Djokovic's focus solely on Wimbledon
Resplendent in a lime-green adidas sweat suit, Andre Agassi sat on a sofa in the Roland Garros Tenniseum. His expressive eyebrows are still jet-black, but was that a glint of grey in the subtle stubble of his shaved head?
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"I know he'll be discouraged at first," Agassi said. "Losses always made me hungrier. I hope this makes him hungrier. I would remind him that he is only 24. Wimbledon is coming.
"The grass is a new life. In a matter of matches, he'll be the favorite again."
Djokovic had four days of rest before the match with Federer but, clearly, the hype of The Streak and playing for the No. 1 ranking extracted a mental toll.
"You do feel a relief when you finish a tournament," Djokovic said in Paris. "It had to end somewhere. I knew it was coming. Unfortunately, it came in the bad moment. It was a big match. But look, it's sport. I will keep working hard."
The Serb withdrew from the tournament at Queen's Club, so we won't see him play his first match on grass until next week at Wimbledon. Thus, he enters the grounds of All England Club with a streak of a different kind, a one-match losing streak.
The Streak was a marvelous slice of theater played out over five months on four different continents. There were four victories over Rafael Nadal in tournament finals, two of them on clay, of all surfaces. Djokovic was also 3-0 against Federer. Through it all, Djokovic displayed a new resolve, an arresting physicality that he had never shown.
Yet, despite all the pyrotechnics, Djokovic technically never raised his personal bar in the season's first two Slams. His win at the Australian Open equaled his 2008 ground-breaking major victory. Departing in the semifinals at Roland Garros merely equaled his performances of 2007 and 2008.
So, when will Djokovic leverage this new game into something more? Confidence can take you to places you have never been, but can it bring him to the title at Wimbledon? We'll know the answer in a few weeks.
It will not be easy. Djokovic has played Wimbledon six times, reaching the semifinals a year ago and in 2007. Federer has won Wimbledon six times. Nadal has been to the finals there the past four times he's played, and he's won two of the past three titles.
After losing to Federer, Djokovic was asked what made Federer so difficult to play.
Novak Djokovic by surface
|Hard||225-60 (.789)||18 titles|
|Clay||99-31 (.762)||7 titles|
|Grass||31-11 (.738)||0 titles|
"Just mental toughness in important moments," Djokovic said. "That's what makes him a big champion. He's a big player. He knows how to handle the pressure and the big moments. He was serving really well in the right moments.
"That's it, you know."
In the past, mental toughness was the area in which Djokovic seemed deficient. This year, he has shown tremendous personal growth in this area. In the Miami final, he weathered a third-set tiebreaker against Nadal. In Rome, he battled Andy Murray under similar circumstances.
"I thought at the end it was quite mental," Federer said of their match in Paris. "There was a lot on the line for Novak, a lot of pressure obviously going in, and I thought he handled it great, really.
"I told him at the net his record speaks for itself, how great he's played already this season, and it's not even over yet. He can still achieve so much more this year."
The No. 1 ranking is tantalizingly close; Djokovic, with 12,005 points, trails Nadal by a mere 65 points.
With Nadal defending titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- that's 4,000 points in play -- it seems unlikely that Djokovic won't be the top-ranked player -- and soon.
Agassi, for one, remains a fan.
"He makes it look so easy," Agassi said. "But anyone who has played tennis knows how difficult it is. During the streak, when he was in that zone, it was like it was an advantage for him to be returning serve.
"There's not one point he doesn't fight for now. It's exhausting just watching. Offense, defense, serve, return, his flexibility. This is a different kind of player."
He has two major opportunities left this year to capitalize on that difference.
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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