Melbourne | Djokovic and Thiem get dumped from the AO
The second Monday’s evening session at the Australian Open produced two big and unexpected upsets, unlike the straight forward results from the earlier days session when Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych booked their quarter-final places.
No one can honestly say they expected both the two seeds to crash out of the championships – one of them perhaps but the odds that both were to go must have been very high.
I didn’t know how I’d win tonight, I was just honoured to play against Novak and happy to see him back on tour. I try to copy Novak in the way I play because he is my idol Hyeon Chung
Novak Djokovic, seeded 14 and a six-time former Melbourne champion, was ousted in straight sets by the NextGen champion Hyeon Chung of South Korea while the fifth seeded Dominic Thiem fell to the unheralded American, Tennys Landgren, the Austrian having battled unsuccessfully over five sets.
Despite his lower seeding, Djokovic’s demise was the more extraordinary. He was certainly slow in getting started as Chung went on the attack from the first ball to race into a 4-0 lead.
With a new service action and wearing a support sleeve over his elbow, a practice he has adopted since returning to the tour to protect the injury which had kept him off the tour for the latter half of last season, he was unable to get into any rhythm delivering several double faults in the early stages.
However once he got into his stride he was able to claw his way back to level and force the opening set into a tiebreak.
Any nerves which Chung may have had as Djokovic pulled himself back into the match, were dispelled in the beaker as he went back on the attack to snatch it 7-4.
One thing for sure, Chung is a very fit individual who can retain his focus as he proved to get the better of his rival Alexander Zverev over a draining five-setter in the previous round.
He staved off a break in the opening game of the second set and then virtually rubbed salt in the wound by jumping into a 3-0 lead.
Djokovic also showed grit as he battled to try and defuse Chung’s attacking game. He saved break points in the sixth game and broke to level at 4-4 but if he felt he had the measure of his 21-year-old opponent, he was wrong for the Korean’s wide range of shot came to the fore as he defended his side of the court whilst also turning defence into attack to hold and breaking to take the set 7-5. His speed about the court was also very telling.
Fighting for his life Djokovic dropped his serve and broke back as the third swung from one side of the court to the other eventually going into another tiebreak which followed a similar pattern as the set. Chung stormed ahead 3-0, was pulled back but after gaining another mini-break, Chung held his nerve to take the set, the match and a quarter-final place where he meets Sandgren.
“I didn’t know how I’d win tonight, I was just honoured to play against Novak and happy to see him back on tour. I try to copy Novak in the way I play because he is my idol” Chung admitted in the traditional courtside interview.
And Djokovic? He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do.
“I really don’t know. Now I don’t know. I have to reassess everything with my medical team, coaches, everybody, scan it, see what the situation is. Last couple of weeks I played a lot of tennis. Let’s see what’s happening inside.”
As mentioned earlier, the Tennessee born Landgren, had eliminated the fifth seeded Thiem in what was a bruising contest 6-2 4-6 7-6(4) 6-7(7) 6-3.
Sandgren playing in the main draw for the first time was expected to find the Austrian’s court craft and wider variety of shot difficult to deal with. As it turned out he was more than competent in that area and was able to add power to his ground shots and serve which discomfited Thiem to such an extent that he dropped just two games in first set.
Thiem recovered in the second with an early break and held on to level the match only for the American to do the same to him in the third going ahead early 3-1. He did recover only to face another tie-break where Sandgren gained the initiative to go 2-1 up.
The fourth set followed and hung in the balance until the inevitable tiebreak was required. There Thiem played some brilliant tennis as he fended off a match point at 6-5 with a backhand winner and then captured the set to force the match into a decider.
Both players were starting to show signs of fatigue with Thiem the favourite to clinch it. But it wasn’t in the script as Sandgren broke in the sixth game and upset the rankings after four hours of debilitating play.
Sandgren, who had conquered former winner Stan Wawrinka in the second round, now held another famous scalp and could be proud of his run into the last eight.
“The first three matches were more than I expected. This one was about as hard-fought as I’ve ever had a match before,” Sandgren admitted.
“My biggest match, as well, pretty neat. I definitely had a real pinch-me moment. Wow, this is hopefully real. If I wake up now, I’m going to be real upset!”
The man from Tennessee, ranked 97, hadn’t won a Grand Slam match until this year having been knocked out in the first round at last season’s French and US Opens.
“I know that I’m good enough to do good things in the game. This is confirmation for me,” he added.
“I know that I serve well. I know I can take care of business on my serve. If you can hold serve in this game, you can compete with anybody.
“My movement is good. Playing good defence. Most importantly I’m staying calm and not getting too upset, able to keep my emotions under control.”
He also believed that as unknown player, he had an advantage.
“Maybe guys aren’t sure what to expect and they don’t know that I’m serving well and what spots I like, or how I’m going about playing the points, and I’m using that to my advantage,” he concluded.