There have already been a few upsets at this yearÈs Australian Open but none so earth shattering as the eviction of the second seed, the former world number one and six time champions of Melbourne who was more than matched in the second round by the unheralded Denis Istomin.
I feel sorry for Djokovic! I was playing so good today I surprised myself also!
It was the biggest defeat of his career as he succumbed after nearly five hours of play, to the player from Uzbekistan, world ranked 117 and a wild card entry, who punched another hole in the mantle of invincibility the Serb has carried for virtually two years; a mantle which started to unravel after he won the 2016 French Open.
Istomin, with nothing to lose, went for his shots and while the Serb was able to respond on more than one occasion, Djokovic himself seemingly ran out of ideas in the fifth set when he fell behind 2-3, a lead the Uzbekistani was never to lose to secure his 7-6(8) 5-7 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4 victory to the acclaim of a roaring crowd.
"It’s unreal. To beat Novak in five sets, its’s a great win," Istomin said after the match. "It means so much for me, of course, to beat the world No. 2. I just hope (it’s) not only (the) one victory of mine. I’m trying to keep going (the) same way and trying to win some more.
The 30-year-old Uzbekistani took the first set in a lengthy tiebreaker only for Djokovic to come back in the second and level carrying that momentum forward to go into a 2-sets to one lead.
However, Istomin responded early in the fourth which Djokovic highlighted later as the turning point of the match for him, as he believed he then allowed his opponent to gain in confidence though he did break back and later saved a break point.
In the ensuing tie-break, Istomin gained the early advantage to go ahead with two-mini breaks. Reaching set point Djokovic saved the first but was aced on the second sending the match into a fifth to the delight of the crowd.
There the underdog settled better than his higher ranked opponent and having captured the second seeds serve in the fifth game, held on for the best win of his career.
No one ever thought at the start of the match that Djokovic would be bundled out. Everyone expected him to reach the final and compete with Andy Murray for his seventh Australian Open title. Fate in the shape of Istomin, has put paid to that.
Djokovic couldnÈt believe how well Istomin had played. "No doubt, he was a better player in the clutch moments, he admitted. He stepped it up, played aggressive, served very well, very precise, there’s not much I could do.
"Of course, I was not pleased with my performance overall, but I have to congratulate (him) today."
Istomin was elated. "For me, (it) was impossible to think about that I can hold it five sets with Novak, physically and mentally," he declared. "So I did well today."
Earlier in his post-match on court interview, he said I feel sorry for Djokovic! I was playing so good today I surprised myself also!
But while it was a great day for Istomin, the surprise was definitely DjokovicÈs defeat.
"I started the season very well. Again, it’s a tennis match," Djokovic said. "On any given day, you can lose. I mean, nothing is impossible.
"There are over a hundred players playing in the main draw. I guess the quality of tennis keeps rising each year. Everybody becomes more professional. I guess they improve.
"They get better on the court. What can I do? I did try my best till the last shot, but it didn’t work.
"There was intensity, of course and we played more than four-and-a-half hours.
"It’s just one of these days when you don’t feel that great on the court, don’t have much rhythm, and the player you’re playing against is feeling the ball very well. That’s sport.
"Of course, I’m not used to losing in the Australian Open second round. I’ve always played so well. Through the last 10 years, 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."
The last time Djokovic lost this early at a grand slam was Wimbledon 2008.
So it is Istomin who goes through to face 30th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in a quarter of the draw that has opened up.
One beneficiary of Istomin’s win could be world No 3 Milos Raonic, who was seeded to meet Djokovic in the semi-finals.
Despite suffering with a cold, the Canadian strode into the third round with a positive 6-3 6-4 7-6(4) win over Gilles Muller and will next play France’s Gilles Simon.
Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic felt no after effects from his record-breaking, 84-game win over Horacio Zeballos two days earlier to beat Australian wildcard Andrew Whittington 6-4 6-4 6-4 but could have some problems when he faces Belgium’s David Goffin next.
Grigor Dimitrov, a winner this month in Sydney, beat South Korea’s Chung Hye-On in four sets to go into a testing clash with Frenchman Richard Gasquet, and in the late match Rafa Nadal came through comfortably in straight sets aginst Marcos Baghdatis.
In the women’s draw, Serena Williams dispatched Lucie Safarova 6-3 6-4 but third seed Agnieszka Radwanska was a major casualty when she lost 6-3 6-2 to Croatian veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
Radwanska was the strong favourite against Lucic-Baroni, 34, but her famous shot-making deserted the Pole as she succumbed to her earliest exit since 2009.
US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova ousted Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova to stay unbeaten this year, and WTA Finals winner Dominika Cibulkova saw off Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei.
Second-seeded Williams, seeking a record 23rd major title, will face fellow American Nicole Gibbs in the third round after her high-level victory over Safarova.