MELBOURNE, Australia — Concern exuded from Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open press room. It was two years ago, the summer of 2021, and he was fielding question upon question about his nagging oblique injury.
“I know it’s a tear of the muscle. Definitely,” Djokovic professed to reporters. “I don’t know if I’ll manage to recover in less than two days. I’m not sure I’ll be able to play the next match.”
Hours earlier, during his third-round clash against American Taylor Fritz, Djokovic had suffered a nasty fall when he slipped on the white-painted “MELBOURNE” lettering behind the baseline on Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic returned to the court after undertaking an extended medical timeout but was significantly hampered in his movement. He constantly rubbed the right side of his abdomen and attempted to stretch the muscle between almost every point. He winced as he tracked down balls, giving up on plenty that were struck only a few feet either side of his racket. The two-sets-to-love advantage he had established disappeared in the blink of an eye, and his title defence looked to be in tatters.
A week later, inches from where he’d suffered that fall, Djokovic raised the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft. He had not only managed to win against Fritz, but somehow he orchestrated four more victories en route to a record ninth Australian Open title.
There are some serious parallels between what happened two years ago and what looks to be transpiring here in 2023.
Djokovic tweaked his left hamstring against Daniil Medvedev in the semifinal of the Adelaide International earlier this month, clutching at the muscle before calling for a medical timeout.
The Serbian star recovered to win the match, before beating Sebastian Korda in a grueling final, but his status for the Australian Open was anything but certain. Concerns only mounted when he cut short a practice match against Medvedev a few days later in Melbourne, citing further discomfort in the hamstring.
But when Djokovic’s name was announced to a capacity crowd at Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday, he was there, sporting a significant amount of strapping on his left thigh and hamstring, but nevertheless ready to battle first-round opponent Roberto Carballes Baena.
The feeling of déjà vu continued Thursday when Djokovic returned to the Melbourne press podium following his…