It isn’t often that Novak Djokovic submits to an injury and retires from a match, let alone at a Grand Slam but that proved to be the case on Sunday when he faced Stan Wawrinka for a place in the quarter-finals of the US Open.
I’m sorry for the crowd. Obviously they came to see a full match, and it just wasn’t to be. That’s all it is. I mean, a lot of people didn’t know what’s happening, so you cannot blame them. It is what it is Novak Djokovic
His retirement with a left shoulder injury when trailing 6-4 7-5 2-1 triggered booing from the Arthur Ashe evening crowd who were disappointed at the sudden ending of what was on paper, the match of the day.
“I’m not being offended or mistreated by anybody,” Djokovic, the defending champion, replied when asked how he felt about the crowd’s reaction. “I don’t really pay too much attention on that. I like to respect others. I hope that others can respect me and my decision.
“I’m sorry for the crowd. Obviously they came to see a full match, and it just wasn’t to be. That’s all it is.
“I mean, a lot of people didn’t know what’s happening, so you cannot blame them. It is what it is.”
Wawrinka had beaten Djokovic for the US title in 2016 for the third of his Grand Slam titles and always felt he had the game to overcome the world number one and title favourite.
“It helped me big time knowing I have the game to beat him on that court,” Wawrinka said though retirement wasn’t expected.
“It’s never the way you want to finish a match. I’m sorry for Novak. He’s an amazing champion,” he added.
In turn Djokovic praised Wawrinka. “I congratulate Stan. He’s a great player. I really wish him all the best the rest of the tournament.”
But when asked to elaborate on the injury, he became very close-mouthed.
“I don’t want to talk about my injuries. I said that in the past. I’m sticking to that.
“It is frustrating. Very frustrating. Obviously I’m not the first, not the last player to get injured and withdraw from one of the biggest events in the sport,” he added.
The Serb had arrived in New York intending to close the gap with his two rivals in terms of Grand Slam titles won – he trails Rafa Nadal by two and Roger Federer by four – and was by all accounts injury free having won four of the last five Grand Slams.
“The pain has been constant for weeks now. Some days higher, some days with less intensity, and (I’m) obviously taking different stuff to kill the pain instantly. Sometimes it works. sometimes it doesn’t.
“You just know (to quit) when you know, I guess, when you feel like you’re not able to hit the shot anymore,” Djokovic admitted, as doubts now arise as to whether the injury will sideline him for part of the tour.
“There are plenty of big tournaments ahead. Rankings-wise, plenty of points to defend for me and try to hold that ranking No. 1.” Djokovic said.
“Obviously Rafa has been playing well and Roger and the other guys. I just hope I’ll get a chance to be competing, because once I’m healthy, I actually like my chances playing in Asia.”
His next event is the Japan Open starting on September 30.
As for the 34-year-old Wawrinka, he will play the in-form Russian Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals the Muscovite having recovered from losing the first set against the German qualifier, Dominik Koepfer to score a 3-6 6-3 6-2 7-6(2) victory.
Wawrinka has battled nearly two years to recover Slam-winning form after knee surgery and his performance, after a French Open quarter-final run, shows his journey is nearly complete.
“Tonight was something special. I’m really happy with the level,” said Wawrinka.
“I think I was playing super good tennis. I’m happy to be back. It has been really tough since my surgery. It feels really incredible.”
The Swiss, seeded 23, was quick to take advantage of netted Djokovic backhands on both set points he won, two of the 35 unforced errors made by the top seed.
“I was feeling great,” Wawrinka said. “When I came to practice I was moving well, playing well. I was quite confident with the level I had but you never know when you are playing the number one player in the world.”
Looking ahead to his meeting with Medvedev, the Cincinnati Masters champion runner-up at Montreal and Washington in the US Open warm-up events, Wawrinka said: “He’s a great athlete playing super good tennis, I’m sure it will be a great match.”
Medvedev won his only match against Wawrinka in the first round at 2017 Wimbledon.
Meanwhile Federer, the five-time US Open champion with a record of 20 Grand Slam titles, required just 79-minutes to reach his 13th quarter-final at Flushing Meadows to rapidly eliminate the Belgian 15th seed David Goffin 6-2 6-2 6-0.
“Sometimes these scores just happen,” Federer said. “You catch a good day, the opponent doesn’t, then things happen very quickly… I found my groove after a while and was able to roll really. Never looked back.”
The 38-year-old Swiss third seed now faces the 78th ranked Grigor Dimitrov who has yet to beat him in their seven previous meetings.
The Bulgarian, who dispatched Australia’s 38th-ranked Alex de Minaur 7-5 6-3 6-4, said: “Feeling excited first to be in US Open quarter-finals for the first time. This is what I practiced for, to play those matches.”
“It’s a great opportunity for both of us. Hopefully we have a great battle and we can produce some great tennis.”