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Praise for Denis Istomin, plus more thoughts on Australian Open Day 5

Five thoughts on Day 5 action at the Australian Open, plus reader questions on Denis Istomin, Djokovic's loss, Milos Raonic and more.

MELBOURNE – Some musings from Day 5 in Melbourne.

• Paul Annacone and I discussed the Djokovic defeat on the latest SI/Tennis Channel tennis podcast:

Here’s a video essay on Novak Djokovic. 

Five points from today through the day session. Then, we’ll go right to the questions.

• The buzz today—not surprisingly—still focused around Djokovic and his defeat. But let’s dwell on Denis Istomin. The guy hit 63 winners against perhaps the best defensive player in history. At 5-4 in the fifth set, he had the service game of his life and…went five-for-five on first serves. He didn't fatigue after five hours. All credit to this guy.

• The defending champ and World No. 1, Angie Kerber, played her best match of the tournament so far, handling Kristyna Pliskova—twin sister of her nemesis—in straight sets. Next up….


• CoCo Vandeweghe, who was down 3-4 in the third set before rallying to beat Genie Bouchard. Big win for Vandeweghe. Rough loss for Bouchard. But we were reminded again of the benefit that comes with possessing weapons.

• It was great that there were 14 Americans in the main draw. Alas, none survived the third round. Jack Sock fell today to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Sam Querrey fell to Andy Murray.

• Roger Federer didn't so much play against Tomas Berdych as he played with him, winning 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in—and this is significant—90 minutes. Consistency is a casualty of age but if Federer can come anywhere close to approximating this level going forward, wow...

Soderling over Rafa at the French?

• We’ve had a lot of discussion over where Istomin d. Djokovic ranks in terms of all-time men’s upsets. Some criteria:

Event: For instance, beating Nadal at Wimbledon is not the same as beating him on clay. In this case, Istomin gets huge marks. Djokovic has simply owned the Australia Open and came in as the two-time defending champ.

Caliber of the opponent: Soderling d. Nadal in Paris was a huge upset. But Soderling was an elite player who would reach major finals and spend considerable time in the top 10. In the case of Istomin, his career high ranking is in the mid-30s and he came in as a wild card outside the top 100. Huge marks here.

State of the favorite: Stakhovsky beating Federer at Wimbledon was a titanic upset. But bear in mind Federer was north of 30. (Though, in fairness he was the defending champ and he was Roger Federer.) George Bastl beating Pete Sampras at Wimbledon 2002 is up there, too, though Sampras was north of 30 and in the midst of a slump. It was also grass, a surface that resists convention.

Overall, Friday’s is waaaay up there.

While others look to ascend, No. 1 seeds Kerber, Murray simply want to stay put

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Jon, when a top ranked player loses to a much lesser ranked player everyone understandably focuses on the level of play of the top ranked player. This strikes me as a bit unfair. Denis Istomin played a fantastic match against Djokovic. Istomin won the match because he played great; not because Djokovic played badly. It would have taken Djokovic's A game to beat Istomin and Novak just could not get to it. Perhaps, this is because Novak's justifiable mindset coming into the match was that his B game would be more than enough to win. That mindset is hard to change when your opponent plays at a level like never before for the entire match. 

Credit to Djokovic for his amazing accomplishments with the recognition that the standard he is being held to is unfair. He is a human and not a machine. And of course credit to Denis Istomin.  
Fernando, Valencia

• Amen. Again, it’s a balance. Clearly Djokovic wasn’t at his best. But all credit to the Uzbek. The players, incidentally, grasp your point as well. When Nadal lost to Verdasco in round one last year, he essentially shrugged and said, “No one was beating this guy the way he played to day.” Other times players realize that they lost more than the opponent won. And they self-flagellate accordingly.

E. Escobedo, who got through 1st rd. Huge baseline game that conjures a Q: Why is he flying under most radars?
Andrew E.

• Ernesto “Neto” Escobedo is a real revelation. The 20-year-old has been a lost amid the more high profile young Americans. He didn’t have the junior pedigree as others. He lacks the style of Tiafoe, the pro parentage of Michael Mmoh and Taylor Fritz and the unlikely physique of 7’0” Reilly Opelka. But for the second Slam in a row, he made his mark.

Andy Murray relegated to Hisense??

• Yes, it’s strange to see a top seed playing a side court. The good news: any with a grounds pass can watch the best player in the men’s game.

Some of you took issue with Federer’s outfit and asked why Nike would subject a 35-year-old man to such an indignity. The truth: no way is Federer wearing an outfit with his consent and full-throated approval. My suspicion: same holds here. I’ll try and get an answer for sure but I strongly suspect that Murray was at least consulted. Something like: “Hey, we’re putting Roger/Berdych on Laver for the night session. How do you feel about playing on a people’s court?” For what it’s worth, Murray won handily.

Games that begin 0-0 are tied, no? So, in tennis, every game is a tiebreaker. Why not end the last tiebreaker like the first?
@professor Berman

• This business of when to end matches is a hot topic. And, yes, I prefer a high-stakes, winner-tale-all tiebreaker at 6-6. One concession: Ivo Karlovic won his first match by the comical fifth set score of 22-20. He recovered to win his second match, thus countering the idea that these marathons deplete players for their next match.

Beyond the Baseline Podcast: Paul Annacone on Djokovic and more from Melbourne

From your last story: "Striking how little we are speaking about Gael Monfils" ...I say it's striking how little you are speaking about Milos Raonic the No. 3 seed. Not that this is anything new. You rarely mention him and when you do it always seems like damning with faint praise. Yet he is playing the best tennis of his career. Do you dislike Canadians or just dislike his game?  
Claire, Ottawa

• Dislike Canadians? Is that even possible? Milos has a real opportunity—though he hasn't won a tournament in more than a year, a real rarity for a No. 3 player. But Monfils is always a crowd favorite, always a center of attention and he comes here with his highest seeding ever a major. Through two very clean wins, we’ve barely mentioned him.

The Istomin upset of Djokovic is deservedly getting all the headlines, but there is another men’s upset that probably deserves a mention as well and that is the first round loss of Murray/Soares to Querry/Young in men’s doubles…. 

• All upsets pale. As Djokovic was losing, third-seeded Aga Radwanska was losing to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, whose last Aussie Open singles win before this year came in the 1990s. But you’re right: Murray and Soares going out—to a rag-tag team no less—is a shocker.

Playing in her 17th Australian Open, Venus Williams still finds a way to win

Great to watch your features on Tennis Channel Live. Interesting today to see someone doing more analysis of tennis. And like closeups on lower ranked surprises like Jennifer Brady. I saw her play at UCLA. I go to college matches in Los Angeles just to see some tennis since we've lost the men's tournament at UCLA, women's at Carson and La Costa plus the WTA year-end finals which were here for three years. Add on Brady that you didn't mention. She is coached by Stella Sampras, sister of Pete. It would have been interesting to ask her if Peter ever came out and hit with the team. Thanks again and keep it up with features on players out of the main spotlight.
Russ, Los Angeles

• Very good. I hope it goes without saying that I am always open to hearing more details about players and events. One more note: Jenn Brady—in the third round as I write this—didn’t play No. 1 singles at UCLA. Says a lot about the depth of both the program and the WTA.

Snapshots from Day 5