Djokovic Seeks To ‘Get Mojo Back’
A lot can change in one year. Novak Djokovic has learned that the hard way. A series of struggles between the lines has yielded a period of self-discovery, as the Serbian looks to reassume his throne atop the tennis world.
Exactly 52 weeks ago, Djokovic was on top of the ATP World Tour, opening a 9,025-point lead in the Emirates ATP Rankings after clinching the title at the Mutua Madrid Open. But soon after, his fortunes began to fade. Professional athletes, even those at the pinnacle of their sport, are not immune to falling victim to their own success, and Djokovic would struggle to maintain his level of seemingly superhuman dominance.
The 29 year old, who fell in his bid to reach his second final of the year on Saturday in Madrid, took time to reflect as he looks to turn the page on a new chapter of his career. In an in-depth joint interview with Spanish media outlets ABC, Marca and El Mundo, the World No. 2 discussed this transitional stage of his career and how he has sought to rediscover his motivation, confidence and ‘mojo’ on the court.
“If I could describe my tennis in one word, I feel like I'm in transition,” Djokovic said. “From the beginning of my career, I have been very fortunate to experience only an upwards direction in my success and results. I have been playing at a high level and with consistent results for many years. After winning Roland Garros, I didn't know how I was going to feel. I never had that issue after winning a big trophy, of bouncing back and finding new ways to motivate and inspire myself. That is, to keep playing at that level and stay emotionally recharged.
“But last year I found some emptiness for the first time in my life in terms of motivation. I needed a few months to think about things and get that mojo back on the court. I felt that the start of the season went really well for me this year, winning in Doha. I unfortunately lost in Australia, but mentally I felt better and better as time went by. My game just hasn't been there. I'm happy I reached the semi-finals in Madrid, which has been my best result this year. It shows me I'm on the right path."
Djokovic is preaching patience in the process. The soon-to-be father of two is coming off a semi-final finish in the Spanish capital, where he fell to longtime rival Rafael Nadal. He believes it is a step in the right direction as he works to rebuild his confidence and momentum.
“We'll see whether this week is going to give me that springboard into where I want to be in the next six months,” Djokovic continued. “Or if it's going to take a little longer, I don't know. What I know for sure is that I'm doing my very best to rediscover myself in a new way and get the new strength and the new skin, so to speak.
“If I don't want to win every match I play, win Grand Slams and be No. 1 in the world, then I wouldn't be playing tennis professionally. Because I've achieved so much in my life and my career, I could leave my racquet aside and just enjoy my life. I have a family and a second baby on the way. Why do I need to stress so much and keep on going? It’s of course because I want to win. It's always there, but what people didn’t comprehend is that I needed to dig deep inside of me to find the new inspiration and motivation to get the new beginning and a new chapter. The results will follow. It's a consequence of the good work I'm doing every day in everything I do.”
Prior to Madrid, Djokovic made a significant change in parting ways with his coaching staff, which included coach Marian Vajda, fitness trainer Gebhard Phil Gritsch and physio Miljan Amanovic. After a decade together, he said that he will always cherish the memories made with his longtime team, but it was a necessary move.
“I'm very proud of what I've achieved, but it's time to move on. The decision to split with my team was a big one and I needed that change for my mindset. There have not been many players who have been with their tennis coach, fitness coach and physiotherapist for 10 years. The overall goals, dreams and aspirations are of course still the same. I don't go to any tournament just to play. I focus on each and every day as a necessity in the process to reach the final stage and fight for the trophy. Having all these experiences give me confidence that I've done it before and can do it again. I have the trust and belief in my abilities. It's just a matter of getting all these things together.”
Djokovic added that while his ruthless recent run, which saw him finish at year-end No. 1 in 2014-15 and claim a staggering 208 match wins in the past three seasons, was unsustainable, his passion for the game has never waned. He says that when life gives you challenges, it’s how you approach them and work to overcome them that makes you better.
"As athletes, we are all humans and we all need emotional stability. You may behave like a machine because you are always doing the same things every single day. You are experiencing all these emotions on the court. We all have to deal with it in some ways. When you experience a drop in life or professional sports, you have an opportunity to have a rebirth of something new and something better.
“Especially now for me, I'm experiencing a fall in my results in the last six to seven months like I've never had before. It is an interesting feeling and we all feel much better when we are happy, but this is not how life works. It goes in cycles and while I've been through these situations before, maybe in shorter swings and periods, I'm still learning and growing. I hope that the effort I put in will be paying off on the court with results.”
Djokovic is now in Rome for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, the fifth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event of the year, before embarking on his title defence at Roland Garros. He is bidding to extend a streak of four consecutive seasons with at least one clay-court Masters 1000 crown.
"At the end of the day, you’re a professional athlete and you're very successful and work very hard and are talented in certain things, but we all have to deal with everyday problems. I think that vulnerability is not a bad thing. It just makes you stop for a second. Whatever the future holds, I cannot predict it. There are no guarantees. But that's how the life cycle is and I just try to be the best version of myself every day."