Last year, in the midst of a deep funk and still recovering from elbow surgery, he made 58 unforced errors in an opening-match defeat to Taro Daniel, a Japanese qualifier. But this year, Djokovic arrived on an undeniable roll after sweeping to victory at the Australian Open, manhandling Rafael Nadal in the final.
Djokovic has won three straight Grand Slam singles titles and will hold all four for the second time if he can prevail at the French Open in June and complete another so-called “Djoker Slam.”
He is still in the doubles here after reaching the semifinals with partner Fabio Fognini, but only the tournaments ahead will show if Djokovic’s performance on Tuesday was a blip or a harbinger of more struggles.
The timing was intriguing, coming after a week replete with tennis politicking. Djokovic, as president of the ATP Player Council, spent the days before the tournament in meetings and debate, and the ATP’s board of directors ultimately voted last Thursday not to renew the contract of Chris Kermode, the tour’s chairman and chief executive.
There has been plenty of pushback on the decision, with Nadal and Federer both pointing out that they were not consulted by Djokovic or council members in the run-up to the Kermode decision. Federer said he had reached out directly to Djokovic who had been unable to find time on his schedule for a discussion.
But then neither Nadal nor Federer are on the council at this stage, although both have served in the past. Federer, a former president, has acknowledged that the role can be draining, particularly in fraught times, and Djokovic spoke about that challenge on Sunday after defeating American Bjorn Fratangelo in his opening match.
“I care about the current generation and also the future generation and future of this sport,” Djokovic said. “I think that the sport is doing well, but it can also do better and better, you know, as we go along. And if I, with my status and with my position in the world of sport and tennis, can influence that positively, then why not? Yes, it takes away in energy and time, but I know I do it from the right place in my heart and with the right intent, and then I also receive a lot of energy for that.”