In a word, No. In a few words, I don’t think so. Or I can say this more certainty – hell no, not gonna happen. I’m not saying that Djokovic is going to flame out, or that he is going to be any less challenging the opponent he has been throughout 2011. It’s just that I think that having worked his ass off to become #1, Djokovic is about to discover that becoming #1 and remaining #1 are two entirely different issues, and that it is possible to achieve the one but choke in fear at the prospect of the other.
Tennis is a fascinating sport. It is a physically challenging game of course, but the mental tests are so much more. Becoming #1 is a physically daunting task. Remaining #1 requires far more mental fortitude. And I find myself doubting whether Djokovic can do this. I am beginning to wonder if he is going to turn out to be another of those players who, having achieved the top ranking, runs the risk of losing the drive and hunger that got him there in the first place.
This is one of the hazards you face when you celebrate your achievements almost too much. Having been feted and celebrated by all of Serbia, indeed by Serbians everywhere, having danced and partied like it was 1999 after he won three Slams in 2011 and became the decisive and indisputable #1 in the world, Djokovic seems to be on the verge of deflation. He just doesn’t seem to have the fight in him anymore.
In tennis, true success demands that you find ways to hold on to the hunger. True achievement requires that you not only compete against others, but that you find ways to compete against yourself, to push yourself to remain at the pinnacle. It is a mentally daunting task. And for the first time I find myself questioning if Djokovic is truly up to it.
Listen to any of his recent interviews after his failure experiences at the Barclay year-end championship. All of a sudden Djokovic is starting to sound like a whiny biyatch. He’s complaining that the season is too long. He’s complaining about the amount of tennis he has had to play. He’s whining that it is unfair, it’s too much.
I wonder if he would be prepared to hand over the millions of dollars he has earned this year just so he could remain ranked at # 3 or 4. I wonder if he would be prepared to give up all of his successes and not bother to break through to the top rank in this sport. Of course not. The problem is that Djokovic seems to want to have his gluten-free cake and eat it too. He wants to be #1 but he seems to be terrified of what he will have to do next year to remain there.
To which I say, if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the damn kitchen. Nobody put a gun to his head and told him to go on a tear from the start of the year. Nobody forced him to accomplish what simply no one else has thus far this year. Nobody told him to earn over 10 million dollars this year alone. It was, we can safely assume, his own motivation, his own hunger. And indeed, it was deeply impressive.
But earth to Novak: In this sport, if you can’t find a way to manage your career and your health with the intelligence of a Roger Federer, then it’s up to you to deal with the consequences. And the consequences are that you have a bucket-load of points to defend next year. Stop being a whiny biyatch and start planning for how you are going to do this.
Because all that the constant whining is doing is sending a signal to your opponents that you are terrified. That looking ahead, you’re already choking at the prospect of what you will have to do. And the more terrified and whiny you become, the more that pain in your back and shoulder is going to hurt. You decided that you wanted tennis success, well here’s what it takes. Now stop whining, suck it up, and figure out how you're going to get the job done.