2003 US Open champion Andy Roddick said it felt "weird" seeing Novak Djokovic struggle to generate energy for a Grand Slam semifinal match as the record 24-time Grand Slam champion is usually the best at doing exactly that.
Djokovic, whose impressive Grand Slam records and numbers are well-documented, has a reputation and history of getting the job done in the latter stages of Grand Slams. But at this year's Australian Open - where Djokovic arrived undefeated since 2018 and riding a 28-match winning streak at Melbourne Park - something unexpected happened.
After winning his opening five matches to reach the semifinal and prolong his Australian Open winning streak to 33 matches, Djokovic came out looking unrecognizable in his semifinal match against Jannik Sinner. Sinner, who was playing in his first Australian Open semifinal, absolutely dominated the opening two sets and won them with 6-1 6-2 scorelines.
While Djokovic was able to save a match point in the third set and force a fourth set, he couldn't create a comeback as Sinner went on to seal a 6-1 6-2 6-7 (6) 6-3 win. For Djokovic, it was his first Australian Open semifinal loss - previously, he was 10-10 in his Melbourne semifinals.
"Time is undefeated, right? And he (Djokovic) has fought it off as well as anyone. From where I sat, it was weird seeing him try to generate energy for a semifinal, especially at his favorite place, Australia. And I felt like for those first two sets, he was trying to find motivation and energy," Roddick said on the Served with Andy Roddick podcast.
"The match against Sinner was the first time in a long time I saw him kind of searching for an energy source or motivation source on top of a match-up that has very quickly become a difficult one for him."
For the first time in his career, 36-year-old Djokovic went without earning a single break point during a complete Grand Slam match.
"He's normally good at finding someone to fight with, you know, and using that as a tool to kind of get him going. Frankly, we've all been there. Novak way less than the rest of us, which is why he is who he is. The rest of us, you know, are in our garages doing podcasts," Roddick said.
Roddick's concern about Djokovic
Even before the semifinal loss to Sinner, Djokovic wasn't looking his usual best at Melbourne Park. At the start of the tournament, Djokovic needed four sets to beat Dino Prizmic and Alexei Popyrin before sealing wins in three sets against Tomas Martin Etcheverry and Adrian Mannarino. Against Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinal, Djokovic was challenged early in the match and didn't have an easy job but still escaped with a 7-6 (3) 4-6 6-2 6-3 win.
In the last six months, two young players have managed to beat Djokovic in a Grand Slam match - Sinner at the Australian Open and Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final. That's a little concern Roddick has for Djokovic as he is underlining that younger players now feel mentally more confident that they can beat the Serb.
“He kind of limped out of this tournament a little bit, you know, through no fault of his own, the guy’s been better than anyone on Earth, and it’s gonna happen,” Roddick said.
“But I’m a little concerned that: one, he’s not getting younger. When it turns, it turns quickly. Also, he has guys that can punch him in the mouth, you know, he has this new generation that once they know they can beat him, they’re not going to revert to the – the mentality that there’s no way to beat him."
Meanwhile, Djokovic was brutally honest following his Australian Open exit, admitting that he was "shocked" by his level and declaring it one of his "worst Slam performances." Djokovic's performance and loss to Sinner instantly led to some wondering if that marked the end of Djokovic's long-standing dominance.
But even before people started wondering that, Djokovic was asked about it in his post-final press conference.
"I don't know. This tournament hasn't been, as I said, up to my standard or criteria or the level that I would normally play or expect myself to play, but doesn't necessarily mean that it's beginning of the end, you know, as some people like to call it. Let's see what happens in the rest of the season," Djokovic said in his press conference after the final.
This week, Serbia is playing in the Davis Cup qualifiers against Slovakia but Djokovic isn't available. Currently, Djokovic isn't officially confirmed for any of February tournaments, which indicates that there is a good chance that the world No. 1 won't play again until Indian Wells and Miami.
When Djokovic returns to action, there is zero doubt that he will be on a mission to make a statement and prove his doubters wrong. That mostly stands for the French Open, where Djokovic will be looking to become the first player ever with 25 Grand Slams and prove that he is not done.