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Where does Novak Djokovic's loss to Lorenzo Sonego rank among the worst defeats of his career?

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic
Rudra Biswas
ANALYST
Modified 31 Oct 2020, 17:23 IST
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World No. 1 Novak Djokovic suffered one of the most lopsided losses of his professional tennis career on Saturday. Italy's Lorenzo Sonego, who didn't even qualify for the Erste Bank Open but got in as a lucky loser, stunned Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-1 to advance to the last four in Vienna.

While the win was easily the best of Sonego's career, the Serb was on the wrong side of one of the worst routs of his career. By the last game, with Sonego serving for the match at 5-1, Djokovic didn't even seem bothered about the outcome.

There were various junctures of the match where the World No. 1 looked flat and uninspired in his play. Novak Djokovic subsequently caused controversy in his press conference, where he hinted that lack of motivation might have been one of the reasons for his defeat.

“Yes, clinching the [year-end] number one had an effect on me today, I’ve done what I came here for, securing the number one. And I move completely fine with today’s result," Djokovic remarked.

Anyone who has closely followed the career of Novak Djokovic would know that this is not the first time the Serb has been at the receiving end of a strange blowout loss, where he has almost seemed to be tanking. That's something the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have by and large avoided in their careers, which makes the contrast all the more stark.

On that note, here is a throwback to some of the worst losses that Novak Djokovic has suffered in his career.

7. Novak Djokovic loses 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 to Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros 2017

Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem greet each other at the net ATP Masters Series Madrid
Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem greet each other at the net ATP Masters Series Madrid

Novak Djokovic shed a lot of sweat and tears during his early career campaigns at Roland Garros, but he managed to win the elusive Paris Major in 2016, where he beat his rival Andy Murray in the final. The 2016 French Open triumph was the Serb's last Slam title over the next two years as a major slump in form followed.

Suffering from elbow niggles and lack of motivation for nearly a year, Djokovic was far from his best in 2017 as he exited several big tournaments in the early rounds. The Serb still managed to get a top two seeding in Paris, but the writing had been on the wall for a long time.

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Up against sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals, Djokovic was made to look the second best for the entirety of the match. Thiem, who had managed to win just a single game in a loss to Djokovic a week earlier in Rome, was able to bludgeon 20 forehand winners past the Serb in a 7-6, 6-3, 6-0 win.

By the end of the match, Novak Djokovic was visibly dispirited and disinterested, and Thiem was quick to end his misery by bagelling the Serb in the third set.

6. Novak Djokovic loses 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2020

Novak Djokovic suffered one of the most demoralizing defeats of his career in Paris
Novak Djokovic suffered one of the most demoralizing defeats of his career in Paris

In the 2020 season, Novak Djokovic has by far been the most consistent player on tour. The World No. 1 has won as many as five titles this year - the Australian Open, the ATP Cup, the Dubai Open, the Cincinnati Masters and the Rome Masters.

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The Serb was considered by many to be the title favorite at Roland Garros too, but he ended up being outclassed by the King of Clay Rafael Nadal in the final.

By the end of the first two sets Nadal had hit 21 winners to just 6 unforced errors, making Djokovic look totally helpless. In the end, the Serb would lose by the rather shocking scoreline of 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

5. Novak Djokovic loses 6-3, 6-1 to Rafael Nadal at Monte Carlo Masters 2012

Novak Djokovic finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal at Monte Carlo in 2012
Novak Djokovic finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal at Monte Carlo in 2012

Novak Djokovic had established a tense rivalry with Rafael Nadal by the end of 2011, a year in which he beat the Spaniard six times. Nadal was made to look ordinary in more than half of those matches, and the tennis community was left shocked by how easily the Serb ended the 'Fedal' duopoly on the tour.

Djokovic would go on to beat Nadal once again in the 2012 Australian Open final, suggesting that he had set an ironclad pattern. Was Novak Djokovic going to set the scene for a new brand of domination on the tour?

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But Rafael Nadal had other ideas when the pair met in the final of the 2012 Monte Carlo Masters. This time, it was Djokovic who was made to look ordinary as the Spaniard won 6-3, 6-1 to clinch an eighth consecutive title at Monte Carlo.

While the Serb was not at his absolute best, he still seemed determined enough to compete. However, Rafael Nadal was in no mood for mercy as he put on a masterclass to remind everyone he was still the King of Clay.

4. Novak Djokovic loses 6-2, 6-2 to Fernando Verdasco at Monte Carlo Masters 2010

Novak Djokovic hits a forehand
Novak Djokovic hits a forehand

In 2010 Novak Djokovic was largely the third wheel to the Federer-Nadal duopoly, repeatedly falling short against them at the Grand Slams. But he was still a formidable foe for the rest of the tour, and almost never went down without a fight.

When he arrived in Monte Carlo, Djokovic seemed to be knocking on the doors of greatness. Djokovic was able to advance to the semifinals of the event, hoping for a go against Nadal in the final.

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Djokovic's opponent Fernando Verdasco, meanwhile, had reached nine quarterfinals at the Masters 1000 level before Monte Carlo, and was still seeking a first semifinal. But what followed was a shock 6-2, 6-2 loss to the Spaniard, as Djokovic committed over 40 unforced errors against a single-digit winners figure.

The Serb also won only 15 points in eight return games, in what was possibly the worst claycourt performance of his career until then.

3. Novak Djokovic loses 6-2, 6-2 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Rogers Cup 2014

Novak Djokovic exited early at the 2014 Rogers Cup
Novak Djokovic exited early at the 2014 Rogers Cup

By the middle of the decade, Novak Djokovic had established himself as one of the winningest players in the sport's history. But in 2014, Djokovic was coming off a draining campaign at Wimbledon which saw him beat 20-time Major winner Roger Federer in a five-set epic.

The Serb was visibly exhausted from his fortnight in London, and looked rather flat against Gael Monfils in the second round at the Rogers Cup. The World No. 1 was eventually able to eke out a three-set win over the Frenchman, who didn't have enough weight on his shots to beat Djokovic.

Djokovic was expected to pull his socks up against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round, but that wasn't to be. The Serb looked way out of his depth in the encounter against Tsonga, doing little to trouble the big-hitting Frenchman who hit 23 winners to just 13 unforced errors.

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What was more shocking was that Tsonga had dropped 18 consecutive sets to Djokovic in their previous match-ups, and yet was able to blast the Serb off the court in Toronto.

2. Novak Djokovic loses 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 to Lleyton Hewitt at US Open 2006

Novak Djokovic was an up-and-coming youngster in 2006
Novak Djokovic was an up-and-coming youngster in 2006

Novak Djokovic turned professional in 2003 and was deemed a lightweight for several years, before he changed everyone's mind at the 2008 Australian Open. Djokovic didn't peak early like Rafael Nadal, and played a lot of Slam events before 2008 as a heavy underdog. In those days, reaching the fourth round of a Slam was considered a big achievement for him.

Djokovic reached the top 40 in the ATP singles rankings by making his first quarterfinal appearance at the 2006 French Open and reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon a month later. Following Wimbledon, Djokovic won his first ATP title in Amersfoot; he had seemingly started to take his first steps towards becoming a top-rung player on the tour.

At the 2006 US Open, Novak Djokovic made it to the third round of his second ever US Open, but he lost to former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt by the lopsided scoreline of 6-3, 6-1, 6-2. The Aussie was still a top player in 2006, so this loss was not that significant in the long run for Djokovic - who would go on to have his breakout season in 2007.

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1. Novak Djokovic loses 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 to Marat Safin at Australian Open 2005

Novak Djokovic retrieves a ball
Novak Djokovic retrieves a ball

After turning professional in 2003, Novak Djokovic played Challenger and Futures events for the next one year as he tried to gain some experience on the tour. His first ATP tournament came at Umag in 2004, where he lost to Filippo Volandri in the first round.

Djokovic made his Grand Slam tournament debut by qualifying for the 2005 Australian Open, having defeated future rival Stan Wawrinka en route. The Serb was pitted against Russia's Marat Safin, who happened to be one of the players that Djokovic had looked up to as a young tyke.

But the meeting with his idol didn't go as planned for Djokovic, given that his game was clearly underdeveloped at that point. The Serb had a frail body and lacked bite on his serve, and was bagelled by the World No. 4 in the first set before losing 6-0, 6-2, 6-1.

While the loss was statistically the worst of Novak Djokovic's career, it was still a memorable landmark in one sense: Marat Safin would go on to win the Australian Open that year, and Djokovic would go on to establish his reign in Melbourne in the coming years, winning eight titles there.

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Where does Novak Djokovic's loss to Lorenzo Sonego rank among his worst losses?

Lorenzo Sonego (L) and Novak Djokovic
Lorenzo Sonego (L) and Novak Djokovic

Speaking purely in numerical terms, the 6-2, 6-1 loss to Sonego is the second-worst of Novak Djokovic's career; the Safin loss beats it given that it was a best-of-five contest.

However given his place on the tour right now - Djokovic is the World No. 1 by some distance, and closing in on the all-time Slam record - the Vienna defeat is probably worse than anything he has ever faced in his career.

Losing to a lucky loser is one thing. But losing so badly on an indoor hardcourt (arguably Djokovic's best surface) to a journeyman player whose best surface is slow clay, and who has never done anything of note at a big event on tour, is beyond shocking.

Novak Djokovic said in his press conference he isn't too bothered by the result, and that he will now start preparing in full swing for the ATP Finals in London. It's a mark of how great a champion he is that he can say something like that after one of the lowest moments of his career.

Published 31 Oct 2020, 17:10 IST
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