Australian Open: Milestones and memories for Djokovic, Kerber, Federer and two Murrays
Marianne Bevis takes a look back at the Australian Open, as Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber won the singles titles
The first Grand Slam of 2016 is over, and already the tour is off to pastures new.
For the women, it will—literally—be new pastures at the inaugural St Petersburg Ladies Trophy and the Taiwan Open. For the men, it is a chilly Europe and the indoor courts of Montpellier and a brand new Sofia Open—though some head for the equally contrasting clay of South America, beginning in Quito.
But the first day of the rest of the year bring new rankings—a good place to start as we look at some of the big headlines and happenings of the hot and dusty, wet and stormy, but always entertaining Australian Open.
There was a flood of exits by seeds in the first two rounds: No2 Simona Halep, No8 Venus Williams, No17 Sara Errani, and No16 Caroline Wozniacki were among 12 Round-1 losers, and six more—headed by No6 Petra Kvitova—joined them in Round 2. By the fourth round, seven of the last 16 were unseeded, making room for new names to make their mark.
• The biggest winner and riser in the women’s draw was Angelique Kerber: her championship run to her first Major takes her to a career-high No2.
• Carla Suarez Navarro equals her highest ever ranking of No8 after her quarter-final run.
• The rise and rise of Briton Johanna Konta continued with her first Major semi and a career-high No28 from No47.
• Australian darling Daria Gavrilova went from winning the Hopman Cup to the fourth round in Melbourne for another career high of No33.
• 21-year-olds Annika Beck and Margarita Gasparyan jumped to highs of 39 and 42 respectively before both losing in the fourth round to eventual finalists Serena Williams and Kerber.
The biggest upset in the men’s draw came in the very first round: No5 seed Rafael Nadal suffered his first Round 1 loss at the Australian Open in 11 appearances, just his second first-round Grand Slam loss. Only four more seeds failed to make the second round, and the highest happened to be in Nadal’s eighth: No11 Kevin Anderson. By the last 16, just one non-seed remained, Andrey Kuznetsov.
• David Ferrer edged back to No6 from No8 with a quarter-final Melbourne run.
• Milos Raonic, whose ranking slipped after two lots of surgery last season, moved up three places to No11 after beating Roger Federer to the Brisbane title and an impressive run to the Australian semis.
• Gael Monfils rose eight places to No17 with his first quarter-final in Australia, while Kuznetsov jumped 22 places to a career-high No52 this week.
• Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, in their first Grand Slam pairing, surged up the ranks with victory in Melbourne: Murray up five to No2, Soares up 12 to No10.
• Finalist Daniel Nestor, 43 years old, rose eight to No11, while his partner, 37-year-old Radek Stepanek, jumped 46 to 36.
• The No1 women’s doubles team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza continued to be a match made in heaven with their third straight Major title. Since joining forces for the first time to win in Indian Wells, they have taken 12 titles, and are now on a 36-match streak. Hingis is No1 in doubles for the second time in her career: the last time was 18 years ago.
Milestones and records
Big names continued to crank up big numbers, while a few lesser-known players entered the spotlight for the first time.
• Maria Sharapova passed 600 match-wins with her third-round victory, a tally that only 16 women have ever managed.
• Federer reached 300 Grand Slam match-wins, also in the third round, to trail only Martina Navratilova’s 306.
• Federer, age 34, also passed the 80-match-win mark at Melbourne Park to reach a record 12th Australian semi-final and 39th Grand Slam semi-final in his 17th Australian Open. And he extended his own record to a 65th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.
• Stan Wawrinka became the 12th active player to record 400 tour-level wins, again with a third-round victory.
• Conversely, 27-year-old Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai beat No2 Halep to score her first Grand Slam win at her 15th attempt. She then beat No14 seed Madison Keys to reach the quarter-finals.
So ran one of the emojis created for a special Aussie at his home Major. Lleyton Hewitt called time on a Grand Slam winning career at his 20th consecutive Australian Open. He ended, in the second round, with a career 878 matches, 616 wins, 80 weeks spent at No1, 57 five-set matches, 30 titles and two Grand Slams.
He stayed on throughout the tournament, partnering Sam Groth in the doubles and supporting young Aussies Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios, a reminder that he will remain at the heart of Australian tennis as Davis Cup captain.
Age shall not wither…
The 34-year-old Hewitt was beaten by the 33-year-old Ferrer, who went on to be one of seven over-30s in the final 16 one of three over-30s the final eight. The tournament set a new record for 30-somethings in the men’s singles event, 41 of them, outnumbering the 40 who played last year’s US Open.
World No1 Serena Williams spearheaded a strong body of over-30s in the women’s draw too. The oldest was sister Venus, 35 years old, and the two were joined by 13 more, five of them seeds.
It became one of the talking points of the fortnight: Britons excelled everywhere.
First Konta built on her breakthrough 2015 with a run to her first Major semi. Then Jamie Murray, with new partner Soares, made it third time lucky with his first men’s doubles Grand Slam title after two near misses. Gordon Reid beat world No1 Shingo Kunieda, who had won eight of the previous nine Australian wheelchair titles, to win his first Major singles title, but despite leading 5-0 in the final set, was runner-up in the doubles—just two hours after the singles final.
And while Andy Murray may again have fallen one short, his efforts drew plaudits. For not only was his wife due to have their first child any day but his father-in-law was rushed to hospital after collapsing courtside mid-tournament, forcing Murray to consider withdrawing altogether. Then in the early hours of the day of his final, there he was, a bedraggled, smiling presence taking photos of brother Jamie’s winning moment. There are more ways to be a champion than lifting the trophy.
We are the champions
Novak Djokovic became the 10th man to win six titles at one Grand Slam event, and equalled Roy Emerson’s Australian record. His 11th title overall also drew him level with illustrious company: Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg. And already this year he has beaten his three biggest rivals, Nadal in Doha, and Federer and Murray in Melbourne.
His win was, in truth, no great surprise, and should he go on to complete the Calendar Slam—even the Golden Slam—this year, it would be no surprise either.
There is no denying, though, that Kerber’s run to her first Grand Slam title, was less anticipated. The No6 seed faced match point in the first round, and only faced one seed on her way to a face-off with the hot favourite Serena Williams. But Kerber’s standout win against that one seed, former champion Victoria Azarenka set tongues wagging. Williams had barely broken sweat en route to the final, even disposing of No4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and No5 Maria Sharapova for a combined loss of just nine games. But Kerber resisted a second-set comeback from Williams to take victory in three sets.
It has taken time for the German to meld her skill, power and mental strength, but here at last is a woman who handled the aura and fire-power of the best.