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

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The news that Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the French Open with a torn meniscus was one of those moments at Roland Garros where the gasp was audible.

It was not a major shock as Djokovic said he was unsure whether he would play his quarter-final match after suffering the injury in a fourth-round win over Francisco Cerundolo. Still, it is huge to lose the world number 1 and defending champion in this way.

But what are the consequences of Djokovic’s withdrawal – for him, the event and 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 tear in the medial meniscus of his right knee. The meniscus is a semicircle of cartilage located on the inner half of the knee joint. It is a very common injury in active adults, especially middle-aged men, and can cause varying amounts of pain.

In tennis players, especially during a long playing career, it is more likely that a tear will be a slow degeneration that worsens, rather than a sudden, acute tear. Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are among the players who have undergone surgery for a torn meniscus in their mid-30s in recent years, even though the former suffered a bizarre injury while praying for his children running was.

Recovery does not always include surgery. Some people choose to avoid surgery — which can cause long-term complications such as scarring and arthritis — and recover with physical therapy by building the muscles around the knee. Whether that’s 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 over time built up.


Djokovic played through the injury against Francisco Cerundolo (Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images)

American number 1 Taylor Fritz played 23 days at Wimbledon after surgery for a meniscus injury, which was treated with debridement, in which the damaged part of the meniscus is cut off. If Djokovic’s injury is too serious for this, a full repair with stitches will be required, which could extend recovery time to months.

What do Djokovic and his team say about his injury?

Not much. The team was still coming to terms with the diagnosis and the reality that Djokovic could not continue to defend his title on Tuesday night and there was no immediate decision on whether he would undergo surgery.

Anger continues over tournament organizers’ decision not to heed Djokovic’s warnings that the courts were becoming dangerously slippery due to persistent rain over the past week and the rapid transition to dry conditions on Saturday evening and Monday afternoon when he played.

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

When will Djokovic return to tennis?

It’s too early to tell. Meniscal tears vary in severity. Needless to say, when Djokovic appears at Wimbledon on July 1, he is unlikely to be as formidable a force as he has been over the past decade, when he has cemented his position as the world’s best grass court player.

After Wimbledon, the tennis world’s focus turns to the Olympic Games at the end of July, where Djokovic will be desperate to win a first-ever gold medal at the Games.


What it means for the French Open

What does this mean for the French Open draw?

Djokovic’s withdrawal blows the top half of the draw wide open. Casper Ruud, number two for the past two years, says goodbye to the semi-finals, where he will face the winner of the quarter-final between Alexander Zverev and Alex de Minaur. Zverev wants to reach a fourth semi-final in a row at Roland Garros, while De Minaur never got further than the second round here until this year.

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What does this mean for tennis in a broader sense?

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, in which he has yet to reach the final. It is the first time since 2018 that he has competed in both of the first two Grand Slams of the year and not won either.

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It also means a new ATP Tour world number 1, with Jannik Sinner guaranteed to take that spot on Monday, June 10, reaching the milestone for the first time in his career.

Djokovic’s ranking position could plummet 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. Should he not be able to participate in those events, he would lose all his points (in addition to the 1,600 points released on Monday after his relatively early departure here), and his ranking would drop to around 8th place. the world.

He would then even reach November’s ATP finals ahead of the year’s top eight players and be in line for his worst year-end ranking since finishing just outside the top 10 in 2017 after an injury-plagued season.

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Two-time losing finalist Casper Ruud goes straight to the semi-finals (Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP via Getty Images)

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

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

He blamed the tournament and the “very slippery” court for his injury on Monday and said his team would speak to relevant event staff. The emotional strength from the Djokovic camp was still there on Tuesday.

Djokovic’s departure also dramatically increases the chances of Zverev being crowned champion on Sunday. Zverev, the No. 4 seed, defends himself during a hearing in Berlin over allegations he abused an ex-girlfriend during a 2020 argument.

In October, the Berlin Criminal Court issued an injunction and fined him €450,000 in connection with the charges against Brenda Patea, a model and social media personality who is the mother of his daughter. Zverev denies the accusations. In Germany, a prosecutor can seek a criminal injunction for cases he considers simple, because there is convincing evidence that they do not require a trial.

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

Unlike other competitive sports, the ATP Tour and tennis in general do not have a formal policy on domestic violence. If Zverev were to win one of the biggest prizes in the sport, it would be an extremely awkward situation for the tournament and the sport as a whole.

What do the players think?

Removing a quarterfinal from the schedule isn’t really good for anyone. For Ruud himself it means a potentially disruptive three days off, while for spectators with day tickets for Wednesday it will be one single match short. For Zverev and de Minaur, whoever confronts Ruud may find themselves at a disadvantage. A withdrawal at this stage of the tournament – ​​similar to Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from Wimbledon in the 2022 semi-final – immediately raises questions about sporting integrity.

One solution would be for Cerundolo, the man who defeated Djokovic, is reinstated. The “lucky loser” already exists in tennis: players who lose in qualifying before the main draws begin can remain at the tournament location and still participate in the event if a player withdraws in the first round.

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

While reinstating the 23rd seed would provide a match for spectators, and it would be difficult to argue that Cerundolo wouldn’t be a deserving winner if he defeated three elite players, it is an imperfect solution. Despite his injury, Djokovic defeated him fair and square and took the ranking points and the associated prize money. In tennis these are the breaks.

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

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