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Australian Open 2017 - Djokovic suffers shock second-round exit

By Guillaume Willecoq   on   Thursday 19 January 2017
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World No2 Novak Djokovic slumped to a second-round defeat to Denis Istomin at the Australian Open on Thursday, his earliest Grand Slam exit since losing to Marat Safin at the same stage at Wimbledon in 2008. As pre-tournament indicators go, the five match points the Serbian was forced to save in the semi-finals in Doha were evidently more telling than the title win he went on to record.

Eight months ago Djokovic completed a non-calendar Grand Slam, an achievement beyond the reach of even Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Following his stunning exit at the hands of Istomin, however, only one of tennis’ four major crowns – the French Open – remains in the Serbian’s grasp. Since securing his much yearned-for win at Roland-Garros, the Djoker has been on a quest, a quest for new goals and fresh motivation, a quest to free himself of the injury niggles that afflict every top-level sportsperson and which are made so much more bearable by the desire and unquenchable thirst for glory.

Read more: The elusive Calendar Slam - those who kept the dream alive beyond Roland-Garros

Yet, judging by his “mere” two tournament wins since the French (the Canadian Open in the summer of 2016 and the Qatar Open at the start of this season) and, even more alarmingly, his early exit from the Australian Open, that quest has been a fruitless one. The Australian is, after all, “his” Grand Slam, one he has won six times – a joint record. In crashing to a 7-6 5-7 2-6 7-6 6-4 second-round defeat to Istomin, however, “Nole” made his earliest exit from a Grand Slam event since falling to Marat Safin at the same stage at Wimbledon in 2008, when the Serbian had only one major title to his name and was ranked number three in the world.

 

Istomin, a second victory against a Top 10 player in 34 attempts

As has often been the case on court these last few months, the peerless player of 2015 and the first half of 2016 has been conspicuous by his absence. During his recent reign, the Djoker seemed to read the game faster than anyone else and read his opponents’ every intention too. Less agile in his movements around the court, less devastating with his counter-punching and playing in fits and starts, an erratic Djokovic let two decisive games slip from his grasp to find himself facing a hazardous fifth set against the Uzbek, who makes for a dangerous opponent with his flat, low, do-or-die drives. The fact remains, however, that prior to today Istomin had recorded but one victory against a Top 10 player in 33 attempts.

After breaking his opponent to move 3-2 ahead in the decider, Istomin did not let up, with a resigned Djokovic powerless to prevent him closing the match out at 5-4 with an ace and a service winner. Precisely one year ago, Djokovic was on such a cloud that he could afford to make a colossal 100 unforced errors against Gilles Simon and still win. Though his error count was lower today at 68, it was a stat he could not overcome. Having strained every sinew in finally conquering Roland Garros, Djokovic now finds that it is his last remaining bastion.

Read more: Success catches up with Djokovic

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