicking,” a bemused Djokovic said when asked about his recent results. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s more than obvious I’m not playing even close to what I’m supposed to play. I have to keep on working and trying to get better for the US Open.

“Just in general, I’m not feeling very comfortable on the court. I hope that comes with practice and with time.”

Asked whether he had had enough hours on the practice court, given the time he had taken off for his wedding, Djokovic said he had trained for a fortnight before returning to competition, which was longer than his customary post-Wimbledon break. “I practised a lot,” he said. “I had more than enough practice.”

Djokovic said that whatever the off-court distractions, his commitment to his sport remained unchanged. “I love competing and travelling,” he said. “I understand that many people are not as fortunate as I am to do what they love to do. To be top of the world in this sport, it’s quite remarkable, so I always try to remind myself of that.

“Big things have happened in my life recently. I got married and, hopefully, I’m soon to be a father, so of course these are the joyful moments in life one can experience. That obviously is going to affect my priorities in life. But tennis-wise as long as I have this passion for the sport, of course I’m going to keep on going and keep on practising and working and hoping that I can win many big titles and stay No 1.”

If his recent form has not been up to scratch, at least Djokovic will go into the year’s final Grand Slam event knowing that he has an excellent record at Flushing Meadows. The 27-year-old Serb has always been at his best on hard courts and played his first Grand Slam final here in 2007, when he lost to Federer. He reached the semi-finals in 2008 and 2009, losing to Federer again on both occasions. On his four subsequent appearances he has reached the final every time, losing to Spain’s Nadal in 2010 and 2013 and to Britain’s Murray in 2012. He claimed the title in 2011 after defeating Nadal.

John McEnroe, for one, does not read too much into the Serb’s results this summer and still regards him as the man to beat at Flushing Meadows over the next fortnight. “I don’t think Novak’s mind has been into it since [Wimbledon],” McEnroe said. “I think it was difficult for him to get back into the swing of things. I believe he’ll be ready here.”

McEnroe, who will be part of the ESPN commentary team over the next fortnight, said that the knowledge of not having Nadal to contend with if he reaches the latter stages of the tournament would be “a huge positive” for Djokovic.

The veteran American sees the world No 1 as the marginal favourite ahead of Switzerland’s Federer, who will be aiming to win the title for the sixth time. As the top two seeds, the Serb and the Swiss cannot meet before the final. Djokovic appears to have the tougher draw, with Murray and Wawrinka potential opponents in the quarter-finals and semi-final respectively.

“[Djokovic is] younger and he can go the distance perhaps a little bit more easily than Roger,” McEnroe said. “Depending on what happens leading up to it if they were to play in the final, some of it would have to do with how much was left in the tank from previous matches.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea