"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” – Mark Twain
The great American humorist Mark Twain uttered those words to the press after his obituary had been mistakenly published in 1897.
Novak Djokovic can say the same.
After sitting out the end of the 2017 season, including the US Open, nursing a sore elbow, Djokovic stumbled in his return earlier this year, with a fourth round loss at the Australian Open.
In February he had surgery on his injured elbow. But he continued to struggle, with early-round exits in his first two tournaments back.
The former world No. 1 appeared to have hit rock bottom at the French Open, when he was humbled by journeyman Marco Cecchinato in the quarterfinals and dropped to a world No. 22.
Headlines and pundits screamed that this might be the end of a career for the 13-time Grand Slam champion.
“Novak Djokovic facing career crisis point,” read one headline.
“Novak Djokovic faces uncertain future after struggling in year of pain,” read another story.
Meeting the media after the loss, Djokovic himself questioned his tennis future.
“I don’t know if I’m going to play on the grass – I’m just not thinking about tennis at the moment,” a shell-shocked 31-year-old Djokovic said.
Nobody has those doubts or worries anymore.
Since the French Open loss, Djokovic has gone on a tear, winning his fourth Wimbledon crown and then another, at Cincinnati last month, to complete a career sweep of the nine ATP Masters 1000 series titles.
On Sunday, Djokovic will play for his third US Open title, against Juan Martin del Potro.
“There was always a part of me that believed I could come back relatively quickly to the level of tennis that I once was playing,” said Djokovic, after beating Kei Nishikori in a straight-set semifinal on Friday in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“He’s playing so good,” del Potro said of Djokovic, who has lost just two sets this tournament. “He will be the favorite to win on Sunday.”
Djokovic’s finest season was in 2015, when the Serb won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
“Novak is getting back to where he was in 2015,” said ESPN’s Brad Gilbert.
Upon reflection, Djokovic feels that his injury struggles and time off have actually helped in extending his career.
“I felt like the six months off served me very well to find new motivation, inspiration, to recharge my batteries and also to understand how I want to continue playing tennis,” explained Djokovic. “I think sometimes that’s nice to have, even though you don’t want to be injured.
“If I had the power to turn back time, I wouldn’t change anything,” continued Djokovic. “I think it’s absolutely that everything has happened for a reason, and I have learned lessons and things about me on a deeper level and would never change anything.”
Now that he is back, Djokovic has no intentions of stopping.
“This means the world to me and I don’t see any limits, I don’t see the end around the corner so I will keep on going,” Djokovic said.
In another sport, another time, another champion named Jack Dempsey said, "A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t.”