Last Sunday saw the conclusion of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, the 2019 Australian Open. The fortnight’s play in sunny Melbourne was filled with drama, brilliance, and unmistakably mesmerising action in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
On the penultimate day of play, the tennis world witnessed an inspirational contest between what must now be two of the most popular names in the sport. 21-year-old Naomi Osaka made it back-to-back Grand Slam victories following her 7-6 (7-2) 5-7 6-4 victory over eighth seed Petra Kvitova. The Japanese player demonstrated extraordinary nerve and mental strength on her way to being crowned champion, even describing herself after the final as having played “like a robot” during the third set. Osaka now finds herself as one of the most rapidly rising stars in the game and will most definitely fancy her chances of making it three in a row at Wimbledon in the summer.
Runner-up Petra Kvitova was competing in her first Grand Slam final since her win at Wimbledon in 2014 after she was stabbed in a horrific knife attack back in December 2016. The Czech showed immense bravery throughout the entirety of tournament and was understandably emotional during the presentation ceremony, highlighting her disbelief at being able to compete at such a prestigious event again. Kvitova’s thrilling comeback during the final is testament to her resilient character, and a performance like this will surely fuel her for the rest of the season.
Before the tournament, questions were raised about whether American powerhouse Serena Williams would be able to bounce back following her collapse at the 2018 US Open. It seems that there is still some scar tissue left from this experience after she crashed out at the quarter-final stage in Melbourne to Karolina Pliskova. The manner of her defeat also raised eyebrows as she squandered a 5-1 lead in the third set to eventually lose it 5-7. Bigger questions lie ahead as to whether she will actually be able to overhaul Margaret Court’s astounding record of 24 career Majors.
In the men’s final on Sunday, Novak Djokovic’s comprehensive dismantling of Rafael Nadal signified the renewal of old rivalries that surely left the crowds licking their lips in anticipation for the future. Djokovic truly played the Spaniard off the court as he racked up a staggering 34 winners on his way to a straight sets victory, winning 6-3 6-2 6-3. On the back of his impressive performance against Lucas Pouille in the semi-finals, the world number one delivered a frightening performance that left his opponent Nadal with little hope of stealing the title off him. Novak has reiterated his level of motivation to catch up to the grand slam record of Roger Federer, who sits five ahead of him. Following such a masterful display on court, very few would bet against him achieving this.
The event also offered a fantastic look at the rich array of young talent that has established on the tour. In the last 16, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas knocked out the great Roger Federer. The young Greek put in a series of stellar displays to reach the semi-finals before bowing out to Rafa. Following this major breakthrough, his will certainly be a name to look out for during the rest of the season. Before the event, many viewer’s eyes would have been on the rising German talent Alexander Zverev. Sadly, the world number three will have to wait just a bit longer for his own breakthrough at a Major tournament following a frustrating week that saw him exit, like Federer, in the last 16.
The name that was without doubt on everyone’s lips before the event was that of Andy Murray. Having battled through immense pain on court during the last few months, Murray announced at the start of this year that the Australian Open may be the last event of his career. Heading to Australia with the dream of perhaps the impossible, Murray repeated his aims of wanting to end his career on a high note. A gutsy first-round performance was unfortunately not enough for the Brit to prevail against Roberto Bautista Agut. Following that, Murray underwent surgery on his hip that should ultimately improve his quality of life immeasurably. In the past, athletes have been able to recover from significant operations, but never before in singles as Murray understands. I am certain there is still a small part of Andy that believes in the possibility of a return farewell. With Wimbledon looming on the horizon, this may not be out of the question.