Novak Djokovic shared some disappointing tennis news on Sunday. On the same day that saw Roger Federer defeat Stan Wawrinka in the Indian Wells final, Djokovic announced that he will not be able to participate in the upcoming Miami Open. He did win the title in Miami last season, so the loss will hurt his ranking points. The Serb will lose a full thousand of them, and Djokovic will regress back to the pack a little as he’ll now have to prepare for the clay-court season. Incidentally, Andy Murray will miss the Miami Open too with an elbow injury as well.
Djokovic made his announcement via his Facebook page, indicating that the decision to miss the Miami Masters is because of his doctor’s recommendation: “I have some very disappointing news to share with you regarding the Miami Open tournament. My doctor has strongly advised against play because my elbow injury, that I keep carrying on for months, got worse in the past week.” Djokovic further stated that he would “do everything in (his) power to recover and do all the necessary therapy to be able to return on court as soon as possible.”
There’s no word on Djokovic’s return, but the way he says that he’s been “carrying” the injury “for months” it seems likely that he’ll have to take plenty of time off. After all, since winning the Doha title Djokovic has not played in all that many matches thanks to early exits in Melbourne, Acapulco, and Indian Wells. You would think that the lighter load of matches would have assisted with his recovery from his elbow injury, however clearly that’s not the case.
Looking ahead at the mandatory tournaments alone, there’s Monte Carlo starting on April 16th. After that there’s a little bit of a gap until Madrid starts on May 7th. Rome follows Madrid the very next week with Roland Garros starting on May 28th this year. Djokovic has titles to defend in Madrid and Paris so if he’s not in tip-top shape; then there could be ranking implications. He’ll still be the No. 2 following Miami, but if he doesn’t have at least a good clay-court season then don’t be surprised if he drops down to the World No. 4 or No. 5 position.
However, despite a likely ranking drop, Djokovic might actually be smart to shut things down until the grass-court season. The Serb’s problems all started last season on clay. He needed to win the 2016 French Open to complete his career Grand Slam, and I think it took a lot out of him. In short order after winning the French he was injured at Wimbledon, where he lost to Sam Querrey in the round of 32. Djokovic hasn’t always played bad since Roland Garros, but he did miss the China Open last fall with his elbow injury too.
If it’s true that the physicality of clay-court tennis initially aggravated the injury, then it suggests that missing all the clay-court tournaments this season would be smart for the Serb. However, even if he’s ready for Roland Garros, I think he’ll be an easy out from the draw if he doesn’t get at least five or six clay-court matches in during the lead-up events.
We need to remember that the French Open is actually his worst Grand Slam – this true despite being the current defending champion. He has a lot of surprise losses at the venue, including one to Philipp Kohlschreiber at the 2009 French Open. Furthermore, the Roland Garros semifinals was where his undefeated season ended in 2011. There was also the 2015 upset loss to Stan Wawrinka in the final. Most shockingly, Djokovic lost to Jurgen Melzer in the 2010 quarterfinals despite holding a two-sets-to-love lead.
Djokovic is still considered the betting favorite for the French Open (source: bet365). However, I’m thinking he’s either not going to play or he won’t play well. With the favorite a big question mark then the next contenders are more in the picture. That’s Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Roger Federer, and I think Dominic Thiem more so than Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov, or Milos Raonic.