After a humbling defeat to Stan Wawrinka at the Australian Open in January, Novak Djokovic was perilously close to being forced to retire from another tournament.
With Nadal winning in straight sets against Benjamin Becker, and the Serbian backing into the second round at the French Open, doctors warned that the damage had been done to his body and that he needed a break from competing.
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Well, it is 14 months later and Djokovic is one win away from a calendar grand slam after beating Kei Nishikori at Indian Wells.
Djokovic won, 7-6, 6-1, in the final on Sunday.
#Djokovic retires only third time at a #WTA final https://t.co/SHFDllIksS — Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) March 27, 2017
Just the win meant Djokovic was back in the No. 1 spot.
This is not to say the 32-year-old is not capable of winning a second Australian Open in Melbourne this year, but he must rediscover his form quickly after losing to Sam Querrey on the final day of the Dubai Open this week.
Milos Raonic was his next opponent in Miami and will be hoping he does not break the streak of Grand Slams won by a man who last year became the first to achieve the feat since Rod Laver back in 1969.
Djokovic has lost only two Grand Slam finals in 20 years of competition and is considered one of the greatest players ever, but what makes this somewhat surprising is he was on the podium in New York just two years ago.
He was placed fourth at the US Open and hasn’t played a Grand Slam since.
A year ago at Indian Wells, Djokovic had suffered knee trouble that had him needing surgery.
Seven weeks later, he injured his elbow and barely took the court for the rest of the season.
Against Wawrinka in Melbourne, he has been hampered by a sore wrist since the start of the season and had a breakthrough year in 2016.
Top ATP players grew increasingly frustrated by Djokovic’s late start to the year and it is surely not a coincidence the Serb began to lose form shortly after Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal snared the first two Grand Slam titles of the season.
Djokovic has always contended he was not competing at his best because of injury, but in the weeks between matches, losing key matches to lesser players that were clearly lacking in the talent to beat him.
It would be easy to wish him well and be a spectator, but would be a complete waste of time. Novak is the best player in the world.
If he wants to compete in Grand Slams in the future, he must have the results and get his back to those consistently high levels.
His injury history means he is likely to undergo a reconditioning period, possibly in preparation for the return of the major he most needs to win.
It took Federer until his 30th birthday to win a major and for the Croatian Ivan Ljubicic it took him until his 31st to bag his first — quite astonishing statistics.
Will Djokovic be on the podium at the Australian Open in January?
Nishikori won on Sunday in what might well be a “throwback” tennis match to 2008, when they met at Melbourne Park in the opening round, on a white court with a yellow line.
Nishikori has started the year with impressive victories in the Australian Open, Miami, Indian Wells and this week at Indian Wells.
Djokovic could have been more vulnerable, but he often finds the strength and mental maturity to recover from his own withdrawal form, though some injuries can be exceptionally tricky to overcome.
While the first two of the past three major titles have been lost in controversial circumstances, the fourth is apparently devoid of controversy, and fans will hope that recent injuries have not been a distraction.
For all the controversy last year, Djokovic’s health problems could not have been any more pleasant and will have served him well.
Wawrinka has won one grand slam tournament and Roger Federer has been challenged to take another one.
But Djokovic now has more than he needs, and the only question now is whether he can go one better than Rod Laver, and add a calendar grand slam.
Topics: tennis, sport, united-states