Novak Djokovic makes a big statement that will send a shiver of fear through his rivals

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic in California
Novak Djokovic in California

Novak Djokovic’s presence on the Indian Wells practice courts this week should send a shiver of concern down the spines of his rivals.

The world No 1 has not struck a ball in anger since his thumping Australian Open semi-final defeat against Jannik Sinner in late January, with that defeat impairing hasty suggestions that his days as the dominant force in men’s tennis were coming to an end.

It would be natural for ambition and appetite for more and more to wane for a champion who has already broken all the significant records in the men’s game, yet Djokovic has confirmed his eagerness to play a relatively full schedule in 2024 burns brightly.

Djokovic’s decision to fly out to America a full two weeks before the start of the Indian Wells tournament was a real statement to his rivals that he is taking this event seriously, even though he has stated on several occasions that ATP 1000 events are no longer his biggest target.

He has openly admitted he struggles to be away from his wife Jelena and two young children when he is on the tennis roadshow, but he has shown commitment to extending his incredible career by confirming his participation at Indian Wells for the first time since 2019.

Winning another ATP 1000 title to add to his already record-breaking collection will not add anything to Djokovic’s legacy as the most successful tennis player of all-time, but this tournament will give him a chance to pave the way for what really matters in the rest of 2024.

The French Open that gets underway in May is his next big target, with the push to regain his Wimbledon title in July and the defence of his US Open title in September the big target he has in his sights before this year is out.

Claiming another year-end world No 1 title will also be on his mind, as well as another ATP Finals title in Turin, yet it is the Grand Slams that matter most to Djokovic now.

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“The Grand Slams, I have said in the last few years, have been always the highest goal and the priority of mine in the whole season,” said Djokovic. “I don’t play as much in terms of other tournaments, so I try to prioritise my preparation so that I can peak in Slams.

“These are the moments and these are the kind of emotions that I motivate myself with every single day when I’m not playing a tournament. Yeah, occasionally I ask myself ‘why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done, you know? How long do I want to keep going?’ I do have these questions in my head, of course.

“Knowing that I play at such a high level still, and I win the biggest tournaments in this sport, I don’t want to leave this sport if I’m still at the top if I’m still playing the way I’m playing.”

Djokovic’s status as world No 1 would not have been affected if he had opted not to play at Indian Wells and in Miami a week later to focus on his preparations for the French Open, but he may well have learned from recent experience that a lack of activity on court can damage his ambitions.

He was rusty when returning to action after time away during the period when he was not allowed to travel to numerous countries due to his Covid vaccine status.

So while playing on hard courts in America is not likely to be helpful to his ambitions to defend his French Open title and add to his 24 Grand Slam titles, he has committed to the next few weeks on the road to remind his rivals that his desire for success still burns brightly.

If he wins the Indian Wells title and backs that up by performing well and beating some of is biggest rivals in Miami, the hasty judgement that the Djokovic we saw struggling with some kind of virus at the Australian Open is a spent force will be banished in an instant.