The increasingly bolshie New York crowd treated Novak Djokovic to a round of boos last night as he withdrew from the US Open after two-and-a-bit sets of his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka.
It was a strange way for Djokovic’s title defence to end. Admittedly, he had been out of sorts during the match, committing 35 unforced errors in just 25 games as Wawrinka established a 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 lead.
But Djokovic had still been competitive, even if he was far from his best. And although he received some medical attention from the trainer at the end of the second set, there was little sign that he was on the point of retirement.
The contest ended after a double-fault – Djokovic’s fifth of the match – which handed Wawrinka an early break of serve in the third set. Djokovic then walked around the net to embrace his opponent. As he left, he gave a sarcastic thumbs-up to his critics in the crowd.
Afterwards, Djokovic confirmed that the left shoulder that had played up during his second-round match against Juan Ignacio Londero – and which he had claimed was “almost pain-free” when he faced Denis Kudla on Friday – had flared up again with a vengeance.
Asked how he had decided when it was time to draw the line, Djokovic replied “You just know when you know, I guess. When you feel like you're not able to hit the shot anymore.
“The pain was constant for weeks now,” he added. “Some days higher; some days with less intensity and obviously taking different stuff to kill the pain instantly. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.”
As for the disappointing reaction of the crowd, Djokovic initially mumbled “What can I tell you?” Later in the interview, though, he addressed the subject more thoughtfully.
“Look, I'm not being offended [or] mistreated by anybody,” he said. “I don't really pay too much attention on that. I like to respect others. I hope that others can respect me and my decision. “I'm sorry for the crowd. Obviously they came to see a full match, and just wasn't to be. A lot of people didn't know what's happening, so you cannot blame them”
Because of its position towards the end of the season, the US Open has thrown up more unexpected winners than other majors, often turning into something of a demolition derby for bashed-up players with a litany of physical complaints.
This may explain why the last man to defend this title was Roger Federer in 2008. Now many pundits are predicting a final between Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have never faced each other at this tournament before.
But when one French reporter suggested as much on Twitter, Wawrinka replied at once with a pointed post of his own. “Cool to know the final already,” he said. “Are the rest of us going home?”
Wawrinka thus progressed to his second major quarter-final of the season. At the French Open in early June, he was beaten by Federer in four entertaining sets. Here he will play Daniil Medvedev, the provocative Russian, who again baited the crowd on Louis Armstong Stadium after beating German qualifier Dominik Koepfer.
Faced with hoots and jeers from the fans, Medvedev told them "I was painful in my abductor before the match. I thought I'm not going to play. I was painful in my shoulder. I took as much painkillers as I could. And you guys, being against me, you gave me so much energy to win. Thank you."