Novak Djokovic told reporters he is sick of people doubting his injuries after thrashing Alex De Minaur in a near-flawless display in Melbourne on Monday night.
During the on-court interview after his 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 win, Djokovic was asked about the heavy strapping around his left thigh, and replied that it had been an encouraging day because “I didn’t feel anything [in the hamstring].”
Then, during a press conference in his native Serbian, he made his displeasure plain.
Asked whether he had noticed a sceptical tone in media coverage of his supposed injury, Djokovic replied: “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.”
One commentator who has sounded unconvinced about the extent of Djokovic’s injury is former doubles champion Todd Woodbridge. “It's pretty obvious he has a bit of a niggle,” said Woodbridge on Sunday. “But at times it [the left leg] looks like it's about to snap off, so he's playing it up nicely.”
A backstage row
Telegraph Sport understands that Woodbridge’s view is not restricted to Melbourne’s broadcasting studios and press rooms, but can also be found in the locker room. A backstage row developed this week when Djokovic was challenged by a team member of one of his opponents, and heated words flew in both directions.
It is worth remembering that, in 2021, Djokovic won this tournament despite an abdominal tear he sustained in the third round against Taylor Fritz. After that tournament, he told reporters the tear had grown from an initial 17mm to 25mm as he continued to play through the pain.
On Monday, he again referred to this incident, saying: “I have got the MRI, ultrasound and everything else, both from two years ago and now. Whether I will publish that in my documentary or on social media, depends on how I feel. Maybe I will do I it, maybe I won’t.
“I am not really interested at this point what people are thinking and saying,” added Djokovic, who will start his quarter-final on Wednesday as the heavy favourite to beat fifth seed Andrey Rublev. “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 situations. But I am used to it, and it just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that.”
This is the second time in a matter of days Djokovic has painted himself as the victim in his interactions with the media. In an emotional interview with Channel Nine on the eve of this tournament, he referred back to last year’s deportation saga by saying: “The media has picked on me big time for several months and not in a positive note. All of a sudden I became the villain of the world which is obviously a terrible position to be in as an athlete.”
Whatever Djokovic’s objections, it feels as though plenty of players and coaches have raised an eyebrow about his hamstring trouble. “He seemed to manage very well, that’s about all there is to say about that,” said Grigor Dimitrov, Djokovic’s third-round victim, after his own straight-sets defeat on Saturday. “It's the only thing everyone's been talking about,” said De Minaur on Monday. “Either I'm not a good enough tennis player to expose that, or... it looked good to me.”
It was interesting, too, to hear from Mark Philippoussis – the 2003 Wimbledon runner-up who is working as an assistant coach here on Stefanos Tsitsipas’s team. “He [Djokovic] might be strapped,” said Philippoussis. “But I called that match [against Dimitrov] on the side of the court and if Stef were playing him right now, I’d say he’s 100 per cent.”
The Djokovic tirade started a debate on social media, with American No1 Taylor Fritz adding his own two cents’ worth. “Eighty per cent of players are always dealing with something,” said Fritz. “But everyone is honestly always a little banged up... the media is only ever focusing on the top guys so their issues get more attention.
“Some players are more vocal talking about injuries than others,” Fritz added. “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.”
British tennis fans may remember this is the same event where Djokovic had to fend off accusations of gamesmanship after the 2015 final. That was the match in which he had seemed to be cramping up early in the third set, only to start moving like a gazelle as he beat Andy Murray via a 6-0 “bagel” in the fourth. The photographers would later catch Murray glaring at Djokovic with a face of fury as he lifted the trophy.