Novak Djokovic suffers Australian Open injury scare – and ball changes may be to blame

Novak Djokovic suffers Australian Open injury scare – and ball changes may be to blame
Novak Djokovic was hampered by a wrist issue during his defeat to Alex de Minaur - Richard Wainwright/Shutterstock

World No 1 Novak Djokovic has hit a bump on the road to the Australian Open, after suffering a rare defeat in which he was hampered by a sore wrist.

Djokovic’s ascendancy Down Under has long been a bankable part of the tennis calendar, in the same way that Rafael Nadal used to reliably mop up the European clay-court swing.

But after a six-year sequence in which he went unbeaten across 43 matches on Australian soil, Djokovic came unstuck on Wednesday against the home nation’s best player, world No 12 Alex de Minaur.

Djokovic’s 6-4, 6-4 defeat led to Serbia’s exit at the quarter-final stage of the United Cup, but that is unlikely to concern him as much as the lingering soreness in his wrist, which had also required treatment during his previous match against Jiri Lehecka.

During a medical timeout, he could be heard telling the physio “It has improved before the match, and when I started playing and the more I’m playing it’s getting worse.”

Posting on X, Nick Kyrgios said:

The last man to score a victory over Djokovic in Australia was Hyeon Chung, the South Korean who pulled off a surprise in the fourth round of the 2018 Australian Open, but has barely played since because of chronic back trouble.

Djokovic was also short of optimal fitness in that defeat against Chung, as became evident when he underwent elbow surgery – the only operation of his entire career – the following month. When fully fit, he is almost impossible to beat on hard courts, or indeed on grass.

Even when carrying an injury – as Djokovic apparently was at both the 2021 and 2023 Australian Opens – he usually remains superior to the field. With unexpected specificity, he reported a 25mm oblique tear after the 2021 event, and a 3cm hamstring tear at the end of 2023. Some opponents remained sceptical, privately suggesting that such significant injuries were incompatible with his performance level.

After Wednesday’s defeat, Djokovic said that his sore wrist “did have quite an impact”, but played down any concern. “I mean, last two [times] I’ve been injured just before Australian Open, and managed to win both … I hope that I will not be injured this time around.”

At the time of writing, Djokovic remained the odds-on favourite to lift a mind-boggling 11th title in Melbourne at the end of this month. The Australian Open starts on Sunday Jan 14.

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