I rediscovered two activities this week that I really enjoy doing but that I haven’t really been able to indulge myself in for a while. One is reading. I love it. Growing up with dyslexia, books and I weren’t always on the best of terms. We battled hard throughout my early years of primary school. I waged a personal war on words. Lined words on paper. Words scrawled on blackboards. Letters peppering the borders of the classroom, inked on a strip of plastic, the ordered alphabet mocking me from on high, pinned on the walls, looking down from a pedestal of importance. Then Harry Potter came along and transfigured me into someone who could appreciate the written word and furthermore, enjoy interacting, creating, inventing stories of my own.
But there are still times, weeks on weeks, where I lose interest in reading and writing and fall out of love with the art of imaginary narrative. I find it difficult to sit down and enjoy books, enjoy writing, enjoy indulging in the creative process. I overthink and lose focus. The motivation is lost, the desire gone, the love lost. These are low moments marked consistently and personally whenever I manage to pull myself out of them and once again find myself able to relax into the warm embrace of storytelling.
The other activity is tennis. Novak Djokovic and I don’t have much in common but what we do share is a love of this sport and both of us are returning to the court after an absence of a fair few months. Whilst my reasons were primarily down to the weather of London treating outdoor courts with utmost disdain and my bank balance laughing at me with a similar level of disgust at the mere suggestion of the possibility of booking indoor courts, Djokovic’s reasons for not playing came as a result of injury.
Wildly uncertain and lacking his usual consistency, the Serbian former world number 1 had not played since Wimbledon last year where he was forced to pull out of the event with a longstanding elbow injury. Making his return at the 2018 Australian Open, Djokovic fell relatively early for a player so used to being the one left holding the trophy in past editions of the event. Losing at Melbourne Park in the 4th round wasn’t a bad result and nor was it particularly surprising given his half year absence from the tennis world but question marks lingered, critics leered, eyes watched as Djokovic then proceeded to splutter, stutter, falter in his opening matches at the ATP Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.
A three match losing streak beside Djokovic’s name looks alien to those of us who have witnessed his domination at this stage of the year on multiple occasions in seasons gone by. Indeed, there was a time when Djokovic winning the Australian Open and backing it up with the Sunshine Double was a mere formality. His fellow players would bow their heads and focus on the upcoming clay season as Djokovic slid, stretched and ultimately elasticated his way to victory at the biggest opening three tournaments of the year. That was then and this is now and that was the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Djokovic and this is 2018.
Even the best fail. Djokovic is no exception. But it is not the fact that Djokovic has lost more matches at this point in the year than he did in the first three quarters of his record breaking 2011 season that should cause concern. It is the way in which he seemed accepting of his fate on court, lacking in energy, lacking in faith, lacking in Djokovicness. In his pre-tournament interviews, he seemed despondent, distant, openly questioning. Doubtful.
“I’m trying to remind myself of how fortunate I am all the time.”
His words hardly screamed of internal joy at being back on the tour injury free and his movement on court only reinforced a sense that perhaps his mentality was elsewhere as he dragged himself around between points, head down not in an image of courageous warrior-like focus, rather a portrait of a man lost in a sea of rising expectation. The internet armchair experts went into overdrive, dropping ugly suggestions of depression, marriage problems, general arrogance and lack of proper preparation as potential reasons for the Serbian superstar’s uncharacteristic lack of character on court.
Multiple predictions of no more Nole Grand Slams.
Multiple predictions of a fear of Federer and Nadal.
Multiple predictions of incoming retirement.
Bleeding through all of these reviews and rumours whipping around Djokovic’s admittedly questionable 2018 performances was a sense that he could not possibly rediscover his enjoyment for tennis if that was indeed the lead-weight issue behind all of this. If it was gone, it was gone for good. If he isn’t enjoying playing tennis now, he’s done all he can. He can call it quits and call it a day and call it a career.
But enjoyment can be seized, rediscovered and remains wildly temperamental. Moods swing high and fall dangerously low, fogging the future, blurring the past, impacting the present. Whatever Djokovic is experiencing off the court may well be damaging his performance on it but while his lack of confidence is shining through currently, his career achievements, his ability, his talent, his valuable stature all stand on a pedestal of importance within the history of the sport.
And if there’s still room for chapters to be written in the Djokovic book, we owe him the time to do so.
If Djokovic requires a warm embrace, tennis owes him that as well.