Novak Djokovic’s slipping form and the reasons behind it have been anybody’s guess. Theories have surged from burnout, to a potential marital struggle and then some. But Djokovic has refrained from commenting barring mentioning injuries and what he has described as ‘personal struggles.’
Now, his outspoken coach, former World No. 1 Boris Becker, has suggested that the absences of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal from the tour this year have significantly impacted Djokovic, causing him to lose motivation.
“He doesn’t have opponents anymore,” Becker said in an interview with American news outlet CNN earlier this week. “His time was with Rafa, with Roger, Andy was always the fourth guy,” he said. “So he lost a bit of his opponents.”
Djokovic’s rivalry with Roger Federer is one of the best known in the sport – and the Serb only just edges out the Swiss at 23-22; the pair have been fierce competitors, playing each other in the finals of the year-ending ATP event last year.
The Serb’s rivalry with Nadal is almost as close, with Djokovic leading 26-23 – but it is Nadal who leads that record in Grand Slam finals.
Federer and Nadal, who have 31 Grand Slam titles between them, have had less-than-ideal seasons, although with occasionally brilliant performances. Federer’s best came this year at the Swiss’ favourite event, Wimbledon, where he was involved in two consecutive edge-of-the-seat matches, one of those his quarter-final win against Marin Cilic, and the other a semi-final loss to Milos Raonic.
Nadal, meanwhile, won two titles this year – both on clay in Barcelona and Monte Carlo, but soon after crumbled, and withdrew from a number of tournaments – among them the ATP World Tour Finals, which he had qualified for.
But Djokovic has perhaps had the most drastic drop in his season, starting off 2016 with two Grand Slam wins among a host of other titles on the ATP World Tour. It was also rumoured that he would be parting ways with Becker at the end of this season, but neither player nor coach has confirmed these rumours.
That aside, Becker continued to speak of his strong support for Djokovic. “Novak is a competitor at heart,” he said. “If I have to have one guy who has to play for my life, I would pick Novak. That’s how much I trust him.”
Becker also suggested Djokovic’s loss to Murray at the ATP World Tour Finals could be beneficial to the Serb. “As much as this loss is going to hurt him, it’s probably going to motivate him to be re-energized for next year. Maybe it was a good thing in the end.”