Six-time champ Novak Djokovic stunned by qualifier Denis Istomin at Australian Open
In a titanic upset—the biggest men’s tennis upset in recent memory—Uzbek wild card Denis Istomin knocked off defending champion and six-time champ Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open today, 7-6(8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4. There is now a chasm—not a hole—in the bottom half of the draw. After winning four straight majors through the spring, Djokovic has now lost at the last three. But this one is a true stunner. The King of Melbourne, Djokovic was sent off by a player who needed a wild card simply to get in the field.
Well, let’s start with Istomin, a veteran at the tail end of his career who was gifted a spot in the field—he played, and lost, Asian Challengers, for preparation—who played the match of his life. Against perhaps the best player in the history of this tournament and the best defensive player in recent memory, Istomin was sharper and more assertive, clubbing 63 winners. Then at the crucible moment of his career, her served out the match at 5-4 in the fifth set. “I feel sorry for Novak, I was playing so good,” he said afterward. Amen to that.
How worried should we be about Djokovic?
Worried. Players have lapses. Athletes need mental breaks. Losing two straight Slams isn’t terrible, especially when you reach the final of one of them. But this was the event he’s all but owned since 2008. Losing in the second round to a player you usually beat in your sleep? Not being able to find a way to win against a player outside the top 100? At age 29 which, these days, is still a meaty part of your career? Now we’re in something approaching crisis mode.
Who is Denis Istomin?
He’s been around a while and is perhaps best known for being coached by his mother. He reached a high of No. 33 five years ago, but has declined since. He was here only because the Australian Open awards a wild card to a player from the Asia region. As a player from Uzbekistan, he was eligible.
Who wins this tournament now?
That scream you heard? It was the rest of the field collectively exalting. Andy Murray is the top seed and five-time losing finalist here (four of them coming against Djokovic.) Grigor Dimitrov is a player who is poised for a breakthrough. Really, the whole men’s draw changed on Thursday afternoon.
Jon Wertheim from Sports Illustrated gives a brilliant round up of Novak Djokovic’s unexpected fall from grace.