Dr Chris Fanelli: Doctor to Novak Djokovic: You can’t claim a comeback

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Novak Djokovic’s efforts to recover from an elbow injury will be difficult if he opts to have a shot at winning a second Australian Open title in 2018.

The Serb is in the middle of a gruelling preparation for the defence of his Wimbledon title, which begins next week, after deciding to pull out of the Cincinnati Open earlier this week, before being cleared to compete on Thursday.

The 30-year-old has ruled himself out of the remainder of the year’s last Grand Slam, which serves as the warm-up tournament for Wimbledon, meaning he will likely have to miss the US Open in September.

Djokovic has a 12-inch tendon in his elbow that has affected his movement and forced him to quit tournaments on three occasions in the past four months. He had surgery at the end of 2016 and is still yet to return to the world No.1 spot he held for 45 weeks in the second half of last year.

While Djokovic is looking to return to his best after more than 18 months away from the game, Swiss politician Peter Kunz feels the Serb should be taking precautions in order to give himself the best chance of a successful comeback.

“In [Djokovic’s] case, he can not claim a comeback. He can only claim recovery. In the recovery process, I think it will be very difficult for him to come back at the level where he was in 2016. Probably, he will need some type of exemption to be allowed to play in the Australian Open,” Kunz said.

Sports professor Professor André Schwede from the University of St Gallen agreed the injury may well limit Djokovic’s ability to take to the court again.

“His serve is his strength, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if he develops a problem in his serving. He needs that to get to his shots. His power and strength is also vital to a return of serve because he has a lot of balance on his backhand,” Schwede said.

Kunz agreed. “We have enough data, via the data of the four Grand Slam championships to know how much pain someone has in his elbow and how long it would take him to recover if there was a problem.”

The Australian Open is the only major championship to allow players with elbow injuries to compete, and Kunz added: “We should have some regulations in the Australian Open. We should protect the elbow from taking a niggle so it is not a serious injury.”

Schwede believes the injuries can and should be prevented. “Muscles are always fragile and they can never recover if the person has suffered surgery on the elbow and doesn’t recover,” he said.

“On the other hand, we have got to accept the possibility that we have minor ailments and I can accept some minimum ban for a period of time because we have enough examples in the history of tennis of players who didn’t recover.”

The Australian Open would only confirm it made no policy decision on the matter, but the tournament’s tournament director Craig Tiley has previously said Djokovic was “first and foremost a sportman, he always sets high standards. Whether or not he takes the risk or not will be up to him,”

Djokovic has said he will play in the grass-court season and has withdrawn from the second Masters 1000 event on the circuit at Eastbourne, meaning he will head straight to SW19. The US Open, while he will still make himself available, will serve as his baseline run-up.

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