As his jaw-dropping Australian Open upset of two-time defending champ Novak Djokovic sends shock waves through the tennis world, Denis Istomin probably has a fruit basket or two coming to him. Because on top of notching his own career-defining win, Istomin has – by virtue of dispatching the man who’s won the tournament five times in the past six years – dramatically improved the chances of someone else in the men’s field doing the same.
Here, in order, are those who stand to benefit most from the removal of Djokovic from the Aussie Open equation.
With the way they’ve both been playing the past few months, it’s possible Murray would’ve overcome Djokovic regardless. But with five Aussie Open finals losses to his name, four of them at Djokovic’s hand, the world No. 1 is likely still relieved to have his longtime foil out of the way. Djokovic is 25-11 lifetime against him, and just beat him in the Qatar Open final. Now, despite a worrying ankle tweak, Murray is the prohibitive favorite to finally – finally! – hoist the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.
On top of paving the way to a maiden Melbourne title that would leave him just one measly French Open shy of a career Grand Slam, Djokovic’s loss will give Murray a good bit of breathing room at the top of the ATP rankings. He’ll take a 1,625-point lead even if he loses his next match, and can stretch the gap to over 3,500 if he wins the tournament.
Djokovic’s half of the draw has become Raonic’s half of the draw, and a finals berth is now his to lose. He’ll most likely have to deal with either Gael Monfils or Rafa Nadal in the quarters, but he’s won three of his last four against Monfils and two of three against Nadal, including in Brisbane two weeks ago.
More importantly, if and when he makes it through his somewhat tricky quarter, the highest seed he can now see in the semis is No. 8 Dominic Thiem. He stood to face Djokovic, who he has failed to beat in eight tries, losing an astonishing 19 of 20 sets.
Raonic played some of the best tennis of his career in Melbourne last year, and ultimately came up one set short of the finals. The door’s wide open for him to finish what he started.
This is a terrific opportunity for Dimitrov to crack his first major semifinal since 2014 Wimbledon. He came into the tournament riding the wave of an impressive title run in Brisbane, but it didn’t figure to matter once it came time to face Djokovic in the Round of 16.
Instead, if he can get past Richard Gasquet in the third round, he’ll have to go through some combination of Istomin, Pablo Carreno Busta, Thiem, David Goffin, Ivo Karlovic, or Benoit Paire. Plus, if it’s Raonic he sees in the semis, he’ll have a recent head-to-head victory front of mind.
Misery loves company, for one thing. Nadal has been taken down by a host of unlikely giant-slayers in the first week at the past several Slams, and at least now Djokovic knows how that feels. More pertinently, if Nadal can emerge from the Zverev-Monfils-Raonic gauntlet – which will take some doing, make no mistake – he’ll have a very winnable semi, and a great chance to make his first major final since the 2014 French Open.
It’s still not all that likely, but knowing he won’t have to deal with Djokovic – who’s taken seven straight matches and 15 straight sets off him – may embolden him against his third-round and fourth-round and quarterfinal foes. Belief can be a transformative force, and Nadal could look at his draw right now and see a none-too-farfetched path to the finals.
We’re edging into unrealistic territory, but if things break just right, Federer, too, can reap the rewards of Djokovic’s absence.
Federer wasn’t in the Djokovic half of the draw, anyway, so in order for this to even affect him, he’ll likely have to beat these opponents, in order, to make the finals: Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka. For Federer’s 35-year-old legs, that’s likely too tall a task.
At the same time, he has excellent records against all of them (52-22 combined), and could, like Nadal, see an opportunity now that the man who’s beaten him four straight times at Slams is out of the picture.