Novak Djokovic has spent minimal time on court at the US Open, but the Serb believes it has been a blessing in disguise as he prepares for the semi-finals.
At grand slams, the top players like to gradually increase their level of play as the tournament progresses. Time on the court is an essential enabling factor in peaking at the right time. Practicing with hitting partners only does so much, there is no substitute for playing matches in the big stadiums in front of expectant crowds.
As Djokovic continues his bid to win his third US Open title, he finds himself denied of this opportunity.
In his first match at the tournament he beat Jerzy Janowicz in four sets. While certainly the worthy winner, Djokovic’s play was untidy at times and lacked the edge that one might expect from the world number one.
He then had a walkover in the second round as Jiri Vesely withdrew from the match without a point being played, citing an arm injury as the reason.
In the third round, Djokovic only played six games against Mikhail Youzhny before the latter withdrew with a groin injury.
In the fourth round Djokovic was far too much for Kyle Edmund, winning in straight forward fashion.
Then on Tuesday he raced to a two-set advantage against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before the Frenchman called time on his tournament with a knee injury.
Djokovic faces Gael Monfils next in the semi-finals having only completed two full matches and having only spent six and a half hours on court.
To provide context, Monfils has completed five full matches and spent fractionally shy of ten hours on court.
Furthermore, Djokovic’s duel against Rafael Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open lasted five hours and 53 minutes. That one was match. This is almost an entire tournament.
Djokovic has finished only nine sets at Flushing Meadows in 2016. Monfils has finished 15.
The highest ranked player that Djokovic has completed a match against has been Edmund, who is ranked a measly 84th in the world.
On the contrary, Monfils has been thoroughly tested. His last three victories have all come against players who have been among the top 20 in the world at some stage or another.
Undercooked? Yes. Concerned? No. Surprisingly, Djokovic feels his limited time on court in New York has been to his benefit.
“I put myself in a position again to be one match away from the finals,” he said.
“As tournament progresses, I feel like I’m getting better. Of course, this grand slam is very unique for me. I never experienced something like this, to have three retirements on the road to the semi-finals.
“In this stage of the season, considering some physical issues I have had in the last month, month and a half, this was the scenario that I needed and I wished for.
“I got a lot of days off and recovered my body. Right now, I’m feeling very close to the peak. That’s the position where I want to be.”
It will be fascinating to see how Djokovic fares against Monfils and whether or not his rhetoric about being grateful for having so little time on court was genuine.
He has had a tough time of it of late.
After his run of four consecutive major championships, the first time a man had done that in nearly 50 years, was capped by his initial French Open title, Djokovic was upset in the third round at Wimbledon by Sam Querrey.
He returned to action by winning the Toronto Masters, but then lost in the first round of the Rio Olympics. He opted to skip the Cincinnati Masters before the year’s fourth and final grand slam.
If ever the world’s best current player needed tennis to show him some tough love and force him to earn his way to the business end of a grand slam it was surely now.
However, if anyone is capable of rocking-up and flipping the switch with less-than-ideal preparation, it’s got to be Djokovic.
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