Denis Istomin, ranked No.117, stunned the tennis world by beating six-time winner Novak Djokovic 7-6 5-7 2-6 7-6 6-4 in one of the biggest upsets in Australian Open history.
When the draw came out last Friday, it was supposed to be the Serb’s first-round match against Fernando Verdasco that was a potential banana peel.
The second-round exit was Djokovic’s earliest at a major since Wimbledon 2008. It was also just his second loss to a player ranked outside the top 100 since 2010. The other was to No.145 Juan Martin Del Potro at the Rio Olympics last year – misleading, since Del Potro is a former US Open champion and was only ranked so low because of injury.
After 4 hours and 48 minutes…
Novak Djokovic is out of the #AusOpen.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 19, 2017
Even his former coach Boris Becker was shocked.
“I’m as astounded as anyone else, Novak was a bit too defensive, he never took the initiative and stayed too far behind the baseline,” Becker said.
The 30-year-old Istomin, coached by his mum, snared a marathon 85-minute first-set win, edging the tiebreak. But he blew a golden chance to go two sets up when he had two set points on Djokovic’s serve at 4-5 in the second. The Serb clicked into gear, winning three games in a row before dominating the third set and a Djokovic win seemed inevitable.
The 12-time major winner sent a routine forehand into the net to go 0-2 down in the fourth and door was suddenly open again. The smooth-hitting, big serving Uzbek produced 17 aces and 63 winners with his forehand down the line particularly potent. At one point, Djokovic was heard shouting, “how many lines?”.
Istomin got the crucial break in the fifth game of the fifth set, this time drilling a superb backhand down the line after a long rally. He held his nerve, not facing a single break point in the final set and finishing off with an ace.
“He has the talent and greatness but something that was there last year is missing, so he’s got to sacrifice everything else for his next major, I think that’s what he has to do,” Becker added.
Surprisingly, Djokovic was quite sedate during the match, and less visibly frustrated than in his first-round win over Verdasco. And he was very matter-of-fact in his post-match presser, giving all the plaudits to his opponent for being clutch in the big moments.
Djokovic’s dumping overshadowed the exit of women’s No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska, who lost to Croatian veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3 6-2. The 34-year-old first played at the Australian Open aged 15 way back in 1998 and simply overpowered the Pole, setting up points with her serve and forehand.
Lucic-Baroni struck 33 winners to Radwanska’s eight in a dominant display, closing the match out in just over an hour.
— WTA (@WTA) January 19, 2017
In a rematch of the 2015 French Open final, Serena Williams eased past Czech lefty Lucie Safarova 6-3 6-4 in a high-quality affair, with both player hitting more winners than unforced errors.
“It’s never easy having to play in a second round against someone you have seen in a final. I’ve played two former top-10 opponents (Bencic being the other), but it’s a great way to start the tournament,” said Williams.
— WTA (@WTA) January 19, 2017
In other results, Rafael Nadal thrashed 2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis 6-3 6-1 6-3 while there were wins, too, for Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and Grigor Dimitrov.