South Korean star Chung Hyeon’s dream came true Monday as he dumped six-time champion and his idol Novak Djokovic out of the Australian Open in a sensational fourth round upset. The 21-year-old beat the battle-weary Serb, who was clearly in pain as he stretched for balls, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 7-6 (7/3) in 3hr 21 min in a night match on Rod Laver Arena.
Chung, the first South Korean man to reach the round of 16 at the Australian Open, will face American bolter Tennys Sandgren in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. Two years ago Djokovic outclassed Chung in straight sets in the opening round of the Australian Open, but the South Korean spectacularly reversed the result with three hard-fought sets against the Serb in the fourth round.
Djokovic, who sought treatment for his troublesome right elbow and an apparent hip or groin injury when stretching for balls, battled through in great discomfort, as Chung stayed composed and mentally tough to claim his biggest win.
“I didn’t know if I was going to win this match tonight, but I was just honored to play with Novak again,” said Chung. “When I was young I was trying to copy Novak because he’s my idol. I’m just trying to play Novak because he playing good in baseline and he mentally really strong as well. “I can’t believe this, my dreams come true tonight.”
Fast-improving Chung won the Next Gen ATP Finals last November which featured fellow young guns Andrey Rublev, Karen Khachanov and Denis Shapovalov. Djokovic showed the effects of playing four rounds in his first tournament back after six months out since Wimbledon with elbow trouble.
“Chung was the better player in the decisive moments. 7-6, 7-5, 7-6, over three hours, three-and-a-half hours, it was very long, a lot of rallies,” Djokovic said. “He had to earn his victory. At least I wanted to challenge him to earn it without me handing it to him. That’s what he has done, so well done.” Djokovic made a horror start to the match with two double faults in each of his two opening service games for a double break.
The six-time Melbourne winner clawed back to 5-5, but he called for the trainer to treat his right elbow early in the second set. It got worse for the Serb former world No.1 as he screamed in agony stretching for a point, but he gingerly carried on with the signs of wear and tear plainly visible.
Djokovic attempted to shorten the points and avoid long tiring rallies given his battle-weary condition as Chung continued to pull ahead. The Korean dropped serve to start the third set but Djokovic gave the serve straight back and the South Korean got another break to go ahead 3-1.
But Djokovic bravely dug in and again broke back and took the set to a tiebreaker where Chung won some outstanding points to hold three match points. Djokovic’s resistance was finally over when he sent a backhand wide.