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Novak Djokovic pulling out of Indian Wells: not a surprise

Novak Djokovic won’t play Indian Wells this October. From a certain vantage point, this might come as a shock: World No. 1. Three-time major champion in 2021 with a 27-1 record at the Big Four tournaments. Indian Wells hasn’t been played in two and a half years. Why not play?

Then again, very little about tennis in this pandemic period makes linear sense. Flipping this topic 180 degrees — looking at it from a different angle — offers a completely different vantage point. From this other perspective, Djokovic not contesting Indian Wells in October of 2021 makes all the sense in the world.

Think about it: Great champions in any sport, not just tennis, learn to be fully invested in whatever they are doing. That is what makes them elite and special. This isn’t a discussion of elite performance. Some days, even the best athletes don’t play well. That doesn’t mean they weren’t invested in what they were doing. That’s merely the reality of human imperfection.

Novak Djokovic just went through one of the most emotionally wrenching experiences a tennis player can possibly have. Whereas Serena Williams lost in the semifinals of the 2015 U.S. Open, coming two wins short of a Grand Slam, Djokovic came within one win. He played a match which, had he won it, would have conferred upon him one of the greatest achievements and honors in tennis history. Djokovic was playing one match for the Grand Slam of tennis… and he fell short against Daniil Medvedev in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The tsunami of emotions connected to that pursuit came crashing down on Djokovic in one of the most vividly stirring sights of the tennis season. No one, not even Djokovic’s most unfair critics, could deny that Nole became a very sympathetic figure in that moment.

Physically, Djokovic could certainly compete in Indian Wells three and a half weeks after the end of the U.S. Open. Mentally? This is a time for recovery, rest, and reflection, and also for family.

The fact that Indian Wells — much like Shanghai, which was canceled this year due to the altered schedule — is not in Europe means Djokovic would have had to board another transcontinental flight to compete in Southern California. After all he has done, all he has achieved, all he has been through, does he really need to pursue a 1,000-point tournament championship?

Not at all.

His major titles and overall excellence have him at No. 1 in the world. As long as he is able to compete in Europe-based tournaments at the end of the season, particularly the ATP Finals, and can turn back Daniil Medvedev, he will claim another year-end World No. 1 ranking, the one goal he has left this season. He doesn’t need Indian Wells.

He is making the right choice.

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