Can Novak Djokovic recapture past glories at Wimbledon?

February 8, 2018

News that Novak Djokovic has had elbow surgery marks the latest attempt by the former world number one to recapture the fitness and form that once made him seem unstoppable.

Less than two years ago, Djokovic literally had the tennis world at his feet. Opponents would be left scurrying helplessly around court as he won match after match, relentlessly piling up the silverware.

This continued well into 2016 as he added his sixth Australian Open title - beating Andy Murray in the final for the fourth time - and then added his name to the most exclusive of tennis lists when he beat the Scot again in the French Open final, ensuring he had won all four Grand Slams. 

Having won 12 major tournaments and seemingly untouchable at the top of the world rankings, it seemed the sky was the limit. There was no talk then of Roger Federer going on to win 20 Grand Slams, while Rafael Nadal also seemed on his way out and many wondered if Murray would win another Grand Slam, let alone usurp the Serbian superstar as world number one.

All that, however, has come to pass. Early exits at the Championships, Wimbledon and in the Rio Olympics brought the first hints that something was wrong. Djokovic did make the US Open final after two opponents retired, but even this convenient passage could not hide his own physical struggles and he was no match for Stan Wawrinka in the final. 

Moreover, as an irresistible Murray gradually wiped out his ranking points lead, Djokovic himself alluded to some personal issues that were hampering him. When the year ended, Boris Becker quit as coach, openly claiming the Serb had lost his edge after achieving his big goal at Roland-Garros.

If motivation had been the issue - the sense of 'no lands left to conquer' - then Djokovic started 2017 insisting he was determined to put that right. This time, however, it was injury that hampered him, with his elbow that forced him to retire mid-match at the Championships, Wimbledon proving so serious he rested for six months.  

The Australian Open was meant to be the big comeback, but neither the remodelled serve or a big bandage could solve the problem and he crashed out to South Korean Chung Hyeon. Like Andy Murray with his hip, rest has not done the trick and so he has gone under the surgeon's knife. 

In a statement on his Instagram account, the Serb described the operation as a "small medical intervention" and added that he is confident of a full and swift recovery.

Fans of the three-time winner of the Championships, Wimbledon will certainly hope the surgery has done the trick. If so, the question now is whether the time away from the court will have given Djokovic the determination and desire to get back to his best. 

The key may be the setting of new targets. By the time the world's finest players assemble at the All England Club, Djokovic will be 31 and emulating Federer's 20 Grand Slams will be a remote goal. Nadal will most likely be on 17 himself by then after Roland Garros. Having won all the Grand Slams, the ATP World Tour Finals, the Davis Cup and been world number one, it may be that the greatest achievement now for Djokovic will be to overcome his own sense of fulfilment.

Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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