When Novak Djokovic forced himself onto the Serbian mixed doubles campaign on the evening of 26th July, he was well aware of the stuffy and sapping conditions prevailing in Tokyo. He had already won his Round 1 and 2 Singles matches, and had spoken regarding the gruelling conditions. Add the pressure of being in the bubble, travelling without the coaching team and playing without crowds, and one gets the impression that Tokyo was indeed too strenuous for an already tired champion. Even Medvedev had faced a black-out in the match against Fognini. Sascha wanted the matches to be played in evenings. Tsitsipas had unkind things to say about the management.
The Serbian coach, Viktor Troicki, Novak’s friend on the tour, has said on record that he and the Serbian Olympic Squad were not in favour of the Numero Uno stretching himself beyond a point. But Nole, in seventh heaven after his Wimbledon victory and the recent Selfie-clicking spree in the Olympic village, did not relent. Dedaelus had also warned his son Icarus to not fly too close to the sun or to the sea, considering that his wings were made of feathers and wax.
At many levels, the decision to play Mixed Doubles was an arrogantly foolish one. This is not to suggest that her mixed doubles partner Nina Stojanovic (World No. 85) would have fared any better with Miomir Kecmenovic (World No.47). But it would have not put extra strain on Djokovic’s already exhausted mental and physical reserves. Professionally speaking, even the pursuit of the Singles Gold was a distraction, but hey, no one walks away from the chance of accomplishing the Golden Slam. Racket throwing and smashings aside, Novak’s inability to take the court in the mixed doubles playoff match has left behind bitter taste. Call it greed for gold, desperation for national glory, over-eagerness to prove his own superhuman abilities, or delusion of new-found divinity, Novak’s misplaced enthusiasm has cost Serbia at least one medal (his own in Men’s Singles!).
This juvenile exuberance does not make much sense. He is still tied up at the top of the Grand Slams race. A record seventh year-end finish is quite probable. Rafa (if not Roger) is still in the hunt. Fitness should be his utmost concern. Calender Slam is still on the table. US Open begins from August 31st. Now suddenly, there are injury concerns. In Djokovic’s own words, he carries multiple niggles, and the right shoulder has some issues. His energy reserves dipped alarmingly in the latter half of the semi-final versus Sascha. He ended up losing 10 out of the last 11 games in that match. One can only hope that one month of rest shall fill back the tank which seems totally empty right now.
There is no gainsaying that Djokovic was already drained by the time he arrived in Tokyo. At 34, he had just become the fifth man to accomplish the ‘Channel Slam’. In the seven weeks between May 23rd and July 11th, Djokovic had won three titles and 18 matches- Belgrade, Roland Garros and Wimbldeon. Most of his top opponents are between 22-27 years of age. None of this should serve as an excuse for his racket-throwing antics. Last year, he paid for his anger by getting defaulted out of the US Open. In the playoff match, he was perhaps saved because the racket didn’t hit anyone in the empty stands. But this does not serve Novak’s cause well, especially as he wants to be ‘loved, adored and respected’ by crowds!
In a way, these three losses plus one match-forfeit in a span of two days might help Novak by keeping him grounded. One could see that the Champ was getting affected by cynosural narcissism. He was one of the most successful and popular athletes in the Olympic village, and the craze for him was monstrous, especially as he was coming to Tokyo with back-to-back wins at Paris and London, and equalling Fedal’s record of 20 Slams. Getting clicked with thousands of athletes, and being feted like a King wherever he went, might not have helped either his physical or mental health. Miraculous escapes at Roland Garros against Musetti, Rafa, Tsitsipas, and at SW 19 against Berrettini, must have convinced him that destiny was his mistress. Matching Rafa’s and Roger’s Slam tally of 20 has been a Herculean achievement, and must have led to orgasmic high. Exhaustion is a natural consequence to the state of supreme bliss.
For a player who has won all three Grand Slams played in the year so far, having beaten almost all this top rivals at least once, ‘ascensionism’ is an obvious side-effect. He might have developed the notion that future is not dictated by past or present, or that no goal or destination is unreachable. But human body has its limits. Despite wings of wax and feathers, Icarus could not escape the prison of his own existence, burnt his wings and sank in the sea. Djokovic might have also lost three matches in a row and sank into the Sea of Japan, but expect him to accept this reality check, embrace his own mortality and come out at the Flushing Meadows with all guns blazing.
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