Novak Djokovic has admitted his Australian Open title defence remains in the balance because of injury after revealing just how close he came to quitting the tournament during his narrow third-round escape.
The champion says that, “god willing”, he hopes to line up in Sunday’s fourth round match with big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic despite the suspected torn stomach muscle that almost derailed him against American Taylor Fritz on Friday.
Yet Djokovic offered a fairly gloomy prognosis when asked on Eurosport what his chances were.
“Let’s see,” he said with a shrug to the presenter, former three-time champion Mats Wilander.
“I don’t have a great experience with (muscle) tears in terms of continuing in tournaments so it’s kind of in the clouds for me at the moment whether I’m going to step out on the court in two days.
I’m a bit worried because I don’t know what’s going on. I think it’s a tear … Hopefully, god willing, I’ll be able to play.”
Yet the eight-time Melbourne champion admitted he could already have departed the tournament by now, such was his distress when he called for the trainer while in agony in the third set.
“I knew right away that something not so great was happening,” reflected the world No.1.
“I don’t want to talk about the intensity or the level of injury and pain; it’s not going to matter much because people don’t understand what you go through on the court,” he said.
“But the way it felt definitely at the beginning of that third set when I got my first medical time-out, I was debating really strongly in my head to retire because I couldn’t move, I couldn’t rotate, I couldn’t return.
“The only thing I could do is serve – and that’s what got me out of the trouble.”
Djokovic said he felt his 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-2 victory under these circumstances was “one of the best moments I’ve had in my career.”
He also reflected on a unique occasion which saw the match start in front of a boisterous crowd and end without spectators after they were directed to leave at 11.30pm with Victoria about to go into COVID-19 lockdown for five days.
“Nothing surprises me any more with what we’re experiencing globally,” said Djokovic, when asked what he felt about the enforced mid-match exodus.
“Obviously, it’s a unique experience for me – to play half of the match in front of a crowd and half of the match without the crowd. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.
“I’m just hoping that, for my own sake, I’ll be able to play and, for the sake of this tournament, we’ll be able to have a crowd very quickly.”