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The Belgrade ATP 250 event concluded yesterday. And as we all know, it was Andrey Rublev who got the better of Novak Djokovic in the final. In almost 2 hours and 30 minutes, Rublev got the better of the world number one. Rublev blitzed through the first set, winning it by a score of 6-2. Then we saw another fightback from Djokovic, where he was able to take the second set in a pretty close breaker.
However, after almost breaking Rublev in the opening game of the third, Djokovic then looked absolutely gassed. He was immediately broken the next game to go 2-0 down. And as the ultimate result shows us, there was no coming back this time – not even close. Rublev actually bageled Djokovic in the final set to win the Belgrade title. And for me, some obvious questions must be raised about the famous Djokovic fitness levels.
I’ve rarely seen Djokovic look dead in the water over a match being played as the best of three sets. But yesterday, the world number one just fell apart in the third set, much like he did against Davidovich-Fokina in Monte Carlo for that matter. So is Djokovic actually well below his optimal fitness levels, or was it simply circumstantial? Let’s take a closer look.
Superhuman Djokovic – History, or Merely Circumstantial?
In my opinion, he is obviously below his optimal fitness levels. However, with so much time away from the tour this year, was this to be expected? Absolutely. He has barely competed, and clay-court tournaments are often the most grueling of all. And specifically for Belgrade, there were a few things that made his third set bagel somewhat understandable. These, along with some other considerations for his subpar fitness are shown here:
Every Match Was a Three Setter in Belgrade
As you may or may not know, Djokovic managed to lose the first set in every single one of his matches in Belgrade. This is obviously not ideal if you want to win a tournament. His opener against Djere was over three hours, then his game against Kecmanovic was almost 2 hours 20. This was followed by a 2-hour match against Khachanov too. As for Rublev, he breezed through to the final.
Emotional and Physical Fitness
I feel that this part of the Djokovic fitness debate isn’t being taken into account so far. With professional sport, there is a certain amount of emotional energy that goes into these games, not just physical energy. And given that he hasn’t competed very much, the emotional energy being sapped out of him will be much greater than usual. As for playing in Belgrade in front of home fans, this could be all the more extreme/
Longer Matches Due to His Current Playing Level
We are used to seeing Djokovic looking fresh as a daisy on the court, especially against lower-level opponents. But right now, he is having to battle to get through most matches. He’s not hitting the ball as cleanly as he’d like, and the points are naturally much longer as a result. So this will also be taking the energy out of the guy, which we must also account for.
So in my opinion, sure, his fitness levels aren’t the best we’ve seen. But is it circumstantial and just part of the process for his return? Yes, I believe it is.