Tennis fans have expressed their sadness after Novak Djokovic's team-up with Jonathan Erlich at the Tel Aviv Open was ruined by injury.
Djokovic hasn't played an official ATP event since winning Wimbledon back in July, missing the recent American hard-court swing and US Open due to his vaccination status.
He did take part in the Laver Cup in London last weekend in Roger Federer's farewell, but the event wasn't an official ATP tournament.
The 21-time grand slam champion is making his return to ATP level at the Tel Aviv Open in Israel this week and had planned to play doubles alongside Israeli veteran Erlich.
Djokovic won the only doubles title of his career alongside Erlich at Queen's Club in 2010, with the pair reviving their partnership for Erlich's final event before his retirement.
However the plan was ruined on Wednesday when Erlich was forced to withdraw with a back injury suffered in training.
The 45-year-old said he was suffering from back spasms and was devastated not to be able to play in the final event of his career in front of his home fans.
Erlich and Djokovic both addressed the crowd in Tel Aviv to apologise for the situation, with Djokovic paying a classy tribute to the Israeli.
"Unfortunately we didn't play today," the Serbian star said.
"I wish 'Yoni' the best of luck in the next phase of his life. He knows I'm always here and will be happy to help Israeli tennis as much as I can."
Initial reports stated that Djokovic was seeking a new partner to continue in the doubles, but he later withdrew to hand Bart Stevens and Sander Arends a walkover.
Fans took to social media to express their sadness for Erlich and Djokovic.
In the press conference here (https://t.co/mPDXSXhzyT) Erlich said he has disc issues and gets these back spasms every few months that leave him barely able to walk
What terrible timing for the 2008 AO champion, who was supposed to end his career at home alongside Novak Djokovic https://t.co/M63lEYZU0i
— Damian Kust (@damiankust) September 28, 2022
Looks like he isn't, despite what Ozmo was saying. Djokovic/Erlich have conceded the match.
— The Happy One (@kavyasastra) September 28, 2022
— Jalil H (@jay_ih) September 28, 2022
Yes you're absolutely right my friend❤️❤️❤️ I just came to know about it.
— Shane Gupta (@Shanegupta99) September 28, 2022
Novak Djokovic struggling with wrist issue after Laver Cup
Luckily for fans, Djokovic will still take part in singles at the ATP 250 event and took on Pablo Andújar on Thursday.
However he revealed earlier this week that he was bothered by a wrist problem at the Laver Cup, suggesting his lengthy absence from the ATP tour could be to blame.
The 35-year-old produced a dazzling performance on Saturday by winning his singles and doubles matches, but lost in straight sets to Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime on the final day of competition on Sunday.
"I have been struggling with my right wrist for the last four, five days, to be honest. I have been keeping it under control," Djokovic told reporters.
"The two matches yesterday probably had an effect. Today was not easy. I couldn't serve as fast or as accurately as I would like to. That has affected the whole game."
Djokovic said the wrist issue could be due to a combination of factors, but pointed to the fact that he hadn't played for almost three months.
"Could be not playing matches almost three months, and then conditions here are such that the balls are really big and slow," he said.
Djokovic said qualifying for November's ATP Finals in Turin remained his goal, while also revealing that he will play an event in Kazakhstan next week and then the Paris Masters at the end of October.
His triumph at Wimbledon guarantees him a spot in the Tour-ending Finals if he stays in the world's top 20.
The 35-year-old's ranking has taken a significant hit in recent months and he is currently down at World No.7.
He lost 2000 rankings points despite winning Wimbledon after the event was stripped of points following the All England Club's ban on players from Russia and Belarus due to Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.