Grand Slam tournaments in tennis have an inherent ability to narrate intriguing and fascinating stories of glory, resilience, and unadulterated passion, don’t they? The recently concluded Australian Open certainly had all that in abundance. While we witnessed some familiar stories repeat themselves, we also saw some new and exciting tales unfold Down Under. As we draw curtains on the opening Major of the year, let us look back at some of the jaw-dropping storylines that Melbourne Park staged this year.
Another chapter in the three-way race towards claiming the accolade of most Majors won by a male tennis player unfolded at the Rod Laver Arena as the wizard of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, won his 18th Major, an unprecedented ninth Australian Open title. The 33-year-old Serb now trails his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal by just two Majors. With this title, Djokovic becomes only the second male (after Rafael Nadal) to win the same Major nine times or more, edging past Federer’s eight Wimbledon titles.
There were doubts regarding the Serb’s health following the speculated abdominal injury that he apparently picked up during his third-round contest against Taylor Fritz, but Djokovic has managed to come through the scare and has emerged victorious after he defeated the in-form Russian Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-2 6-2 in the final on Sunday. The Serb, it seemed, had saved his best for the last. He was clinical, relentless, and dominating with his performance against the man who entered the final with a 20-match winning streak, thereby displaying his supremacy on hard courts.
Djokovic might have outplayed Medvedev in the final, but that does not take anything away from the Russian, whose reputation has escalated to another level following his heroics this year Down Under. Medvedev’s tremendous run to the final of a Major, his second of his career (2019 US Open), included clinical performances against the likes of Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinal and semifinal, respectively. The 25-year-old Russian has every reason to hold his head high in spite of losing to Djokovic in the title clash.
Other top men
The Australian Open has always been difficult for Rafael Nadal, and the Spaniard’s fortunes did not change this year. While he cruised to the quarterfinal without dropping a set, the 20-time Major champion was stunned by Stefanos Tsitsipas. The 2009 Australian Open champion squandered a two-sets-to-love lead to unceremoniously lose in five sets to Tsitsipas, who refused to throw in the towel and held his nerves to eventually conquer the mighty Spaniard in what was perhaps the most intriguing match of this year’s Australian Open. The young Greek, who also trailed by two sets against Djokovic at last year’s French Open, ensured that he had learnt his lessons well, thereby reaching the semifinals of a Major for just the third time in his career.
The reigning US Open champion and last year’s Australian Open runner-up, Dominic Thiem was by far the biggest disappointment as he exited Melbourne Park in the fourth round with a comprehensive straight-sets loss to Grigor Dimitrov. The 27-year-old was bageled in the third set. Coming into this year’s Australian Open, there were lot of expectations from the Austrian. Thiem had a coming of an age year on hard courts in 2020, winning the US Open and reaching the final of the Nitto ATP Finals, where defeated both Nadal and Djokovic.
Amidst these stories, there was a remarkable story, a tale to savor–that of a certain Russian qualifier, ranked No. 114 in the world, Aslan Karatsev. In his debut attempt at the main draw of any Major, Karatsev reached the semifinals, defeating the likes of Diego Schwartzman, Felix Augur-Aliassime, and Dimitrov. He bowed out of the tournament, losing to none other than the eventual winner, Djokovic.
On the women’s side of the draw, Naomi Osaka repeated her feat of 2019 to become a two-time Australian Open champion. She claimed her fourth career Major title triumph at this year’s opening Slam. Interestingly, with her four Major titles, she is now tied with Kim Clijsters. Of active players, only Serena and Venus Williams, with their 23 and seven Major titles, respectively, are ahead of the 23-year-old Osaka. En route to glory, the Japanese woman displayed nerves of steel as she refused to yield when she was down match points in the third set against Garbine Muguruza in their fourth-round clash. Osaka eventually won the set 7-5 to keep her hopes alive. In the semifinal, Osaka beat her idol Serena Williams, and then overpowered first-time finalist Jennifer Brady to claim the title.
For Serena Williams, her agonizing wait for her elusive 24th career Major continues. 24, of course, is the all-time record for Major titles, held by Margaret Court. The veteran American was outplayed by Osaka in the semifinals. She left her emotional post-match press conference in tears after being asked about her uncharacteristic unforced errors in the match, leaving us to ponder her future in the game.
With the Australian Open done and dusted, it is now time to look forward to the remainder of skewed and rescheduled hard court season, and the build up to first Masters 1000 event of the year at Miami in March!
Main Photo from Getty.