NEW YORK — Defending champion and No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic‘s stay at the U.S. Open ended abruptly when he stopped playing during his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka on Sunday night because of pain in his left shoulder.
Djokovic was trailing 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 and being thoroughly outplayed when he retired from the match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, shaking his head as he walked over to the chair umpire to say he was conceding.
Some spectators booed as he left the arena floor to head to the locker room. Djokovic responded with a thumbs-up.
“I’m sorry for the crowd. Obviously they came to see a full match, and just wasn’t to be,” Djokovic said at his news conference. “I mean, a lot of people didn’t know what’s happening, so you cannot blame them.”
The 32-year-old Serb explained that he had been “taking different stuff to kill the pain instantly; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
“The pain was constant for weeks now,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic had won 36 of his past 37 Grand Slam matches, and four of the last five major titles, in one of the most dominant stretches this sport has seen. That had pushed his Slam trophy total to 16, moving within four of Roger Federer‘s record 20, and within two of Rafael Nadal‘s 18.
He also had been 11-0 in fourth-rounders at Flushing Meadows.
Stan Wawrinka laments his “good friend” Novak Djokovic’s injury after the US Open defending champion was forced to retire in the third set.
“It’s never the way you want to finish the match,” said Wawrinka, who will face No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinals. “I feel sorry for Novak.”
Djokovic began complaining about his left shoulder during a second-round victory on Wednesday, when he repeatedly got massaged by a trainer during changeovers.
He won his next match Friday, looking good and declaring his shoulder much improved, although he refused to disclose any details of the injury or what type of treatment he had received.
While Djokovic is a righty, he uses his left arm for the ball tosses on his serves and to grip the racket for his two-fisted backhands.
His bid for a fourth U.S. Open championship suddenly dissipated Sunday at the conclusion of what for him amounted to a listless and ineffective effort.
Against Wawrinka, a three-time major champion himself, Djokovic never quite had the usual verve on his shots or range on his formidable service returns. He was out of sorts on all manner of shots, accumulating 30 unforced errors and only 12 winners through the first two sets.
He managed to lead 3-0 and 4-1 in the second set, but that was just about all he had in him. Soon he was trying to take shortcuts to avoid lengthy points, and nothing was working.
When that set ended, Djokovic had a trainer on for a massage, but soon thereafter, his title defense was over.
Djokovic entered the night with a 19-5 head-to-head edge against Wawrinka across their careers. This, though, was their first meeting since the 2016 U.S. Open final, won by Wawrinka.
This scuttles the possibility of a semifinal between Djokovic and Federer, which would have been a rematch of their historic Wimbledon final in July. Djokovic won that one in an unprecedented fifth-set tiebreaker after nearly five hours.