Djokovic after his five-set win over Francisco Cerundolo. GETTY IMAGES

A knee injury has forced Novak Djokovic out of the French Open ahead of his scheduled quarter-finals match for Wednesday against Casper Ruud. His unexpected ‘adieu’ means that Jannik Sinner will become Italy's first men's world number one next week.

Often overshadowed by generational rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic has fought hard throughout his career to match and even surpass their brilliance on the tennis courts. Now he can also share with them the very uneasy feeling of immortality. The 37-year-old Serb is currently experiencing his own physical limitations and had to pull out of Roland Garros on Tuesday, due to injury.

The world number one and 24-time Grand Slam champion was due to play Ruud, whom he had defeated in the previous French final, for a place in the last four; but he was unable to go on because of a knee issue suffered in the previous round, tournament organisers announced. "Due to a torn medial meniscus in his right knee (discovered during an MRI scan performed today), Novak Djokovic... has been forced to withdraw from the Roland Garros tournament," organisers said in a statement. Ruud will now go on to face fourth seed Alexander Zverev or 11th seed Alex de Minaur in the semi-finals on Friday.

Djokovic had cast doubt over his fitness following Monday's five-set win over Francisco Cerundolo, admitting he needed anti-inflammatory drugs to get through the match Djokovic had cast doubt over his fitness following Monday's five-set win over Francisco Cerundoloand blamed the "slippery" Philippe Chatrier court for the injury he sustained early in the second set of his 6-1, 5-7, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over the Argentine. "I don't know what will happen tomorrow or after tomorrow if I'll be able to step out on the court and play. You know, I hope so. Let's see what happens," he said following the win. "For the last couple weeks I have had, I would say, slight discomfort, I would call it that way, in the right knee, but I haven't had an injury that would be concerning me at all. I was playing a few tournaments with it, and no issues until today."

Besides Ruud, Sinner is the other beneficiary from Djokovic’s withdrawal, as he is set to become Italy's first men's world number one next week. He powered past Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets on Tuesday to reach his first French Open semi-final, where he could face rival Carlos Alcaraz. The Australian Open champion will now move to the top of the rankings.

Djokovic arrived at the tournament with his status at the top under threat from Sinner, who was guaranteed to supplant the Serbian star if the latter failed to reach the final in Paris. ’Nole’ has spent a record 428 weeks at the top of the rankings. His injury extends his worst start to a season since 2018, when he didn't win an event until claiming the Wimbledon title. Adding to his problems, he was accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome last month before suffering stomach problems in Geneva.

Djokovic, who hopes to participate in the upcoming Rio 2024 Olympic Games starting 26 July, last pulled out of a Grand Slam during the 2019 US Open, when a shoulder problem forced him to quit against Stan Wawrinka in the last 16.