Tennis

Djokovic stunned by unfancied Istomin

Shock winner Istomin 'feels sorry' for world No. 2 after producing massive upset

Fallen Grand Slam king Novak Djokovic admitted that his opponents have gained the belief that he is more vulnerable, following his stunning second-round exit from the Australian Open yesterday.

The six-time winner and 12-time Grand Slam champion crashed out to unheralded Denis Istomin in five sets, over four-and-a-half hours, in the world No. 2's earliest exit from a Major since Wimbledon 2008.

Djokovic's stuttering start to the new season comes after he lost the world No. 1 ranking he had held for 122 weeks from 2014 to Britain's Andy Murray in November.

He also relinquished his Wimbledon and US Open titles and was eliminated in the first round of the Rio Olympics by eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.

The 7-6 (10/8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 loss to the 117th-ranked Istomin raises only more questions about Djokovic's ability to stay at the top after dominating tennis for the last six years.

Asked if opponents have started to believe more over the last six months that he was beatable, Djokovic said: "Sure. They wouldn't be playing against me or any other opponent or any other tournament, for that matter, if they don't believe that they can win.

"They go out and they try their best. Today, Denis, surely he was an underdog, but he didn't show any nerves in the big moments.

"Everything came together. It was the right moment for him, the right day. He was better."

Djokovic's stunning defeat ended a phenomenal run of success in Melbourne, where he won six Australian Open titles in six finals.

"I'm not used to losing in Australian Open second round," he said.

I feel sorry for Novak, I was playing so good today. I surprised myself also. Denis Istomin after beating Novak Djokovic.

SIX-TIME WINNER

"I've always played so well. Throughout the last 10 years, I've won six titles here. This court has been so nice to me. I enjoyed it very much. Of course, it's disappointing. But at the end of the day, I have to accept it."

While Djokovic was rocked by the defeat, there was joy for Istomin, the 30-year-old who got into the tournament main draw as the winner of the Asia wildcard play-off.

  • MEN’S SINGLES

    • Dominic Thiem (8) bt Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-1, 6-7(6), 6-4
    • Rafael Nadal (9) bt Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 6-1, 6-3
    • Gael Monfils (6) bt Aleksandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-0


    WOMEN’S SINGLES

    • Dominika Cibulkova (6) bt Hsieh Su-Wei 6-4, 7-6(8)
    • Karolina Pliskova (5) bt Anna Blinkova 6-0, 6-2
    • Serena Williams (2) bt Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-4

"I feel sorry for Novak, I was playing so good today," said a somewhat-apologetic Istomin.

"I surprised myself also."

Istomin, who wears glasses while playing, due to eyesight problems, is coached by his mother and has never got past the third round in 11 visits to Melbourne Park.

Djokovic denied there was any hangover from his breakthrough French Open victory last June, and the underwhelming second half of last season which ensued.

"I don't know. I didn't reflect on that at all. I started a new season, a new year, as everybody else. I forgot about it, in a way," he said.

Djokovic added: "I mean, nothing is impossible... I guess the quality of tennis keeps rising each year.

"Everybody becomes more professional. I guess they improve. They get better on the court."

Just last month, Djokovic parted ways with Grand Slam great Boris Becker, who had coached him for three years. At the time of the split, Becker criticised Djokovic for not training hard enough.

"He has not spent as much time on the practice court as he should have in the last six months and he knows that," Becker said.

"Success doesn't come by pushing a button. You have to work your butt off because that is what your opponents are doing."

One beneficiary of Istomin's win could be world No. 3 Milos Raonic, who was seeded to meet Djokovic in the semi-finals.

Despite suffering from flu, the Canadian beat Gilles Muller 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) and will next play France's Gilles Simon. - WIRE SERVICES

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