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Can Djokovic reinvigorate tennis again?
So, we have it once again. The rivalry that has produced the most matches in this blessed generation of men’s tennis will come to a head on Centre Court tomorrow. A shame that a match of this magnitude will be played at the semi-final stage, but make no mistake, both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will do everything to end Friday looking forward to another Wimbledon final. For Nadal, victory will offer him a chance to win his 18th Grand Slam title and close the gap to Roger Federer in the all-time leading major titles. To the millions of fans for the Spaniard, this would be another feather in the cap for Nadal over Federer in their claim to be the G.O.A.T. As inspirational as that feat would be for the matador, a Djokovic win would surely mean more for tennis. Not only would it mean that the Serb is well and truly back from his injury and emotional tribulations, but we would then have the great three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all reach a Grand Slam final. The last time that happened was in 2014 and as sensational as it has been having Federer and Nadal rekindle their magic since last year, tennis needs the Djoker again.
Ever since the French Open in 2016, after achieving something that may never be done again, it has been hard to watch Djokovic struggle to reach the heights he used to reach with such ease. Winning all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously was something both Federer and Nadal had tried to accomplish for years on end. Djokovic did it and against Andy Murray in two finals and Federer in the other two finals, so he definitely did not have any luck of the draw. However, after 5 June 2016, Djokovic has never been able to play to his full capability. At first, his problems seemed mental and to the avid viewer, these issues were completely understandable. He needed to find his reason to play tennis again, and that led him to significant changes in his life. Hiring and parting company with coaches, one of which included a fellow tennis legend in Andre Agassi, and changing to a vegan diet were just some of the adjustments Djokovic made in his attempt to get back to the top of the game. Funnily enough, it has been going back to his mentor since 2006 in Marian Vajda which has seen his form turn the corner. Added to these difficulties mentally, he had severe pain in his shoulder, which has seen him alter his service motion. After having surgery, he finally looks to be back with no physical ailments and more importantly, he has the fire back in his belly. But, why does tennis need Djokovic at his best?
During the period of his dominance of the men’s game, which spanned almost five years, tennis saw a level that it had never seen before. The movement of Djokovic, which saw him sliding on hard courts just as if it was blue clay, was absolutely extraordinary. Federer, Nadal and Murray all made changes to their game, such as adding shots or weight to the racket or hiring new super coaches, in order to topple to man from Serbia. Yet, all these attempts failed when presented against the player who in Nadal’s mind is “almost unbeatable at times”. The twin performances against Federer and Murray at the Australian Open in 2016 were the two best performances I have ever seen. Not even Federer at his brilliant best in 2007 would struggle to live with Djokovic. As Nick Bollettieri said in an interview in 2015, Djokovic was “the most complete player he had ever seen.” Unfortunately for the tennis fanatic, we have not seen that level of tennis for a few years and we are overdue a spectacular performance. Judging by the level of his tennis at these championships, Djokovic looks extremely close to playing a special match.
Despite all the positive signs, there can be no doubt that Nadal starts as favourite tomorrow. But, for the betterment of tennis, let us hope Djokovic can perform to his highest level. Furthermore, with him not losing a Grand Slam semi-final since the French Open in 2013, the omens are ominous for Nadal if he is to make the final of Wimbledon this Sunday.