The Djokovic loss to Paire was indeed a very shocking one. Just before the loss, Djokovic was on a 16-match winning streak at the Miami Open; held a 21-0 winning record against Paire; held a 58-1 winning record against players from France since 2010; and had never lost back-to-back opening mathes at a Masters Series event. Given the statistics, we cannot think of an upset greater than this! It thus deserves some reflection as to why this happened and the significance of it.
Key takeaway: the loss was more due to a slump of the spirit, rather than the elbow injury
Do not get us wrong. The elbow injury was there and it was indeed serious enough to prevent him from playing anywhere near his normal standard, as evident in the match. But we believed Djokovic could still have pulled it off had he kept his spirits up. Our evidence of this - the first six games looked completely fine for Djokovic. Though he was not thrashing (which is no concern for that is usually the case for him given his counter-punching style), he was maintaining the rallies and momentum, and not allowing Paire to earn any significant break. Then came a sudden sloppiness in the 7th game, at the most crucial point of it (break point on Djokovic's serve), when Djokovic massively mistimed an attempted forehand drive down the line. The very awkward height from which he tried to drive it down, points to a very preventable error of judgement on Djokovic's part, which the tight elbow could have contributed to in no other way thann the psychological. Throughout the rest of the match, Djokovic carried a certain languishment about him. He was mistiming his shots and not getting in proper position - for instance, he lost the set point from not bending the knees enough when attempting a crosscourt backhand drive; and on match point his being too stationary cost him the point.
What the loss means
Whether or not the loss holds permanent significance for the rest of Djokovic's career, cannot be said for certain. But given Djokovic's already advanced age, it is quite probable that his prolonged inability to recover from his fall from the top (which has been going all the way back to the start of last year) means that he is days of being in the very top of the game are over. History bodes badly for Djokovic in this regard though. There are notable cases of early retirement not from physical exhaustion but mental burnout. It must be noted though, that by early retirement we mean retiring at a time when going on was still a possibility, and this has nothing with do with how old a player is. The most notable example of such an early retirement is that of Pete Sampras. He retired at a moment of greatness - his winning of his last US Open title - when he felt he no longer had it in him to go on further. Djokovic may just be facing such a moment. Wounds or wearings of the spirit are after all much harder to recover from, than those of the body.
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