Novak Djokovic can return to his best in time for the French Open, says Greg Rusedski
Novak Djokovic isn’t far away from a return to his best tennis despite the former world No 1’s current struggles, says Greg Rusedski.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion suffered his second consecutive opening match defeat in his 6-3 6-4 loss to Frenchman Benoit Paire at the Miami Open, after another surprise exit to Taro Daniel at Indian Wells.
Djokovic ended his season last July due to a long-standing elbow injury to take time away from the game and reached the fourth round in Melbourne on his return at the Australian Open.
The 30-year-old then took a further break to undergo a "small medical intervention" on his elbow but has failed to return to winning ways during the traditional start to the Masters Series events.
Despite the Serbian's loss of form and confidence, Rusedski predicts Djokovic will rediscover his confidence during the clay court campaign and leading up to the grass court season.
Novak Djokovic hadn't suffered three consecutive defeats since 2007 prior to his loss to Benoit Paire in Miami.
"I am not really concerned about Djokovic," Rusedski told Tennis Chit Chat. "I think he will be back once he feels fit again and is mentally there and gets the matches in.
"The question mark is how well the elbow is after the surgery. That was one thing he had to get done and he has but it is just a matter of time, being back in match situations and finding a way to get the job done.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see the old Djokovic back [to his best] possibly before the French Open or for Wimbledon.
"You don't just lose it, being such a great player. It's mental but it is also physiological because at times it looks like he is getting tired when historically we have never seen him look fatigued.
After his defeat to Benoit Paire at the Miami Masters, Novak Djokovic told reporters that he wasn't ready to return to the hard courts.
"But when you have been away from the game it does take that little longer. We are not all Roger Federer!"
Rusedski believes it is in Djokovic's best interests to target a full clay court campaign to build up match practice with next month's Monte Carlo Masters the usual first port of call for the world's best players.
"He needs as many matches as he can get. If I was Novak, along with Radek Stepanek and Andre Agassi I would get him to play every single week.
"It is not about getting his preparation to be perfect for the French Open, because that is not what he is looking for.
"He is aiming to get confidence and match wins so you have just got to put yourself in that situation week in week out as long as the elbow can take it.
Djokovic needs match time to rediscover his winning mojo, says Greg Rusedski
"If the elbow can take it then play as many tournaments leading up to the French because it will help to get his rhythm, feel and confidence back.
"You can practice all you want and be brilliant in practice but match play is totally different."
Analyst Annabel Croft agrees that Djokovic needs a sustained period of competitive action to increase his chances of match wins but admits players on tour are making the most of his loss of confidence.
Coach Reno Manne thinks Djokovic is feeling his way down the tunnel of self doubt after several major defeats coming back from serious injury. Manne predicts that Djokovic will come to the end of that tunnel seeing the light again and will come back.
Coach Reno Manne thinks Djokovic is feeling his way down the tunnel of self doubt after several major defeats coming back from serious injury
"If you start to doubt yourself and the other players sense you are doubting yourself that then gives them a lift so it is a double-edged sword because not only are you playing below your ability but everyone else feels they can beat you, which he will be aware of," Croft said.
"When he came off court at Indian Wells he talked about how the backhand has always been the staple of his game but that is letting him down.
"It looks like he is lacking in match time and it is going to take a lot of work but that is not to say he can't do it. You can never underestimate the mind of a great champion but at the moment he is a bit in the wilderness."