Thiem upsets Djokovic

WATCH: Former world No.1 in 'tank city' at French Open

THE most telling part of Novak Djokovic's French Open flame-out didn't come in the crucial first-set tiebreak against Dominic Thiem, one in which Djokovic lost five of six service points and fell 7-5.

It didn't come in the second set, when Djokovic was seemingly just going through the motions, stuck on the last set he let get away.

And it didn't even come in the third set, when Djokovic pathetically quit on the match, getting bageled to cap off a dismal 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 6-0 quarter-final defeat.

It was his first 0-6 set in a grand slam since 2005 - more than 900 sets ago - when he was an on-the-rise teenager instead of a down-on-his-luck 30-year-old.

No, it happened when Djokovic, the former world No. 1 who's been in a tennis tailspin ever since winning last year's French Open to hold all four majors at once, was in a press conference and asked a softball question about whether he'd like to play through his issues or take a break to recalibrate. Instead of lobbing back a half-hearted answer, Djokovic took the bait and said he'd been pondering a break and implied that his presence at Wimbledon might not even be a sure thing.

Should it?


Dominic Thiem after defeating Djokovic. Photo: AP
Dominic Thiem after defeating Djokovic. Photo: AP

Djokovic hit rock bottom during the Australian Open and has been floundering there for five months. (Thus countering the old adage that once you hit rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up.

You can move side-to-side all you'd like.) He's completely lost - an athlete without purpose, hope or fortitude.

His game isn't nearly as bad as the results suggest but his mind is everywhere but the tennis court.

That's how you go from battling in a first-set tiebreak to walking off the courtembarrassed just 63 minutes later.

Losing to Thiem wasn't the problem - the Austrian has been the world's second-best clay-court player this season. It's the way he lost, without showing any improvement upstairs despite the drastic steps he's taken to clear his mind, There's the dippy "peace and love" mentality he's learning from player-turned-guru Pepe Imaz.

There was the gutting of his entire backroom staff, including his longtime coach Marian Vajda. There was the surprise hire of Andre Agassi and the announcement that Agassi would be a drive-through coach, attending tournaments when it was convenient.

It all stunk of desperation.

Realistically, it's over for Novak Djokovic, at least for the Djokovic we've known for the last six years. There's no grand second act for tennis players once they've lost their grip atop the sport - only occasional flashes of brilliance. Roger Federer won 16 of 27 grand slams between 2003-2010. He's won two since then. Rafael Nadal won eight of 15 slams from 2010-14. That 2014 French Open title was his last (until Sunday, perhaps).

Djokovic will win more slams (though catching Federer seems, for the moment, to be out of the question) but going four-for-four and playing in three major finals per year? Those days are gone.


A dejected Djokovic during his loss to Dominic Thiem. Photo: AP
A dejected Djokovic during his loss to Dominic Thiem. Photo: AP

He'll fall to No. 3 in next week's rankings (maybe even No. 4 if Stan Wawrinka can pull another monumental grand slam finals upset), the first time he'll be out of the top two since 2011.

He went from being the reigning champion at all four slams to posting pedestrian 3R/F/2R/QF results in his title defences, defending those 8000 rankings points with just 1695, less than he got for any one of those four majors. Ever since the loss to journeyman Denis Istomin in the second round of the Australian Open, this has been the logical path for Djokovic but it doesn't make the situation any less jarring.

There's no silver lining to his latest defeat and nothing to build upon from the tournament, which wouldn't have been the case had he not wilted after the first set and phoned in the third. There would have been something to take away from a close loss. Somehow though, Djokovic comes out of Paris an even bigger mess than before.

Tennis legend John McEnroe fired up at Djokovic, accusing him of giving up in the third set.

"It looks right now as if Djokovic doesn't want to be on the court. This is tank city. I'm very surprised - especially with the way how it ended. That last set was really strange," McEnroe said in commentary.

"When have you seen Djokovic lose 0-6 in a grand slam quarter-final? There are question marks for me over where Novak is - especially after that performance."

McEnroe continued on that train of thought when speaking to the BBC. "Inexplicable. I don't remember seeing a time in the last six to eight years when Novak mailed it in," he said. "He basically gave up.

"It looked in the third set like he just didn't want to be out there, couldn't compete anymore, and that's shocking for a guy that's won as much as he has and prides himself on competition."

News Corp Australia

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