The sight of No. 1 Novak Djokovic crumpled on the court Sunday afternoon at Taco Bell Arena must have sent tremors through the tennis world.
His words didn't soothe the concern.
"The nature of the injury is still to be determined," Djokovic said nearly two hours after he beat American Sam Querrey in four sets to push Serbia into the Davis Cup semifinals. "All I can say now is it doesn't look good."
Djokovic twisted his right ankle after hitting a forehand during a lengthy point in the third game of the match. He jumped into the air for the shot and landed on the toes of his right foot. His leg rotated to the right, twisting his ankle to the outside.
Djokovic finished the point - running from sideline to sideline for three more shots - but fell to the court when it ended and buried his head.
He barely could put pressure on the leg as his personal physiotherapist helped him to the bench for 8 minutes of treatment.
"I've seen (the replay)," Djokovic said. "It didn't look nice definitely for me and for everybody that was watching. Especially in the first hour or so, I had to go through a lot of pain and struggle. After that, adrenaline, medications, motivation - all these things together combined - eliminated, not fully, but most of the pain, and allowed me to play the whole match."
Djokovic played exquisite tennis in the last two sets, beating Querrey, the top-ranked American, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-0. That gave Serbia a 3-1 victory in the quarterfinal tie.
Had Djokovic lost, the U.S. would have sent No. 23 John Isner onto the court to face No. 44 Viktor Troicki.
Djokovic said he might not have finished a tour match with the injury. His teammates mobbed him after Querrey's final shot missed, and Djokovic wrapped himself in a Serbian flag.
"It's very strong emotion when you play for your country," Djokovic said. "I guess that's the biggest reason why I kept playing. I'm very happy, very emotional about the win today. It meant a lot to me personally and the whole team and the nation."
Querrey was ailing, too.
He injured a pectoral muscle in the second set and was unable to serve with his usual oomph. He recorded six aces in the first set but only one in the remaining three.
Djokovic broke his serve twice in the third set and three times in the fourth.
"I wasn't able to get my usual pop, and that's tough when you're playing against the best returner in the world," Querrey said. " He broke me early and got some momentum and then just kind of started swinging more freely, started playing the backhand down the line a little more, which he hits that better than anyone.
"He started to become a great frontrunner at that point."
Said Djokovic: "It definitely made a difference in the match. When I saw that he wasn't going for the serve as much as he was in the first two sets, that psychologically helped me to step into the court and take control over most rallies. It was much easier for me to return.
"His first serve was averaging around 130 (mph) the first two sets. After that it was 110-115. That's a big difference. It made my return game much easier and better."
As Querrey withered, Djokovic seemed to strengthen. He committed 36 unforced errors in the first two sets. He had seven in the last two.
"You take away Sam's serve that would be like stripping Novak of his movement," U.S. captain Jim Courier said. "That's one of Sam's two big, key weapons (the other is his forehand). So that was a tough tactical matchup in the end."
The U.S. will return to Davis Cup action early next year in the round of 16.
Serbia will host Canada in September in the semifinals. Djokovic should be fine by then, but he has doubts about his scheduled appearance in the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters next Sunday in his adopted hometown of Monte Carlo. The French Open begins May 26.
"I live there and train there, so it feels like a home tournament to me," Djokovic said of next week's event. "I love playing there, so I'm going to do everything in my power to recover for that tournament. How realistic it is, to be honest, I don't know."
His physiotherapist ruled out significant ligament damage on the court. They used ice and medication to get Djokovic through the match.
The rest was mental.
"Subconsciously, you are going to have some doubts and concerns if you can go 100 percent and make the quick change of directions and put all you have, all your body weight, into that," Djokovic said.
"Those are the things I was thinking about. Even though I was aware of that, I still could not control it. Your body is trying to protect itself. I was having mostly the fight within myself and trying to be focused on the game and, yes, acknowledge but still remove the thoughts of the pain that I had."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398,Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat