Djokovic the First Major Men’s Casualty

First of all, I feel sorry for Novak, I was playing so good today. I surprised myself, as well. Wild card, Denis Istomin

The wonderful Australian Open!

By Roger Childs

Serena top seed and beaten finalist in 2016

It’s the most watched January sporting event on the planet.

The first tennis grand slam of the year sees the Aussies roll up to Melbourne Park in their hundreds of thousands, while millions around the world, watch wall-to-wall coverage of the two week tournament on television.

Last year Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic were the number one seeds, but for the 2017 tournament it’s Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray. Tennis is a truly international sport and possibly the most competitive.

Forty years ago Australians and Americans dominated, but we are now in the era of the Europeans.

However it is a constantly changing scene; winners are hard to pick and there are always upsets.

Wild card wonder

Djokovic has won the Australian Open six times since 2008 and five of the last six finals. Top 2017 seed, Andy Murray, has never won the trophy, but has been the beaten finalist five times!

Drenis Istomin: exceeded expectations

However, in 2017 the Scot no longer has to worry about losing to Djokovic yet again. 30 year old Denis Istomin from Uzbekistan, ranked 117 in the world, has put the number two seed out in the most exciting match of the Open so far.

Istomin won the first set tie break 9-7, but Djokovic picked up his game and seemed headed for victory in the fourth set after 7-5, 6-2 successes in sets two and three. But the Uzbek had other ideas. Once again he won the tie break and it was all on in set five.

Djokovic had only lost one service game in the four sets, and the commentator and crowd expectation was that he would outlast his unfancied opponent, who has only sneaked into the draw on a wild card.

Fifth set drama

I’m not used to losing Australian Open second round, I’ve done so well here. Number two seed, Novak Djokovic

Unknowns often produce their best tennis against top players. Like many of the men on the circuit, Istomin has a strong serve, but to beat the best you have to back this up with quality forehands and backhands. The quality was there from both players, and they thrilled the crowd with their powerful ground strokes, excellent placements, and amazing court coverage.

Djokovic warmly congratulates the Uzbek after the upset

In the final set the first five games went with service. Then Djokovic, who had been playing well, made three unforced errors and Istomin was ahead 4-2. The Uzbek was getting most of his rapid first serves in, but when required, his slower second deliveries had spin, kick and height that made them difficult to return.

Istomin had nothing to lose, whereas Djokovic was under pressure to make the third round. The Uzbek played with plenty of confidence, and the length, power and placement of his ground strokes had the defending champion on the run.

He had no trouble holding serve in the final game and the match was his. Djokovic had not played poorly, but in this very close match it was Istomin’s stronger and more reliable service which made the difference. The spectators had witnessed a match of high quality in what is probably the biggest upset in Australian Open history.

But giant-killers never go on to win grand slams. Denis Istomin will be tired after more than four and a half hours playing the world number two, and is unlikely to  advance beyond round three.

Nevertheless he has had his place in the hot Melbourne sun.

Other upsets

Number three seed Agnieszka Radwanska is out

In the women’s draw fourth seed Simona Halep was beaten in the first round and third seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the second.

Meanwhile Marin Cilic seeded seven is out, as is Aussie number one and 14th seed Nick Kyrgios: both in round two.

No doubt there will be more upsets and dram to come in the remaining 10 days. Keep watching!