By Max Kilham
Tennis is back, and the first major competition of the year certainly did not disappoint. The Australian Open, a competition blessed with a rich history, provided tennis fans across the globe with another heart-stopping two weeks of action.
There were shocks and spills, with new and old faces cropping up at the end of the tournament. In the singles, Novak Djokovic took home a record 8th Australian Open crown whilst 14th seed Sofia Kenin shocked many when she defeated Garbine Muguruza to take home the Women’s Singles title. There were also crowning moments for De Groot and Van Koot in the Women’s Wheelchair doubles as well as Rajeev Ram and Briton, Joe Salisbury, who took home his first Grand Slam championship.
Early shocks were commonplace this year, with recent ATP World Tour Finals winner Stefanos Tsitsipas, and former US Open champion Marin Cilic both losing to the resurgent Milos Raonic, who made an impressive run to the quarter-finals. On the women’s side, Serena Williams was again left searching for a potential 24th singles Grand Slam, as she was dismantled by an inspired Wang Qiang.
There was a deeper issue surrounding the tournament this year. There are often wildfires in Australia at this time of year, due to the soaring temperatures of the winter period. However, this year seems to have been particularly bad. Despite its success, these devastating bush fires engulfing the Australian landscape created a justifiably sombre feel. Germany’s Alexander Zverev pledged to donate all his prize money from the tournament towards the fight against the wildfires, in a move that drew justifiably wide praise from fans and commentators.
Despite the heart-breaking news being relayed, the tournament continued. The men’s and women’s singles, as usual drew the most attention during the tournament. On the men’s side, the usual faces were sweeping their way through the draw. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer made it through to the semi-finals, despite Federer being given a scare by Australian John Millman, who previously knocked out Federer at the US Open in 2018.
On the women’s side, Grand Slam champions Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep provided a dose of familiar faces, whilst American 14th seed Sofia Kenin and unseeded two-time grand slam champion Garbine Muguruza made up the other contenders. The first semi-final pitted Halep against Muguruza. This matchup saw a clash between grand slam champions with both two slams each to their names. Muguruza ultimately prevailed in a close encounter 7-6 (8) 7-5, landing a first Australian Open final for the Spanish-Venezuelan competitor.
The other side of the draw pitted world no. 1 Ashleigh Barty against grand slam semi-final debutant Sofia Kenin. The American provided possibly the surprise of the tournament, defeating Barty in another close encounter 7-6 (6) 7-5).
Then came finals day. Kenin versus Muguruza. The two-time grand slam champion versus the grand slam final debutant. All signs pointed towards Muguruza. It seemed clear that she would triumph against the relatively inexperienced American.
However, the unpredictability of tennis reared its head.
Kenin emphatically defeated Muguruza 4-6 6-2 6-2 to claim her first grand slam crown. Will this become a common theme for Kenin? Only time will tell.
Moving to the men’s side of the draw, most of the big hitters ended up in the last four, with the only slight shock coming when Dominic Thiem ousted world no. 1 Rafael Nadal in four sets, winning three tiebreak sets in the process. Alexander Zverev made his first slam semi-final, beating former Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in four sets. Unfortunately for Zverev, he fell to Thiem in four sets also, sending the Austrian to the final.
The other side of the draw resulted in a mouth-watering clash at the semi-final stage, after Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic beat Tennys Sandgren and Milos Raonic respectively to set up the clash of the tournament.
However, the clash was somewhat of a disappointment, with the Serbian sweeping aside Federer in straight sets 7-6 (1) 6-4 6-3. The Swiss admitted he was suffering with a groin issue, which likely contributed to the nature of the loss.
However, the pinnacle was to come. Djokovic was looking to win a record-setting eighth Australian Open crown, whilst Thiem was looking to finally secure his first grand slam title, after failing at the final hurdle on two previous occasions.
Djokovic took the early lead, winning a tight first set 6-4, before Thiem levelled things up, winning the second set 6-4 also.
Thiem went on to dominate the third set, winning it 6-2, raising the hopes of his fans in the stadium and across the globe.
However, a seemingly tiring Thiem was there for the taking, and Djokovic capitalised, winning the final two sets 6-3 6-4.
Djokovic made history. No person has won more Australian Open crowns. This landmark further cemented his legacy as one of the all-time greats in tennis and sport in general.
With Kenin and Djokovic creating differing, but astounding moments of history, the tournament can be crowned a roaring success for 2020.