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.
Chung Hyeon dumped six-time champion Novak Djokovic out of the Australian Open on Monday in a sensational fourth round upset to become the first Korean — man or woman — to reach the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam.
The 21-year-old beat the battle-weary Serb, who was clearly in pain and struggled on serve, 7-6 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3) in 3hr 21 min in a night match on Rod Laver Arena.
Chung will face American bolter Tennys Sandgren in the last-eight on Wednesday.
Two years ago Djokovic outclassed Chung in straight sets in the opening round of the Australian Open, but the South Korean spectacularly reversed the result with three hard-fought sets against the wounded Serb in the fourth round.
“When I was young I just tried to copy Novak (Djokovic) because he was my idol.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 22, 2018
Djokovic, who sought treatment for his troublesome right elbow and an apparent hip injury when stretching for a ball, battled through in great discomfort, as Chung stayed composed and mentally tough to claim his biggest win.
“I didn’t know if I was going to win this match tonight, but I was just honoured to play with Novak again and happy to see him on the tour,” said Chung, who won the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan last November.
“When I was young I was trying to copy Novak because he’s my idol. I can’t believe this, dreams come true tonight.”
Djokovic showed the effects of playing four rounds in his first tournament back after six months out since Wimbledon with elbow trouble.
He made a horror start to the match with two double faults in each of his two opening service games for a double break.
The six-time Melbourne winner clawed back to 5-5, but he called for the trainer to treat his right elbow early in the second set.
It got worse for the Serb former world No. 1 as he screamed in agony stretching for a point, but he gingerly carried on with the signs of wear and tear plainly visible.
Djokovic attempted to shorten the points and avoid long tiring rallies given his battle-weary condition as Chung continued to pull ahead.
He dropped serve to start the third set but Djokovic gave the serve straight back and the South Korean got another break to go ahead 3-1.
But Djokovic bravely dug in and again broke back and took the set to a tiebreaker where Chung won some outstanding points to hold three match points.
Djokovic’s resistance was finally over when he sent a backhand wide.
Halep has spent a shade under eight hours on court in four matches so far, including an epic 3hr 44min against Lauren Davis on Saturday which the Romanian won 15-13 in the final set.
“First day after the (Davis) match was pretty OK,” the top seed told reporters after a 6-3, 6-2 victory over unseeded Naomi Osaka of Japan in 81 minutes.
“Last night was really tough. I couldn’t sleep. I had pain everywhere.
“But I slept before the match two hours, and worked perfect, perfect hours. I was, like, fresh after that. I felt good.”
Halep, who last made it this far in 2015, said she had more confidence in her troublesome ankle that she rolled in her first-round match.
“Ankle is still sore. But, you know, I’m not thinking about that any more,” she said. “I saw that I can win matches with it.
“Maybe I get used to the pain and I’m not thinking that much that something can happen. Just taking every point.
“I’m trying to play 100 percent, which I was close today, to run normal and to run a lot. But I still feel it. It’s there, but I can handle it.”
The big-hitting Osaka had her chances, notably in the fifth game of the first set when she squandered five break points on the Halep serve.
The Romanian compounded Osaka’s disappointment immediately with a break of her own and said it was a turning point.
“Yeah, after I took that game and those points, I felt more confident. I felt that now I can push the pedal and just go through the match,” she said.
Halep served out to take the set in 42 minutes and immediately broke the Japanese player again to start the second.
“I’m really happy to be back in the QF. I didn’t expect that before I started the tournament because of the injury.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 22, 2018
The players matched each other with 22 winners apiece but Osaka’s 31 unforced errors ultimately proved her downfall against the consistent Halep.
The top seed is guaranteed to meet a Czech opponent for a place in the semi-finals, either sixth seed Karolina Pliskova or Barbora Strycova, the 20th seed.
“Well, both of them are very tough. Even if I played with big hitters this tournament, Pliskova is always dangerous. She’s playing great these days,” said Halep.
“With Strycova, I played a few times. Was tough because I have to run a lot.
“So I’m looking forward to playing the quarter-finals again,” said Halep who reached the same stage in 2014 and 2015.
“Third time lucky, maybe.”