Australian Open: Denis Istomin downs Pierre-Hugues Herbert in four sets

On Court 13 at the Australian Open, last year's surprise package Denis Istomin began his campaign with a 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6(3) win over the two-time doubles Grand Slam champion Pierre-Hugues Herbert. He will play Britain's Kyle Edmund after he came through in five sets against 11th-seeded Kevin Anderson

Istomin eases through opening set

Both players settled into the match quite comfortably by holding their opening service games, 1-1. In the third game, however, Herbert pressurized the Uzbekistanian, taking him to deuce. The 31-year-old came through the game unscathed to stay ahead early on.

The Frenchman kept the game level with an easy hold. The first hold of love in the match went to the 31-year-old as he then stepped up his level in the next game up 3-2. Following two deuces, a breakpoint chance arrived for Istomin following a double fault from Herbert.

Denis Istomin strikes a backhand shot (Photo: Peter Parks/Getty Images)
Denis Istomin strikes a backhand shot (Photo: Peter Parks/Getty Images)

Istomin then fired a low return which was netted as the first break came. The Frenchman attempted to level the scoreline and earned a breakpoint opportunity by forcing Istomin to hit an unforced error. But he denied Herbert to go within a game of the set at 5-2.

Serving to stay in the set, the world number 60 went love-40 up against serve and despite having a set point saved, Herbert, sent a backhand long to take the set 6-2. 

Istomin takes a comfortable two-set lead

Up a set, Istomin continued to trouble the Frenchman. He held serve then immediately brought up a breakpoint following more unforced errors from Herbert. At the first attempt, the 31-year-old broke then consolidated the break to take a 3-0 lead in quick time in the second set.

Herbert had three game points to take the fourth game but Istomin pegged him back and then earned a second break point of the set with a forehand winner which crept in after the Frenchman opted to leave. A double-fault confirmed the Uzbek's dominance as he raced to a 4-0 lead.

Istomin once again consolidated for 5-0. The world number 74 avoided the dreaded bagel by holding serve for the first time in nine games going back to the first set. Having held for the first time, he began to gain confidence and despite being a set point down, he saved that point then grabbed his first break point of the entire match.

Herbert sent a forehand wide as he missed his chance but Istomin picked up a second set point and made no mistakes in taking his chance for a two-set lead, 6-2. 

Herbert fights back to take the third set

Aiming to finish off the Frenchman, Istomin had two breakpoint chances following a forehand error from the Frenchman. But the 26-year-old fought back, saved both break points and held serve at the start of the third. Istomin responded and eased through his service game, dropping just the one game for 1-1.

For the first time in the set, both players looked comfortable on serve resulting in five straight holds for the serving player with Herbert ahead at 3-4. Not giving up on the potential comeback, Herbert continued to fight as he was rewarded with two breakpoints following a backhand error from Istomin.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert gears up to hit a return in his loss to Denis Istomin (Photo: Peter Parks/Getty Images)
Pierre-Hugues Herbert gears up to hit a return in his loss to Denis Istomin (Photo: Peter Parks/Getty Images)

Another error from the Uzbek gave Herbert his first break of the match to go a game of the third set. However, Herbert sent a forehand into the net following a mini-rally as he failed to close the third set out. Istomin once again consolidated and drew level at 5-5.

Both players held and Herbert found himself a game of the set but on the Uzbek's serve. The Frenchman continued his fight and a set point went his way with a stunning forehand winner. Istomin netted and the Frenchman won the set, 5-7. 

Istomin denies Herbert comeback, wins in four

Full of confidence after taking the third set, Istomin attempted to dash the Frenchman's confidence by bringing up triple breakpoints at the start of the fourth. Herbert saved all three break points and even had a chance to win the game but the 31-year-old won the next couple points to bring up a fourth break point.

The Frenchman's serve and volley tactic paid off as he sent the game to deuce before winning the next two points to hold serve and avoid going down early. Istomin had no problems in holding serve to restore parity at 1-1.

A slight rain delay halted proceedings on court 13 for the time being. Following this brief stoppage in play, Herbert held serve to lead 2-1. The Uzbek also held serve for 2-2. For the second straight game, the Frenchman was taken to deuce three times but escaped with an unreturnable serve, 3-2. 

From this moment on, both came through their service games comfortably as a tiebreaker settled the fourth set. Istomin broke early on and took a 4-2 lead with Herbert attempting to peg him back a game later but the 26-year-old lost serve twice at 5-3 and 6-3 with a first matchpoint arriving for Istomin. An unreturnable serve finished the match off as Istomin progressed.