Novak Djokovic retired from his Wimbledon quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych at 7-6 (2), 2-0, surprising the world. He’d taken a medical timeout between sets, he’d watched his serve get broken, and then decided that he was too hurt to play on, and shook the umpire’s hand. The last time he walked off during a major was the 2009 Australian Open. After the match Djokovic told reporters he’d been feeling pain in his elbow for over a year and half, and suggested he might be off the tour for “half a year.” This week one of his doctors spoke to Serbian newspaper Sportski Zurnal and offered a more precise sense of his recovery timeline from the bone bruise. A translation, per The Guardian: “Nole must rest for six to 12 weeks ... The next examination will know whether this assessment stays or changes. During this period, he will not train with a racket but he will run other sessions, such as fitness and the like.”
Even the lower bound of that estimate, six weeks, would take Djokovic out of the U.S. Open, which begins August 28, thus breaking his streak of 51 consecutive majors. There will be other consequences too: Djokovic will be ranked No. 5 as of next Monday, his first departure from the top four since 2007, and because he is defending 1200 ranking points at the U.S. Open as last year’s runner-up, he looks set to slip ever further. After starting the year at No. 2, Djokovic found himself in a prolonged and vaguely mysterious slump, which has included a second-round Australian Open upset, losses to lower-ranked players who had never before beaten him, brooding quotes to the press, rumored marital woes, the dismissal of entire coaching staff, a collapse at the French Open, and now, despite winning a Wimbledon warmup tournament at Eastbourne, a shock withdrawal from the main event.
All that said, he is just over a year removed from world-beating, four-Grand-Slams-straight dominance. He might be 30, but the top five players in the world are now all at least 30 years of age—though Djokovic perhaps relies on his springy, youthful resilience more than the rest of them. Now we will not see how that body holds up in best-of-five competition anytime before next January.