Birthday boy Novak Djokovic looking to reset in the summer of ’22

Novak Djokovic celebrates

Novak Djokovic is 35 today. This summer might just see him return to the top of his game after losing himself at the turn of the year.

Djokovic is a winner again. This is a very strange thing to write. It is the first assured step back to normality from the freakery of the circus that played out before the global media in January.

There is an old saying that today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. The emphasis is on the “old” because in the madness of modern society, any residue of ketchup is lapped up and scrutinised for public consumption. There are professional bin raiders out there. Every perceived misstep and word is potential column inch gold.

In November last year, a frustrated Djokovic launched into several reporters to insist that the prism he is seen through is distorted: “There is less and less free journalism and information. More and more is controlled from one or two sources, so propaganda is spread that suits the elite or a certain group of people.”

In the age of social media, it is harder to delete the bad stuff on a timeline. Unless you are Rebekah Vardy. Allegedly.

Still, the Serbian claimed his first title of the season in Rome earlier in May when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets. On a deeper level, is the winning machine back? Is the man with the bendy body, a better fetch rate than a Golden Retriever and the instincts of a trench fighter fully present in the room? He became the oldest Roman champion and as he hits his 35th birthday, the world No 1 might be forgiven for feeling it.

Djokovic says that Paris is the main goal. To be truly back in the zone, the Zen warrior of tennis needs to engage with all his mechanical routines to rediscover the perfect body flow. There were definite signs in the Serbian Open that he was playing himself back into form despite blowing up in the final against Andrey Rublev. There is the sense that what went before has finally been compartmentalised.

In the first third of the year, Djokovic became a little bit anonymous, his promise to tell his side of the story muted as Rafa Nadal eclipsed the 20 20 club at Melbourne. The stuff Down Under has threatened to pull him under. He’s not been in the equation. That must hurt.

“Everything that I was feeling in the first few months of the year, as much as I’ve felt pressure in my life and my career, that was something really on a whole different level. But I feel it’s already behind me. I feel great on the court. Mentally as well. I’m fresh. I’m sharp.”

If this is true then the competition better watch out. Everyone has been talking up other players in town. The question is: will the true Djokovic ever get back to the court? We can start finding out very soon.

There is a creeping sense of excitement and intrigue as the world sees how he deals with those that have invaded his playground. Now, the big stage arrives in France.

Maybe Carlos Alacraz’s rise will work in his favour. It could be the trigger, the new upstart that activates the animal inside. Already, the 20-time Grand Slam winner has been stirring the pot gently to put a bit of pressure on younger shoulders: “(At) Roland Garros, he’s definitely one of the main favourites, no doubt, even though he has never reached the second week of a Grand Slam. With everything recently that he has achieved, he deserves to be one of the favourites.” Nothing like building up the “talk of the sport”.

Whatever happens over this Grand Slam summer, it might just be the season where the Djoker found himself again.