The fact that very few people were surprised to see Novak Djokovic lose to Benoit Paire in the second round of the Miami Open goes to show just how far he has fallen in the last two years. His third loss in a row, something that hasn’t happened to him in 10 years.
Djokovic, a 12-time Grand Slam champion and 30-time Masters tournament winner, came into the Miami tournament as the number 12 player in the world. His last Grand Slam title came in 2016, beating Andy Murray to win his first French Open and complete his career Grand Slam. Since then, his moment of triumph have been far and few inbetween.
As far as slams go, it’s been very underwhelming.
In Wimbledon 2016, after winning the title in the two previous years, he lost in the third round to Sam Querrey, his earliest Wimbledon exit since 2008.
In the US Open a couple of months later he returned to the final, only to be beaten by Stanislas Wawrinka, a player he has dominated almost every time the two have clashed, except for Grand Slam finals, where Wawrinka holds a 2-0 lead over Djokovic.
In the 2017 Aussie Open, Djokovic was knocked out in the second round by Denis Istomin, a player who has never breached the top 30. It was Djokovic’s worst performance in Melbourne since 2006.
The French Open ended in disappointment too, unable to defend his title, getting knocked out in the quarterfinals by Dominic Thiem. Before the tournament Djokovic made a coaching change, going to work with Andre Agassi.
Later in Wimbledon he retired during his match with Thomas Berdych in the quarters due to an elbow injury, an issue he said has been bothering him for over a year. That elbow injury cost him participation in the US Open last summer.
Djokovic did play in the Australian Open this year, but suffered another early exit, this time in the fourth round against South Korean Chung Hyeon, a talented youngster who made the semifinals. He had another operation on his elbow in January, and has made his return at Indian Wells, where he lost in the second round to qualifier Taro Daniel.
Djokovic looked bad in his lost to Paire as well; losing 6-3, 6-4 against a 28-year old Frenchman with 1 career title, a losing record in singles matches and currently ranked 47th in the world. He probably played worse than in his lost to Taro, looking dejected and frustrated, leading to plenty of unforced errors. Weak arm strength, very little movement after hitting the ball. Maybe it’s just rust and him getting used to everything after a long time away from the court. Maybe this is the beginning of the end, and another phase in the post-Big4 era. Djokovic had a 16-match winning streak in Miami heading into the match (didn’t play there last year), winning the title three years in a row and 6 overall.
“Of course, I want to be able to play as well as I want to play. Just it’s impossible at the moment. That’s all. I lost to a better player.” (Djokovic after the loss to Paire)
Next up is Monte Carlo, a tournament he’s won twice before, but perhaps expecting anything from Djokovic at this point is a bit of a stretch.