Big news came out today which has shocked the tennis world: Novak Djokovic will almost definitely miss the US Open and probably the rest of the season too. Is his prolonged stay at the top of the tennis elite finally over?
What is the Injury?
Earlier this month, Djokovic was forced to retire from his Wimbledon quarterfinal match with Tomas Berdych due to a pestering elbow injury that has affected the Serb for over a year now. You may recall Djokovic receiving numerous medical timeouts on his elbow in virtually every tournament he has played. The injury is also located on his playing side, which hampers him even more. The past year or so could not have been easy, having to carry this aching elbow pain to every tournament he played, and this could also be a reason for his steady decline from the heights he was at in his dominant years.
Djokovic thought that enough was enough with this elbow problem and searched for help. The doctor he saw, Zdeslav Milinkovic, told Serbian newspaper ‘Sportski Zurnal’ that Djokovic has a bone bruise caused from “excessive play” which requires six to twelve weeks to rest and recover. Twelve weeks is an awfully long time for a professional tennis player and in twelve weeks there will only be two tournaments left for the Serb: Basel and Paris. It probably will not be worth it for him to compete in these events and he may just look ahead to the 2018 season.
ATP Finals Will Not Feature Djokovic
You may notice that I did not state the Nitto ATP Finals as one of Djokovic’s remaining tournaments if he were to come back after twelve weeks. If the former world #1 does take 12 weeks off then his chances of qualifying are almost impossible. He has not had the best of years so far and currently stands at seventh in the Race To London. Missing twelve weeks of tennis will jeopardise his chances of competing at the event for an eleventh time in a row. This will be a great shame for the event because the Serb is a five time champion there but Djokovic’s main goal will be to be fit and healthy.
With Djokovic looking unlikely to play anymore tennis this year it is certain his ranking will take a major dip. Next week the Serb will drop out of the top four for the first time in over ten years – the last time he was ranked at #5 or below was during Wimbledon 2007. This will end his streak of 525 weeks inside the top four which only two men can better: Ivan Lendl (532 weeks) and Jimmy Connors (650 weeks). From now on his ranking will only get worst which will be a horrible sight to see. Novak Djokovic is a legend of the sport and you do not want to see legends ranked outside the top ten which is where he is heading.
This year, the Serb has accumulated 2,585 points, and that number will probably be his total for the year because it is unlikely he will compete at any stage of the remainder of the season. That amount of points would rank place him at #14 in today’s rankings, which would be his lowest ranking in over ten years. The low ranking would also cause him major problems for the Australian Open in 2018, where he could face a top player in the fourth round. The unthinkable in Melbourne can be done, though; remember a #17 seed winning this year?
Consecutive Slam Streak Over
Since making his Grand Slam debut at the 2005 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic has never missed a Grand Slam tournament. That is 51 consecutive Grand Slam draws featuring the Serb. That is going to end when Djokovic will miss this year’s US Open. Only six men in history have had longer streaks than Djokovic. Flushing Meadows is a place where the Serb normally thrives, and it will be disappointing to not see Djokovic sliding around Arthur Ashe stadium.
The US Open has been a happy hunting ground for him as he has made a staggering seven finals (his most at any Grand Slam), which have resulted in two titles. It would have been unlikely to see Djokovic claim a third title but it would have been amazing to witness him making his way through the draw in New York. The ranking of Djokovic will take its first critical hit after the tournament, as he will lose 1,200 points because he made the final last year, losing to Stan Wawrinka. His ranking points total will be at 4,125 after the tournament and this will see Djokovic fall out of the world’s top five for the first time in over a decade.
Parallels to Federer and Nadal
Last year, the Serb’s two great rivals were experiencing some of the same old problems that he is facing now. Niggling injuries were plaguing Federer and Nadal’s years in 2016, and they both decided to cut their seasons short. The last we saw of Federer that year was at Wimbledon and the last we saw of Nadal was a bit later in Shanghai. Many thought we would never again see them compete for Slams, let alone win all of them so far this year. The pair came out fresh in Australia, producing an epic final for us in which Federer prevailed. The Swiss great then completed the “Sunshine Double” by winning both Indian Wells and Miami. Nadal then essentially swept up the clay season which climaxed with “La Decima”: The Spaniard’s tenth Roland Garros title. The pair’s dominance of the year continued as Federer just secured his eighth Wimbledon title.
Federer and Nadal have taught us that rest and time away from the game can be super beneficial to your tennis. Djokovic is having parallels to both of them right now but especially Federer. Wimbledon was the last we saw of Federer in 2016 and SW19 will probably be the last time we see Djokovic on a court in 2017. This time off could give the Serb time to recharge his batteries and get ready for the 2018 season.
Time Away From the Game Can Be Beneficial
This time away from tennis may not be a bad thing for Djokovic at all because many experts and pundits were saying he desperately needed a break after Roland Garros, where he looked a defeated man against Dominic Thiem. Many of them said he lacked any kind of fight, which is foreign to the Djokovic we all know. It must be hard going from winning everything to suddenly not. This prolonged break could help gather his mental state and find his hunger for the game again.
Djokovic and his wife Jelena are also expecting another child in the next few weeks. The last thing that the Serb will want to be doing when his child is born is to be miles away competing in New York. Spending time with his new baby will be fantastic for Djokovic and his mind and attention will be taken off of tennis. He is going through a frustrating time in his tennis life at the moment so an addition to the family will certainly do him good.
Phase Two of His Career
When we see Djokovic return in 2018 it will be a strange sight. He will return to Australia with a new team, a new ranking, and even a new clothing sponsor. It is almost a new Novak Djokovic. 2018 will introduce the second phase of his career. For the first time in a long time he will enter the Australian Open as an underdog, which is strange to think considering he has won the event an unprecedented six times. This new position may suit him because he has been the favorite for years now. This second phase of his career may come to him as a new slate and a chance to reset his goals.
The return of Novak Djokovic will be interesting, but I suspect he will be highly motivated to rejoin the winner’s circle. For ages he has been the hunted; now he is the hunter. The wolf climbing the hill is hungrier than the wolf on top of the hill. Novak Djokovic is a legend of sport, not just tennis, and legends do not go down without a fight.