January 19, 2017
Novak Djokovic is out of the Australian Open, beaten by a 117-ranked, wild card Uzbek called Denis Istomin.
Andy Murray will never get a better chance to win this Slam at last and add to his collection, while consolidating his position as world number one.
After four hours and fifty minutes, Djokovic succumbed as the huge underdog triumphed 7-6, 5-7, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4. As the score suggests, Djokovic seemed to be in control mid-match – but then fell apart somewhat.
The Serb made 23 unforced errors in the fourth set and served nine double faults in all. That’s not how this brilliant champion won the Australian Open six times.
Istomin, wearing what looked like luminous glasses, cut an almost comical figure at first. But suddenly tennis from the gods started pouring from his racquet and we gasped in awe.
He hit the lines with punishing consistency, relaxing so well at times that his strokes seemed packed with almost seismic power. His serve was an explosive weapon that Djokovic often found unreturnable.
Martina Navratilova had said she thought Djokovic looked ‘skinny’ and wondered about his stamina as he progressed through the tournament. As it turned out, he didn’t progress very far. But that was as much due to Istomin’s incredible performance as anything else.
Istomin said: “First of all sorry for Novak, I was playing so good today, I surprised myself today. Thanks to my team and the crowd – amazing. So much emotion I don’t know what to say – but I want to say thanks very much for supporting me.”
“Since the third set I had cramp in my leg so I don’t know how I did it. My biggest win. Now I think I can play with these top guys.”
Sixteen years ago he broke his leg so badly that he didn’t touch a racquet for two years. Even in recent years, Istomin victories have appeared extremely rare. He had only prevailed once in thirty-two matches against top ten players.
But he played the fourth-set tie-break as though he had never lost in his life, racing to a 5-1 lead. Ever the battler, Novak fought his way out of a hole and clawed his way back to 4-5.
Istomin never seemed to doubt himself for a moment, or feel the pressure that comes with seeing the finishing line. A massive ace sealed the deal and we were into a fifth-set decider.
Djokovic blinked first and Istomin was able to break in the fifth game. He consolidated and served out for the biggest victory of his life and one of the greatest tennis upsets of all time.
Novak had beaten Murray in Doha and all the Scot’s psychological doubts against his nemesis appeared to have returned with a vengeance. Many observers thought Djokovic would beat the Brit yet again in the final here.
Instead, Murray doesn’t have to worry about Novak any more. He needs to nurse that sprained ankle and handle the pressure of being overwhelming favourite. If mind and body hold up, the Australian Open title will be his at last.
No one could have foreseen the way Istomin played. Djokovic walked into a storm that no one even imagined possible. That’s the beauty of Grand Slam tennis – the gift that keeps on giving.