When the French Open begins a week on Monday, neither the world No.1 or No.2 tennis players go in with particular lofty expectations on their shoulders. Both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have had decidedly dodgy starts to 2017; Murray began the year as the top-ranking player in the world having snatched the top spot from Djokovic at the very final moment last season and while he has retained the top spot throughout the first five months of the year, he is playing nothing like the best player in the world. After an early exit at the Australian Open in January, he has continued that disappointing form and has now lost three of his last four matches with his meek loss to Fabio Fognini in the second round of the Italian Open earlier this week epitomising his season so far.

Murray does have some mitigating circumstances as he is only just returning from an elbow injury which hampered his form earlier in the season. Despite this though, Murray is performing well below the standard expected of a world No.1 and he knows it. “I'm just not playing good tennis and need to try to work out how to turn it around," he said after his loss in Rome. “The last couple of weeks have definitely been a struggle and a long way from where I'd like to be. There is no reason for it from my end.”

While Murray is concerned about his current form, he is in a far less dire position than Djokovic. The Serb has been off-the-boil since completing the career grand slam at last year’s French Open and frankly, there are few signs that he is capable of pulling himself out of this slump. This time last year, Djokovic looked unbeatable. Yet the former world No.1’s career has stalled in quite remarkable fashion over the past 12 months.

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Unspecified personal problems were cited. He also picked up a few niggles, something that his apparently indestructible body had seemed immune to in previous years. But what has been so shocking about Djokovic’s losses in recent months has not been that he has been defeated but rather that he has been utterly outplayed. The man who a year or two ago liked nothing more than a blood-bath was now capitulating all too readily during matches. Similarly, Murray is losing matches that, in the past few years, he would undoubtedly have slogged his way through and got the win.

So what do the top two need to do if they are to re-establish their dominance? Part of the issue is clearly confidence, although rectifying a confidence crisis is easier said than done. But maybe the issue is not solely mental. Over the past few years, both Djokovic and Murray have been physically superior to their opponents. They have both known that apart from when they’re up against a few select big-hitters, they will win even if they are below their best because physically, no one could get close.

But for whatever reason, neither player is able to win matches this year purely on physicality. So perhaps a change in style is required. With Murray having turned 30 last Monday and Djokovic turning 30 this Monday, they are getting towards the stage where they will take longer and longer to recover from the battering they give their bodies day in, day out. Neither player can rely purely on being the fittest and strongest if they want to prolong their careers past the next year or two because this style of play is just not sustainable.

It has long been suggested that Murray needs to be more attacking if he is to continue progressing and it seems that Djokovic should heed similar advice. Federer has become noticeably more attack-minded in recent months which has much to do with his resurgence. Djokovic has, so far, been more proactive than Murray in trying to find a solution to his poor form. Earlier this month, the Serb announced that he had spilt with his entire coaching team in the hope that this “shock therapy” would help him rediscover his “spark”. It is a risk, but perhaps one that is worth taking considering quite how dire his current predicament is. It has been rumoured that Andre Agassi could be Djokovic’s new coach and certainly, it’s an appointment that would excite the whole of the tennis world.

Agassi might bring that extra few percent to Djokovic’s game, just as Ivan Lendl did to Murray, and the American is someone who the defending French Open champion would listen to. But would that be enough? At present, it seems that Lendl is just as stumped about Murray’s poor form as the Scot so it’s unclear if the appointment of a ‘super-coach’ would rectify all of Djokovic’s problems. It is surely a gamble worth taking though because something needs to change.

But perhaps both Murray and Djokovic are at a stage in their tennis careers where more drastic action than a mere pep-talk from a former champion is needed. Maybe both need to tweak their game-style and risk taking one step backwards before they take two forwards. Because if they rely on emerging from this current dip naturally, they may both run out of time.