WIMBLEDON, England — Suddenly, Novak Djokovic went to shake the hand of the chair umpire, turned to extend good wishes to Tomas Berdych and spun doubt across the rest of the summer. He even will ponder a hiatus.
“Yeah, I guess the break is something that I will have to consider right now,” he said.
As he retired from his quarterfinal match on Wednesday, trailing the veteran Berdych, 7-6 (7-2), 2-0, Wimbledon had just settled into the back half of its day. Roger Federer played Milos Raonic on Centre Court, and Djokovic wrestled with Berdych in a Wimbledon in which the former had lost zero sets. He had won the Wimbledon tuneup at Eastbourne in the minimum eight sets. By winning here, he could vault from the No. 3 ranking back to the No. 1 spot he held with such a clenched grip last year. Rafael Nadal had departed the tournament. Andy Murray had just departed.
In the next moment, the Djokovic semi-funk deepened to 13 months long, and he spoke of an elbow that “already keeps bothering for over a year and a half.” He said, “I haven’t felt this much pain ever since I’ve had this injury, so it’s not a good sign. Obviously schedule will be readjusted. We’ll see.”
Could Djokovic take a respite similar to the two Roger Federer took in the last 12 months? Could both Djokovic and Murray, whose defeat to Sam Querrey on Wednesday was hastened by a hip injury? “I mean, you wish them well right away as a rival and a friend,” Federer said, after beating Raonic to reach the semifinals. “You want them to be healthy again. It does happen, you know. Novak’s not missed any Slams, basically.
“I don’t want to say sooner or later these things unfortunately happen, but he’s played a lot of tennis in recent years. For him to be hurt at some stage is only normal. That’s why we want him to recover quickly.”
In fact, Djokovic has played 51 Grand Slams in a row since his Grand Slam debut at the 2005 Australian Open. Those have included two staggering crests, one in 2011-12 when he won four out of five Grand Slams, and one in 2014-16 when he won six of eight, including the four in a row between the 2015 Wimbledon and the 2016 French Open. When he splayed on his back at Roland Garros after Murray’s last backhand rammed into the net, he reigned as few ever had.
Since then, his Grand Slams have gone: third round, final, second round, quarterfinal (decisive loss), quarterfinal (truncated). It has been some lull. He turned 30 in May.
Djokovic said that in advance of his match with Berdych — against whom he had a 25-2 record, including 12 straight wins entering Wednesday — he spent 2 1/2 hours on the training table. He had been the only quarterfinalist who played also on Tuesday, because of a scheduling eccentricity in which his match scheduled for Monday was postponed after the scrap just shy of five hours between Nadal and Gilles Muller. Djokovic had disagreed with the All England club’s decision not to move his match against Adrian Mannarino from Court No. 1, where Nadal and Muller wound through a 15-13 fifth set, to Centre Court, where play had ceased.
“Unfortunately today was the worst day,” Djokovic said Wednesday. “Probably the fact that I played yesterday, kind of days adding up, you know, it wasn’t helping at all.”
As for the opinions of his ailment, he said, “The specialists that I’ve talked to, they haven’t really been too clear, mentioning also surgery, mentioning different options. Nobody was very clear in what needs to be done. As long as it kind of comes and goes, it’s fine. But obviously, adding up, maybe it worked for seven, eight, 10 months, but now the next seven months is not working that great. Obviously it’s adding up more and more. The more I play, the worse it gets.”