© Ella Ling

Novak Djokovic

What's happening in Novak Djokovic's head?


You can cut gluten out of our life, but dealing with ‘personal problems’ – that catch-all tag for off-court anguish – isn’t as simple as just saying no to bread rolls. We have seen that before with Novak Djokovic. And once again, according to the Serbian’s former coach, Djokovic is “burdened with personal problems”.

It is a matter of debate whether Jelena Gencic has done the world number two a disservice or not by disclosing that his tennis is suffering because of these difficulties, while declining to specify what issues are. Maybe it is good to have all this out in the open, to be shared and debate in tennis cyberspace. Or perhaps Gencic’s interview has invited a whole summer hard-court swing of speculation on what’s happening in Novak’s head. Tennis players are as affected by their private lives as anyone else. Take Rafael Nadal. It was as he flew home from winning the 2009 Australian Open that he was told that his parents were splitting up, and the effect that had on him was arguably the main factor behind his failure to win that year’s French Open – even more of a factor than his painful knees. Yet, for all that, Djokovic is the most emotional of the leading players.

One of the reasons that he started to make the most of his talent, and had such a fine season last year, was that he had dealt with his “personal problems”. Though he has never specified what these difficulties were, there was much speculation that they involved his relationship with his parents. “Something clicked in my head, because I am very emotional on and off the court. The things off the court were not working for me. They reflected on my game, on my professional tennis career. But then I settled some things in my head. It was all on me. I had to find the best solution and try to get back on track.” 

And now this from Gencic, while discussing his recent thin run – these things are relative, given that he reached the semi-finals of the Wimbledon Championships, and played a medal match at the Olympics (he lost the bronze to Juan Martin del Potro): “Although no one wanted to go public with it, there were reasons why his barren run could have been predicted. He definitely has problems, with body and mind, but he managed to overcome similar problems before when it was hardest for him. Novak is short of his best self, and it is up to him to pinpoint the reasons and sort it out. He is burdened with personal problems and now his tennis is suffering. I would be worried because he keeps saying he is tired. They need to locate the reasons why this is happening – if it is down to his physicality or something away from tennis which is tiring his mind.”

This has been a painful year for Djokovic – it was during a tournament in Monte Carlo in the spring that he learnt of the passing of his grandfather Vladimir. But it is unclear what Gencic means by Djokovic being “burdened by personal problems”. There has been some suggestions that Gencic’s remarks were lost in translation, and what she meant was that he is struggling for motivation. Either way, people will have their theories.