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Djokovic’s damage is proving troublesome –

Djokovic’s damage is proving troublesome –

2:31 AM ET

  • Jake MichaelsESPN Senior Author


      Jake Michaels is a Melbourne-based sports activities author who covers all the pieces from Aussie Guidelines to Components One, basketball to boxing. He has been with ESPN for 10 years and works as a Senior Author, overlaying sport in Australia and all over the world.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Concern exuded from Novak Djokovic within the Australian Open press room. It was two years in the past, the summer season of 2021, and he was fielding query upon query about his nagging indirect damage.

“I do know it is a tear of the muscle. Positively,” Djokovic professed to reporters. “I do not know if I will handle to get better in lower than two days. I am undecided I will be capable to play the subsequent match.”

Hours earlier, throughout his third-round conflict in opposition to American Taylor Fritz, Djokovic had suffered a nasty fall when he slipped on the white-painted “MELBOURNE” lettering behind the baseline on Rod Laver Enviornment.

Djokovic returned to the courtroom after enterprise an prolonged medical timeout however was considerably hampered in his motion. He continuously rubbed the precise facet of his stomach and tried to stretch the muscle between nearly each level. He winced as he tracked down balls, giving up on a lot that have been struck just a few toes both facet of his racket. The 2-sets-to-love benefit he had established disappeared within the blink of an eye fixed, and his title defence in tatters.

Every week later, inches from the place he’d suffered that fall, Djokovic raised the Norman Brookes Problem Cup aloft. He had not solely managed to win in opposition to Fritz, however in some way he orchestrated 4 extra victories en path to a document ninth Australian Open title.

There are some critical parallels between what occurred two years in the past and what seems to be transpiring right here in 2023.

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Djokovic tweaked his left hamstring in opposition to Daniil Medvedev within the semifinal of the Adelaide Worldwide earlier this month, clutching on the muscle earlier than calling for a medical timeout.

The Serbian star recovered to win the match, earlier than beating Sebastian Korda in a grueling remaining, however his standing for the Australian Open was something however sure. Issues solely mounted when he minimize brief a observe match in opposition to Medvedev just a few days later in Melbourne, citing additional discomfort within the hamstring.

However when Djokovic’s identify was introduced to a capability crowd at Rod Laver Enviornment on Tuesday, he was there, sporting a major quantity of strapping on his left thigh and hamstring, however nonetheless able to battle first-round opponent Roberto Carballes Baena.

The sensation of déjà vu continued Thursday when Djokovic returned to the Melbourne press podium following his second-round win over French qualifier Enzo Couacaud.

“I’m fearful. I can’t say that I am not. I’ve cause to be fearful,” Djokovic admitted. “My scenario with my damage just isn’t best, [and] I do not know the way my physique goes to react. I hope for a optimistic end result.”

Djokovic took a medical timeout halfway by the second set in opposition to Couacaud after pulling up gingerly on a missed return of serve. And simply as he had accomplished 24 months earlier together with his indirect, he then took any pause in play to stretch out his troublesome muscle.

After shedding the second set in a tense tie-breaker, Djokovic reeled off 12 of the subsequent 14 video games to win the match and advance to the third spherical, the place he’ll face Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.

“Two years in the past I had comparable circumstances right here in Australia and I needed to cope with that. The great factor now we have in Grand Slams is at all times a time off between matches, so a minimum of you have got a while to try to get better and prepare for the subsequent match. That is what I will do,” he stated. “I am not practising on the times between as a result of I am attempting to provide myself extra time for my leg to be in considerably of an excellent state for efficiency on a excessive stage.

“My physio and medical group have been doing all the pieces potential in order that I can be capable to play each match. I will take it day-to-day, match by match, and see the way it goes.”

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Questions have been raised in 2021 concerning the true extent of Djokovic’s damage. Some had speculated he was maybe lulling his opponents right into a false sense of safety and that he wasn’t as hampered as he had made it appear.

That notion was instantly put to relaxation within the aftermath of his straight units win over Medvedev within the remaining, when he revealed the diploma of the injury — a 25-millimeter tear, which had elevated from 17 millimeters when he first “felt it snap.”

The extent of Djokovic’s hamstring damage will not be revealed by his camp as long as he is nonetheless in rivalry for the title, however his detractors will little doubt increase the identical queries ought to he proceed his profitable run.

And it appears, in some ways, like a theme proper now — the all-time greats of the game, prepared themselves to the end line, even when the deck is stacked in opposition to them.

Rafael Nadal refused to throw within the towel in opposition to American Mackenzie McDonald within the second spherical, regardless of trailing two units to like and battling a hip damage. Andy Murray, metallic hip and all, clawed his approach again from two units down in opposition to crowd favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis to win an epic five-hour, 45-minute encounter — the second-longest match ever performed on the event, and by far the longest of Murray’s profession.

The not too long ago retired Roger Federer is not right here, however the 20-time main champion, who many imagine to be the best participant of all time, boasts a startling feat of by no means as soon as retiring harm from a tennis match. Throughout his singles and doubles profession, he performed 1,749 matches.

After which there’s Djokovic. We all know he is hurting. We additionally know he will not lay down.

“There’s two decisions — depart or preserve going,” he stated after the win in opposition to Couacaud. “I do know matches are solely going to get more durable for me from right here [but] I will preserve going. I will attempt to play and compete.”

As Djokovic proved in 2021, he ought to by no means be written off.

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