Does Novak Djokovic have the WILL to become an all-time great?
There is no doubt that Novak Djokovic is a fabulous tennis player. His ability to reach the US Open final, the French Open and Wimbledon semi-finals and to win the Masters Series events in Miami and Montreal by the age of 20 only go to prove that emphatically.
However, his only major weakness - in my opinion, most of the people I speak to and the general view of most tennis commentators I listen to - is his WILL. He doesn't want to win badly enough!
There is no doubt that he wants to be a winner but does he want it so badly......so badly, he is obsessive in everything he does...so badly, he thinks nothing but winning 24 hours a day...so badly, he thinks winning is the sole objective in his life and nothing else or nobody else matters.
Novak's WILL has disappointed me on several occasions:
1) Wimbledon semi-final. Novak was playing well enough to win the first set, Nadal was playing poorly. Djokovic lost the second set (with two breaks of serve) and was also two breaks down in the third set when he retired at 4-1. The only injury as such was an injured blistered toe - he was suffering from a weary body, a weary mind and a pysychologically stronger opponent who was playing better tennis. At 1 set all, and 4-1, Novak Djokovic...quite purely a simply...just gave up, in a WIMBLEDON SEMI-FINAL. It is a distinct possibility that he might never reach that stage at Wimbledon ever again and when his one chance came along, he threw the towel in. Even if he'd lost the final two sets 6-1 6-0, at least he could have said he gave it everything.
Did he not understand that Rafael Nadal might have got nervous in closing out the match. Afterall, it was a Wimbledon semi-final, an event he had never won before and an opportunity to play a Wimbledon final! You at least make you opponent work for it. You just never know what can happen. Was he not watching the day before when Bartoli in the women's event lost the first set 6-1. Did she throw the towel in? No. Why? Because ANYTHING can happen in a Wimbledon semi-final, absolutely anything...as she demonstrated. Your opponent can get nervous, your opponent can start playing badly, your opponent can even get injured him/herself. And sure as...Henin did get nervous, started playing badly and Bartoli's ability to hang tough got her through the match. A woman whose WILL cannot be questioned on that evidence.
2) Carlos Moya, Cincinnati, Second Round:
Novak Djokovic just gave up in this match, almost from the very start. As soon as Djokovic lost the first set, it was as if he had no intention of winning whatsoever, and was quite literally going through the motions...like fulfilling a contractual obligation and nothing else. It wasn't because he had no confidence, wasn't playing well or was injured - he just couldn't be bothered. It was as if he thought winning Montreal was good enough for him and he had boxes to tick and after winning Montreal, Cincinnati wasn't one of them. Winning back-to-back Masters Series has been done many times...it's not a ridiculous feat...but Djokovic didn't even try to accomplish it. It's not as if it was just a normal ATP event, it was a Masters Series event, during his favourite stage of the year, on an outdoor hardcourt in North America. Conditions were perfect for him and he was in the form of his life.
On the other hand, Roger Federer did show a much stronger WILL. Whereas Djokovic was playing very close top the top of him game, Roger Federer quite clearly wasn't...yet it was Federer's dedication, will and professionalism that got him through the draw. There was one match in particular, against Hewitt in the semis, where Federer was playing awfully...absolutely dreadfully. He was making more unforced errors than I have seen him make in the past four years...but he showed character, a desire, a WILL to win...and that was enough to get him through, because without it, he would have succumbed easily.
3) The US Open Final:
I was very dissappointed with Djokovic, not so much during the US Open final but moreso after. He just looked pleased to reach the final, and didn't look the slightest bit dissapointed to lose in the heartbreaking way that he did...and let's make no bones about it, it was heartbreaking. He lost the first set after having five set points, all of them on his own serve and also three consecutively after leading 40-0...and then losing the second set after having two match points. He should have been 2 sets to 0 up, but instead, he lost in straight sets.
Djokovic did not convince me that he was heartbroken, gutted, dejected - as he should have been. He looked in good spirits, content. This to me is NOT the mind of a champion. Pete Sampras would have been livid with himself...utterly dejected. I remember the 1992 US Open Final when Sampras lost to Edberg, and Sampras was a broken man. As a result, it was a defining moment in his career as the disappointment he suffered that day inspired him, and motivated him to not suffer the same fate again...because he hated the taste of being a loser SO MUCH. Somehow, I think Djokovic took it too well, and I can't see it being the same defining moment in his career. As I looked into Sampras' eyes that day, I saw a roaring lion, hungry for success...as I looked in Djokovic's eyes 15 years later, I saw a man happy to play second fiddle.
4) Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, etc.
When Lleyton Hewitt was 18-21, the same agegroup that Djokovic is now..he used to scare me. He looked like a complete pysychopath on court. He screamed after virtually every point, yelled c'mon, fistpumped...he was a warrior. Pat Rafter nicknamed him "the mongrel". I looked at the blood pumping through his veins when he pumped his fist. I saw the scowl on his face, I thought he was going to burst a blood vessle. I saw him take his anger out on umpires, ball kids, opponents, fans...he wanted to take on the world. He had that bulldog spirit, and you either loved or hated him. I don't see that same spirit in Djokovic...and it is a spirit that most great players have at Djokovic's age. I see this spirit in Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and many other players. It was evident with Andre Agassi, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Andy Roddick at a similar age. Even Pete Sampras and Roger Federer displayed this spirit right at the beginning of their careers. Novak Djokovic just doesn't have it. All players, Hewitt included, usually mellow as they grow older, maturer and more experienced - even if they maintain their spirit and enthusiasm - but I just don't see it in Djokovic at the moment.
Novak Djokovic's problem is that he just doesn't want it badly enough.