Twelve months after becoming the first man in 47 years to hold all four grand slam titles, Djokovic exited Roland Garros with a 7-6 (7/5) 6-3 6-0 loss to Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals yesterday.
Most stunning was the manner of his collapse in the third set. Djokovic won just eight points and appeared to give up.
Eurosport commentator John McEnroe accused Djokovic of tanking, adding: “It’s almost as if you can’t believe what you’re watching, and in a match of this magnitude.”
It was the first time Djokovic has lost a set 6-0 at a grand slam since 2005 and means he will drop out of the world’s top two for the first time in six years.
The 30-year-old said: “I don’t expect myself to play as bad as I played in the third. I don’t visualise that ever.
“It was decided I think in the first set. I tried. I lost that crucial break in the beginning of the second, and he started serving better, backing it up with the first shot. He was definitely the better player on the court.
“It was not there for me today, especially in the second part of the match. I was just unable to hit the ball well and many unforced errors.”
His final tally of unforced errors was 35, with 18 winners compared to 38 for his opponent, who now faces nine-time champion Rafael Nadal.
Thiem’s performance certainly should not be overlooked. The 23-year-old Austrian is one of the game’s rising stars and he played with bravery and intelligence, while his one-handed backhand was the shot of the match.
Thiem had only won one set against Djokovic in five previous meetings and lost easily in the semi-finals here last year.
Asked if he was surprised by his opponent’s attitude in the third set, Thiem said: “The first set was very, very long and very close.
Then in the second set, in the beginning, I was down 0-30. I still made the game and broke him in the first service game and again broke him in his first service game in the third set.
“That’s very tough. It’s understandable that there is a little bit of tough things mentally coming up to him. And that’s why at the end it was probably a little bit easier.
“It’s great for me to be in the semi-finals again, to defend that.
Nadal moved into a 10th French Open semi-final after Pablo Carreno Busta retired with an abdominal problem trailing 6-2 2-0.
The title favourite, who has gone on to lift the trophy the other nine times he has made the last four, has lost just 22 games in five matches so far.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray may feel like the odd man out after arriving at the French Open playing “garbage” but that did not stop him reaching a fourth consecutive semi-final at Roland Garros.
The world number one has played himself into form in Paris this fortnight and will meet Stan Wawrinka tomorrow after a 2-6 6-1 7-6 (7/0) 6-1 victory over Kei Nishikori.
Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem will meet in the other last-four clash after the young Austrian stunned defending champion Novak Djokovic.
Nadal, Thiem and Wawrinka are yet to drop a set this tournament while Murray has lost three, and their build-ups were rather different too.
Murray, who lost back-to-back matches to Borna Coric and Fabio Fognini in Madrid and Rome, said: “They are all obviously playing extremely well.
“Rafa’s had a great clay-court season, as has Thiem. Stan this tournament has played great. He won in Geneva so is obviously confident.
“I came in playing garbage. I’m the odd one out in the semis, but hopefully I can keep it up.”