Reason behind Novak Djokovic's decline might be a long-term concern

Djokovic looks like he has lost his fire and seems totally disinterested
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Novak Djokovic lost to Alejandro Tabilo in the third round of the Rome Open. It was a loss and a demolition, where he only managed to win five games. It isn't that Djokovic never lost to lesser players on clay, he did. But it is how he lost which is concerning.

This was already his third loss without creating a break point this year after Alex De Minaur at the United Cup and Jannik Sinner at the Australian Open. For the greatest returner of all time, this is a shocking statistic. He showed no emotion, no stress, nothing. It looked like he wanted off the court so badly. Like his match against Casper Ruud in Monte Carlo, Djokovic ended this match with a double fault on match point.

It's possible that Djokovic was not 100 percent physically against Tabilo after the bottle accident. The effects of being struck on the head by a metal object cannot be underestimated. They can be quite serious, and may not manifest themselves immediately. The Serb initially made light of the accident when he jokingly wore a bicycle helmet to training on Saturday, but says he will now have further scans.

From the matches Djokovic has played this year it's obvious that he has lost some footspeed and his stamina has also declined. It's likely a combination of being older coupled with a lack of fitness due to not playing as many matches. The world No.1 is having the worst season in terms of win percentage since 2006; lack of motivation can be a big reason.

Motivation may well be an issue at this point for Novak Djokovic

What Djokovic achieved last year at 36 years of age was incredible. He secured the slam and year-end championships records and became the oldest world No.1 this year. The Serb has always been vocal about being the best and having all the major records in tennis. Now that he has and has gotten older, nothing much seemingly motivates him.

Aside from one last Olympics, he doesn't have much to play for anymore. This is similar to Pete Sampras' last years on tour after breaking the slam record. The body was still capable but motivation was gone.

Djokovic woke up every day to beat Federer and Nadal's records. If they were still actively competing for slams, Djokovic would be still giving his best. After winning the Australian Open in 2021 he said: "Roger and Rafa inspire me and as long as they go, I'll go." Hunger comes from the desire to be the best and when there is no one to wake up that hunger, it eventually dies.

I've always wondered that with Rafael Nadal likely retiring this year, what is the motivation for Djokovic to continue? Maybe deep down the Serb has wondered why he keeps playing as well. When the Spaniard announced last year that 2024 would probably be his last season on tour, Djokovic in an interview admitted that a part of him will leave with Nadal and also made him think about his career and how long he will play.

Of course, Djokovic said last summer that he wanted to create new rivalries with Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner. However, those are only short-term ego boosts as the reality is both have 15 years on him, and they will beat him more often than not given the age and career trajectories.

Djokovic has parted ways with some of the closest people on his team, There have been other changes too. His social media presence has changed and he is posting a lot more content. In the past, he didn't bother with this as much and focused more on tennis. Now he might be thinking about life after tennis, but still having the celebrity/sports legend status.

Father time is also gnawing at his abilities slowly but surely and the physical decline doesn't have to be drastic. When one is operating at such a high level, even a small decline might make a world of difference. That said, only the biggest tournaments are true measuring sticks of Djokovic's level at this point in his career.

At the one Grand Slam he played this year, he was only stopped by the eventual champion. A couple of slams are right around the corner and the Olympics are not long after Wimbledon which will give a bigger picture. Sinner and Alcaraz are dealing with their own physical issues so the path may be cleared of the two toughest obstacles.

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