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Novak Djokovic declared on court he had suffered an abdominal tear, but two days later he beat Milos Raonic in the fourth round of the Australian Open and his condition was shrouded in mystery.
He will face Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals of the tournament. The world No. 1, an eight-time champion at this tournament, said he wasn’t sure he would be ready for the last-16 tie with big-serving Canadian Raonic and admitted he would have withdrawn from the event if it was anything other than a Grand Slam event.
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“I understand that you want to know, but I really don’t want to get into it what it is,” said Djokovic, who initially suffered the injury in a third-round win over Taylor Fritz. “Yes, I did an MRI, I did everything, I know what it is, but I don’t want to talk about it now. I’m still in the tournament. I hope you guys understand that. I don’t want to speculate too much about it.
“It’s not ideal for me. I mean, I definitely have felt better, you know, before my third-round match against Fritz than I have starting from third set with Fritz when that happened and all the match today. I didn’t know few hours before I stepped on the court tonight whether I’m gonna play or not. I didn’t hit a tennis ball yesterday. As I said, I tried to use every single hour possibly to recover and give myself at least a little bit of chance to step on the court, which I have done. As I said on the court, if I’m part of any other tournament other than Grand Slam, I definitely wouldn’t be playing.
“But it’s a Grand Slam. It matters a lot to me at this stage of my career, of course. I want to do everything possible in this very short amount of time to get on the court. Playing best-of-five, you know, with kind of an aggressive mover that I am on the court doesn’t help much with this kind of injury, but I think the combination of, you know, pills and medicaments and treatments and also some willpower, you know, and of course certain degree and level of bearing the pain.
“Mentally I think you have to kind of accept that I did come into the match knowing that I’ll probably feel pain all the way through, which was the case. But it was the level of the pain was bearable, so I could actually play. And it was kind of going on and off a little bit during the match. Certain stage of the match it was more; certain stages less.”
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Djokovic appeared confident he will be able to complete the event.
“I somehow managed to find a way and win, and that’s what matters the most,” added Djokovic. “Now I’ve got another 40 hours or something like that till the next match, which is great about Grand Slams. You get that day, day and a half in between to really rest. So, you know, most likely I won’t be training tomorrow and just, again, going back to recovery routine and hoping that things will get better.
“I mean, it’s kind of a gamble, I mean, that’s what medical team told me. It’s really unpredictable, you can’t know what’s going to happen with you once you’re on the court. You’re not gonna save yourself or think about going for that point or this shot or that shot. It just pulls you. It’s normal. Playing at this level, you just want to give it all.
“It could cause much more damage than it is at the moment, but it also could go in a good direction. So that’s something that I don’t know, and I don’t think I will also know until I stop taking painkillers. As long as I’m with high dose of painkillers, I guess, you know, still can bear some of the pain. But the tricky thing with the painkillers is that they kind of hide what’s really happening in there, so you might not feel it, but then the big damage might be done.
“But again, I’m fine with whatever is happening post-tournament, because I’m going to take time off to heal properly before I step on the court again.”
Asked how bad the damage could potentially be, Djokovic replied: ”I have talked a lot with my own medical team and also the medical team of Tennis Australia – Australian Open. They all share opinion that there is a slight, very slight, slim chance that I will make a significant damage that would take me out of the tour for whatever, you know, some extended period of time.
“So, yes, there is always, as I was mentioning before, a risk that the injury will get worse, but they don’t think it’s going to be very significantly worse that it’s going to jeopardise my entire season. So it will jeopardise, you know, depending on how I go here, it will jeopardise, you know, certain tournaments that are coming after Australian Open that I was maybe thinking to play. So I’ll probably have to, you know, take a little bit more time than I was previously thinking and heal, recover, and then get back on the tour.
“But that’s something that it’s still in the clouds. I really don’t know exactly, you know, how far I’m going to go with this injury or how far I’m going to go in the tournament. There is still potentially three matches to go, and it’s only going to get tougher and tougher for me on the court.”