On Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, the Melbourne crowd witnessed arguably the biggest grand slam upset in over three-and-a-half years as Novak Djokovic, the tournament’s favourite, was sent crashing out by the unfancied Denis Istomin…
Novak Djokovic’s era of dominance over the rest of the men’s tennis field is officially over. You might have thought it already was, after an early exit from last year’s Wimbledon contributed to a slump that saw him lose his world number 1 ranking to Andy Murray by November.
But even in a difficult 6 months that followed for the Serb, he still managed to win a record 30th Masters title at the Roger’s Cup in Toronto and made the final of the US Open, despite being beaten there by Stan Wawrinka. He still made the final of the ATP Tour Finals against Andy Murray, and although he was bested by the Scot on that occasion, a shake-up of his coaching team and subsequent victory over Murray in last week’s Qatar Open final had raised optimism that ‘Nole’ was over his collapse. It seemed as though Djokovic was back on an upward trajectory.
Today that sentiment officially ended.
Djokovic was shockingly ousted from the second round of the Australian Open by world number 117 Denis Istomin, a man he had never lost to in five previous meetings, in an upset bigger than his defeat to Sam Querrey last year at SW19. In fact, it’s hard to think of a bigger upset in recent years, perhaps going back to Roger Federer’s loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky – then the world number 116 – in the second round of Wimbledon in 2013. Nick Kyrgios’s defeat of Rafael Nadal one year later was a shock, but the Australian was already by then a young man with boundless potential.
Istomin has never threatened to produce a result like this since he enjoyed a career-best season in 2012, reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon and a peak ranking of world number 33. That he defeated 6-time Australian Open champion Djokovic on the latter’s favourite court, winning 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in an almost five-hour battle of endurance that was once optimum territory for the Serb, surely brings about a true changing of the guard.
Djokovic loses 1930 ranking points from the 2000 he earned as 2016’s Australian Open champion. If Andy Murray now goes on to win the tournament he’ll gain 800 points on the 1200 he received as last year’s runner-up and thus occupy a huge lead over his great rival that might not be bridged until June, if at all. Combined with the current gap between the top two in ranking points, Murray might be 3510 ahead of Djokovic a week on Monday.
But all credit to Istomin, who at 30 has claimed by far the most notable win of his career.
‘I surprised myself,’ the Uzbekistani said during his on-court interview after the match. ‘First of all I feel sorry for Novak. I was playing so good today, I want to thank my team. Mum, my coach, did a good job.’
Istomin will now receive a third round tie against Spain’s world No. 30 Pablo Carreno Busta. It remains to be seen whether he can repeat the level he displayed today against Djokovic, as is so often the case in the following round by the victor of such a big upset, but it’s already a tournament he’ll always remember for sure.