Ill Novak Djokovic apologises to Dubai fans: ‘I am really sad to finish the tournament this way, but I was forced to’
DUBAI // Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten start to the year and his bid to equal Ivan Lendl’s record of 18 consecutive finals has come to an end after an eye infection forced him to retire from his Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-final match against Feliciano Lopez.
The world No 1, playing his first tournament since winning his 11th grand slam at the Australian Open last month, did not look very comfortable on the court and, immediately after losing the first set 6-3, he walked up to the chair umpire to inform him about the retirement.
“It’s an eye problem and I have had it ever since I arrived in Dubai,” he said later, wearing sunglasses to shield his eyes. “It started with an infection and then severe allergy, that’s what I was told and it has gotten worse since the last two days.
“It’s the first time I have had such a problem with the eye and unfortunately it was ultra-sensitive today under the lights.
“I am really sad to finish the tournament this way. I apologise to the all the people who came in to watch the match. I apologise to the tournament director and everybody who came out to support me. I am really sad to end up the tournament this way, but I was forced to.”
This is the first time Djokovic has retired from a match since September, 2011, when he could not complete a Davis Cup match against Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro. Since then, he has played 350 matches, winning 312 of them.
Had he won two more matches here, the world No 1 would have equalled Lendl’s 1981-82 record of 18 consecutive finals. And if he had won the final on Saturday, Djokovic would have equalled Lendl, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg’s mark of eight consecutive titles.
Djokovic’s remarkable run, unfortunately, will end now at 17 consecutive finals and seven titles on the trot, but those milestones were far from his thoughts on Thursday.
“Well, look, this is the least of my thoughts at the moment,” he said when asked about those records. “I just hope that this problem with the eye will fade away in the next couple of days. I have got a lot of important events waiting for me in the next period: Davis Cup back home and Indian Wells, Miami and, of course, clay-court season.
“Physically I feel fine, mentally as well. It’s just something that I hope is going to vanish after several days, but, on the contrary, it is getting worse and I have to deal with it.”
Djokovic said the allergy is affecting both his eyes, and added: “I don’t want to take anything away from Feliciano’s performance tonight, but it just didn’t feel right in any way for me today.
“I knew that already from the very morning today. The practise session was awful as well. But yeah, I tried and I hope people will recognise that. That’s all I can say. If I had a third eye, I would replace this one.
“I am sorry I am talking to you now with my sunglasses at 10pm. It’s not a usual sight, but that’s what it is and I hoping it will get better.”
Lopez, a two-time Dubai finalist, did not know about Djokovic’s eye infection before the match, but did realise something was wrong once the quarter-final got underway.
“I had no idea and I just went on court without knowing about his illness,” said Lopez, who will now meet Marcos Baghdatis in Friday’s semi-final. “But, yeah, I felt he was taking risks a little bit more than normal in some of the points that we played, especially when I made the break. Then he was trying to be more aggressive.
“Seems like he was not taking care of his shots sometimes. He was very aggressive where he normally is not. So that’s why I kind of realised that something was going on. But it’s just an idea. You don’t know really what’s happening.
“It’s very sad when you play against one of the best players in the history of the sport and he has to retire the way he did.”
With seven-time champion Roger Federer not here to defend his crown due to surgery, Djokovic’s withdrawal means for the first time since the 2008 final, when Andy Roddick defeated Lopez, there will be no Federer or Djokovic in a Dubai final.
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Updated: February 25, 2016 04:00 AM