Djokovic Recalls Moments Of Doubt In Comeback
In a way, Novak Djokovic’s semi-final victory against Rafael Nadal was the culmination of a year-long journey. Due to a right elbow injury, Wimbledon was the former World No. 1’s last tournament of the season one year ago.
So while that was a low moment for the Serbian, the event has been his greatest high since. After beginning the 2018 campaign with a 6-6 record — including his first three-match losing streak since 2007 — Djokovic has made it clear that he is back in top form again, and is now just one triumph from lifting his 13th Grand Slam trophy.
“There were moments of doubt, of frustration, disappointment, where you're questioning whether you want to keep it going in this way or that way, where is that taking you?” Djokovic said. “Everybody goes through that process of thinking. I don't know anybody that is managing always to stay positive, to always have 100 per cent self-belief, confidence. It's life. We’re humans, we go through that.”
But those low moments have prepared Djokovic for this opportunity. The losses and disappointments have pushed the 31-year-old, igniting an intense desire to climb back toward his top level.
“Speaking from this position right now, it makes it even better for me, makes it even more special because I managed to overcome challenges and obstacles, get myself to the finals of a Slam. Obviously if you told me that six months ago, I would take it right away,” Djokovic said. “Did I truly believe that I can get back on the level? Yes, I mean, it's hard for me to play tennis and not believe that I can be the best in what I do. I've been fortunate to achieve so much in my career that every time I go to the tournament, I have the highest of ambitions.”
And what better challenge to overcome than to defeat the top player in the ATP Rankings, Nadal? The Spaniard had won his last 16 major semi-final matches before Saturday’s defeat, entering the match with a 35-2 record this season.
“He's probably the greatest fighter ever to play this game. I mean, he battles every single point like it's his last. That's something that is so impressive with Rafa. That's what makes him so difficult to beat on any surface,” Djokovic said. “Coming into the match against him, knowing that you have to earn your points, is already an energy-spending moment. So you have to be ready for it, obviously. That's why you put in ‘X’ amount of hours on the practice court, preparation, trying to be as professional as you can, because you need to compete with a guy like Nadal.
“If you want to be able to compete on such a high level, eventually get a win against him in the big tournaments, then you have to give it all you’ve got.”
That takes a substantial amount of mental fortitude as well. Just weeks ago, the Serbian could not convert a match point in the Fever-Tree Championships final against Marin Cilic, eventually losing the match.
So it appeared, for a moment at least, that the match could slip away from the No. 12 seed. Djokovic held his first match point on Nadal’s serve at 8-7, but the Spaniard showed good feel with a drop shot to erase the opportunity, with the 31-year-old sliding across the glass as if it was clay, coming agonisingly close to the ball.
“It was one of those moments where I think time stopped for me. Match point, I saw him coming in, I played a relatively solid shot. It was a moment of decision making for him knowing whether he was going to go for a drop shot or just smack the backhand. When I saw him changing the grip, I started running. But the drop shot was just too good,” Djokovic said. “But I did try to, like, in 'Space Jam,' with Michael Jordan, when he was trying to stretch, that's probably something that comes to my mind to describe it.”
But instead of letting that close call affect him, Djokovic rebounded in the next game to clinch his spot in the final, his 22nd attempt to capture Grand Slam glory (12-9).
“I was very emotional after the match, as well, because it's been a long 15 months for me, trying to overcome different obstacles,” Djokovic said. “So to be where I am at the moment is quite satisfying.”