Novak Djokovic fell to Karen Khachanov in the final of the Paris Masters on Sunday. Djokovic, along with the rest of this season’s eight best players, will now set their sights on the year end event at London’s O2 arena.
With 14 major and 72 overall singles titles to his name, the Serb has had many incredible years on tour. His 2011 season had a 43-match win streak in it. Despite the loss in Paris, and no matter what happens in London, Djokovic’s 2018 won’t go down as his best season, but rather his most impressive.
Hitting rock bottom early:
Djokovic sat out the second half of 2017 due to an elbow injury. There were serious questions about what he would be capable of this year. The early answers were not good. After reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open, the former Olympic Bronze Medalist underwent more surgical work on his elbow. His return from that break at the March events in Indian Wells and Miami was a total disaster.
Djokovic lost his opener at both events to players ranked outside the top 50. The whispers about him being done winning big turned into roars, and his brief and bizarre coaching arrangement with Andre Agassi ended.
The turning point:
Marián Vajda returned to Djokovic’s coaching box for the clay season. Vajda had guided Djokovic to virtually all of his former glory. After showing signs of life at the tune-up events, the true turning point came in the quarterfinals of the French Open. As turning points often do for tennis players, it came in a loss.
Marco Cecchinato upset Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Cecchinato had never won a Grand Slam main draw singles match prior to his storybook run. It felt like Djokovic’s semifinal run in Rome was somewhat deceiving, and the roars mentioned above returned. He hadn’t won a major in over two years, and hadn’t won a title of any kind in nearly a year.
Djokovic was a mix of angry and crushed after his French Open loss. He said he was unsure about playing the upcoming grass court season, including Wimbledon. It is hard to believe that even Djokovic had any idea how ridiculous that statement would look by now.
Return to the top:
Only Djokovic knows exactly what changed after the French Open, but turnarounds like what he has experienced the last few months are rarely the result of a single factor like being 100% healthy again. The simple answer is that he now, once again, looks like a player who enjoys being on court and has done a better job dealing with his emotions during matches. However, it likely goes deeper than that
Djokovic has not only played the rest of the year after the French Open, but also dominated it. He has reached the final — or better — in all but one event. This includes winning consecutive majors at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, as well as picking up Masters 1000 trophies in Cincinnati and Shanghai. We have seen runs like this before from Djokovic to propel him to the year end top ranking. This one is different, though. Different because, as recently as March, retirement at the end of 2018 seemed more likely than being year end World No. 1 for Djokovic.