Loss to Sam Querrey step too far for weary Novak Djokovic

The debrief was just that: brief. As Novak Djokovic sat before the media to explain the inexplicable '“ his loss to Sam Querrey in the third round '“ he was not in the mood for talking.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic bows out of Wimbledon in the third round after his surprise defeat. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Was he injured? No. Did he have an issues or off-court concerns? No. Had morning practice gone badly? He did not want to discuss it. “Can we move on to Serbian, please?” he asked the moderator in less than friendly tones.

When he did speak in his own tongue to the journalists he had known all his life, he was a little more at ease but no less guarded in his responses. All he did admit was that he was mentally fried. Spent. Shot to pieces. He had a few aches and pains but none that would excuse his loss; he had been beaten because he had run out of mental puff.

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The effort of winning the French Open, the one trophy that had eluded him for so many, heart-breaking years, had done him in and he had never arrived at Wimbledon feeling so utterly exhausted.

What he was admitting was that he, the great Novak Djokovic, the winning machine that has dominated the rankings and the winner’s podiums for the past two years, was human after all. And, by the sound of it, he was having a hard time dealing with it.

When he was trying to deflect another question – the ‘where do you go from here?’ line of enquiry – he could not bring himself to use the word ‘lost’. “It’s been only 20 minutes since I,” and then he paused for a fraction of a second, “went out of the court.” He had lost and he still could not get his head around it. He may not have been surprised to lose given how tired he was but losing was still a strange feeling.

There was a tiny clue to this a month ago at the French Open. He had pinned everything on winning at Roland Garros and, as the years had gone by, the disappointment was deeper and more wounding each time he failed to achieve his goal. He had lost in three previous finals, twice to Rafael Nadal and once to Stan Wawrinka. And for the first set in this year’s final against Andy Murray, he looked like a man who was about to be thwarted again.

But when he did prevail at last, he thanked his team and his family for putting up with him for the previous two weeks. He had been so tightly wound up that he must have been unbearable to be around. Every ounce of his being had been thrown into winning his first French Open title and his fourth consecutive grand slam trophy. The weight of history was not only wearing him down, it was suffocating him.

That he should lose at some point – and lose soon – did not surprise Roger Federer. The Swiss has spent a lifetime rewriting the record books but, when he was doing it, he was in his early and mid-20s. Time was on his side. Djokovic is 29 and now in his supreme pomp. He knows that the only way to go from the top is down. He must take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself but sometimes the mind and the body just cannot take any more.

“Clearly he’s beatable; it’s not impossible,” Federer, pictured, warned last week. “He cannot win straight 200 matches in tennis. It’s not possible. You’re going to have your losses.”

Djokovic has chosen not to play a warm-up event prior to Wimbledon for the last few years. Opting instead to rest, practice and then play a couple of exhibition matches at the Boodles event at Stoke Park, he has usually got just enough grass court play under his belt before Wimbledon begins. But this year the rain scuppered those plans and he was limited to one session of hit-and-giggle with David Goffin and even that was less than he expected. The grass was so wet and slippery that he was scared of falling and hurting himself – it was a complete waste of time.

The loss of the defending champion and overwhelming favourite for the title brought Wimbledon to a momentary standstill but it was not about to disrupt Murray’s day. He now steps into the role of champion-in-waiting by dint of being the highest seed left in the draw. But as he was quick to point out, Djokovic’s absence would only affect him if he were to reach the final and he is still only in the fourth round. Federer, who had been seeded to meet the Serb in semi-finals, felt the defeat could make a difference to the draw – but not much.

“Of course it affects every player here that Novak is out,” Federer said. “He was the defending champion here at Wimbledon, he won the last four slams so, of course, he was the big favourite.

“Now all that pressure shifts to a lot of other guys, particularly Murray, maybe myself and others. But it’s an opportunity and that can also play tricks on some players’ minds. So you just need to focus on your next match. Mine is against Steve Johnson. So that’s my focus and I am looking forward to that match.”

So Djokovic – tired, world weary, mentally drained Djokovic – has gone but life goes on as regardless. Sport can be brutal like that sometimes.