Twenty-four hours after talking about the remarkable run of consistency that will see him reclaim the world No 1 ranking next week, Novak Djokovic lost his opening match in a tournament for the first time in two and a half years when he was beaten by Sam Querrey here at the Paris Masters yesterday.
In the latter stages of his 0-6, 7-6, 6-4 defeat Djokovic played as if his mind was on other matters and it emerged that his father, Srdjan, is being treated in a Belgrade hospital for what is said to be an acute respiratory illness. It was reported that Djokovic returned home briefly to see him at the start of this week. Speaking after his defeat, Djokovic refused to answer questions about his father, but admitted: "I travelled a lot. Let's call it that way, even though I was here."
There were conflicting reports from Serbia about his father's condition. Blic, a Belgrade newspaper, reported that he had been diagnosed last week with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening form of pneumonia, and quoted a hospital source as saying: "The situation is really grave because in almost 80 per cent of cases it may end fatally."
It was also reported that Srdjan was suffering from sepsis, an acute illness caused by the body overreacting to an infection. However, the Bloomberg news agency said Srdjan might be discharged in 10 days' time and quoted Goran Djokovic, his brother, as saying: "Srdjan has pulled through. The worst is behind him."
There have been reports that Djokovic himself has been suffering with a stomach problem, perhaps brought on by worries over his father's health. Without going into any details, Djokovic admitted after his defeat that he had feared his energy levels would be low in the match.
"During the second set I already felt that physically I'm down, and I struggled in every game," he said. "It was a little bit of everything really. I'd rather not talk about it because it's going to sound like I'm excusing myself for the loss. Sam played very well."
The situation will cast doubt over Djokovic's fitness and frame of mind going into next week's year-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which start in London on Monday. However, the Serb did point out that losing early here should help him to recover in time for the year-ending finale at the O2 Arena.
"I have a little bit more time to rest because I had a really difficult period in the last couple of weeks," he said. "Some things happened and a lot of things have been on my mind and I have had things to do, so right now I just need a couple of days' rest before London."
He added: "There is no guarantee that you can be 100 per cent, especially at this time of year. The players have played so many matches and are obviously struggling to be fresh, but you're trying to find that last drop of strength, mental and physical, in order to play your best. These are big tournaments and there is definitely no compromising, no thinking of maybe skipping the event or playing less or saving energy in order to play well in London. So it was never the case for me. I tried all the way through to the end of this match, but I had a better opponent and I move on."
Djokovic's consistency has been such that this was the first knock-out event for exactly two years in which he has failed to reach the quarter-finals. The last time he lost first time out at a tournament was the Miami Masters in March 2010. His defeat left Andy Murray – who was playing Paul-Henri Mathieu later last night – as the only member of the game's top four players left in the tournament, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal having withdrawn through injury. The last occasion when anyone other than Roger Federer, Djokovic, Murray or Rafael Nadal won a Masters Series tournament was when Robin Soderling triumphed here in 2010.