Novak Djokovic dumped out by world No 117 in five-set thriller
Serb suffered a shock second round loss to Denis Istomin at the Australian Open
Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin celebrates winning his Australian Open men’s singles second round match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. Photo: Issei Kato/Reuters
Professional rigour demands that Andy Murray not allow his hopes of winning the Australian Open for the first time to rise after Novak Djokovic’s shock defeat in the second round – but there can be little doubt the Scot, who recently deposed the Serb as world No 1, is now the outright favourite.
When the Uzbeki world No 117 Denis Istomin beat the defending champion in five sets on day four, it was his first win over him in six attempts and the biggest upset on the Tour since the American Sam Querrey – Murray’s opponent on Friday – put Djokovic out of Wimbledon in the third round last year.
That paved the way for Murray to win his second Wimbledon. The 30-year-old Istomin, who is only in the tournament on a wildcard, might have replicated the Querrey favour in Melbourne after beating Djokovic 7-6 (8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in four hours and 48 minutes in front of a disbelieving crowd on a mild Thursday afternoon in Rod Laver Arena.
Djokovic was gracious in defeat but seemed more philosophical than he might have been a year ago, as he was moving towards a realistic charge at the calendar slam after beating Murray in the 2016 final.
The 29-year-old Serb, who was distractedly whistling his TV promotional tune, Be Happy, after losing the first set, said: “Of course <WC1>[defeat hurt<WC1>]. I’m not used to losing in Australian Open second round. The last 10 years, I’ve won six titles here. It’s disappointing but, at the end of the day, I have to accept it.
“All credit to Denis. He was a better player in the clutch moments. He stepped it up, played aggressive, served very well, very precise. It’s a tennis match. On a given day, you can lose. Nothing is impossible. There are over a hundred players in the main draw. The quality of tennis keeps rising each year. There was not much I could do. I was not pleased with my performance overall.”
Djokovic hit nine double faults and 72 unforced errors, alongside 14 aces and 68 winners, numbers that did not compare favourably with Istomin’s, who struck three double faults, 17 aces, 61 unforced errors and 63 winners.
On court, the winner paid credit to the architect of his victory – his mother and coach, Klaudiya Istomina. “Thanks mum,” he said, adding later, “When your family is part of your team, it’s great. I am lucky that my mother is coaching me. The other good thing is I don’t need to pay the coach extra. After all these years together, we have good relationship. We understand each other very well.”
A doctor told Istomin a broken leg from a car accident in 2001 might seriously wreck his career, but he said his mother, “always believed in me. She said, ‘Just keep going’”. As for beating Djokovic, Istomin said: “If you don’t think you have a chance, then there’s no reason to come on court. It is unreal. To beat Novak in five sets.”
Istomin next plays the Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, the 30th seed who earlier put Kyle Edmund out in straight sets. Edmund surely would have fancied his chances against an opponent 71 places below him in the rankings, even though Istomin will be lifted by the biggest win of his career.
Hours after reigning champion Djokovic crashed out, Rafael Nadal raised hopes of filling the power vacuum after demolishing Marcos Baghdatis 6-3 6-1 6-3 to reach the third round.
Djokovic loomed as a potential semi-final opponent for Nadal but the Serb’s defeat left the Spaniard as the sole grand slam champion in the bottom half.
Nadal has had two lean years at the majors, but on the same Rod Laver Arena where Djokovic fell to Istomin, the 14-times major champion showed enough of the old passion and firepower to suggest he may yet go deep in the second week at Melbourne Park.
“What Novak did here is just amazing,” said Nadal, paying tribute to the fallen ‘Big Four’ colleague who edged him in an epic for the 2012 title, the longest grand slam final played.
“Six victories here, six titles. For a lot of years he has been in the semi-finals, finals, and winning here. So it’s normal then (to lose). It’s not possible to be every time in that situation.”
Nadal needed only two hours and 13 minutes to defeat Cypriot Baghdatis, whose run to the 2006 final as an unseeded 20-year-old is part of Australian Open folklore.
The 31-year-old Baghdatis saved two match points but Nadal closed out the one-sided contest with a smoking cross-court forehand, his 32nd winner for the match, and punched the air in triumph as the terraces roared.
Nadal, 30, faces German talent Alexander Zverev next, a player tipped for a big future in the game.
Nadal praised the 24th-ranked 19-year-old, who upset three-times grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka last year to win his maiden ATP title in St Petersburg.
“He is a great player, one of the best players of the world, without a doubt, today,” the Spaniard said.
“He’s a player that is for sure one of the next grand slam winners. He has a big chance to become the future world number one.
“I need to (have) a very, very high rhythm to try to not let him play in comfortable positions. That’s what I am going to try.