Novak Djokovic was well-beaten in Paris by Rafael Nadal, but that only makes him more dangerous than ever.
Horace, the great Roman poet and philosopher, held a belief: Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.
It would, of course, be wrong to suggest that Novak Djokovic has not enjoyed more than his fair share of prosperity. He has won far more than most could ever dream of.
However, make no mistake about it, Novak Djokovic and everything he has achieved, every record he has broken, every wrong he has righted, is a creation of adversity.
Djokovic was born in a war-torn country under many international embargos. He and his family had to queue, often for hours, to obtain milk and bread and other daily necessities that the rest of us take for granted. For much of his childhood he spent nights in a basement while Belgrade was bombed.
Of course he had his talent, and he was fortunate enough to have it spotted at a very early age, but even that did not come without challenges.
Even after beginning to make inroads on the ATP tour, a rippling glucose intolerance threatened to derail his career. Even after he conquered it he found two of the greatest players that tennis has ever known stood between him and what he wanted to achieve. When he began to conquer them, he found a press unreceptive to having their romanticised Federer and Nadal rivalry hijacked by a third great.
And yet, here we stand, with Djokovic still very much in the race to challenge just about any tennis record you care to mention, if he hasn’t already broken it.
Djokovic was well-beaten by Rafael Nadal in Paris – he was literally the very first one to admit it – but he wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. The Spaniard is uniquely brilliant on the Paris clay.
He also just so happened to play perhaps the most perfect tennis of his entire career. In such circumstances, Djokovic, or anyone else for that matter, was never going to beat him.
For context, there are more men in the world who have walked on the moon than there are those who have beaten Nadal on clay in Paris, as Djokovic has done, incidentally.
Nadal, naturally, deserves every plaudit in the world for what he has achieved at Roland Garros, and it’s been great to see him allowed to bask in the recognition that has rightly come his way.
It would be a mistake to believe that any of that reflects upon Novak Djokovic, though.
In the days since the Roland Garros final, there have been those who have appeared to revel in writing Djokovic off. Mats Wilander, for example, has questioned whether Djokovic will even be able to ‘emotionally invest himself’ at the Australian Open, which makes you question whether Wilander has even seen the Serbian play a single match before.
It will be tough for Djokovic, there is no question. At the very worst, you’d expect Rafael Nadal to win one more French Open in his career. He certainly didn’t look like a fading force while bludgeoning his way to that 13th title.
Even if that is the only Grand Slam title Nadal wins before now and the end of his career, that would leave Novak Djokovic needing five more Grand Slams to top his total – and that’s probably a best-case scenario. If you think winning five Grand Slam titles is easy, just check your history. Even Roger Federer has only managed four in the last nine years.
There is also the issue of the Next Gen coming to fruition too. Dominic Thiem is already here and he will be a threat at every Grand Slam in which he competes now. Stefanos Tsitsipas looks close, as does Alexander Zverev, and what Jannik Sinner could be capable of is anyone’s guess.
But all of that only means one thing: Novak Djokovic is now more dangerous than ever.
Do not write him off, do not question his hunger or his strength for the fight, because adversity has revealed Novak Djokovic’s genius each and every time it has challenged him before, and there’s nothing to suggest this time will be any different.
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