Novak Djokovic is the best tennis player in the world when healthy, but he is not invincible, especially when playing Stan Wawrinka at the United States Open.
Djokovic, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, retired from his fourth-round match Sunday against Wawrinka in the third set because of an apparent left shoulder injury. He had already lost the first two sets and looked nothing like he normally does when fit.
The fans booed Djokovic as he walked off court, but Wawrinka was much more sympathetic.
“It’s never the way you want to finish a match,” Wawrinka said in an on-court interview. “I feel sorry for Novak. He is a good friend and a great champion.”
It is the first time Djokovic, a three-time champion, has lost before the semifinal stage of the tournament since 2006, when he was 19.
Wawrinka was the last player to beat Djokovic at the Open, in the 2016 final, and he did it again Sunday. He led by 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 when Djokovic stopped the match.
Wawrinka, seeded No. 23, will play No. 5 Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Earlier in the tournament, Djokovic said the shoulder bothered him on his two-handed backhands and on the toss of his serve. It probably accounted for his 35 unforced errors in the abbreviated match.
Djokovic, 32, had won four of the last five Grand Slam tournaments, including Wimbledon in July. That brought his career total to 16, four behind Roger Federer’s record of 20.
In 2016, Wawrinka beat Djokovic in a tough, four-set U.S. Open final. It was the last of Wawrinka’s three Grand Slam titles. A knee injury and surgery in 2017 hampered him the last few years, and his ranking fell to No. 263 in 2018.
But he worked his way back and entered 2019 ranked No. 66, then improved steadily, reaching the quarterfinal stage at the French Open, where he lost to Federer in four sets.
On Sunday he played as if he would have beaten a healthy Djokovic, especially with his overpowering serve. Wawrinka won 84 percent of the points on his first serve, and he also broke Djokovic’s serve four times.
Wawrinka is just one player who can benefit from Djokovic’s departure. Another is the third-seeded Federer, who has not won the U.S. Open since 2008.
Federer, who beat No. 15 David Goffin earlier on Sunday and will play unseeded Grigor Dimitrov in a quarterfinal, now has a potential path through the Open that no longer includes the possibility of facing Djokovic in the semifinals.