Yesterday it already looked as though Novak Djokovic was going to miss the U.S. Open, and this morning the Serbian star announced that he will be sitting out not just the year’s final major but the whole 2017 season to recover from a right elbow injury. “I think I haven’t missed a single major event for more than 10 years, I’ve been reaching the final stages of the tournaments and playing at the highest level. The remarkable series has come to an end. My body has its limits, and I have to respect that and be grateful for all that I have achieved so far,” he wrote on his personal site. Djokovic also confirmed that he would stick with Andre Agassi as his head coach through this long absence from the tour, and was looking forward to the birth of his second child during that time.
This breaks Djokovic’s streak of 51 straight majors played, starting with the 2005 Australian Open. (With 12 Grand Slams now in the bag, he won nearly a quarter of those.) Considering his strong claim to be the most dominant hardcourt player of all time, missing the U.S. Open could not have been an decision taken lightly. For last 10 years Djokovic has never failed to make the semifinals there, has played in the finals seven times, and won the title twice—an outrageously consistent run. But at age 30 he is probably beginning to look at his career with longevity at the fore. Among the injured superstars who can afford it, long periods of rest might soon be in vogue: In 2016 Roger Federer also nixed the rest of his tournament schedule after Wimbledon, so that he could fully rehabilitate from a February knee surgery. This paid off, as he came back sufficiently restored to go 31-2 in 2017, winning both majors he played in and a whole lot else. Djokovic plans to return to the tour in January 2018 to play a warmup tournament for the Australian Open.
Last year, at the 2016 French Open, Djokovic rounded out an astonishing feat: he held all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously. If he dipped after that in a 2016 Wimbledon third-round exit, he made up for it with a 2016 U.S. Open runner-up trophy. But this year’s major results read very differently: upset in the Australian Open second round; decimation in the French Open quarterfinal; injury withdrawal from Wimbledon quarterfinal. It’s been a weird year for Novak Djokovic, weirder in ways far beyond just physical health, and surely he is now hoping for a total reboot. Here’s a retrospective: