“This is undoubtedly my best performance of this year and maybe even longer,” Novak Djokovic said after his 6-1, 6-0 win over Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals at the Rome Masters on Saturday. “It was a perfect match. Everything that I intended to do, I have done it and even more.”
It was on expected lines that the world No 2 found it difficult to rein in his emotions after having done away with Thiem so thoroughly. It is also similarly unsurprising that Djokovic has finally managed to prop up a semblance of his long-lost formidable form, right before attempting to defend his hard-won French Open title.
Back to the familiar haunt of success
Djokovic’s decision to end his professional tie-up with his entire coaching team after the Monte Carlo Masters, and his indication that he wasn’t going to engage a coach immediately, raised qualms about whether his performances – and consequentially, his ranking – would trickle down further.
His semi-final efforts at the Madrid Open, earlier in May, withstood the initial trial by fire. However, the true extent of him belying the despondency that had plagued him since having won Roland Garros in 2016 came in Rome this week. This is the only tournament where he has had enjoyed playing – and dominating his rivals – even before he became the owner of the career Grand Slam.
Four of Djokovic’s 30 ATP Masters 1000 titles have come in Rome, with him having a chance to win a fifth on Sunday, thus breaking the deadlock with Rafael Nadal, who went on to tie Djokovic’s haul of 30 Masters trophies after having triumphed at the Madrid Open. What’s even more staggering in terms of this factoid is that the 12-time Grand Slam champion will be playing his eighth final in Rome alone, which also pegs him as the tournament favourite against the first-time Masters 1000 finalist Alexander Zverev.
Irrespective of the understated way in which he showed up in Rome, this is one challenge that Djokovic should – and will – relish taking up. Caught in the tussle between the spree of bad performances and self-doubting frustrations as he was, Djokovic also had to face external scrutiny which, in turn, left him all the more disheartened.
Though his decisions are still being introspected heavily, throughout these two weeks in Madrid and Rome, Djokovic has found a way to channelise his focus inward – for the first time after nearly a year – even if it meant going against in-form players, with the potentiality of getting contrasting results. First against Nadal in Madrid, and now against Thiem.
Thus, where once he was struggling to provide answers about his loss of motivation, Djokovic has essentially started over, replacing his past successes for an unknown present and future. “There’s not much to say except that I am so grateful to experience something like this, because I have been waiting and working for it for a long time,” Djokovic went on to add in his post-match press conference on Saturday, as if he didn’t want to dwell longer on his win.
In the last few years, followers of tennis had had become used to Djokovic’s volubility, which had become a marker for the novelty he posed in the circuit. His crouching of his words in recent times is as big an indicator that the Djokovic, who has returned back to stake his claim on the top-rungs of the sport, is a far more looming rival – in spite of his laid-back attitude – than the one who was around before.
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