As always, the Australian Summer swing produced plenty of memorable moments, and a few not so memorable. But with so much to take in, it’s easy to miss a few things. No problem, we’ve got you covered. Here’s the A-Z of the Summer of tennis….
A - Amazing Adelaide. The first official tournaments of the summer, handed us two men’s finals that could lay claim to being the two best finals of the year by the time season 2023 is in the books. The first final between Novak Djokovic and Sebastian Korda was an instant classic, with the young American pushing Novak all the way, before the Serb finally got on top 6-7 7-6 6-4.
The second tournament didn’t have the same star power, but delivered a final just as scintillating, with South Korean, Soonwoo Kwon, defeating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4 3-6 7-6.
B - Baby news. There was plenty of scuttlebutt in the weeks leading up to the Australian Open, about the whereabouts of Naomi Osaka. Was she holidaying, was she injured, was she taking a mental break from tennis? It turns out there was a far better reason for her ‘disappearance’. Naomi announced to the world that she is expecting a child this year. The best news is, he or she will have a ready-made doubles partner, because our own Ash Barty also announced her pregnancy at the start of the summer. One can only hope the two mums might get back on the court in a few years, and dominate once again.
C - Curse. Netflix. Damn Netflix. ‘Break Point’ was released on the streaming service just days before the first ball was hit at the Australian Open. The series focuses on a handful of players throughout 2022.
Unfortunately, all of the featured stars, either made a swift exit from the event, or failed to even make the starting line. Canadian, Felix Auger-Aliassime got through to the 4th round, but as for the others…? Well, Matteo Berrettini was out in round 1, Casper Ruud and Taylor Fritz only got through to round 2, and Ajla Tomljanovic, Nick Kyrgios, and Paula Badosa pulled out with injury.
So…who’s interested in being featured this year…?
D - Debut Delight. How about American Ben Shelton? First time outside of the USA, and he gets all the way through to a quarter-final, slashing his ranking in half! An amazing run.
On the women’s side, 17 year old Czech sensation Linda Fruhvirtova made it through to the fourth round in her first outing at Melbourne Park. One gets the feeling, she’ll go a lot further in the coming years.
As far as the Aussies go, while no official debutants made a splash, there were a couple that had their first ever main draw experiences. Firstly, 21 year old Aussie, Rinky Hijikata made the second round of the singles, after a stirring first round 5 set win. But it was in the doubles with fellow Aussie Jason Kubler, that Rinky had his finest moment, taking out the title on his first attempt.
For the women, 20 year old Olivia Gadecki also played her first main draw match, and got her maiden win, in emotional scenes on an outside court.
E - Emotion. The beauty of a major tournament is that there are special moments almost every hour of every day. The emotion can come in all forms, and for all reasons. We saw the reaction from Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka as they both won their respective titles.
We see players winning through qualifying, who, for them, is like winning a title. But there is also the other side of tennis. The hard fought losses, the injuries, the tears. Everywhere you look during the Aussie summer, you could find passion, excitement, heartache….the beauty of sport.
F - Flags. A big talking point during the Australian Open, was the sight of Russian flags throughout the precinct. We saw them at a women’s match between a Russian and a Ukrainian player. We saw Novak Djokovic’s dad get embroiled in a scandal late in the tournament by posing for photos with Russian fans branding flags.
We also saw flags from far-right Serbian groups during the final. All this, while Russian and Belarussian players competed with a white flag next to their name, instead of the representation of their country. Who would’ve thought flags would become such an issue…?
G - Grandfather. The men’s doubles final was a stirring occasion for the Aussies, with our second title in two years. But it was the speech of runner-up player Hugo Nys that got the crowd on side. The Monaco resident made a point of calling out his late grandfather…. “My grandfather was a player in the 50’s, and he passed away in 2017. Yeah, I just wanted to do it for him, but next time I guess….” Cue the tears…
H - Hordes. The masses returned this year. Not only did they return, but they brought a few extras with them. A record number of people came through the gates – 839,192 during the fortnight to be exact. When taking into account the qualifying week, we had over 900,000 descend on Melbourne Park.
However, probably more impressive, and visually stunning, were the scenes on men’s final night, when 45,832 people swarmed the grounds to watch Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas battle it out. Considering only 15,000 or so people could get into the main stadium, that left almost 30,000 to fill every square inch of space in front of the big screens set up throughout the precinct.
I - Irresistible. How can you go past Aryna Sabalenka and Novak Djokovic? Both players won the Adelaide lead up tournament, and both players took home the Australian Open title. Eleven straight matches for Sabalenka without dropping a set. For Novak, it was 12 straight matches, only dropping 2 sets along the way. It will be interesting to see just how long their streak can continue.
J - Jet Lag. The odds are, flying to Melbourne from almost anywhere else in the world, is going to cause some issues with the circadian rhythm of an athlete. But South African, Lloyd Harris defied those odds, with a brilliant 5 set victory in round 1, over 17th seeded Italian, Lorenzo Musetti.
What was even more stunning about the 3hour 48 minute epic, was that Lloyd played the final of the Bangkok Open on the Saturday, just 2 days before round 1 commenced. He jumped straight on a plane, to arrive on Sunday, and had his first match scheduled for the Monday evening. I guess it all caught up with him in the following match, going down in 3 hours and 4 sets to Marton Fucsovics. Even so, a big pat on the back for Lloyd Harris.
K - Kindred Spirits. Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios. The bromance continued this summer, as arguably the two biggest names on the tour, came together for a ticketed practice match a few days before the Australian Open. A sold out Rod Laver Arena watched the besties essentially testing out their own injuries, as a final warm up for them. Unfortunately it was the last we’d see of Nick on the playing court for the summer.
However, it seems it won’t be the last of the new found friendship, with both players only having positive things to say about each other in the aftermath.
L - Lucky Losers. South Korean, Soonwoo Kwon had arguably the best week of his career in the Adelaide 2 tournament. After falling at the final round of qualifying, he was given a reprieve, and took full advantage, tearing through the field to take out the second title of his career.
In Hobart, 21 year old Chinese woman, Xinyu Wang was the recipient of the sole lucky loser place in the draw, and proceeded to get through to the quarter finals, losing to eventual winner, American, Laura Davis.
While at the Australian Open, another American, Michael Mmoh, was given a second chance, after losing to Aussie Alexander Vukic in the 3rd qualifying round. Michael won his first round match against a qualifier, before knocking over Alexander Zverev, and finally succumbing to countryman JJ Wolf in round 3, giving him his best result at a major.
M - Marvellous Melbourne. It would be remiss of me not to mention just how good the city of Melbourne looks every January. After the last few years of controversy and setbacks, the crowds flocked, the tennis was top quality, and the weather was generally perfect for the whole fortnight. The sunset shots over Rod Laver Arena late in the evenings were a staple for the broadcasters, and shows yet again, why this really is the ‘happy slam’.
N - Netcord. One of the most exciting matches of the Aussie Open finished in the most anti-climactic fashion. Andrei Rublev and Holger Rune had been battling it out on Rod Laver Arena for over 3 ½ hours during their round four clash. Almost nothing could separate them.
Two sets all, 6 games all, and 10-9 Rublev in the match tie-break. Cue the tennis gods. Rune serves, Rublev hits a backhand that catches the tape, and drops over. Match done. Cruel.
O - Overdramatise. With all the withdrawals that hit Melbourne Park early on, if you believed everything you read, it was as if the tennis world was caving in, and the whole tournament should’ve been called off. Thankfully, the public didn’t fall for it, with record crowds attending, brilliant tennis, and yet another successful edition in the books.
P - Phenomenal. Aryna Sabalenka’s ball striking. Someone let the shackles off her during this summer, and it became really clear during the Melbourne fortnight. In the final, Aryna hit 51 winners to just 28 unforced errors. But it wasn’t just the final that she cut loose. Her winners accounted for a massive 47% of all her points won across the entire tournament. It really was a stunning display of hitting, and a fully deserved maiden Slam title.
Q - Qualifiers. I’ve always said, the best week of a major is the qualifying tournament. Watching players lower down in the rankings fight through three matches, to receive, quite possibly their biggest payday, is something you don’t see in many other sports. But it wasn’t just the qualifiers in Melbourne who made waves.
In the first WTA Adelaide tournament stacked with stars, it was Czech teenager, Linda Noskova who upstaged nearly all of them, knocking over top seed, Ons Jabeur, 3rd seed, Daria Kasatkina, and Victoria Azarenka, before finally coming up short in the final to Aryna Sabalenka.
In Hobart, American, Laura Davis won her two qualifying matches, before notching up another 5 in the main draw, to lift the title at the end of the week.
Never underestimate a qualifier who is match fit….especially at the start of the season.
R - Revenge. Did Novak Djokovic feel like he had something to prove this year, after the deportation controversy last year? It certainly felt that way as he blasted through the field. No one felt that more than Alex De Minaur, who had a few comments to say last year about Novak. It seems the Serb didn’t forget…
One of the more interesting snubs, was last year’s Wimbledon champion, Elena Rybakina having to play her first round out on court 13. There was a minor uproar about it, and perhaps Elena also felt aggrieved, as she proved to everyone that she belonged well and truly on centre stage.
S - Sweat Buckets? It’s no surprise to see Rafael Nadal dripping in sweat within 5 minutes of stepping on court. But this year, with no ball-kids to fetch his towel, he was finding the 25 seconds between points, a bridge too far. Despite all his pleading for the umpire to allow someone to bring him the towel, or to at least be more flexible on the time allotted, rules are rules, and Rafa might need to bring some buckets on court to catch his excessive perspiration if he can’t reach the towel.
T - Teen sensations. It seems everywhere you look in the tennis world now, there are up and coming teenagers ready to shake up the tours. But there are two Czech sisters who may just be the best of the lot. Linda (17), and Brenda (15) Fruhvirtova played their first major event together in Melbourne. Linda was a direct entry for her first Australian Open, and sailed through to the fourth round, while Brenda had to go the qualifying route, winning three matches, before a main draw win was just a bridge too far, falling to the experienced, Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Nevertheless, anyone who saw Brenda’s fighting performance in her final qualifying match, can attest, she is going to be a star, and will be joining her sister in the latter rounds before too long. The new Williams sisters? It might be a bit of a stretch, but keep a close eye on the Czech duo.
U - United Cup. The new team event on the calendar featuring both men and women representing their country, was a resounding success. While there are a few tweaks to be made (the mixed doubles needed a bigger billing, the points and money distribution were confusing, and the amount of teams might need to be streamlined), overall, it seemed well received by both players and spectators alike. I hope it’s here to stay for a while.
V - Visas. Not this year. Thankfully, there was no mention of visas throughout December/January. The last couple of years have been dominated by who and how players were going to get into the country. Let’s hope that’s all behind us, and we never have to deal with that again!
W - Withdrawals. The Adelaide 2 WTA tournament had another stellar field, yet the event and its fans were robbed of an exciting semi-final line-up, when both matches were cancelled due to walkovers. Veronika Kudermetova pulled out of her match with Belinda Bencic, and Paula Badosa yanked the pin on her semi-final against Daria Kasatkina. While Paula did subsequently withdraw from the Australian Open too, Kudermetova turned up collect a pay check, before losing to a qualifier in round 2.
We see this regularly the week before a major, but please, if you don’t want to play the full week, don’t enter the tournament. It ruins the fan experience, and hurts the event.
X - X-Ray Machine. With the amount of injuries seemingly occurring in the weeks before the Australian Open, it was almost a case of ‘form an orderly queue to the X-Ray clinic’. Alcaraz, Kyrgios, Tomljanovic, Badosa, Cilic, Djokovic…and even Nadal during the event, all face some time on the sideline.
Thankfully, the French Open is a long way off, so hopefully we will see the best players all competing again.
Y - Yawns. There were plenty of these throughout the fortnight at Melbourne park, with late night finishes again being front and centre for controversy. It all came to a head after Andy Murray and Thanasi Kokkinakis played out an epic 5 setter on Margaret Court arena. Unfortunately, most Aussies didn’t see the match, as it started after 10pm, and finished after 4am. Ridiculous.
However, almost every night session of the first week ticked over into the following day. I know scheduling is difficult, but we don’t see this kind of thing at Wimbledon or the French Open (at least not before last year), so surely there is a way to reduce the chances of it occurring night after night.
Z - Zilch. Zero. The number of times Novak Djokovic has lost a final at Melbourne Park. Yet he has ten titles to his name! Also, the number of Slam losses Czech women’s doubles pairing, Barbara Krejcikova and Katarina Siniakova have had in the last 15 months. They are on a stunning streak, and will be aiming to hold all 4 major titles at Roland Garros.
What a summer of tennis. May the next eleven months fly by, so we can do it all again!