- What the Deuce
Painful decision ahead for Djokovic as London loomsJo Carter November 8, 2011
Kei Nishikori condemned Novak Djokovic to his first bagel in over 18 months on Saturday. The last time Djokovic lost a set 6-0, the Serb was a mere mortal. Since that slip-up against a player ranked more than one hundred places below him (he went on to beat Mardy Fish 6-1 0-6 6-2), Djokovic has gone on to claim three grand slam titles and firmly establish himself as the best player in the world.
Both players have risen beyond recognition since that match back in March 2010 - Fish is now the top-ranked American and on course to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals in London, while Djokovic's achievements this season outshine most superlatives.
But the player who was dumped out by Nishikori in Basel on Saturday was a shadow of the player who went 41 matches without defeat earlier in the season. Djokovic's dream season is swiftly turning into an injury nightmare. He received treatment on his right shoulder - in what appeared to be a reoccurrence of the injury that saw him retire from the Cincinnati final against Andy Murray.
"I could barely serve for much of the match, I was in pain," Djokovic said after his defeat to Nishikori. "My shoulder is very bad, we won't even talk about the third set. I have a lot of pain in my body from the competition this week."
Djokovic's appearance in Basel was his first in six weeks after he suffered a back injury on Davis Cup duty for Serbia. But having come out three of his last four tournaments in less than tip-top condition, is Djokovic paying the price for success? It certainly looks like the physical burden of such a triumphant season is taking its toll.
After his first injury scare in Cincinnati, any doubts over his fitness ahead of the US Open were swiftly smothered as Djokovic romped to his third grand slam title of the year in New York, but it seems Djokovic is now suffering for pushing his body to the limit this year.
His return in Basel was nothing to write home about - at least not compared to the remarkably high standards the world No. 1 has set this season. Xavier Malisse and Marcos Baghdatis both took him to three sets, while Nishikori inflicted the Serb's first bagel in over 18 months.
Some will be calling for Djokovic to call it a day; draw a line under this season and instead focus on returning to full fitness in time for 2012 - where he will have a mammoth amount of ranking points to defend.
Such was his dominance this year that he already has the year-end ranking wrapped up. He is so far ahead of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray that he could afford to put his feet up for the rest of the year. But while his participation at this week's BNP Paribas Master in Paris remains in doubt, the Serb is unlikely to miss out on the ATP World Tour Finals in London, no matter how much it hurts.
No matter how crammed his mantelpiece is, and for everything Djokovic has won this season - this is not about another trophy, nor is it about prize money. Djokovic's pride is at stake - and a wounded ego can hurt just as much as any injury. To bow out now, after such a remarkable season, would be an almighty damp squib, and will forever cast a shadow on what should be remembered as one of the all-time great seasons by any player.
"I may have forced things too much I was feeling afraid of the shoulder and what might happen to it," Djokovic said in Basel last week, admitting his return to competition was a "shock to the body".
It remains to be seen just how bad Djokovic's shoulder injury really is, but if his arm is still attached to his body, expect him to be in London in a fortnight's time.