Following an eventful fortnight in Melbourne that saw Caroline Wozniacki claim a first Grand Slam title and Roger Federer capture a 20th, here are others who stood out at the Australian Open – not all for the right reasons.
Simona Halep bt Angelique Kerber 6-3, 4-6, 9-7
This will probably end up taking ‘Match of the Year’ awards at the end of the season because it was just that good. The pair combined for a total of 83 winners, and both players saved match points in what was a true edge-of-your-seat, can’t-breathe, I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-to-happen semi-final thriller. Halep broke the fear barrier, Kerber exorcised her 2017 demons, and we were all left with dropped jaws and goosebumps. More of the same please!
FLOPS OF THE TOURNAMENT
Juan Martin del Potro/Johanna Konta
The 12th-seeded Del Potro could not muster a set against Tomas Berdych in their third round, despite showing promising form earlier this month, reaching the final in Auckland, and taking out two tough opponents in his opening two rounds in Melbourne in Frances Tiafoe and Karen Khachanov. Meanwhile, Konta, the No. 9 seed, lost to lucky loser world No. 123 Bernarda Pera in straight sets in the second round.
HEROES OF THE TOURNAMENT
Simona Halep/Kyle Edmund
Halep may have lost a third Grand Slam final but considering she hurt her ankle in her first match, and went through that marathon against Lauren Davis, winning 15-13 in the third, then producing that epic against Kerber in the semis, saving match points in both those clashes, the Romanian can walk away with her head held high and lots of confidence in her fighting abilities. She was treated for dehydration the night after her final against Wozniacki and spent four hours in the hospital. She left everything out there and earned the respect of the tennis world over.
Meanwhile, Edmund backed up every upset he pulled off with another, before finally running out of steam against Marin Cilic. He played 24 sets over six matches – won five-setters against 11th-seeded Kevin Anderson and Nikoloz Basilashvili and four-setters against third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov and Andreas Seppi – to claim a maiden semi-final berth at a Grand Slam. Today he is ranked No. 26 in the world.
Caroline Wozniacki v Jana Fett
Down 3-6, 1-5, Wozniacki rallied to defeat Jana Fett in the second round, saving two match points along the way. She was untouchable from then on, and her reward was a first major trophy.
TEEN TO WATCH
The Ukrainian 15-year-old has moved up nearly 300 spots in the rankings thanks to her heroics in Melbourne, winning five matches from qualifying to the third round, becoming the youngest player in 21 years to make it that far at a Grand Slam.
The 21-year-old South Korean gave us some serious Novak Djokovic flashbacks as he conquered one opponent after the other on his way to a first Grand Slam semi-final. Three months ago, Chung was winning the Next Gen ATP Finals tournament. Today he is officially Now Gen. Special shout-outs to Kyle Edmund and Elise Mertens as well for their semi-final breakthroughs.
VILLAIN OF THE TOURNAMENT
While you would want to keep things strictly about tennis, in this age of social media, it’s hard to ignore someone’s publicly offensive views. Sandgren came under fire for his alt-right-leaning tweets (among other things), then deleted all his posts on Twitter, played the victim by blaming the media in a statement read during his press conference, then slowly started sending out apology tweets (that included excuses) a few days later. Note to Sandgren: The internet never forgets!
The American legend’s prowess in conducting on-court interviews keeps getting better and better. A perfect balance between keeping things light and hitting the key topics.
The 36-year-old Swiss defended a Grand Slam title for the first time since the 2008 US Open by retaining his trophy at Melbourne Park with a five-set win over Marin Cilic on Sunday night.
It landed Federer a record-extending 20th major and he was moved to tears during the trophy ceremony as the magnitude of what he has accomplished dawned on him and the crowd went wild during an extended standing ovation.
“Still a little bit confused that it’s all over and that I was able to do it, reach number 20, number six here, it’s just a lot you know – it’s a lot trying to take it in,” Federer told reporters at Government House in Melbourne on Monday morning.
“Last year I felt more straightforward, it was just disbelief, couldn’t believe it happened, and there I was waking up with a trophy.
“But I don’t know this year it seems more surreal. I can’t believe I was able to defend my title, after all these years that I could do it again. It’s very special. Maybe this one is going to take longer to sink in, I don’t know, this is how it feels right now.”
I asked RF2.0 @rogerfederer last night who wins 36 RF vs 25 year old RF who won his 10th slam here in 2007, He told me definitely the one ☝️ playing last night because of 3 areas of game r way better Serv especially 2nd Bachand and return of serv
— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) January 28, 2018
Federer’s emotional reaction on Sunday has led many to speculate that this might have been his last appearance at the tournament.
“I’d love to come back,” Federer assured on Monday. “I know I forgot to say that during the match, at the end, because I don’t remember what I was saying at the end. Of course I hope I come back again next year.”
Ahead of the Australian Open, Federer had played down his chances of taking home the title and said a 36-year-old shouldn’t be considered the favourite at a Slam.
He breezed through his first six matches, without dropping a set, before going the distance against Cilic.
Asked how his legs were feeling at the end of the fortnight, Federer said: “They’re feeling tired but they’re all good you know. It was a great couple of weeks, I can’t believe it.
“Because I’m not sure how much I really felt like I could defend it, I just felt like it was… again like last year, something was going to come in it’s way, one guy was going to catch fire and I wasn’t going to be able to stop him but look, maybe next year when I do come back I might actually believe I can win it, but then I probably won’t win it.
“So it’s better to stay really relaxed about my chances, especially in my later years on the tour and I think it served me well that I stay more relaxed throughout.”
Roger Federer has left the door open for the possibility of playing the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February, which would give him the opportunity to overtake Rafael Nadal at the top of the world rankings.
The Swiss’ Australian Open title coup on Sunday gave him his 20th Grand Slam trophy and saw him close in on Nadal, with only 155 points now separating them at the top of the rankings.
Federer, so far, is not entered in any tournaments in February but should he decide to play in Dubai (starts February 26) or any other event, he will have the chance to leapfrog Nadal before heading to Indian Wells and Miami in March, where the Swiss is defending both titles.
Federer has not held the No. 1 ranking since November 4, 2012, and a return to the summit would cap a tremendous 12 months for him where he captured three Grand Slam titles after hitting the age of 35.
Is he tempted to play Dubai to try and catch Nadal, who is currently sidelined for three weeks nursing a hip injury but is due to compete in Acapulco next month?
“We were in talks with them but when the [Australian Open] tournament started I just said ‘look, if it’s okay, I’d like to decide after the tournament’,” Federer told reporters in Melbourne on Monday at a photoshoot with the trophy to celebrate his title.
“That’s the ideal scenario for me and my family, to see what’s happening after the tournament, I’ll know how I feel, did I play seven times five sets, did I play one times three sets? What happened, did I come out injured? So now we know what the situation is, I also have to decide on the clay-court season, so all these things are kind of interlinked. It’s possible I play something, but it’s also possible that I don’t play anything. It depends, I’ll make a decision in the next week or so.”
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) January 29, 2018
Federer opted out of playing any clay tournaments last year and skipped the French Open. It’s unclear whether he’ll do the same this season or not.
The 36-year-old spoke about the key to his longevity after defeating Marin Cilic in five sets to lift the trophy at Melbourne Park on Sunday, and one major factor has been how selective he has become when it comes to his schedule.
“I think by not overplaying, not playing every tournament possible. I enjoy practice. Not minding the travel. Having a great team around me, they make it possible. At the end it’s seeing that my parents are incredibly proud and happy that I’m still doing it. They enjoy coming to tournaments. That makes me happy and play better,” Federer said after the final, on how he keeps going.
“Then, of course, my wife who makes it all possible. Without her support, I wouldn’t be playing tennis no more since many years… Many puzzles need to fit together for me to be able to sit here tonight.”
Federer is the only man to hit the 20 Grand Slam titles mark, and he is fourth on the all-time list behind Margaret Court (24), Serena Williams (23) and Steffi Graf (22).
Asked if he ever thinks of targeting Court’s all-time record, Federer said: “I don’t know. I didn’t think 20 was ever possible to be honest. But no, I think it’s too far, it’s not something I’m looking at. I never thought about it to be honest but those numbers are surreal and they’re amazing. I’m very happy if it stays at 20.”