Novak Djokovic 'struggling' in toughest year as a tennis player

Novak Djokovic
Djokovic is a three-time champion at Wimbledon
Eastbourne 2017
Venue: Devonshire Park, Eastbourne Date: 26 June -1 July Coverage: Live across BBC TV, radio and online

Twelve-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic says this year has been his toughest in tennis, as he prepares for his first match at Eastbourne.

World number four Djokovic has slipped out of the top two in the rankings for the first time since 2011.

Eastbourne will be the first grass-court tournament the 30-year-old has played before Wimbledon since 2010.

"I've been struggling with the level of tennis," he told BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller.

The Serb, who will face Canada's Vasek Pospisil on Tuesday in the second round, added: "I've never experienced this particular situation since I started playing professional tennis. I was very fortunate to experience upwards direction in terms of results and improving the game.

"It's the first time now in a stretch of seven or eight months that I haven't won any big tournament."

Djokovic won the Qatar Open on 8 January but then lost to world number 117 Denis Istomin in the second round of the Australian Open.

He parted with his coaching team - including long-time confidante Marian Vajda - before the French Open in a move he described as "shock therapy".

But he was beaten at Roland Garros in straight sets by Dominic Thiem, which led seven-time Grand Slam singles champion John McEnroe to question Djokovic's desire.

Djokovic searching for 'best version' of himself

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic is appearing at his first pre-Wimbledon event in seven years

Djokovic last year became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, but he now holds none.

He has won 24 and lost seven of his 31 singles matches this year, with the Qatar Open his solitary title in 2017.

"I'm not playing at my best and I'm aware of that. But I've got to stay positive about myself and my game," he said.

"It had to happen sooner or later and I'm really glad it did - it made me start asking myself certain questions.

"I know that things change: I'm 30, not 20 and I have to adjust to that. Things evolve each year and you have to adjust and get the best out of yourself."

Djokovic is a three-time champion at Wimbledon, winning in 2011, 2014 and 2015, but lost in the third round last year to American Sam Querrey.

He alluded to "personal issues" following that match, and struggled with injuries for the remainder of the year.

"I literally went with my head through the wall many times when I felt so confident and I kind of ignored the signals from my body and mind to take a little bit of a rest," he said.

Agassi presence 'great for the tour'

Novak Djokovic & Andre Agassi
Djokovic and Andre Agassi worked together at the French Open in early June

Djokovic teamed up with eight-time Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi after his defeat in the final of the Italian Open in May.

The duo will continue to work together throughout Wimbledon, which begins on 3 July.

"He's an extraordinary person, someone that cares a lot about this sport and cares a lot about values in life," said Djokovic. "Every day is a lesson learned with Andre.

"Having him around is obviously great not just for myself, but for the tour - for tennis - and everybody can benefit from it."

Djokovic said he is "excited" to be playing at Eastbourne.

"I wanted a little bit more time to spend with my family and to rest, but I still wanted to have a couple of matches coming into Wimbledon," he said.

"We have pretty much the same schedule every single year, over and over again, so it's great to be visiting new places."

Analysis

Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent

Large crowds gathered around Djokovic's practice court. Devonshire Park has been spoiled over the years by the quality of the women's field - Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters are all former champions - but Djokovic's arrival has sparked a lot of excitement.

And, after completing his session, he took advantage of a gap in the fence around court 3 to watch his second-round opponent Vasek Pospisil in action.

The charms of Eastbourne on a sunny day were not enough to attract Andre Agassi, but he will be at Wimbledon.

And beyond? "We're going with the flow," Djokovic replied.

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