Photo : Australian Open
It was a first Grand Slam for her and a 22nd for him.
The 2023 Australian Open concluded by crowning a brand-new queen and a king who’s become an old hand.
Their commanding runs in their respective draws are irrefutable proof that they both fully deserve their championship trophies. In their seven matches, they each left only one tiny set for their rivals.
Talk about breezing through.
Let’s start with Aryna Sabalenka’s long-awaited triumph and the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy she elegantly paraded through the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria.
After going gangbusters in her breakthrough season in 2017 and being named WTA Newcomer of the Year in 2018, she had to wait several years before delivering on the sky-high expectations that were set for her.
Tall and powerful, she had every aptitude to win a major. But first, she had to grapple with a much tougher adversary than any rival at the opposite end of the court: the very complexity and emotionality that have endeared her to so many fans.
For more on that topic, read this week’s National Bank Open blog.
Just four months shy of her 25th birthday, the Minsk native collected her 12th—and certainly the most important—title of her career and moved up to World No.2, though Iga Swiatek is still far, far ahead. Even so, Aryna Sabalenka is the 16th player in 23 Slams to raise the women’s singles trophy.
Do I even need to point out the depth here? Parity only benefits the sport, even if we love virtually invincible champions like Serena Williams and any one of the Big Three.
On the men’s side, parity is long overdue. Indeed, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer appear on 64 of the last 78 Slam crowns. It’s a 20-year drought: only 10 other players have claimed the remaining 14 titles up for grabs between July 2003 and January 2023.
And how about the man who’s on track to break away from the triad and guarantee himself GOAT status?
Novak Djokovic’s final berth at the Australian Open made him the player with most Grand Slam singles finals in men’s tennis (33). When he dismantled Stefanos Tsitsipas, he tied Rafa’s all-time record for the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles (22).
At 35 years old, Nole is the youngest member of what is now the Big Two. Judging by his form, it’s very likely he’ll be leading the ATP through 2023.
All this on the heels of a season in which he was deprived of the 2,000 points he earned at Wimbledon. And don’t forget the potential 5,000 points from the AO and US Open and the points from Indian Wells and Miami, all due to his stance on COVID-19. He lost his No.1 ranking and fell to No.8.
What did he do about it? He buckled down and fought his way back to the top—a climb that took him seven and half months, almost to the day.
Djokovic is a polarizing figure, for sure. The perpetual third favourite of the trio. Still, there’s no denying he demonstrated admirable resistance under colossal pressure.
His unexpected breakdown when Daniil Medvedev spoiled his 2021 US Open party was a rare show of emotion from him. And his poignant reaction with his family and team in his box after his AO achievement speaks volumes about what he’s been through.
He’s the GOAT, like it or not.
Novak by the numbers
21–1: Sets played in Melbourne
10: AO titles (1st)
22: Slam titles (1st, tied with Rafael Nadal)
93: ATP and Slam titles (4th)
12–0: Record in 2023
17: Match win streak since November 6, 2022
37–1: Record since June 3, 2022 (Roland-Garros)
84–3: AO record since 2011
223–4: Grand Slam record since 2011
When he won his first major in 2008, Roger Federer had a 12-Slam lead. Take a look at Djokovic’s phenomenal ascent here.
With 93 titles, Novak should soon tie and then outdo Ivan Lendl, who is currently no.3 on the list of players with the most ATP titles. Only Federer (103) and Jimmy Connors (109) have earned more.
I wouldn’t bet against him.
How far will they go?
I know, I know. We all have different tastes.
And every time I comment on tennis fashion, a shot comes whizzing back at me faster than an Alcaraz forehand.
At the Australian Open, the Nike athletes wore designs that are probably beyond anything we’ve seen in 20 years. And, believe me, the brand has outdone itself many, many times in the past.
As always, there were variations, like the kits worn by Bianca Andreescu and Denis Shapovalov on January 16, day one of the Australian Open. The visual assault was a little less, let’s say, intense.
But Frances Tiafoe went full tilt, complete with the matching tank.
Knowing what an extrovert and showman he is, his choice was no surprise.
Tennis looks have come a long way in the past few decades. And in the past century? See for yourself.
Just a glance at this fantastic photo suffices. You know you’re looking at Canada’s top player and the current World No.7.
If it wasn’t for the hazy logo on his sleeve, you might have thought it was his shadow on the blue court.
But it really is Félix, at the ready in the shade during one of his four matches in Melbourne.
Of course, Cameron Spencer’s shot caught my eye because of the subject. And because this type of art photo is fairly common in tennis.
In the photo below by Manan Vatsyayana, Stefanos Tsitsipas hits a superb one-handed backhand against a dark background. Caught in a sunbeam, he hovers a foot above the court—a moment of grace, as if he were alone in the stadium, somewhere between the light and the shadows. Pure poetry.
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