Novak Djokovic believes that the majority of male tennis players do not want to continue with their season should they be required to quarantine at other tournaments during their travels.
Djokovic, who defeated Alexander Zverev 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(6) to reach the Australian Open semi-final on Tuesday, continues to compete with an abdominal injury sustained after a fall in his third round match against Taylor Fritz. He is one of numerous male players who have acquired injuries since their arrival in Melbourne.
Earlier in the day, Grigor Dimitrov suffered from a back spasm during his 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 quarter-final loss to the qualifier Aslan Karatsev. Dimitrov had reached that round after easily beating the third seed, Dominic Thiem, who carried an unspecified injury. Pablo Carreño Busta and Matteo Berrettini, both in the world’s top 20, retired with abdominal issues, while Rafael Nadal picked up a back issue early during his time in Adelaide. Djokovic believes the injuries are connected and a result of the time spent in quarantine.
“There’s too many injuries,” he said. “I’m just hoping that this is all temporary so that we can go back to what we are used to without interruptions of practice. The 14-day quarantine, people don’t realise but I think the amount of injuries during this tournament has shown how much of an effect it has on the players’ bodies. It’s taken its toll, unfortunately, for both of us.”
Speaking in his press conference afterwards, Djokovic explained that there have been discussions and doubts about where the tour goes after the conclusion of the numerous tournaments in Australia.
“Talking to a lot of players, the majority of the players just don’t want to go ahead with the season if we are going to have to quarantine most of the tournaments. So this is something that should be discussed, like as of now. I think council, I spoke to some of the council members, and they are saying they have extensive discussions about that with ATP management.”
Djokovic argued that the sport should consider a more permanent base where players can compete in the same place and he referenced the NBA bubble as inspiration. “I’m not pointing fingers at anybody,” he said. “It’s just I’m speaking what is going on, speaking the truth, am speaking the reality, and we have to talk about it. We have to find a way, you know, whether it’s something like an NBA bubble, because I heard some players talk about that, and I don’t mind to discuss about that kind of idea. Select one place and we play all the tournaments on that surface and that place.”
Moments earlier, Djokovic had pulled off a gritty victory over Zverev to reach his ninth Australian Open semi-final. It took willpower to win in four sets after he had boiled over in the third having gone 1-4 down with the match tied at one set all. Frustrated with his injury from the start, Djokovic demolished his racket before a ballgirl was summoned on to the court with a dustpan and brush to clean up the scattered pieces of graphite behind the baseline. “It was a relief for me, I mean, but I wouldn’t recommend this kind of relief channeling, if you want to call it,” said Djokovic, smiling, of the racquet smash.
After that short interlude, Djokovic responded by repeatedly producing his best tennis in tight moments to pull through in a match that both admitted could have gone either way: he reeled off five games in a row after smashing his racket to win the third set.
In the fourth, he recovered from 1-3 down and then he faced set point at 5-6 and advantage Zverev, to which he responded with an ace out wide. With the score tied at 6-6 in the tie-break, Djokovic produced a brilliant angled backhand passing shot before closing the match out with another clutch ace, this time down the T.
While Zverev said that the “extremely physical match” means that “we’re both fine,” Djokovic called his abdominal injury the toughest he has had to play with at a grand slam and he previously said that he wouldn’t be competing if this were a regular tournament. He will not be practising on his remaining off days and he said it took him an hour to prepare his body for the match. Once he started competing, he said it wasn’t until the first 8-10 games that his body properly warmed up and he was able to move more freely.
What has been clear in the past decade is that no matter in physical or mental pain, when everything is on the line, Djokovic will find calm within the chaos. He will be present in every important moment, minimising his errors and producing his best tennis when it matters.
It remains to be seen if any opponent can take advantage . On Thursday, it will be the turn of the 27-year-old Russian qualifier Karatsev, ranked 114 in the world, to try after he became the first man in the open era to reach a grand slam semi-final on his debut.