By Leighton Ginn
In 2016, Novak Djokovic had reached a career pinnacle, becoming the first man to complete a Grand Slam since Rod Laver did it in 1969.
Yet a few months later, he might have suffered his most disappointing loss of 2016 during a slumping second half of the year.
In the first round of the Olympics, Djokovic suffered a stunning first-round loss to Juan Martin del Potro, 7-6, 7-6.
“I felt like at that stage of my life, my career, that’s when I was playing my best tennis. Winning Toronto before that, everything was fine, and then just unfortunate circumstances as result of that,” Djokovic said, saying he had suffered a wrist injury prior to the match. “Surely I wanted things to go differently. But at the end of the day, I try to be grateful for whatever comes my way, because I know it comes with a reason.
“So after that, obviously I was not up to standard of the results that I have had in previous years. You know, last couple of months of ’16 were tough for me emotionally. I was struggling on the court to really find that comfort, find the confidence, as well.”
Djokovic will get another shot at del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion sometime Tuesday in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open. In the second round, Djokovic defeated Kyle Edmund 6-4, 7-6 (5), while del Potro defeated fellow Argentinian Federic Delbonis 7-6 (5), 6-3.
Two weeks ago in Acapulco, Djokovic defeated del Potro 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
“I have to give it all. That’s what it takes to beat this guy, who is – even though he is not ranked as high and he hasn’t played that many tournaments but definitely one of the best players in the world last year,” Djokovic said. “He’s tough player to beat. He’s big guy, big serve, big forehand. Definitely not the draw that you like early in the tournament and that you wish for, but it is what it is.”
At this point last year, Djokovic looked unbeatable. He had dominated like no other in his generation, which includes Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who are the winningest and tied for second when it comes to Grand Slam titles.
When he won the French Open, Djokovic completed a career Grand Slam and a year-round Grand Slam, also known as the Nole Slam.
“Winning four Grand Slams in a row is definitely a life, career achievement. Probably the biggest achievement I ever had,” Djokovic said at the start of the tournament. “Winning the French Open for the first time and crowning that couple of years of consistent, high results was magnificent. I really gave it all and French Open was one of the top priorities the last couple years.”
But after the French, Djokovic’s play became uneven. While he did have the wrist injury, he also said there were issues in his personal life that derailed him.
“It took a lot of emotions and energy from me,” Djokovic said. “Took some time to reflect on things, and then I had to re-motivate myself, and getting back on track. Right now, it’s better than what it was, especially the second half of last season, particularly after the US Open. I had those moments where I wasn’t myself on the court. Now I’m in a better place. Now I hope and believe I’m going in the right direction.”