by: Ben Stevens

Wait, what?

Those two words are all you need to sum up what happened at the Australian Open on Thursday – Dennis Istomin, the 117th ranked player in the world, stunned 6-time champion Novak Djokovic in what has to be the biggest upset in Australian Open history.

An exhibition in redline tennis, Istomin didn’t so much throw the kitchen sink at Djokovic as the whole kitchen, playing so far out of his mind that he appeared to be in the Serb’s. Pushed from his very first service game, Djokovic played an uneven match that couldn’t cut it against a fearless Istomin, and after nearly five hours, he was sent home. In the end Djokovic’s 6 victories in Melbourne counted for little against the foibles that have cost him in so many big matches since Wimbledon – if it wasn’t apparent after his finish to 2016, it’s time the Serb returned to the drawing board.

So can day 5 hope to match the historic craziness of Thursday? Probably not, but with these three matches (all on Rod Laver Arena, coincidentally) there’s certainly a chance.

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) v Coco Vandeweghe (USA) – 1st on Rod Laver Arena

A year after crashing out in the second round, ex world no. 5 Bouchard has looked good so far in her return to Melbourne Park, but will now have to clear a massive hurdle in the big-hitting Vandeweghe. In their only previous encounter – a 6-3, 6-2 win for Bouchard at Indian Wells in 2015 – Vandeweghe was 29 ranking spots below the Canadian, yet now comes in 11 places higher, and while lacking her opponent’s name recognition, has every right to claim the favourite tag. Whether Bouchard can pull out the victory will come down to her ability to weather the storm of Vandeweghe’s aggression and force her into untimely errors – after all, the American is susceptible to frustration, and Bouchard will need to induce plenty of it to get through this encounter.

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [4] v Viktor Troicki (SRB) [29] – 3rd on RLA

After another offseason spent hauling gifts for Santa, the red-nosed Wawrinka was gifted his own present with the early exits of in-quarter threats Nick Kyrgios and Marin Cilic on Wednesday. A run to the semis there for the taking, the question now is how Wawrinka deals with that expectation, as it’s a different place to be in than the dark-horse role he’s occupied for each of his three major victories. In that respect Troicki is the perfect test for Wawrinka, as while Stan the Man has owned their head-to-head 7-0, he is always played close – including a 7-6, 6-4 affair in Brisbane already in 2017. Expect Troicki to look not so much to trade blows as to outmanoeuvre Wawrinka, meaning plenty of long rallies but also opportunities for the Swiss to make a very big statement should he so choose.

Tomas Berdych (CZE) [10] v Roger Federer (SUI) [17] – 2nd match, night session on RLA

And so the gauntlet begins. The first of Federer’s top-10 opponents is a familiar one in Berdych, the two having faced-off three-times previously in Melbourne, the most recent of which was a comfortable three set win for the Swiss in 2016. It’s unreasonable to expect a repeat of that performance however, as Federer has yet to show signs of being anywhere near that level in 2017, his first two AO matches instead having raised questions over form and fitness in equal measure. On the other side Berdych has been steady if unspectacular so far, getting a free pass to round 2 where he dispatched Ryan Harrison in a competitive three-setter, and knows how to trouble Federer, even if he’s never delivered in Melbourne before. In the end how this match plays out is entirely down to Federer – can he find a higher gear this early in his comeback? You’ll have to tune in to find out.


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