by Kevin Craig
Denis Istomin pulled off what will most likely be the biggest upset of 2017 as he dispatched the six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round of the Australian Open 7-6(8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.
“It’s unreal. It was impossible to think that I can hold it five sets with Novak, physically and mentally. So I did well today,” Istomin said.
Istomin is currently ranked No. 117 in the world after reaching a career high ranking of No. 33 back in 2012. He only managed to get into the main draw at the Australian Open because he won a wild card playoff for players from Asia in December.
In the semifinal of that wild card playoff, Istomin actually faced multiple set points. But now, here he is in the third round of the Australian Open with an upset of Djokovic in his pocket.
In the first game, Djokovic had to play a 24-point game, fighting off six break points along the way. There was an exchange of breaks midway through the set, but the two eventually settled for a tiebreak. It was Djokovic who raced out to a 4-1 lead, but Istomin proved he was up for the fight, as he battled back to win it 10-8 and take the first set.
In set two, Istomin had to fight off one break point in his 2-2 service game, but nothing too exciting happened until the last three games of the set. With Djokovic serving at 4-5, Istomin got out to a 15-40 lead, meaning he had two set points. The No. 2 player in the world showed why he had 12 major titles under his belt, though, as he rattled off four points in a row to hold before breaking Istomin in the next game, eventually taking the second set 7-5.
The third got off to a hectic start, as there were three consecutive breaks early on, allowing Djokovic to get out to a break lead. In the end, Djokovic would break Istomin in three of his service games in a row, taking the set 6-2 and looking like he had finally killed off the fight from Istomin.
The top-ranked player from Uzbekistan didn’t go away easily, as he came right back in the fourth set and got out to an early break lead. Djokovic didn’t let him hold on to that lead for too long, though, and broke to get back on serve midway through the set. Once again, the two men needed a tiebreak to decide things, and once again it was Istomin coming out on top. This one was a little easier for the wild card as he raced out to a 5-1 lead and claimed the set on his third set point.
In the decider, Istomin had a little trouble in his first two service games while Djokovic was cruising. Seemingly out of nowhere, Istomin broke the Serb for a 3-2 lead with a screaming backhand down the line, and that was all he would need. In his last three service games, the wild card dropped just three points, sending Djokovic out of the tournament, and himself into the third round.
“Whenever he needed to, he came up with a big serve, a big play. All I can say is hats off,” said Djokovic, who actually won seven more points than Istomin did in the match. “He’s a well-deserved winner.”
Istomin is into the Australian Open third round for just the third time in his career, and he will get to take on Pablo Carreno Busta. Istomin will be looking to match his best result at a major against Carreno Busta, as Istomin reached the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2012 and the US Open in 2013.