‘Dreams come true’: Djoker out to biggest fan
HE grew up idolising Novak Djokovic, but Hyeon Chung has done his best impersonation of the six-time Australian Open champion knocking him out of the tournament.
Chung's defensive speed and scything forehand overwhelmed Djokovic in a three-set slog - 7-6(7-4) 7-5 7-6(7-3) - lasting three hours 21 minutesand featuring a stack of epic rallies.
Djokovic battled elbow pain, a second serve horror show and a glut of unforced errors, losing the first two sets of a match at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2007.
But in bespectacled South Korean Chung, 21, we are witnessing the emergence of a new star.
"I can't believe this. Dreams come true," Chung said.
"I really didn't know if I was going to win, but I'm just honoured to play with Novak again and see him on the Tour.
"I'm trying to copy Novak because he's my idol."
Chung will next meet American Tennys Sandgren, with the previously unfancied pair taking a combined ranking of 155 into their maiden quarterfinal clash.
For Djokovic, this must have been like playing himself in the mirror.
Chung's lateral movement, boundless energy and depth of shot were all the hallmarks of the former king of Melbourne Park.
And as he doggedly kept answering back, even Chung himself seemed shocked at how he was wearing down another big-name victim.
Djokovic had his serve broken in the first game of the match and was down 0-4 in a first set that had the Rod Laver Arena in shock.
The Serb double-faulted a staggering six times in the first set alone and looked every bit a player who hasn't been seen since Wimbledon last year.
But he dug-in and while it wasn't pretty, Djokovic exhibited that great champions quality - staying calm.
He fought back admirably to force tiebreaks in the first and third sets, the latter producing a level of tennis that brought the Rod Laver crowd regularly to its feet.
The highlight came with Chung up 4-3. With Djokovic looking dangerous, the South Korean retrieved a ball on the slide to hook an unfathomable forehand winner.
In commentary, Jim Courier was stunned.
"I cannot believe what I'm seeing. I cannot believe how good this kid is," Courier said.
Lleyton Hewitt added: "What an unbelievable get."
For Djokovic, his own unforced errors (57) and Chung's winners (47) would ultimately end his Grand Slam comeback and raise more questions about an injury that won't go away.
"Congratulations to Chung and his team. Amazing performance," Djokovic said.
"Whenever he was in trouble he came up with some unbelievable passing shots. From the back of the court he was like a wall.
"He showed no weaknesses and played a great match."
Speaking after the match, Djokovic was taking a wait and see approach with his injured elbow.
"I have to reassess everything with my team, medical team, coaches and everybody, scan it, see what the situation is like," he said.
"Last couple weeks I played a lot of tennis. Let's see what's happening inside.
"But, yeah, I don't want to talk about my injury tonight because then I'm taking away Chung's victory, the credit that he deserves."
Djokovic was full of praise for Chung, listing a number of improvements since the two last played at the Australian Open two years ago.
"There's a big difference. Obviously he's physically stronger. Also, as you mentioned, mature," he said.
"I think he got some big matches in the last 15 months on the big stage. I think that helps to build a confidence and experience, to know what to do in deciding moments.
"Today he was great in those moments. He showed no weaknesses, not many. I mean, he was really consistent, played a great match."