By Michael Stokoe
Novak Djokovic has chosen the Sunshine coast as his destination of choice this year for a pre-Wimbledon warm-up as he looks to get back on track after what has been a difficult year for the world no. 4.
It’s a timely addition to the AEGON International and with some very accomplished male players already taking part in the Eastbourne tournament, the addition of Djokovic will only add to the prestige and excitement of the event.
Since the news broke at the beginning of this week that Djokovic accepted the wildcard offer from the LTA, much has been made of the 30-year-old’s impending appearance on the courts of Devonshire Park; rightly so because Djokovic is rarely seen at Wimbledon warm-up events. In fact it’s the first time in seven years the Serbian has taken to a grass court warm-up tournament in-between the French Open and Wimbledon.
So if you ask me, Eastbourne is privileged to have someone who is widely regarded as one of the best male tennis players ever to grace the courts. And with his presence known it just goes to show what a great job the team at Eastbourne and in particular Gavin Fletcher has done with the event.
In previous years, Djokovic has always arrived at Wimbledon in great shape and not to mention superb form. But so far this year, his season has not gone to plan. He’s struggled for form and that air of invincibility that surrounded the world no.4 has somewhat disappeared as of late.
But, despite his topsy turvy season, counting Djokovic out of another Wimbledon crown would be a rather foolish thing to do. We’ve seen the current unpredictable nature of the men’s tour firsthand this week.
At Queens, Jordan Thompson’s victory over British no.1 and world no.1 Andy Murray is testament that anyone can beat anyone in the beautiful game of tennis. But at the same time, you cannot get away from the fact that Djokovic has been below par so far this season.
And Djokovic accepting the wildcard offer for Eastbourne, I think goes to show that the Serbian feels he needs to fine tune his game and more importantly seek that much needed confidence booster ahead of the biggest Grand Slam.
At the Australian Open earlier this year; a tournament he has won a staggering six times the 30-year-old crashed out at the round of 64 to the then 127th ranked Denis Istomin. And although his form picked up at subsequent events like the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and the Madrid Open where he reached the final and semi-final’s of those competitions losing to Alexander Zverev and Rafa Nadal respectively, it’s still been a tricky year for Djokovic.
Then, at the French Open, a place where he tasted success as recently as last year he managed to reach the quarter-finals. But he came up against an inspired Dominic Thiem who won 6-7, 3-6, 6-0.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Djokovic has gone wrong so far this year. In some cases he has just come up against the better man and when that happens there’s not much you can do.
But, he did split from his coach, the legendary Boris Becker recently and changed to another all-time great, Andre Agassi. But whether that explains his recent slumps only time will tell if that was an inspired move from the three-time Wimbledon winner.
The fact that Djokovic has decided to break his pre-Wimbledon tradition shows he needs to improve and the good thing for Eastbourne is that they will be the beneficiaries of his presence and global appeal.
Winning trophies is what defines the very best. And although Djokovic has proved his worth countless of times in the past, the very best all face bumps in the road or adversity along the way. But it’s their response which sets them apart from the others.
Now, Eastbourne might be a small victory in the grand schemes of things if Djokovic was to taste success at Devonshire Park. But, the bigger picture is of course Wimbledon – but with the 30-year-old looking to recapture that form that has made him so intimidating in previous years, Eastbourne could be pivotal in his path to glory later on this summer.
So, Djokovic will not be heading to Eastbourne to just make up numbers because if you understand how professional sportspeople operate and think they are some of the most driven people you are likely to meet. And for somebody like Djokovic who is used to winning the biggest honours tennis can muster this season has got to have hurt him.
Eastbourne could well be his 2017 redemption ticket. Eastbourne could be a chance for him to rediscover that form which has made him one of the most successful male players in the modern era.