Why Novak Djokovic Shouldn't Press Panic Button Yet Amid Indian Wells Shocker

Why Novak Djokovic Shouldn't Press Panic Button Yet Amid Indian Wells Shocker

by Nurein Ahmed

Novak Djokovic's inauspicious start to the season has attracted an absurd level of scrutiny, but the Serbian won't even need to sound the alarm bell for his recent defeat.

Djokovic returned to Indian Wells for the first time since 2019 this past week. He had spoken candidly about his desire to shed his "robotic" persona and arrived much earlier for a tournament to embrace the social life that tends to vanish when competing on tour.

For instance, he watched football with his son and practiced at one of his favorite spots— UCLA—where he bonded with hundreds of enthusiastic college students. But back on the court, Djokovic was a shadow of his gladiatorial figure.

He narrowly escaped with a win in his first match in the desert in five years, beating Aleksandar Vukic in three sets. Later, in his post-match interview, he admitted to feeling "worried" after dropping a set. In the third round, he came unstuck.

Italian lucky loser Luca Nardi became the lowest-ranked player to beat Djokovic at the Masters 1000 level. What was even more worrying for Djokovic fans was that the World No. 1 was downbeat while assessing his performance in the match.

"My level was really, really bad," Djokovic told reporters as he lost his third match of the year. Losses to Alex de Minaur at the United Cup and Jannik Sinner at the Australian Open mean that the Serbian star has drawn a blank in three tournaments in 2024.

By his own admission, it is a peculiar scenario. This time, he was clearly not channeling his "Bert Critchley" character from the ATP's recent hilarious reality show. But here's why Djokovic's slump should not be cause for concern.

Historically, Djokovic has fared well in the first quarter of almost every season. He has won the Australian Open a record ten times, along with five titles in Indian Wells and six in Miami.

But for the past seven years, the period after the Australian Open until the Madrid Open has been Djokovic's most vulnerable.

From 2017 until his most recent tournament in Indian Wells this year, he has played in 20 events and reached at least the semifinals on just four occasions of ATP tournaments.

In the midst of that period, he picked up losses to Taro Daniel and Benoit Paire and, shockingly, to Daniel Evans on the clay of Monte Carlo. The one variable this time is that Djokovic is not getting younger.

But it would be foolhardy to write off a man who is currently assured of remaining World No. 1 possibly for another two months, and who was the ATP Finals champion less than six months ago.


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