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Novak Djokovic knocked out after 'an amazing performance' from Hyeon Chung in Australian Open fourth round

The 21-year-old Korean stunned Djokovic 7-6 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3)

Paul Newman
Melbourne
Monday 22 January 2018 13:23 GMT
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Djokovic lost in straight sets to the Korean youngster
Djokovic lost in straight sets to the Korean youngster (Getty)

Novak Djokovic hailed “an amazing performance” by Hyeon Chung here today at the Australian Open but revealed after his 7-6, 7-5, 7-6 defeat that he had been suffering with pain from the injured elbow which had kept him out of competition for the previous six months.

Chung, who became the first Korean man or woman to reach the singles quarter-finals at a Grand Slam tournament, produced a superb display of counter-attacking tennis reminiscent of Djokovic himself to earn a meeting in the last eight with the American Tennys Sandgren.

The 21-year-old Korean, who is one of the best of the next generation of players who have broken through in the last year, had beaten Alexander Zverev, the world No 4, in the previous round, but nothing could compare with this victory over the six-times Australian Open champion.

“When I was young I just tried to copy Novak because he was my idol,” Chung said afterwards. “I’m just honoured to play with Novak again and I am happy to see him back on the tour.”

Djokovic had confirmed his participation here only 48 hours before the tournament began, having pulled out of his planned comeback in Doha because the elbow problem which had kept him out of the game since Wimbledon was still troubling him.

After his defeat to Chung, Djokovic admitted that his health was “not great” and said his elbow had started hurting at the end of the first set. “I had to deal with it till the end of the match,” he said.

“It's frustrating, of course, when you have that much time and you don't heal properly, but it is what it is. There is some kind of a reason behind all of this.

“I'm just trying my best obviously because I love this sport. I enjoy training. I enjoy getting myself better, hoping that I can get better, perform and compete. Today was one of those days where, unfortunately, it was too much to deal with.”

He added: “The level of pain was not so high that I needed to stop the match, even though it was obviously compromising my serve. That, of course, is a big shot, especially against Chung, who returns well and gets a lot of balls back. I wish I could have had more free points on the first serve.”

Asked if he felt he now needed to take more time away from the sport, Djokovic said: “I really don't know. I have to reassess everything with my team, my medical team, coaches and everybody, have a scan and see what the situation is like. In the last couple of weeks I have played a lot of tennis so let's see what's happening inside [my elbow].”

Nevertheless, Djokovic said he was pleased that he had had the chance to play in the tournament. “I played four matches here,” he said. “It's disappointing to go out in the fourth round, but the circumstances are as they are. I have to accept it. That's the reality.

Chung will play Tennys Sandgren for a place in the semi-finals (Getty)

“As a professional athlete, you have to deal with pain at a certain level, a certain degree. You kind of get used to that. But I don't want to talk about my injury tonight because then I’m taking away from Chung's victory and the credit that he deserves.”

Djokovic said that Chung had been the better player. “He deserved to win, no question about it,” the Serb said. “Whenever he was in trouble, he came up with some unbelievable shots, passing shots. From the back of the court, he was like a wall. It's impressive. I wish him all the best.”

Much of Chung’s play reminded you of what Djokovic was like at his best. The Korean chased balls deep into the corners, slid into his shots with a remarkable display of flexibility and hit some spectacular winners from seemingly impossible positions.

However, from the start Chung benefited from Djokovic’s problems with his serve. The former world No 1 hit nine double faults in the match.

Novak Djokovic suffered a fourth round defeat in the Australian Open against Hyeon Chung (Getty)

Djokovic got off to a dreadful start, hitting four double faults as he was broken in his first two service games. From 4-0 up, however, Chung lost three games in a row and was then broken when he served for the opening set at 5-4. The world No 58 nevertheless found his form again in the tie-break, winning it 7-4.

In the second set Djokovic’s serve let him down again at a crucial stage. Serving at 5-6 and 40-30, he double-faulted. On set point two points later Chung kept a long rally alive with some wonderful retrieving and was rewarded when Djokovic netted a forehand.

There were four breaks of serve early in the third set, which went to another tie-break, in which Chung went 5-3 up with a stunning forehand cross-court pass winner. The Korean then moved to match point with an unreturned serve and completed his victory after three hours and 21 minutes when Djokovic missed a backhand.

Chung will face Tennys Sandgren in the last eight (Getty)

The Korean said afterwards that he had been unconcerned when Djokovic had levelled the tie-break at 3-3. “I just thought that I was two sets up and if I lost the tie-break I would have another chance in two more sets,” he said. “I was ready to play two more hours. I’m younger than Novak, so I don't care.”

Djokovic thought the tie-break at the end of the first set had been the turning point. “He was mentally tough and patient,” Djokovic said. “He was also up in the second set. I think the entire match I was trying to come back and chase him. He was always ahead.”

The world No 14 said Chung had changed a lot from their only previous meeting in the first round here two years ago, when Djokovic won in straight sets.

“Obviously he's physically stronger and more mature,” Djokovic said. “I think he got some big matches in the last 15 months on the big stage. I think that helps to build confidence and experience, to know what to do in deciding moments. Today he was great in those moments. He did not show many weaknesses. He was really consistent and played a great match.”

Djokovic was suffering pain from a long-standing elbow injury (Getty)

Djokovic agreed that Chung’s game was very similar to his own. “He definitely has the game to be a top-10 player, without a doubt,” Djokovic added.

“How far he can go, that depends on him. Obviously I respect him a lot because he's a hard worker, he's disciplined, he's a nice guy, he's quiet. You can see that he cares about his career and his performances.”

Sandgren, Chung’s quarter-final opponent, is making his debut here. The world No 97, who had arrived here with only two tour-level victories to his name, sprang one of the surprises of the tournament when he beat the world No 5, Dominic Thiem, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 after nearly four hours.

"I'm staying calm and not getting too upset, not getting too up, not getting too down," Sandgren said afterwards. "I've been able to keep my emotions under control, which is a big deal because I can be an emotional person. That doesn't go well with tennis, especially with a three-out-of-five-set match. You don't have energy to waste on emotions."

Roger Federer won in straight sets for the fourth round in a row, beating Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 to reach his 14th Australian Open quarter-final and his 52nd in all Grand Slam tournaments. He now faces Tomas Berdych, who beat Fabio Fognini 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

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