Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin scooped Asian Games tennis gold in Indonesia on Saturday before jumping on a flight round the world to compete in the US Open.
Istomin, 31, came from behind to beat China’s reigning US Open boys’ champion, 18-year-old Wu Yibing, on a tie-break, winning 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/2) in Palembang. But there will be no time to celebrate for Istomin, who only just managed to squeeze in his victory at the regional Olympics before the US Open in New York.
Istomin had a flight booked Saturday afternoon to the States via Jakarta and Istanbul, a gruelling journey of some 27 hours. There he will have scant opportunity to recover before his first-round match against America’s Steve Johnson at 11:00am New York time (1500 GMT) on Monday.
‘Means a lot to me’
But Istomin said there was no question of missing the Games, a rare chance to win a gold medal for his country — and automatic qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. “I think it shows it means a lot to me and to my country. I always represent my country, never lose an opportunity,” he said.
Istomin, who has slid from a high of 33 to 75 in the rankings, made waves when he stunned defending champion Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open last year. The Uzbek, recognisable by his trademark headband and glasses, was also runner-up to Slovak Martin Klizan this month in Kitzbuehel — his first clay-court final. “I'm always struggling with the clay and to be in the final — for me, it’s a big, big tournament. I was really happy with this result,” said Istomin.
One notable absentee at both the Asian Games and the US Open is Istomin’s coach and mother, Klaudiya Istomina. She has been at his side — at least during training at home in Moscow — since he turned professional in 2004.
“I think the most important thing is that I don’t have to pay extra to another coach!” he joked. “I have a good relationship with Mum... to be mother and coach at the same time is great and I'm happy with that.”
However, his mother’s aversion to long-haul flights means Istomin often travels and plays alone — which he admits can be an advantage. “Sometimes we need a rest from each other as well,” he said.
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