Novak Djokovic’s chances to add a third U.S. Open title and a 13th Grand Slam trophy to his collection may hinge on . . . a hinge.
The world’s No. 1 player has a problem with his left wrist (one he says he doesn’t know the medical term for) and he’s hoping that it’s close to 100 percent when the Open begins on Monday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
A healthy Djokovic is a nearly unbeatable Djokovic. He began the year with his sixth Australian Open title, then won his first French Open. Somehow, American Sam Querrey beat him at Wimbledon. Djokovic said on Friday, while not downplaying Querrey’s effort, that he was dealing with an unidentified personal issue at the time, one that has since been resolved.
“That third round loss that happened at Wimbledon against Sam, it allowed me to reflect on things and allowed me to take some time and really regroup and think about what was achieved with the French Open, that was very emotional in every sense,” Djokovic said.
He said, too, that the personal situation helped him grow. “I am in a position, like everybody else, like all of you, we all have private issues . . . more things to overcome in order to evolve as a human,” he said. “That was the period for me. It happened right there. Was resolved and life is going on like everything else.”
He rebounded to win the Rogers Cup in Toronto, then he went on to Rio for the Olympics where he was the decided favorite for the gold medal. But his wrist started to bother him. In a dramatic coincidence, he met Juan Martin del Potro in the first round at Rio. Del Potro was the 2009 U.S. Open champion, a player believed to be headed for greatness, when wrist injuries and subsequent surgeries derailed him. Now he was across the net from the mighty Djokovic in the first round. Monumentally, he won and eventually lost to Andy Murray in the gold-medal match.
“It happened in Rio, just a few days before the start of the tournament,” said Djokovic at the Open draw event on Friday. “Never had this particular wrist injury before. I played against Del Potro, who unfortunately was absent from the tour for the wrist injury himself. It was interesting to me to experience how was it for him for so many years struggling with that essential part of your body as a tennis player.”
The tennis world has wrestled with Djokovic’s immense talent and desire since he won the first of his Grand Slam’s at the Australian Open in 2008. He has held the No. 1 ranking for 213 weeks. He has won a record total of 30 ATP Masters level titles. His 83 percent match winning percentage is the best of all-time. He’s won more than $100 million.
At age 29, he has the potential for many more productive years, many more Grand Slams. His total of 12 trails all-time leader Roger Federer’s 17 and Pete Sampras and Rafa Nadal’s 14.
“I had a phenomenal Grand Slam career that I’m very proud of and very grateful for,” Djokovic said. “I’m 29 and believe that I’m at the peak of my abilities as a tennis player. I’ll try to keep that peak as consistent and enduring as possible.
“It’s a privilege to be mentioned alongside all the legends of the sport that have won 10-plus Grand Slams. I’m honored to actually play in active tennis against with two of them . . . Roger and Rafa.”
Roger Federer isn’t at the Open this year, resting an ailing knee. Nadal is the fourth seed here, but has been coping with his own wrist injury. Health, as much as talent, may determine this year’s Open winner.
“After undergoing certain treatments I’ve gotten better,” Djokovic said. “I’m just hoping that Monday when the tournament starts I’ll be able to get as close to executing my backhand shot as possible.”
In other words, he’s hedging his bets on healing his hinge.
Djokovic in the Open
First year competed: 2005
Career W-L: 57-9, .866
Finals reached: 6
Last year: Won