Indian Wells, CA– As I sat in the press box watching Novak Djokovic succumb to qualifier Taro Daniel on Sunday, I took note of a particular point in the 3rd set when Djokovic seemed to not run for a ball.
It was at the end of a long rally on break point, and Daniel’s winner gave the World #109 a 3-1 lead in the set.
I screen-shotted the score with my phone as a reminder to myself to go back and watch it again on video.
After the loss, I looked at Djokovic in his press conference as he told the world he was simply happy to be back on court after elbow surgery. I studied his face for signs of loss of commitment to tennis, but the 12-time Grand Slam champion gave away nothing.
There was no mention of any other injury.
Something wasn’t right about the whole situation– “very weird,” as Djokovic himself called it. I posted this article and pointed out his seeming lack of hustle in the 3rd set. Commentating for Tennis Channel, Jim Courier saw the same thing, saying rather pointedly that Djokovic’s problem didn’t seem to be the elbow, but rather a lack of effort.
The match continued to be in my head, a day after I wrote the article.
I wondered about the elbow. On Monday, I went to the videotape of the match on Tennis TV. Djokovic’s serve speeds were in range of where they’ve always been. And I remembered Robbie Koenig mentioning during the Australian Open that Novak’s velocity was on track. The elbow didn’t seem to be hindering that, at least.
Then I started re-watching the 3rd set. The point in question can be found on the ATP website here, at about the 55-second mark. Watch Djokovic. Note how he hobbles. It’s possible the problem even started before that point, but it’s hard to discern.
To state the annoyingly obvious: I’m not a doctor. Nor am I a fan of speculation on athletes’ medical issues. But now I think it’s unfair to point out the Serb’s uncharacteristic lack of effort in this particular match without calling attention to what’s right there on video.
Looking at recent history, Djokovic was suffering with hip problems earlier this year but seemed to downplay the significance at the Australian Open.
Tennis injuries can be cascading and can mess with a player’s mind. The next few weeks will be telling. Tennis fans certainly hope “Nole” returns to excellent health and his old, full-speed self sooner rather than later.