Novak Djokovic’s brilliance on the court is unquestionable, but the 17-time Grand Slam champ has divided opinion throughout his career with a more abrasive show of emotions on court.
Which is why the tennis world has questioned why the World No.1 appeared cagey against his greatest rival in his capitulation at the hands of Rafael Nadal.
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Nadal’s ruthless aggression and precise pressure appeared too much for Djokovic to handle, which resulted in an unwanted career-first in the first set when he was obliterated 6-0.
Djokovic was no doubt outplayed for the remainder of the match, but showed a glimmer of hope in the third set when he finally broke Nadal.
The World No.1 tried to rally himself and the crowd as he let out his first burst of emotion.
But it appeared in vain as Nadal broke back and went on to claim his 13th French Open title, and equal Roger Federer’s record 20 titles, in a 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 demolition.
This led to leading tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg to question why Djokovic appeared so cagey during the match.
One reason, Rothenberg put forward, was the extra effort Djokovic was placing on himself to keep his emotions in check after the controversial US Open default.
“I think he seemed very flat to me, even in the semi-final he seemed very flat emotionally,” Rothenberg said on Tennis Majors.
"He really didn't show much emotion in this match at all, even as it was going against him, until when he broke for the first time, midway through the first set." @BenRothenberg discusses Novak Djokovic's muted perfromance in Sunday's #RG20 final 👇https://t.co/mupdEL4g2p pic.twitter.com/fP0F0hbml8— Tennis Majors (@Tennis_Majors) October 12, 2020
Novak Djokovic FINALLY breaks, in his 10th return game.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) October 11, 2020
Seems to have finally uncorked some emotion in the process.#RG20
“I think that he’s working so hard especially after the default maybe at the US Open which obviously came from an emotional outburst in terms of hitting the ball or emotional moment at least or emotional lack of control that cost him dearly.”
It wasn’t until the aforementioned third set when Djokovic tried to lift his sprits, and his fans, with an accustomed roar.
But Rothenberg wanted more and suggested even smashing a racket would give the impression he was fighting.
“I just want to see Djokovic show some more emotion, whether it's you know smashing a racquet or screaming or doing something to let you know that he is engaged in this match,” he added.
“Because so often he just seemed pretty out of it and pretty flat, which let Nadal keep rolling pretty unimpeded.”
Serena Williams’ coach questions Djokovic’s mindset
The comments follow Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou also backed up this assumption and claimed Djokovic looked down even as he entered the court.
He alluded to the Australian Open earlier this year, when Djokovic dismantled Nadal in the final, but claimed it looked like Djokovic entered the French Open final with a different demeanour.
"I was there [Australian Open]. I literally saw them enter the court. I was a few meters from them. When I saw them enter the court, I saw Novak Djokovic and I thought 'Wow Novak is gonna destroy him'. And I thought that because of Novak's attitude,” he told Tennis Majors.
“You could feel his confidence and his will to enter the court to just destroy. When he is like this, I think he is the best player of all and whenever he enters the final like that, he is almost impossible to stop.
"But today, it was not that Novak, it was a player that did not want to miss and was missing. He didn't enter the court with the same mindset as the one we know.”
At the end of the day, Djokovic admitted he felt Nadal played better than him and showed why he was the King of Clay.
The World No.1 also admitted his tactic of using the drop shot, which he had executed so well throughout the tournament, didn’t pay off against Nadal.
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