A new-look Novak Djokovic said he had given up on chasing Roger Federer’s record 17 Grand Slam titles as he made a winning return to the tennis circuit on Tuesday.
Djokovic, the formerly indomitable Serb who has bullied his rivals over the past two seasons, said he had undergone a radical rethink after his travails of recent months.
The 29-year-old said he no longer saw protecting his world number one ranking, now under threat from Andy Murray, as his priority, or breaking Federer’s all-time record.
The 12-time Grand Slam winner beat Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-3 at the Shanghai Masters in his first match back after skipping last week’s China Open with an elbow injury.
“Right now, no,” he said, when asked if surpassing Federer’s 17 major titles was still one of his goals. “I don’t think about that at all.
“I don’t think about any trophies or number ones in the world, rankings, anything like that. It’s completely different.
“It is there, because I play partly because I enjoy being successful and seeing the results of my work. But on the other hand that comes second.”
Djokovic has been in a funk since completing a career Grand Slam -- and a run of four straight major titles -- at the French Open in June.
The Serb, who has admitted having “private issues”, lost in the third round at Wimbledon, and then failed to win a match at the Rio Olympics before finishing runner-up at the US Open.
‘Wanted it too much’
He said he had had a complete change of heart about his approach to tennis because the “must-win mindset... is not working for me any more”.
“I try to be in this moment and take things slowly, and, you know, I’m not rushing anywhere. I’m not in a need, you know, to achieve anything,” he said.
“I feel like I have overcome that step. Right now it’s about just, you know, following my gut, following my instinct, whatever I feel like doing.”
He added: “Just before I arrived to Olympic Games, things were looking great, I was in great shape. I won Toronto. You know, I was, as I can say, the peak of my abilities.
“I was extremely motivated to do well there, but I lost that equilibrium. I lost that balance, because I exaggerated with the way I pushed myself in that kind of preparation and I really, you know, wanted it too much maybe.”
The mental revamp is astonishing from a player who has long pushed himself to the limit in pursuit of perfection -- but who didn’t have to stretch himself against Italy’s Fognini.
A lone break of serve was enough for Djokovic to win the first set and Fognini matched the Serb with strong baseline play until 3-3 in the second set.
But Fognini’s serve deserted him as he double-faulted to hand over a break, and then again for three match points, before sealing his fate with his seventh and final double.
Djokovic gave the Italian a wry smile of sympathy as they shook hands. The defending champion will play Grigor Dimitrov or Vasek Pospisil in the third round.
Alexander the Great
Earlier, outspoken Australian Nick Kyrgios said he had to stifle yawns as he dispatched Sam Querrey 6-4, 6-4 to tot up his sixth win in a row.
Kyrgios said he was “bored” and tired after last week’s exertions at the Japan Open, where he lifted the third trophy of his season and career on Sunday.
“I was just a little bit bored at times,” he said, when asked why he wasn’t his usual vocal self on court. “I was feeling very tired today.”
Juan Martin del Potro has also been in strong form but his tournament was quickly over when he was dumped out by Belgian seed David Goffin 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in two hours, 18 minutes.
Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov beat French seed Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-4 as he bounced back quickly from losing Sunday’s China Open final to Andy Murray.
Germany’s Alexander Zverev, 19, heightened his growing reputation when he beat eighth-seeded former US Open champion Marin Cilic 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
But Australia’s Bernard Tomic said his season might be over after he retired with an abdominal problem while 3-6, 3-0 down against Roberto Bautista.