Throughout the first week of the 2019 US Open, Novak Djokovic has been struggling with a left shoulder injury. The Serbian was forced to retire two sets and a break down on Sunday night. Instead of clapping for the effort or cheering Stan Wawrinka’s win, the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd went on to boo Djokovic as he was leaving the court.
The incident created an argument in the tennis world. Some listed multiple reasons why Djokovic’s retirement is a disgrace, while some defended the Serbian’s right not to risk any further injury.
Argument 1 – Left shoulder? He’s playing with his right hand!
Don’t mock a left shoulder injury. Djokovic has a two-handed backhand and his weaker hand is a key element in producing the stroke. The left arm is the one which performs the ball toss before the serve and even on forehand shots, don’t undermine its importance in keeping the right balance of the body.
Argument 2 – You retired back in 2008 due to heat, career retirement slam, blah blah
Djokovic used to retire mid-match many times in his early career due to reasons like heat or a sore throat. While that isn’t something that should be promoted as good sportsmanship or a positive image for the nextgen, time has passed. The Serbian is not the same player and not the same person. Sunday was Djokovic’s third retirement since the beginning of the 2012 season (the others came in Dubai 2016 against Feliciano Lopez and Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon 2017). Treat his career retirement slam rather as a fun fact.
This is Djokovic’s 13th career retirement and the 6th in a Grand Slam (he has now retired from all Slams at least once):
2009 Australian Open
For the record, Federer *never* retired from a match.
— Bastien Fachan (@BastienFachan) September 2, 2019
Which brings us to…
Argument 3 – Roger has never retired midway through the match, that’s the right mentality!
Well, yes and no. Although it is true and impressive, it’s also extremely rare and requires a lot of luck. The fact that during his over 20-years-long professional career, Federer did not retire once is more of a testament to his unique recovery abilities and a less taxing playing style rather than an unbelievable achievement. The man is not an idiot; if he was severely injured he wouldn’t force himself to keep this record, especially in the latter stage of his career when one injury can end it for him.
Argument 4 – Some players battle through it, coward!
Yes, players like Del Potro and Nadal often fight through pain on the court. So do many others about whose injuries we don’t know about. The question one always needs to ask themselves is just like the exact same one Laurence Olivier asks in The Marathon Man – is it safe?
It’s a question that only rarely has the right and wrong answer. All in all, it’s a matter of how you feel. If it’s a final and there’s not a single match left to play, you’re willing to risk more than when you find yourself two sets and a break down in a Round of 16 match.
Djokovic knows best what the danger of overextending is. The Serbian played with elbow injury through many tournaments in 2017 and it cost him half a year out of competition and more than a season outside the top spot. His biggest priority will be to never go back there again.
Have some respect
Djokovic was never as loved as Nadal or Federer are. Some attribute it to his Eastern European ancestry and cultural stereotypes, other find his on-court antics intolerable. Whatever your opinion on the guy, he’s up there in the pantheon of the greatest ever and might soon be regarded the best of the best. A three-time US Open champion should not be booed by the crowd there under almost any circumstance, and definitely not after retiring with an injury.
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