It's like my spirit has left my body, and I was just observing my body.
It is a year since Novak Djokovic uttered those words as he explained the feeling of winning match point against Andy Murray before falling to the deck after claiming a historic first French Open before a fawning Philippe Chatrier.
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Djokovic could have unearthed the same quote exactly a year on, and it would still have made perfect sense. Yet how times have changed.

Highlights: Thiem stuns Djokovic to make semis

Tears of Parisian joy enveloped him on a balmy afternoon in the French capital after a 3-6 6-1 6-2 6-4 win over Murray enabled him to become only the third man to hold all four Grand Slams. They have subsided to be replaced by widespread desolation and confusion. A tennis superman has been reduced to a mere mortal.
For Djoker, this is suddenly no joke.
Dominic Thiem’s 7-6(5) 6-3 6-0 dismantling of the lithe Serbian in the French Open quarter-finals in straight sets was another poignant stumbling landmark in the descent of the man. But it has been coming.

Andre Agassi speaks with Novak Djokovic during a training session

Image credit: Getty Images

It has been coming since his former coach Boris Becker used the occasion of their split last December to accuse Djokovic of enjoying himself too much after finally conquering the clay of Roland Garros.
In thumping his way to a 12th Grand Slam, Djokovic was in the very best of company joining Australian Rod Laver and American Don Budge as only the third figure to hold the sport’s most elite prizes at the same time. Only Djokovic, Fred Perry, Laver, Budge, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have lifted all four in their respective careers.
Djokovic held Wimbledon, the US Open, the Australian Open and the French at this juncture a year ago. The world looked to be his. He looked sharp enough to defend Wimbledon and the US Open for a seasonal Grand Slam. He seemed a viable threat to challenge Federer’s haul of 17. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Mats: This is the worst Djokovic has been for seven or eight years

A lot can happen in a year as we have seen with Federer collecting an 18th Grand Slam at the Australian Open, and Nadal picking up where Djokovic left off by resuming his clay masterclass that should lead to a 10th French Open on Sunday. .
As surprising as the Federer and Nadal renaissance has been the wheels coming off the winning machine that was Novak: Djokovic has not carried off another major, he has lost his number one status to Andy Murray and he has turned 30. All significant moments in life.
“I think the last six months have been challenging on many levels," said Becker in December.
Our hands were tied a little bit because we couldn't do the work we wanted to do. He didn't spend as much time on the practice court in the last six months as he should have and he knows that.

Djokovic: Taking a break from tennis? We will see

Djokovic was world number two behind Nadal, and had won six Grand Slams when Becker was appointed in December, 2013.
The German departed two years on with Djokovic doubling his Grand Slam haul to 12 in a dominant 223-week spell as world number one that suddenly seems like a lifetime ago.
Amid some adverse results, and an elbow injury in March it should be noted, he last month opted to sack his entire coaching team, an idea he described as "shock therapy". But it has not stopped the shock factor afflicting him.
He made a call to Agassi before Roland Garros that stunk of desperation with the American making it clear he was there on his own “time and dime” as a favour rather than something that would entertain his thoughts on a full-time basis.
When Djokovic was crushed by Thiem, Agassi was nowhere to be seen.
Becker has added his own advice working for Eurosport at the tournament: "Novak Djokovic certainly has to make a clean cut.
He started to work with Andre Agassi - a new super-coach. However, Agassi missed the second week when Djokovic needed him there the most. He has to find a new tour-coach.
Djokovic capitulated in the final set, losing it to love in only 20 minutes. He might as well have raised the white flag after the second set. It was the first time it has happened to Djokovic at a Grand Slam since 2005. It was a weird old sight.
He was simply devoured by a man he overwhelmed 6-1 6-0 in the semi-finals of the Rome Masters a few short weeks ago. It will hurt such a proud character because he will realise the young Austrian wanted it more.

Studio analysis: Defeat raises many questions for Djokovic

What is the answer? Djokovic has hinted it may be time off:
Trust me I am thinking about many things, especially in the last couple of months. But I am just trying to sense what is the best thing for me right now. Obviously there have been a lot of changes with the team and so forth. I am excited to work with Andre (Agassi). At the same time, I have a responsibility towards the game itself and to others, so we will see.
Djokovic lost and is lost, a figure groping in the dark to discover the elixir that seemed to give him the key to eternal youth when he hoisted the French Open above his head on Sunday June 5, 2016. Former glories are hard to come by when they depart the scene.
Djokovic looks like the same bloke who won in Roland Garros and at times plays like him, but something is awry. The mentality that made him such a compulsive tournament winner has evaporated.

Champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses the trophy following his victory during the Men's Singles final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain on day fifteen of the 2016 French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2016 in Paris,

Image credit: Getty Images

He has won in Toronto and Doha over the past year, lost the final of the US Open to Stanislas Wawrinka and the World Tour final to Murray, losses that were certainly no disgrace.
But he also suffered inexplicable defeats to Sam Querrey in the third round of Wimbledon and world number 117 journeyman Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the Australian Open second round. Djokovic's fall is startling because he had set such atonishingly high standards.
His shield of invincibility has also been tore down because he is suddenly blighted by uncertainty and inconsistency. He is a tennis ghost haunted by human frailties that affect us all.

Thiem: To beat Djokovic is a dream, it was amazing for me

"It looked in the third set like he just didn't want to be out there, couldn't compete any more. That's shocking for a guy that's won as much as he has and prides himself on competition," said Eurosport pundit John McEnroe. "It just shows you everyone's human."
Djokovic will be out of the world’s top two for the first time in six years when the new ranking list is published on Monday. It is time to take stock, but a planned rest is not really the fighting talk of a man who plans to work harder to right the wrongs with Wimbledon starting in a month's time.
Hard work made Djokovic the player is, and only hard work will save him from further decay. It is too early to write an obituary for such a terrific champion, but his lack of purpose is strangely puzzling.
Rest is surely not the long-term answer for Djokovic. He is only exhausted in searching for answers in other people. Becker and Agassi can offer advice, but not an iron will.
The race is long, and it is only ever with yourself. The answer to Djokovic's malady most probably lies between his ears. Is Djokovic suddenly content to settle for second best?
His ability should never be questioned, but his desire most certainly can.
Desmond Kane

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