Novak Djokovic was in a sad state on Wednesday at the All England Club, when a nagging elbow injury that had been bothering him for a year and a half finally got the best of him.
His serves barely eclipsing 100 MPH after a hard-fought but futile first set loss against Tomas Berdych. Although trainers came out to work on the sore right arm between sets, grimaces of pain could be seen on Djokovic's face in the limited action from the second set. He retired from his quarterfinal match at Wimbeldon after losing the first two games of the second set, handing a semifinal berth to Berdych.
In his post-match press conference, Djokovic, 30, talked about the ominous possibility of taking a lengthy break to get his right elbow back in winning -- or at least working -- condition.
"The specialists that I've talked with, they haven't been really too clear, mentioning also surgery, mentioning different options. Nobody was very clear in what needs to be done," Djokovic said. "Yeah, I guess the break is something that I will have to consider right now."
Although the elbow injury has been present for a while, Djokovic's withdrawal could have been potentially staved off with the help of the WImbledon organizers. Djokovic was scheduled to play his round of 16 match with Adrian Mannarino on Monday. But that match was pushed to Tuesday, as it was scheduled to be played following the epic five-set, five-hour classic between Rafa Nadal and Gilles Muller.
The failure to squeeze Djokovic-Mannarino onto the slate sometime on Monday forced an already hobbled Djokovic to put a lot of strain on his arm for consecutive days. And it was readily apparent in his match with Berdych that the lack of recuperation time on Tuesday took its toll, forcing Djokovic, who hadn't lost a set before Wednesday's opener, from the tournament.
"I was able to perform up to this stage. But as I've said, it was only getting worse," Djokovic said. "Unfortunately, today was the worst day. Probably the fact that I played yesterday, kind of days adding up, as I've said before, it wasn't helping at all."
But even though the elbow injury cost him in the most acute sense in Wednesday's loss to Berdych, it's clearly had an effect on him for more than a year. Based on the timeline given by Djokovic, his injury would've been incurred before winning the 2016 French Open. He hasn't won a Grand Slam event since.
Djokovic wasn't the only top player to succumb to injury on Wednesday. Andy Murray, 31, has insisted his hip was of no concern for a week now. But he hobbled around the court on his way to a 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1 defeat to Sam Querry, the first American man to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament since Andy Roddick at Wimbeldon in 2009.
With no Djokovic, Murray, or Nadal in the semifinals, that leaves us with only Roger Federer in the running at Wimbeldon from the Big Four, still sound as a pound and kicking ass at 35. Like Djokovic and Murray, Federer has suffered his share of injuries. The Swiss superstar took a six-month break after losing in the semis of Wimbeldon in 2016.
Time off is a rare occurrence from players competing at the top level of tennis, but the break obviously worked for Federer, who beat Milos Raonic in straight sets to advance to the semis on Wednesday and is one the precipice of a record eighth Wimbeldon title.
"For me, it worked out," Federer said. "Sometimes the body and the mind do need a rest. Once you hit 30, you've got to look back and think of how much tennis have I played, how much rest did I give my body over the years, how much training have I done, did I do enough, did I overdo it? It's always calibrating the whole thing."
If either Murray or Djokovic is going to continue to struggle, it's hard to argue against rest. The early 30s are when tennis player begin breaking down. Maybe time off isn't such a bad idea if it can help get their bodies healthy and prepared for the limited run at the top level they still have in them, instead of trudging toward the end of their careers. If it worked for Federer, maybe it will work for others.
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Cy Brown writes about soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.