Novak Djokovic was on top of tennis just two months ago. A record eighth Australian Open crown and a fifth Dubai Tennis Championships title followed Serbia’s 6-0 ATP Cup run with him at the helm — all clear indications that he was in the midst of yet another dominant turn to start the year. Unfortunately, the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic compelled the sport to grind to a halt; competitions were suspended indefinitely, leaving him in the dark as to when he could resume his quest to be the best of the best of all time.
Left to cope in a vacuum, Djokovic participated in seemingly mundane events. Even as he admitted being lost in quarantine, he gamely joined the likes of Roger Federer and Andy Murray in social media spectacles and kept busy with conference calls and interviews. Meanwhile, he stayed fit as best he could; at one point, he pushed the envelope and, while in Spain, wrongly used the Puente Romano Marbella Tennis Club’s facilities to practice, a misinterpretation of physical distancing rules then in place.
There can be no silver lining to the extraordinary disruption of the tour schedule, and the inability of even the most dedicated minds in science to get ahead of the virus serves only to fuel the uncertainty. Granted, it’s fair to argue that no one has benefited from the suspension of play. That said, there is also no discounting the negative effects it has had on the momentum he hitherto built. While he will still be World Number One once some semblance of normalcy is instituted, the interregnum has served as a reboot of sorts. He cannot but be starting from scratch.
The good news is that Djokovic continues to be upbeat. In fact, he firmly believes that, regardless of current circumstances, he will be walking away from the sport as the acknowledged first among equals. In last week’s In Depth with Graham Bensinger profile on him, he listed “win[ning] the most Slams and break[ing] the record for [most number of weeks] at Number One” as his “clear goals.” How, when he turns 33 later this month? “I don’t believe in limits,” he argued, while conceding that, as he ages further, “there will probably be a focus on the biggest tournaments and the tournaments that mean the most to me.”
Interestingly, Djokovic’s self-confidence has made for controversial declarations. For instance, he has insisted — particularly on Instagram Live discussions with financial-adviser-turned-supplements-endorser Chervin Jafarieh — that “energetical transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, [can] turn the most toxic food, or maybe most polluted water into the most healing water, because water reacts. Scientists have proven that in experiment, that molecules in the water react to our emotions to what has been said.”
Setting aside the outlandish, if dangerous, claim, Djokovic’s mind-over-matter conviction informs his capacity to perform under extreme pressure. It was certainly how he managed to turn around his career after coming close to retiring from tennis two years ago, and it figures to keep him engaged moving forward. Which is why, in the final analysis, his objectives look to be a matter of when, not if. For all the variabilities life has introduced, he deems himself the only constant that matters.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.