Novak Djokovic’s knee injury and French Open withdrawal: what it means

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The news that Novak Djokovic withdrew from the French Open due to a torn meniscus was one of those Roland Garros moments where you could hear the gasps.

It was no big shock as Djokovic said he was unsure of playing in the quarter-finals after being injured in the fourth-round win over Francisco Cerundolo. However, losing the world No. 1 and the reigning champion like this is huge.

But what are the implications of Djokovic’s withdrawal – for him, for the event and for the sport in general?


What it means for Novak Djokovic

What is Djokovic’s injury?

Djokovic withdrew from the French Open on Tuesday with a torn medial meniscus in his right knee. The meniscus is a semicircle of cartilage found on the inner half of the knee joint. It is an extremely common injury among active adults, especially middle-aged men, and can cause varying levels of pain.

In tennis players, especially with a long playing career, any injury is more likely to be a slowly worsening degeneration rather than a sudden, acute tear. Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are among players who have undergone surgery for a torn meniscus in recent years when they were in their mid-30s, although the former was injured while bathing his children.

Recovery doesn’t always involve surgery. Some people choose to avoid surgery — which can produce long-term complications such as scarring and arthritis — and recover with physical therapy by strengthening the muscles around the knee. Whether this is an option may depend on the severity of the tear, and even if it isn’t, the type of surgery also depends on the severity of the damage, whether acute or accumulated over time.


Djokovic overcame injury against Francisco Cerundolo (Bertrand Guay / AFP via Getty Images)

American No. 1 Taylor Fritz played at Wimbledon 23 days after an operation for a meniscus injury, but was treated with debridement, which cuts the damaged section of the meniscus. If Djokovic’s injury is too severe, a full repair using stitches will be required, which will extend his recovery time to months.

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What do Djokovic and his team say about his injury?

Not so much. The team was still absorbing Djokovic’s diagnosis and the reality that he would not be able to continue to defend his title Tuesday night and there was no immediate decision on whether or not to undergo surgery.

There is lingering anger over the tournament organizers’ decision not to heed Djokovic’s warnings that the courts were becoming dangerously slippery due to constant rain over the past week and then a rapid turn to dry conditions on Saturday evening and Monday afternoon when played.

About an hour after the tournament announced his withdrawal, Djokovic posted on Instagram confirming the nature of the injury and added: “My team and I have had to make a difficult decision after careful consideration and consultation.” .

When will Djokovic return to tennis?

It’s too early to tell. Meniscus tears vary in severity. It goes without saying that, should Djokovic show up at Wimbledon on July 1, he probably won’t be as formidable a force as he has been for more than a decade, when he solidified his position as the best grass player in the world.

After Wimbledon, the tennis world’s attention turns to the Olympics at the end of July, where Djokovic will be desperate to win his first gold medal of the Games.


What it means for the French Open

What does this mean for the French Open draw?

Djokovic’s withdrawal opens up the top half of the scoreboard. Casper Ruud, second in the last two years, bids farewell to the semi-final, where he will face the winner of the quarter-final between Alexander Zverev and Alex de Minaur. Zverev is aiming to reach a fourth consecutive Roland Garros semi-final, while de Minaur had never progressed beyond the second round here until this year.

What does this mean for tennis in general?

Whatever happens, there will be a new winner of this event for the first time since 2016, when Djokovic won his first title. Djokovic’s withdrawal also extends his difficult start to the year, where he has yet to reach a final. It is the first time since 2018 that he has entered both of the first two Grand Slam tournaments of the year without winning either.

It also means a new ATP Tour world No. 1, with Jannik Sinner sure to take that spot on Monday 10 June, reaching this milestone for the first time in his career.

Djokovic’s ranking could fall further. He has 1,200 points to defend at Wimbledon, 1,000 at Cincinnati and 2,000 at the US Open, for a total of 4,200. If he is unable to compete at those events, he will lose all of his points (in addition to the 1,600 points he earned Monday after his relatively early exit from here), and his ranking would drop to around No. 8 in the rankings. the world.

He would then also be in trouble to reach November’s ATP Finals for the year’s top eight players and on pace for his worst year-end ranking since finishing just outside the top 10 in 2017 after an injury-ravaged season.


Two-time loser Casper Ruud is straight into the semifinals (Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP via Getty Images)

What does this mean for the organizers of the French Open?

Djokovic’s retirement is a nightmare for the French Tennis Federation (FFT).

He blamed the tournament and the “very slippery” pitch for his injury on Monday and said his team would speak to the relevant event staff. On Tuesday there was still the strength of feeling from Djokovic’s court.

Djokovic’s exit also significantly increases the chances of Zverev being crowned champion on Sunday. Zverev, the No. 4 seed, is defending himself at a court hearing in Berlin against allegations he abused a former girlfriend during an argument in 2020.

In October, Berlin’s criminal court issued a sanctions order, fining him 450,000 euros ($489,000; £384,000) in relation to allegations by Brenda Patea, a model and social media personality who is the mother of his daughter. Zverev denies the accusations. In Germany, a prosecutor can ask for a penalty order in cases he deems simple because there is convincing evidence that he should not require a trial.

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The defendant has the right to respond to the order, which Zverev did. The court hearing in Berlin began on Friday, which Zverev did not have to attend. It continued Monday, with Patea’s testimony given behind closed doors, and will continue on a series of nonconsecutive dates this month and next.

Unlike other championship sports, the ATP Tour and tennis in general do not have a formal domestic abuse policy. For Zverev to win one of the sport’s biggest prizes would be an extremely uncomfortable situation for the tournament and for the sport as a whole.

What do the players think?

Removing a quarter-final from the program doesn’t really do anyone any good. For Ruud himself it means a potentially shocking three days off, while for spectators with day tickets for Wednesday it means missing a singles match. For Zverev and de Minaur, whoever faces Ruud may feel at a disadvantage. A withdrawal at this stage of the tournament – ​​similar to Rafael Nadal’s semi-final withdrawal from Wimbledon in 2022 – immediately raises questions about sporting integrity.

One solution would be for Cerundolo, the man beaten by Djokovic, to be reinstated. The “lucky loser” already exists in tennis: players who lose in qualifying before the start of the main draw can stay at the tournament site and still participate in the event if a first-round player withdraws.

This concept has not been applied to current tournaments. When asked about the possibility, semi-finalist Sinner made the argument most often made to the opposition: “He’s already lost, hasn’t he?”

While restoring the 23rd seed would bring back a game for spectators, and it would be hard to argue that Cerundolo wouldn’t be a deserving winner if he could get past three elite players, it’s an imperfect solution. Djokovic, despite his injury, beat him honestly to collect ranking points and prize money. In tennis, these are the breaks.

(Top photo: Ibrahim Ezzat/NurPhoto via Getty Images)