Defending champion Novak Djokovic admits he is at a loss to explain his dramatic decline after crashing out of the Australian Open in the second round to wild card Denis Istomin on Thursday.
Djokovic lost a marathon contest with the world No117 from Uzbekistan 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 – his earliest loss at a grand slam for more than eight years.
The Serb’s air of invincibility has evaporated in a seven-month spell since last year’s French Open, where he won a fourth successive grand slam title. In the three Majors since, he has drawn a blank.
“Four and a half hours [of tennis] is not easy on the body but I don’t think it affected me or my opponent. In the game of tennis, one guy beats the other guy, that’s all I can say,” said Djokovic.
“I’m not used to losing in the Australian Open second round. I’ve always played so well. I’ve won six titles here. This court has been so nice to me. It’s disappointing but I have to accept it.”
Istomin, who is coached by his mother, almost quit the game after a car crash, and has cleared the third round of a grand slam only once before, struggled to absorb the scale of his victory.
“It is unreal. If somebody said I would beat Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, I would say ‘are you crazy?’,” said the 30-year-old, who faces Kyle Edmund’s conqueror Pablo Carreno Busta next.
Djokovic’s early elimination is a boost to Sir Andy Murray’s hopes of finally winning in Melbourne, having lost in the final five times.
The world No1 is due to face American Sam Querrey early on Friday morning.
Fellow Briton Edmund’s challenge ended with a comprehensive 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 defeat by Spaniard Carreno Busta.
Third seed Milos Raonic swept past Gilles Muller in straight sets, while ninth seed Rafael Nadal was equally ruthless against Marcos Baghdatis.