Novak Djokovic is at a crossroads of a glittering career. Despite capturing the Wimbledon crown, 2022 was a challenging year. His age and his own decision-making process have raised doubts about the longevity of his career. The next year is going to be crucial in his quest to maintain his dominance in an ever-changing environment.
Novak Djokovic in 2022
His emphatic victory at the All-England Club has carried him to 21 Majors, one shy of his eternal rival Rafael Nadal. A staggering nine Australian Opens, seven Wimbledon titles, three US Opens, and two French Open titles have cemented his legacy as one of the three greatest men’s players ever. He has dominated the World #1 ranking with a record-breaking 373 weeks at the summit. The Serbian has also captured the year-end #1 ranking seven times.
It is these head-scratching statistics that have come to define a man fighting against the grain. Aways considered a workhorse to the effortless grace of Federer and the tenacity of Nadal. Novak Djokovic had to fight tooth and nail to sit at the game’s top table. His determination is to be admired especially considering the media bias in favor of his two rivals and a tennis public enamored with the earlier rivalry between Federer and Nadal.
He burst on the scene like a meteor, disrupting the natural order. His ability forced the world to take notice and he did most of his talking on the court. An epic rivalry between Federer and Nadal was forced on the back burner with every notable victory against them.
Unfortunately, Covid and his refusal to take the vaccine, has proved to be as great a nemesis as his two great rivals. Rightly or wrongly, his unvaccinated status has cost him dearly. This coupled with an ambivalent attitude about Covid protocols, denied him participation at the Australian Open. His absence was compounded as Nadal’s victory elevated him above both the Serbian and the Swiss maestros.
This hangover extended to the US Open where he was also excluded from the roster, as Carlos Alcaraz introduced himself. This could cost him dearly in the long run because missing two winnable majors at the peak of his powers is a bitter pill to swallow.
His popularity also took a beating as the pandemic ravaged the globe and public sentiment turned against the unvaccinated. Already on the back foot to his rivals in the popularity stakes, it remains to be seen whether he will fully able to regain the fan’s trust. Time will tell.
The Arrival of the Next Gen
With COVID restrictions easing up across the world, the Serbian is expected to play in the future with no restrictions. The landscape of men’s tennis has, however, changed dramatically. His eternal rival Roger Federer has ridden off into the sunset. Rafael Nadal is also nearing the end as injury remains a constant thorn.
The next generation has well and truly broken down the old boy’s club of the “Big 3” as a result of Alcaraz’s seismic performance at the US Open. Men’s tennis is at its healthiest point in decades as a raft of young, talented players are biding their time to seize their moment. Jannik Sinner, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Daniil Medvedev, and the ever-improving Alcaraz have finally taken center stage.
Is The Serbian’s Desire still there?
At 35, Djokovic is no longer a spring chicken with the incredible stamina and determination of his glory years. Family life has also mellowed him as priorities naturally evolve as one age. 2023 is pivotal for the Serbian as it is probably his last year at the peak of his career. If he fails to win a Major next year, it might prove impossible in the future as his career reaches a crossroads.
Every loss at a Grand Slam will slowly erode his confidence to the point of questioning his involvement within the sport. We have seen with most great champions that no matter their dominance, their eventual demise is often swift and surgical. Nadal proved to be the exception this year with his two slams, so all is not lost for the Joker. It might come down to timing and a huge dollop of luck.
Novak Djokovic has been a great servant of the game despite being often misunderstood. His continued brilliance has earned him the right to go out on his own terms. Let’s hope that he has the opportunity to blossom late in his career like his two great rivals who had their own golden summers.