Tennis Expert & Columnist
Novak Djokovic dominance can be rekindled, says Mark Petchey
Last Updated: 14/05/18 8:23am
Novak Djokovic has endured “a couple of false dawns” since his comeback from a long-standing elbow injury but critics would be foolish to right off the former world No 1, according to Mark Petchey.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion returned to competitive tennis at the Australian Open in January after a six-month hiatus and reached the fourth round but has since struggled to recreate his form.
Djokovic dominance on Grand Slam stage
The former world No 1 won 11 majors between January 2011 and June 2016.
Djokovic took further time away from the game to aid his recovery after his Melbourne exit but suffered shock opening defeats to Taro Daniel and Benoit Paire at Indian Wells and Miami respectively.
The Serbian then disposed of Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek from his coaching team within days, before announcing he had returned to former confidant Marian Vajda ahead of the clay court season.
"Ultimately it comes down to will and if Novak wants it badly enough he is too good a player for it [form] not to come back."
Mark Petchey on Novak Djokovic
He began with an encouraging run to the third round at the Monte-Carlo Masters but an early defeat to Martin Klizan in Barcelona followed by a second-round defeat to Kyle Edmund in Madrid has halted his progress. Despite the setbacks, Petchey has seen enough encouragements to suggest a return to near his best - should his body permit.
Edmund win adds to Djokovic woes
Kyle Edmund defeats Novak Djokovic to reach Madrid Open third round
"I thought he looked good in Australia straight away and then in Monte-Carlo. There's just been a couple of false dawns - there were also good signs in Miami," Petchey told Sky Sports.
"It just hasn't quite clicked for him over a continuous spell of time. Ultimately it comes down to will and if Novak wants it badly enough he is too good a player for it [form] not to come back.
"If he is desperate for the success and the dominance he had for so many years then it will come back."
Despite his optimism for the 30-year-old, Petchey admits Djokovic will need iron out his serve, which acted as a vital and underappreciated component of his game.
"The only thing from a tennis perspective that could be a concern for Novak is that his serve doesn't look as accurate and efficient as when he was in his heyday.
"If I was to pick one shot that doesn't look like the Novak of old, because of the elbow problems, change of weight on his rackets, then it would be his service accuracy - something which we became accustomed from him.
"It was an underrated part of his game for everyone watching because they focused on his athleticism, defensive qualities and his groundstrokes.
"But his serve was what ultimately kept him as dominant as he was. He served himself out of a lot of tight spots. It doesn't look quite as good as what it needs to be right now.
"I fully expect him to get back to somewhere near his best, assuming his elbow allows him to rediscover the kind of serving he had because I would say it is the most important shot in tennis.
With the French Open starting on May 27 Djokovic doesn't have long to build confidence for the second major of the season and will hope to enjoy a strong run at the Italian Open in Rome this week.
Djokovic completed the career Grand Slam with victory at Roland Garros in 2016 but lost in the quarter-finals last year and Petchey concedes the former winner faces a tough task, with Rafael Nadal in imperious form.
Petchey said: "Last year we would have said the Australian Open had come a little too quickly for Roger [on his return from a six-month injury layoff] and many of us were left eating our words at the end of the tournament.
"I am always loathed to do it [rule him out] but as the tournament goes with Rafa's dominance on this particular surface you would think it is going to be too soon for him [to make a charge to win it].
"But I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the quarters or the semi-finals because that is the quality of the man."
The Masters 1000 Series continues with our coverage of the ATP Italian Open on Sky Sports Arena starting from 10am on Monday.
Keep up to date with the latest on www.skysports.com/tennis with news, previews, live blogs, reports and expert analysis. On the move? Head to our app for mobile devices and iPad, or follow our Twitter account @SkySportsTennis to join in the conversation.
Tennis updates straight to your phone
How to receive all the latest tennis news straight to your mobile
Never miss the big kick-off or have to deal with interrupted games or low quality streams with a NOW TV Sky Sports Pass. You'll get exclusive coverage of the Premier League, Sky Bet EFL, EFL Cup and loads more starting from just £7.99. No contract.