"Fortunately, the situation with the injury is better than it first seemed. Doctors assured me that I will be ready for Madrid, then Rome and Roland Garros, just as it has been planned.”—Novak Djokovic, in a statement about his right wrist injury, released through the ATP last Tuesday.
That statement came as welcome news to Djokovic fans, even if Djokovic upstaged himself a few days later by announcing on Twitter that he and fiancée Jelena Ristic are expecting a child.
In the press conference following his loss to Roger Federer in the Monte Carlo semifinal last Saturday, Djokovic had ominously hinted that he may be off the tour “for some time”’ because of the pain he experienced throughout the tournament.
That sober prediction may have had Rafael Nadal doing cartwheels — and Djokovic fans weeping and gnashing their teeth — but it turned out to be premature. After consulting with doctors, Djokovic changed his diagnosis and declared that after a few days rest he would return to the daunting task of trying to keep Nadal from dominating the European clay-court once again.
Still, I’m not sure that Djokovic had dodged a bullet here. The first half of this year for Djokovic is not, and has not, been about reclaiming that number one ranking from Nadal; nor is it about winning another Wimbledon title, or adding to his Masters shield collection at Madrid or Rome. It’s about getting himself positioned to win the French Open (aka Roland Garros), now that completing a career Grand Slam (meaning, winning each of the four Grand Slam titles at least once) has become obligatory for the most elite players.
Pending fatherhood ought not to be a problem for Djokovic. The tender wrist, on the other hand, seems to represent a real threat to Djokovic’s ambitions.
It’s somewhat baffling that an injury that seemed painful and severe enough to potentially sideline Djokovic (in his own estimation) at this critically important time of year can be deemed benign so easily.
I’m no doctor; I didn’t even sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night. But let’s say that the prescribed days of rest make the pain and/or discomfort go away. What guarantee is there that the wrist (on his right, racquet hand) won’t flare up again once Djokovic begins to use it with intent to harm?
True, Djokovic doesn’t play a particularly wristy game. The fairly flat ball he hits doesn’t require a great deal of wrist snap. He takes a long, clean, low-to-high swing at a typical groundstroke, and rarely hits distorted shots that rely on heavy topspin. But then, Juan Martin del Potro, who’s career has been greatly harmed by injuries to both wrists, also plays a relatively flat game.
The wrist always takes a beating, and it takes a special beating on clay. It may be a blessing for Djokovic that he hits a two-handed backhand, because there’s much less stress on the right wrist (for a right-handed player like Djokovic) when the left hand is on the grip to help stabilize the stroke and drive the ball. But that didn’t really help Delpo.
Perhaps the coming days of rehab Djokovic’s style will keep the problem from recurring. He has almost two weeks before his next scheduled start (Madrid), but it’s unlikely that he can lay the racquet down for that long.
“I need to continue with the recovery process, and full medical treatments,” he said the other day, “It means I will have to take a short break in order to recover as soon as possible.”
Let’s hope the wrist was just sore, and he’ll return — and continue — to play pain free in the weeks to come. The road to Roland Garros is a long and demanding one.