MELBOURNE — Novak Djokovic has railed against the suggestion that he is “faking” his hamstring injury after cruising through to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
The nine-time champion in Melbourne is just three wins away from making it 10 and racked up his 25th match triumph in a row when he beat Alex De Minaur for the loss of just five games on Monday night.
That was despite heavy strapping on his left hamstring, an issue that appeared in the week before the tournament, but De Minaur himself questioned whether there was an impairment as a result.
“You tell me how you thought he looked out there. Playing him, I thought he was moving pretty well, so… I don’t know,” De Minaur said.
“I think everyone’s kind of seeing what’s been happening over the couple weeks. It’s the only thing everyone’s been talking about.
“Today I was out there on court against him. Either I’m not a good enough tennis player to expose that [injury], or… it looked good to me. He was just too good in all aspects.”
De Minaur has not been the only proponent of such scepticism either. Todd Woodbridge, a 16-time doubles grand slam champion and now a commentator for Australian host broadcaster Channel 9, accused Djokovic of “playing up” his injury.
“It looks a bit dodgy between points but once he starts running there is absolutely no problem with how he is moving,” Woodbridge said.
“I’m not saying it’s gamesmanship, it’s pretty obvious he has a bit of a niggle, but at times it looks like it’s about to snap off, so he’s playing it up nicely here and there, but you know, that’s Novak.”
But Djokovic angrily rebuffed the scepticism the likes of Woodbridge and De Minaur, saying: “I leave the doubting to those people – let them doubt.
“Only my injuries are questioned. When some other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it is me, I am faking it. It is very interesting… I don’t feel that I need to prove anything to anyone.
“I am not really interested at this point what people are thinking and saying.
“It is fun, it is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues, narrative that is different compared to other players that have been going through similar situation.”
Analysis: Whatever was wrong is getting better
It plays into Djokovic’s psychology, which has powered him to 21 grand slam titles and counting, that the world is against him.
“It just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that,” he said without (much) irony.
But equally it is hard to believe that a man who has dropped just one set en route to last eight and demolished Australia’s second-best singles player in just two hours and six minutes has any serious issue.
Djokovic’s hamstring problem first emerged in practice during the pre-tournament week and the Serbian wore strapping during an exhibition match against Nick Kyrgios nearly two weeks ago.
He has continued to wear a large white bandage on the muscle and took a medical timeout for treatment during his win over Grigor Dimitrov – a match he still won in straight sets.
Even Djokovic had to admit things were getting better after thrashing De Minaur.
“A week ago I didn’t really think about the title, I just thought about being in a good enough condition to play the next match,” he said.
“Tonight, the way I played, the way I felt gives me reason to believe I can go all the way.”
It is perhaps with this confidence under his belt that Djokovic felt he could lash out, although Djokovic vs the media is nothing new of course, and as recently as last week, he boycotted European broadcaster Eurosport over a video they had posted on social media that he said had been edited to show him in a bad light.
Taylor Fritz, the world No 9, probably has the most balanced and relatively authoritative view on Djokovic’s injury.
“Eighty per cent of players are always dealing with something (severity levels differ) but everyone is honesty always a little banged up,” Fritz wrote on Twitter.
“The media is only ever focusing on the top guys so their issues get more attention.
“Also, some players are more vocal talking about injuries then others. I don’t think people fake injuries, I do think sometimes players stretch the severity of the injury because it depressurises them and helps them play better (which honestly is fine, do whatever works).
“I don’t think it’s done in a bad sportsmanship kind of way, and before people get defensive, I’m not talking about anyone in particular this is just what I see as a player, sometimes there are serious injuries, sometimes there [are] overexaggerated ones from people 1-500.”
Whatever is wrong with Djokovic, exaggerated or otherwise, his next three opponents will need to put it out of their mind, because at present it is doing nothing to diminish his abilities.