Once the undisputed king Down Under, Novak Djokovic might struggle to maintain his dominance at the 2017 Australian Open.
BY ALEXANDER BURTON
Novak Djokovic has in the last decade made Melbourne and the Australian Open his home away from home. Since 2008 Djokovic has won six titles and has not been knocked out before the quarter-finals since 2007. Having won the event in the last two years many could be forgiven for thinking Djokovic would be the favourite once again. However, despite his dominance, there are a number of factors that would suggest that Djokovic's impressive run in Melbourne may not be sustained through 2017.
Djokovic is not World No.1 Djokovic lost the World No.1 ranking to Andy Murray at the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of the 2016 season. It reflects that Djokovic is no longer the player to beat in men's tennis, and that there are chinks in his armour. Defeats to the likes of Sam Querrey, Roberto Bautista Agut, Juan Martin del Potro, and Marin Cilic evidences that Djokovic's supreme aura of invincibility had dwindled to a level where players now believe that they can beat him. Some players effectively beat themselves when they stepped onto the court with him whilst his excellent play dealt with the others. The loss of this dominance means players are far less likely to do that, making victories harder to come by.
In tandem with the loss of his status of supreme dominance, came a loss of confidence for the Serbian. Players began to exploit new weaknesses in the Djokovic game, and though his fitness allowed him to reach balls he did not players away like he used to. Errors crept in, and the above defeats, coupled with Murray's comprehensive win at the ATP World Tour Finals suggest that Djokovic is a little off his normally high standards. With a loss of confidence, players who have enjoyed success against Djokovic might produce pitfalls in Melbourne. Potentially Andy Murray and especially Stan Wawrinka have given Djokovic many problems in the past, and with a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer back in contention it makes for perhaps the most open Australian Open in recent years.
Another factor to consider is that the man who helped Djokovic elevate his game to new levels over the last three years has now departed. Boris Becker helped Djokovic improve his serve and volley skills as well as develop that ruthlessness that had become such a staple of his mental state.Yet that partnership has come to an end, and Djokovic, though he still has Marian Vajda as part of his team, might look for another "super coach" to complement his existing set-up. Rumours of a partnership with Nenad Zimonjic, his fellow Serbian and sometimes doubles partner has been mooted, though no official announcement has been made. Prior to Becker's arrival, Djokovic had struggled to win major titles, and could revert back to that form without the influential German as a confidante.
Despite highlighting the potential issues for Djokovic coming into Melbourne, the fact remains that he is dominant at the Australian Open. His six titles cannot be overlooked, and if he is not the favourite for the tournament then he must certainly be considered in the Top 3. However, if Djokovic fails to get off to a strong start in a tournament where he has enjoyed such success, it could make 2017 a very difficult year for the World No.2.