“It’s frustrating of course, when you have that much time and you don’t heal properly,” Djokovic said. “But it is what it is. There is some kind of a reason behind all of this. I’m just trying my best obviously, because I love this sport.”
When he won the French Open in 2016, Djokovic was the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major singles titles. During that phase, he was one of the most dominant No. 1 players – week to week – in the history of the sport.
His speed is still there. So, it appears, is his combative spirit, which explains why he decided to continue playing Monday’s match despite considerable discomfort and an injury timeout after the first set.
“I felt the pain was not that high that I need to stop the match, even though it was obviously compromising my serve,” Djokovic, 30, said of his elbow. “That, of course, is a big shot, especially against Chung, who returns well, gets a lot of balls back. I wish I could have a little bit had more free points on the first serve. But I didn’t. That’s life. I have to move on.”
He is no longer a candidate for a record seventh Australian Open men’s singles title. Instead, the quarterfinal in his section of the draw will match the unseeded Chung against the unseeded American Tennys Sandgren, whose five-set upset of No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem was arguably the bigger surprise on Monday.
“I don’t know if this is a dream or not,” Sandgren said to the crowd in his on-court interview after his 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (7-9), 6-3 victory. “All you guys are here, and I’m not in my underwear, so maybe it’s not a dream.”
One could understand Sandgren’s uncertainty. At age 26, he has spent most of his career in tennis’s minor leagues: the satellite and challenger circuits. He had yet to win a Grand Slam match when he arrived in Melbourne this year. But he is now in the final eight in select company with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the defending champion who has yet to lose a set this year and defeated Marton Fucsovics, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2, on Monday. Federer will face Tomas Berdych in the other quarterfinal in the bottom half of the men’s draw.
“I definitely had a real pinch-me moment,” said Sandgren, describing his internal dialogue after match point as: “Wow, this is hopefully real. If I wake up now, I’m going to be real upset.”
Last week Sandgren surprised No. 9 seed Stan Wawrinka in the second round: winning by 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. Wawrinka was returning from a six-month break of his own after knee surgery and was visibly struggling to find his rhythm and form.
But Thiem, a powerful Austrian, said he was in perfect health, and he appeared to have the edge when he forced a fifth set after saving a match point at 5-6 in the fourth-set tiebreaker with a bold backhand winner down the line from what appeared to be a compromised position.
“I felt good on court,” Thiem said. “It was just one of those days where you have to give a lot of respect to your opponent. He played extremely well and also after I won this really tight and close fourth set, he didn’t drop.”