Novak Djokovic’s reign at the top of men’s tennis is finally coming to an end. It wasn’t that long ago that Djokovic took home his first French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam and appear invincible in terms of his stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking. Five months later, however, it looks like he has upset a few tennis odds by losing his place at the top.
Djokovic lost to Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals of the BNP Parisbas Masters on Friday, and it was more than just another loss. The defeat left his No. 1 ranking vulnerable to Andy Murray, because it meant Murray only had to reach the Paris final to overtake the Serb. Had Djokovic advanced to the semis, Murray would have been forced to capture the title in order to transition from No. 2 on the ATP list.
This marks the first time Murray is occupying the top spot. The Scot has earned it with six titles in his last eight tournaments and wins this week over Fernando Verdasco, Lucas Pouille, and Tomas Berdych. He then got a walkover from Milos Raonic on Saturday to secure a place in the title match and clinch the No. 1 ranking.
Things were not as smooth as some people expected in the Berdych match, though Murray still survived thanks in part from rallying from 6-1 down in a first-set tiebreak. The second seed, who needed three sets to outlast Verdasco in his Paris opener, ended up beating Berdych 7-6(9), 7-5.
Djokovic wasn’t too impressive, either, during his Friday quarterfinal–certainly not to compared to his dominant performances at the French Open and throughout the first half of the season. The three-time defending Paris champion was unable to overcome Marlin Cilic and it was clear that things were not going according to plan when he called for the tournament doctor during the first set. Djokovic’s game was plagued by unforced errors and inconsistent serving, and by the second set it was clear he had little chance of staging a comeback. Although he kept fighting to the very end and had moments in which the old Djokovic seemed to emerge, those few moments of brilliance could not bring him back from disaster.
Cilic, the recent Basel champion who will join Djokovic and Murray in the World Tour Finals, was in perfect form. The 10th-ranked Croat fired nine aces and earned three service breaks en route to ending Djokovic’s 17-match Paris winning streak.
For the last six seasons, there has been no more dominant player than Djokovic. As such, considering the pace at which he had been winning, it probably is no surprise to see that he was unable to maintain his form. The past few months have seen Djokovic deliver some truly erratic performances while lacking the confidence he showed in previous months and years. Since he won the French Open in June, he simply hasn’t been the same.
He suffered notable losses at Wimbledon (in the third round to Sam Querrey), the Rio Olympics (in the first round to Juan Martin Del Potro), and the U.S Open (in the final to Stan Wawrinka). Obviously, physical and mental struggle en route to triumphing at Roland Garros took a serious toll on Djokovic and he hasn’t recovered as rapidly as his fans hoped.
Djokovic is now approaching a point where he might have to make the difficult decision to step back a bit and catch his breath. He has played at the highest possible levels of tennis and no one expected him to maintain his form after the rigors of contending with–and beating–so many impressive players.
Now that he has fallen from the highest rank, it is time to see what Andy Murray will do as the world No. 1.