It has been a tumultuous few months for Novak Djokovic. He broke up with his legendary coach, he lost his number one ranking to an ornery Brit, and there have been odd grumblings about his weight and overall physical fitness. With his five set loss last night to 117th ranked Denis Istoman, 7-6 (8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, things have gotten decidedly worse. This is the first time that Novak Djokovic has lost in the second round or earlier of Grand Slam since the 2008 Wimbledon about a decade ago.
In this almost 5 hour long match, which included a 16 minute first game, the journeyman Istoman traded baseline blows with Djokovic and in a way was able to keep up with his far more mobile opponent. By the end of the third set, a set in which Djokovic started using his drop shot and dictating points, it appeared that the first set victory would simply be but a consolation prize for Istoman. But with an early break in the third, Istoman was right back in the match. Istoman put an exclamation point on the set during the tie break when he bombed an ace on set point. Both men were visibly, and audibly gassed in the fifth set but Istoman was smarter with the shots he gambled on, which included a backhand winner down the line on break point that turned a grunt into a jubilant scream. He was able to serve out the match with ruthless efficiency.
It is a career defining victory for Istoman, but in many ways it is a more career defining loss for Djokovic. If he had won the Australian Open he would have recaptured the number one ranking and all would have been restored to normal in Novak’s, and many tennis fan’s, world. Instead, he’ll have to wait four long months before he can redeem himself at a Grand Slam. In a tennis landscape that is glacially fighting back against two legends in Federer and Nadal, Novak will be eager to prove that this loss doesn’t signal a meteoric fall.