By Ros Satar, in Melbourne
- Defending Champion Novak Djokovic ousted in five sets by wild-card Denis Istomin 76(8) 57 26 76(5) 64
- What does this do for the draw?
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – After starting the year with a hard fought win in Doha, defending champion Novak Djokovic stunned by Denis Istomin and the bottom half the draw was blown wide open. Who benefits?
Having batted away Fernando Verdasco so handily in his opening round, after having had to save five match points against the Spaniard in Doha, we all thought we had seen the green shoots of Novak Djokovic’s recovery after a shaky summer.
His corresponding fight in a three setter against World No. 1 Andy Murray after the Brit had won the top spot from him in the last match of the yea in 2016 also seemed to spell a return to form for the sic-time Melbourne champion, who was bidding for an record seventh title.
Having lost the first set, Djokovic mounted the kind of comeback that we know of old, leading the wild-card by two sets to love – a position he would rarely lose from.
But full credit to Denis Istomin – he held it together to push the Serbian to the limit, and earned his spot in the third round for just the third time. Ironically his two third round losses in 2010 and 2014 came at the hands of none other than Djokovic.
He told reporters: “For me, it was impossible to think that I can hold it five sets with Novak, physically and mentally. So I did well today.”
Perhaps Djokovic knew it would not be his day after jis first service game lasted 16 minutes and saving six break points.
“All credit to Denis for playing amazing,” Djokovic said in his post match press conference. “He deserved to win.”
He added: “I’m not used to losing in the Australian Open second round. I’ve always played so well. 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.”
So what does this do now for the men’s draw which had looked the more predictable of the two, until now.
Round 3 – Pablo Carreno Busta  / Denis Istomin [WC]
Spare a thought for Kyle Edmund whose somewhat flat loss against Pablo Carreno Busta could have set him up for a decent run. Instead the Spaniard who won his two first ATP World Tour finals last year could come out of nowhere to make a dash at a tournament where this is the furthest he has ever been.
At least Istomin knows that he has reached the third round twice, and that he isn’t facing Djokovic. But he will also have to avoid the possible slump that follows a significant win.
Round Four – Grigor Dimitrov  / Richard Gasquet 
Grigor Dimitrov had started the season well with the Brisbane title and for the first time in a long time started to look as though he could deliver to the promise he showed a few years ago.
He seems to have settle down under the watchful eye of Dani Vallverdu and with Djokovic out of the way he could match, if not better his best performance at the Australian Open where he has reached the quarter-finals once, in 2014.
Richard Gasquet looked imperious in his second round match for the loss of just three games but he will face Dimitrov for the first time in their careers. Gasquet has never made it past the third round here in Melbourne.
Quarter-finals – Dominic Thiem  / David Goffin 
Just last year the pair squared off in the third round with the Belgian denying Dominic Thiem. The young Austrian is much improved, and if the seedings run to form and they clash in the quarter-finals he could have the chance to redress the deficit in their head to head.
David Goffin leads Thiem 5-3 in their encounters but the momentum has been with the Austrian winning three out of the last four matches. Goffin would be looking to advance past round four prior to meeting Thiem for the first time.
Semi-finals – Milos Raonic  / Gael Monfils 
Many have wondered if this is Milos Raonic’s best chance of a run at Slam glory, and with Djokovic out of the picture surely a second Slam final would be beckoning? Based on seedings alone, he would surely be confident of handling Gael Monfils in a potential quarter-final with a slim 2-1 lead in their head to head and the most recent win.
Whereas the Canadian has never even managed to take a set off Djokovic. For that matter, should it be the Frenchman to advance to the semi-final stages he was 0-13 against Djokovic. However, he was beaten at the quarter-final stages last year by Raonic, and should they face each other again at that stage, the momentum just might elude the flamboyant Frenchman.
Rafael Nadal may also fancy his chances in this section of the draw in his comeback. He needs to get past the tricky Alexander Zverev next to stand a chance of facing Monfils before Raonic. While he has winning records against all of them, certainly Zverev and Raonic have moved on significantly in experience and should not be taken lightly.
Finals – Andy Murray  / Stan Wawrinka 
Andy Murray fans should be cautious about just assuming this opens the way clear for the World No., 1 to walk off with the trophy, His section of the draw is still not a cake-walk. He still has to potentially get through possibly Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych or Roger Federer at the quarter-finals.
Stan Wawrinka looks to be looking in the semi-finals and we all know what he’s capable of in a Slam final.
Prediction: With Djokovic’s exit the way for Raonic or Nadal to really shine – Raonic to make his second Grand Slam final.
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