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Six-time champ Novak Djokovic stunned by qualifier Denis Istomin at Australian Open

January 19, 2017 8:58 AM
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Six-time champ Novak Djokovic stunned by qualifier Denis Istomin at Australian Open

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.

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.

Ironically we saw the top seed, Andy Murray, turn his right ankle last night, which we thought could change the draw. Djokovic, to his credit, made no mention to physical decline. “We both looked okay after four and half hours,” he said. His shots seemed to lack the usual punch. But he’s always had an allergy to fatigue and was still moving well after nearly five hours. “In the game of tennis,” he said gamely, “one guys beats the other guy.”

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.

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.

• Two of the beneficiaries from the Djokovic loss: Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev, both of whom won in straight sets. Zverev sent off American Frances Tiafoe, who can take consolation in playing competitively against the men’s tennis Flavor of the Month.

• Make middle child jokes at your peril. But all hail Jenn Brady, the American qualifier and former UCLA star who advanced to round three with a win over Heather Watson.

• Not exactly daring to suggest that the fifth seed and finalist at the previous major is a player to watch. But Karolina Pliskova is dialed in, as the kids say. She won today 6-2, 6-0 over Anna Blinkova, scarcely stopping to Blinkova.

• Striking how little we are speaking about Gael Monfils, who is the sixth seed, his highest placement ever at a Grand Slam. The Monf has played six sets and won six sets, beating Alex Dolgopolov—who makes Monfils look steady—handily.

Carolina Garcia prevailed in three sets over countrywoman Oceane Dodin.


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