MELBOURNE, Australia — It was possible to see trouble ahead for Novak Djokovic based on all the dents in his armor from 2016. But it would have taken a creative mind to see the latest knockout blow coming from 117th-ranked Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday.
When Istomin was asked how he would have responded if someone had suggested such a thing a couple of weeks ago, he answered, "I would have said, 'Are you crazy or what?' "
Istomin, 30, coached by his mother (Klaudiya Istomina, a top Uzbek player in the 1980s), almost did not make it here at all. His career was nearly derailed in 2001 when a truck smashed into a car carrying him to a tournament in Tashkent. His right leg was shattered; it needed to be stitched and pinned together. He played no tennis for two years. He is at this major only after earning his wild card by saving four match points in the semis of a wild-card playoff in December.
Djokovic — the two-time defending champion and second seed — is clearly not the same suffocating, pressure-proof force of personality that he has been at other triumphant phases of his career. Istomin became the latest big-hitting veteran to reap the benefits, though he still had to come up with what looked like the match of his life, delivering first serves and chutzpah when he needed them most to prevail 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.
This was Djokovic's earliest defeat at a major since he lost to Marat Safin in Round 2 of Wimbledon in 2008. "All the credit to Denis for playing amazing. He deserves to win," Djokovic said.
Today, American Coco Vandeweghe was the first player into the round of 16, beating Eugenie Bouchard 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. Defending champ Angelique Kerber beat Kristyna Pliskova 6-0, 6-4.
Commentator out over Venus remark: ESPN's Doug Adler was dropped from event coverage and apologized for how he spoke about Venus Williams' Round 2 play, saying he was describing her aggressive style as "guerrilla" tactics, not comparing her to a "gorilla."