Novak Djokovic admits the pain “was too much to deal with” during his fourth round defeat to Chung Hyeon at the Australian Open on Monday but he is “grateful” that he had the opportunity to step on the court and compete.
The ex-world No. 1 struggled with the elbow injury that kept him out of the game for six months, double-faulting nine times and getting broken six times during his straight-sets loss.
Djokovic, 30, was grimacing through most of the encounter, received medical treatment, and howled in frustration, but refused to retire against an inspired Chung, who was on fire.
“First of all, I have to say I’m very grateful I had the chance to play. I didn’t know if I’m going to play or not. So I played four matches here. It was a good tournament, of course. I mean, it’s disappointing to go out in the fourth round. The circumstances are such. I have to accept it. That’s the reality,” said Djokovic.
“It’s frustrating, of course, when you have that much time and you don’t heal properly. But it is what it is. There is some kind of a reason behind all of this. I’m just trying my best obviously because I love this sport. I enjoy training. I enjoy getting myself better, hoping that I can get better, perform and compete.
“Today was one of those days where, unfortunately, it was too much to deal with.”
Djokovic admits he must reassess his injury situation with his team and doctors but wouldn’t go into details.
“I don’t want to talk about my injury tonight because then I’m taking away Chung’s victory, the credit that he deserves,” said the Serb.
“Congratulations to Chung and his team. Amazing. Amazing performance. He was a better player on the court tonight. He deserved to win, no question about it.
“Whenever he was in trouble, he came up with some unbelievable shots, passing shots. Just from the back of the court, you know, he was like a wall. It’s impressive. I wish him all the best.”
Djokovic said the pain intensified towards the end of the first set and hampered him from then on.
Chung produced some incredible shots from every inch of the court, and gave a performance reminiscent of a healthy Djokovic. The 21-year-old, who is the first Korean in history to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, told Jim Courier in his on-court interview that he idolises Djokovic and tried to copy his style growing up.
“We do play very similar,” said Djokovic. “He definitely has the game to be a top-10 player, without a doubt. How far he can go, that depends on him. Obviously I respect him a lot because he’s a hard worker, he’s disciplined, he’s a nice guy, he’s quiet. You can see that he cares about his career and his performances. So I’m sure that he’s going to get some really good results in the future.”
Djokovic fell behind 0-4 in the opening set but managed to peg Chung back for 5-5. The Next Gen star took the first-set tiebreak though, holding his nerve on Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic said he was trying to force a fourth set and wanted to capitalise on his opponent’s inexperience in the best-of-five format but his plan never materialised.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion doesn’t know what his next move will be. His ranking is down to 14 in the world and he hopes to fight his way back. Two years ago in Melbourne, Djokovic said that a wolf running up a hill is much hungrier than a wolf standing atop the mountain.
“I guess I’m one of the wolves, you know, also climbing, trying to climb,” he said on Monday.