Novak Djokovic at the crossroads: his career can end or start again

Will the Serbian be able to return to the court in time for the Paris Olympics? And, in the long term, what will his chances be?

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Novak Djokovic at the crossroads: his career can end or start again
© Clive Brunskill / Staff Getty Images Sport

There are fewer and fewer words to define the career of a legend like Novak Djokovic. The Serb, like his eternal rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, has had a devastating impact on tennis (and sports) history. Djokovic in particular has achieved impossible - perhaps irreplicable - milestones, coming to be defined as the GOAT and the strongest athlete ever. Perhaps he will not have had the same media impact that, by popular acclaim, Federer had, but, in terms of titles, numbers, data and statistics, no tennis player is like the Serb.

To rise to the divine (as I said in my recent editorial which you can find here), Djokovic would still have three major milestones to reach. But probably, at least for this year, one will escape him: Wimbledon. The injury that occurred to the legendary Serbian champion and which forced him to withdraw from the Roland Garros is more serious than expected. The Serb underwent knee surgery, which fortunately seems to have gone well, according to initial reports, but which will almost certainly force him to miss the Championships. Djokovic will attempt a possible recovery but certainly not for the Olympic Games in Paris, a tournament that the Serbian has never won and his great goal of the season.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic© Clive Brunskill / Staff Getty Images Sport

Yesterday, Djokovic announced his withdrawal from the Roland Garros, thus giving up the chance to reach the semifinals to the Norwegian Casper Ruud and being ousted from the throne of men's tennis by the new ATP No.1 Jannik Sinner.

"I am really sad to announce that I have to withdraw from Roland Garros. I played with my heart and gave my all but I have to withdraw due to a torn medial meniscus in my right knee," said Nole.

As the Serbian media reported, surgery was the most logical choice to speed up the healing process. Now Nole will have to sit out at least four weeks. Theoretically Djokovic could try to play Wimbledon but he would risk a lot, especially in view of the Olympics. Barring sensational twists, the tennis player will therefore work directly for the Olympics and.

The Serbian physiotherapist Dobrosav Melajac meanwhile reassured fans in an interview for SportKlub: "It is not realistic that Nole is ready for Wimbledon, especially given the change to the grass surface and he would certainly take risks.
Instead, I think Djokovic has all the time he needs to prepare for the 2024 Olympic Games."

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic© Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

The real question, however, is: given such a difficult 2024, the 37 years of age and the knee injury, will Djokovic be able to return to the levels expressed - for example - in his unforgettable 2023?

I answer this question by saying: yes, he can do it. Age advances, physical problems increase, but Djokovic has taken care of his body obsessively over the years. In retrospect we can say that perhaps this is the most serious injury of his career. Until the knee problem, the difficulties shown by Nole in 2024 seemed more motivational than physical. It is clear that the urge to play Paris Olimpica will be strong for the Serbian champion. But then (especially if the result was an Olympic gold medal), the Serbian could remodulate, reduce and reprogram his schedule, even thinking about 2025. He is certainly at a crossroads, but the path he will take will be that of a come back and not that of the end

The Serbian tennis player had already explained the nature of the knee problem at the press conference after the win against Cerundolo.

"I asked for physiotherapy because I was in pain. This affected my game. For two sets I didn't want to participate in many rallies. If he made drop shots or changes of direction, I didn't feel comfortable in the exchange. At a certain point I wondered whether to continue playing or not, given what was happening. After the third set I asked for more medicine. I took the maximum dose I could take and started feeling the effects in the fourth set. I felt fewer limitations in my movements. In the fifth set I played without pain, but the effect of the drugs doesn't last forever, so we'll see. I'll do some tests tomorrow. I have played other tournaments with torn muscles in the past.

The adrenaline we feel also helps us. The positive aspect of a Slam is that you have a day of rest between matches, and this can help recovery. I don't know what will happen tomorrow. I don't know if I will be able to play on Wednesday.
I hope so. Due to the climate, this year's conditions are a bit special. There has been a lot of rain, very heavy, and this affects the terrain. This is a living surface, like grass. The earth can be treated, not like grass. Roland Garros is the tournament that treats clay best, without a doubt. I think today's sun affected the clay in some way. I don't know what they did, but it seems like they took something out of the clay that isn't present on the court. My injury happened because, due to this, the ground becomes very slippery.

I have a very aggressive movement, with very sudden changes in direction. The number of slips I had today was excessive. I asked the chair umpire if they could sweep the court more. Maybe not every exchange, but every two or three. I was told no. They asked the supervisor and he also refused. I don't want to point fingers, I'm just trying to figure out what the problem is with sweeping the court more often. It doesn't hurt anyone. It would be a good thing for the players, putting more dirt and sweeping more. It would reduce the amount of slips," he explained.

Novak Djokovic Olympics