Notes and observations as a stellar Australian Open came to a close at Melbourne Park, with one of the most entertaining men’s finals we've seen for years…
- A win to Dominic Thiem would have given men’s tennis the freshen up it probably needs, but on the other hand, this is a special time with three players refusing to let father time beat them.
Djokovic’s ability to win here in Melbourne is remarkable. We marvel at Rafa Nadal winning 11 French Opens, but Djokovic winning eight times in Melbourne is equally amazing. Hard courts are supposed to be more egalitarian, but he keeps coming out tops at the end. Not sure who beats him here next year, either.
- Sofia Kenin had her name engraved on a Grand Sam trophy for the first time and it won't be the last.
She played the big points so well throughout the tournament and that’s the mark of a player who will continue to do well. You can come from the clouds in the women’s game and it would surprise nobody if she came here next year not just as the defending champion but one of the very top seeds.
- Ash Barty pronounced herself pleased with a summer return that included her first title on Australian soil, in Adelaide and a semi-final appearance at Melbourne Park. But as she decompresses back home in Queensland, she should be feeling as though this tournament was an opportunity lost. She’s the No.1 player in the world and she watched on as the world No.14 and an unseeded player made the final.
We’re not ascribing the ‘choke’ word to Barty, not just for one moment. She just didn't play the big points in her semi-final against Sofia Kenin particularly well. The tournament was hers for the taking and for just a handful of points, it might well have been hers.
As for bringing her niece Olivia to her past-match media conference, it's the sort of story that becomes more important that it really is at the end of a Grand Slam when there aren’t all that many matches left to talk about.
- The big talking point this fortnight was whether the penny has finally dropped for Nick Kyrgios. At 24, he is already approaching middle age for a tennis player and he looked more mature on the court and his leadership when it came to bushfire relief was remarkable.
But as the tennis circuit departs Australia, the comforts of home are left behind and how will he deal with the months on the road and a match in Indian Wells or Monaco, when the breaks aren’t going his way.
He doesn't necessarily need an entourage of sorts, but a regular coach, and the right sort of coach might help his game take another step. In large parts against Rafa Nadal in their fourth round clash, he looked every bit one of the best players in the world.
Alex De Minaur was the forgotten man of the Australian Open because, well, he didn't make it to the starting line. Don’t forget, he is the leading Australian men’s player and let’s hope he gets back on the court pretty soon after that stomach injury.
Let’s hope we haven’t seen the last of Serena Williams and Roger Federer at the Australian Open. Neither player gave any indication that this is their final year on the circuit, but as noted Australia marks the start of the tennis calendar and there is a long 10 months to go. If either player decided to pull the pin at the end of the year, let’s hope they do a Caroline Wozniacki and be sure to tell us ahead of time that this is their last time at Melbourne Park.
In her speech ahead of the presentation following the women’s final on Saturday night, Tennis Australia president Jayne Hrdlicka made it plain that this had been a difficult fortnight. What with the bushfires, the weather in general and the Margaret Court issue bubbling away, there has been a fair bit going on.
Certainly, the optics around players struggling with the smoky conditions during the qualifying event did not look good and the tournament failed to adequately explain why play continued. Indeed any time weather comes into play at the Australian Open, you need a degree in advanced science, with a major in meteorology to understand the various policies.
Certainly, there was a strong argument to close the roof on Thursday as the courtside temperatures reached the high forties.
Still, Melbourne Park as a venue continues to lead the way, with three show courts able to continue irrespective of the weather and the tournament was able to catch up by midway through the opening Wednesday after teeming rain ended much of the first day’s play.
The crowds were enormous and the middle Saturday, with more than 93,000 fans in attendance showed the merits of playing the event while much of the country is still on holidays. Indeed, having the Australia Day holiday fall in the middle of the tournament rather than the final weekend, allowed the event to show off all its tricks. The atmosphere throughout the ever-growing precinct, was wonderful.
We can’t wait to see what Melbourne Park looks like when the construction work, which has almost split the precinct in half, is finally completed in the next couple of years.
- The Margaret Court issue won’t go away any time soon. Thankfully she kept her odious views to herself during the tournament and the 50th anniversary of her winning the Grand Slam was marked with a low-key ceremony in which she was presented with a replica Australian Open trophy by Rod Laver and significantly, without any opportunity to speak.
It is fair to say that the younger the tennis fan, the more their views are aligned to those of John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, who made their views about the naming of Margaret Court Arena known during the week, an act that prompted them to be censured by Tennis Australia.
How long Tennis Australia can continue to walk the difficult line between honouring her tennis career and her offensive social views is an interesting one. Certainly, the Americans here at Melbourne park, who have seen countless Confederate monuments in their country torn down or renamed, have great difficulty coming to terms with Tennis Australia’s actions, or inactions as they see it.
- Dylan Alcott, what a star. That’s six straight wheelchair singles titles and he was rightfully feted at Melbourne Park as a superstar of the sport.
And for a feelgood story out of the Open, how about Luke Saville and Max Purcell, the best mates who were thrown a wildcard by Tennis Australia and made it all the way through to Sunday’s final, where they lost 6-4, 6-2 to Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram. But just by making the final, it gets them off tennis ‘Poverty line’ and into the top 50 and the direct entry into all the big events that comes with it.