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Australian Open 2017: Istomin does the impossible, takes out Djokovic in 5 sets

Istomin will face 30th seed Pablo Carreno Busta from Spain in the 3rd round.

19 Jan 2017, 14:05 IST
Istomin Djokovic
Istomin celebrates the memorable win

117th ranked wildcard Denis Istomin produced the biggest upset of the tournament to oust two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6(8) 5-7 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4 in a 5 hour and 5 set epic on Rod Laver Arena. Istomin played like a man on a mission and punched well above his weight to dislodge the 2nd seed.

Istomin definitely played the match of his life. Incidentally, this was the first time that Istomin managed to take a set off Djokovic at a Grand Slam. These two have met twice at the Australian Open previously, with Djokovic emerging victorious in straight sets on both occasions.

Istomin is a player who's believed to be past his prime, having slipped to 117 in the ATP rankings, after having had a career-high ranking of 33. The Uzbek entered the Australian Open as a wildcard this year, after winning the Asia-Pacific Wildcard playoff held in Zhuhai at the end of last year.

1st Set

If there ever was a way to describe this set, it'd be 1hr 26mins of quality!

In the first game itself, Istomin showed that he meant business. Playing like a man with nothing to lose, he instantly put the Serb under pressure. He stroked freely, to earn 6 break points on the Djokovic serve. But Djokovic managed to save all of them, holding after 16 minutes of physically demanding tennis. It was merely a sign of things to come!

Istomin, possessing a heavy serve, held relatively comfortably to make it 1-1. Djokovic followed suit, and it was evident that he was slowly finding the range on his strokes. Istomin dug deep to fend off a break point to hold for 2-2. Istomin saved another couple of break points on his next service game with some gritty tennis.

Istomin broke the Djokovic serve at 3-3, but Djokovic broke back immediately to make it 4-4. After a couple of comfortable holds for both players, we're headed into the tiebreak with nothing separating the two players.

In the tiebreak, Djokovic took a seemingly unassailable lead of 4-1, but Istomin came back from the dead, somehow managing to level things up. Thereafter, both players had set points of their own, but it was Istomin who managed to convert, taking the breaker at 10-8.

2nd Set

The 2nd set was distinctly shorter, with the length of rallies going down. This was understandably so, as both players were battered after that exhausting first set under the Melbourne sun.

But even after that exhausting 1st set, Istomin refused to go away. Holding his own against the former world number one. He started the 2nd set with a couple of comfortable holds, sending a strong signal to Djokovic.  

At 2-2, Istomin saved a break point to hold serve with a combination of some impeccable serving and audacious shot-making. Djokovic was certainly feeling the pressure.

Both players held serves comfortably thereafter. After having held serve for 5-4, Istomin had two set points on the Djokovic serve, but two big first serves from Novak meant that those set points were quickly washed away. It was champion stuff from the 12-time Grand Slam champion then.

Djokovic made his big move in the very next game, earning three break points on the Istomin serve. While Istomin managed to save the first two with big serves, Djokovic eventually converted on the third one, ending a long rally with a sumptuous backhand crosscourt winner.  Djokovic promptly served out the game at love to bag the 2nd set.

3rd Set

Novak Djokovic

The 3rd set turned out to be relatively smooth sailing for the world number two, with Istomin running out of gas.

Istomin started the set with a confident love hold. A minor blip in concentration saw Djokovic make a double fault and give Istomin a look at his serve at 15-30, but Novak quickly regained his footing to hold serve.

But it was Djokovic who drew first blood, breaking a seemingly tired Istomin's serve to put his nose ahead at 2-1.

But Istomin broke right back, capitalising on a couple of uncharacteristic errors made by Djokovic.

Staying true to the topsy-turvy nature of this match, Djokovic broke Istomin again to lead 3-2. But Djokovic ensured that there was no further trouble for him in this set, as he quickly held serve and broke Istomin again to open up a 5-2 lead for himself.

It was just a formality for him to hold serve thereafter, and wrap the second set up 6-2.

4th Set

Djokovic showed great intent in this set to fight back from being 1-4 down, saving a set point along the way.

Istomin saved a break point in the very first game to hold serve. And in the very next game, broke Djokovic to 15 to give himself a 2-0 lead. And then an error-prone return game by Djokovic meant that Istomin had a healthy 3-0 lead to himself.

Both players held serve comfortably, and the scoreline read 4-1 in Istomin's favour.

In the next game, Djokovic did well to move Istomin around, making him move from side to side.  

In Istomin's next service game, Djokovic showed some aggressive intent on the return to set up a break point for himself. And then on break point, he produced one of the points of the match, scrambling to every corner of the court, earning the break back. But he still trailed 3-4, with his service game to come.

Istomin tried to break the Djokovic serve again, taking chances on his forehand, but two clutch serves by Novak at 30-30 enabled him to make the score 4-4.

Serving at 4-5 30-40, Djokovic fended off a set point with a brave second serve, enabling him to hold to make it 5-5. After being 40-15 up, Istomin let Djokovic back in the game, but at 40-40, he produced a forehand inside out winner, followed by an ace, to wrap up the game, forcing Djokovic to serve to stay in the set yet again. Djokovic successfully managed to do that, forcing the set into a tie-breaker.

With nothing to separate the two, Istomin played some aggressive tennis to open up a 5-1 lead for himself. Djokovic did well to pull it back to 6-5 after being 6-3 down, but Istomin finished it off with a glorious ace, rendering Djokovic helpless.

5th Set

The 5th set was always going to be a test of the physical reserves for both these players. And it's exactly what Djokovic known for, unending energy and stamina. But Istomin did incredibly well to keep up to Djokovic's level.

Both players held serve fairly comfortably until 2-2, with Istomin having the first look at the opponent's serve,  setting himself up at 0-30 with a backhand crosscourt pass that would have had Andy Murray applauding. At 15-40, he had two golden opportunities to go a break ahead, and he converted on the second one.

From 15-30 down, Istomin produced gutsy tennis to go up 4-2. Djokovic then quickly held serve to reduce the deficit to 4-3. Another couple of easy holds meant that Denis would serve for the match at 5-4. In arguably the biggest game of his life, Istomin showed nerves of steel to sail through his service game, thus crushing Djokovic's hopes of a hat-trick of titles at the Australian Open.

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