Novak Djokovic's hamstring has been one of the most discussed topics at this year's Australian Open, perhaps in many respects more than the imperious form that has taken the nine-time champion into another semi-final at Melbourne Park. Djokovic has had to defend himself against claims he is 'faking' or playing up the extent of the injury that has seen him take to court with heavy strapping on his left leg.
The 21-time grand slam champion's winning streak at Melbourne Park currently stands at 26 matches, ahead of Friday night's semi-final against unseeded American, Tommy Paul. Having swept aside fifth seed Andrey Rublev in straight sets in the quarter-finals and Alex de Minaur in similar fashion in the fourth round, scrutiny around his hamstring injury has intensified.
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In fact, it wasn't until that impressive win over de Minaur that Djokovic said he felt completely comfortable on court, revealing afterwards that he didn't feel any problems. Djokovic initially suffered the hamstring injury against Daniil Medvedev in the semi-final of the Adelaide International and has required medical treatment and been forced to miss practice sessions in the days since, as he carefully manages the situation.
Many watching the Serb ruthlessly destroy de Minaur and then Rublev in straight sets this week may have felt justified in presuming that the hamstring injury isn't as bad as Djokovic has made out. However, tennis great and commentator Jim Courier leapt to the 35-year-old's defence during the match against Rublev, insisting that the nine-time champion wasn't moving how he normally would, despite the dominant nature of the performance.
Courier said it was clear to him that Djokovic was being conservative in terms of pushing his hamstring. The American noted that one major factor largely missing from the Serb's game was his trademark defensive slides - suggesting the 21-time major champion was concerned about the effect it would have on the troublesome hamstring.
"There's been a lot of chatter on the grounds here, and I think elsewhere out in the social media stratosphere, where all things are true of course, that Novak isn't injured," he said. "The evidence I would present, if I was presenting the case on his behalf, is simply he's not moving to the ball and doing that motion as much as he normally would.
"He is making adjustments at a major - a grand slam tournament - that you just would never see him do unless he was concerned about a problem. It doesn't hold up to the logic test that he would be faking this. Makes no sense.
"Because by doing different motions he could risk injuring himself in a different way."
Speaking on Eurosport's coverage of the Australian Open, seven-time major winner Mats Wilander also hit out at the wave of criticism the World No.5 has copped over his hamstring issue. Wilander said it was 'ridiculous' to suggest that the Serb was 'faking' the injury or making it out to be a lot more significant than it actually is.
"It is so ridiculous that you are accusing someone of something like that. First of all, there is no way you want to let the locker room know that you are injured unless you are injured," Wilander said.
"So, to think that it is some kind of fake injury is absolutely ridiculous. To me, it’s a completely ridiculous argument. I mean, it is his thing - of course, he has pain; of course, he’s injured. But he can play tennis. That is the only thing that matters to me.”
Novak Djokovic defying hamstring complaint at Aus Open
Djokovic hit out at his critics earlier in the tournament after claiming to Serbian media: "Only my injuries are questioned". “I leave the doubting to those people – let them doubt,” he added in Serbian.
“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 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 it, maybe I won’t.
“I am not really interested at this point in what people are thinking and saying. It is fun, it is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues, a narrative that is different compared to other players that have been going through a similar situation. But I am used to it, and it just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that.”
Djokovic also opened up how his preparation and practice has differed at Melbourne Park compared to other tournaments. The Serb says he has "been through hell the last 10 days" and is just doing whatever he can to best manage the hamstring injury, in order to give him the best chance at claiming a record-extending 10th Australian Open title.
"I've been connected to machines more than I have been connected to anybody else or my bed or anything else really in the days off," he added. "I've tried about every biofeedback machine there is on this planet in order to get my leg ready. And it worked. I'm going to keep going.
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