Novak Djokovic stunned as Australian Open title defence ends against Denis Istomin

Defending champion Novak Djokovic fell to a shock defeat at the hand of Uzbekistans Denis Istomin in the second round of the Australian Open

In the lead-up to this Australian Open, the winemakers who count themselves among Novak Djokovics corporate backers threw a lavish party. Djokovic didnt even turn up in the end, but a whole bunch of people he didnt know were sent away with crate of the sponsors product. On Rod Laver Arena on Thursday the Serbian ace was far more generous, handing Uzbekistans Denis Istomin one of the most unlikely grand slam upsets in recent memory.

Perhaps handing it to him is the wrong terminology for such an act of physical endurance. When world No117 Istomin finally took it 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, this most epic of victories had stretched across four hours and 48 minutes, sending shockwaves through Melbourne Park.

In the five previous meetings between the pair Istomin had taken only a single set off the six-time Australian Open champion, and claimed only five games in their first five sets against each other. Here the 30-year-old who held a career-high ranking of 33 in 2012 produced some of the tennis of his life to claim the first, fourth and brain-melting final set.

Australian Open day four: Djokovic stunned by Istomin

The fifth had remained on terms until Djokovic offered up two break points at 2-2, and Istomin pounced on the second, drilling a backhand winner down the line and unleashing a weary scream of satisfaction. By then the physical toll was more pressing than the emotional one, and he desperately attempted to massage his hamstrings at the change of ends.

Whatever the method, the result was spectacular. He set up two match points on serve and drilled a strong serve down the middle to seal it before walking an exhausted, exultant mini lap of honour at his end of the court. He next plays Spains world No30 Pablo Carreno Busta.

If a player who has never moved beyond the fourth round of a grand slam can indeed claim to have a signature look, Istomins fluorescent glasses and headband count, because they make him look like an extra from the mid-90s cyber-thriller Hackers. This performance was the tennis equivalent of blacking out the Pentagon.

In the first set, which Istomin took in a tiebreak, his run of form seemed nothing more than mild novelty or a momentary blip. Djokovic has form for these sorts lapses early in tournaments. Last year at Melbourne Park he endured a five-setter in round four, but that was against 14th seed Gilles Simon, not a player as unassuming as his opponent here.

I surprised myself, Istomin admitted during an on-court interview in the wake of his win. First of all I feel sorry for Novak. I was playing so good today. I want to thank my team. Mum [his coach Klaudiya Istomina] did a good job.

So much emotion, I cannot hold it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jan/19/novak-djokovic-stunned-as-australian-open-title-defence-ends-against-denis-istomin

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