Australian Open 2020: Novak Djokovic is insurmountable, Sofia Kenin is one of a kind and more takeaways
Australian Open didn't follow the script - on and off the court. Bushfires remained central focus even as tennis provided two weeks worth of distraction.
Novak Djokovic battled Dominic Thiem and exhaustion to win his eighth Australian Open and 17th grand slam title.
Djokovic is now two slam titles away from Rafael Nadal and three away from Roger Federer.
Sofia Kenin hurt multiple beautiful stories on the way to creating her own with the women's title.
Six weeks into 2020 and the men's tour continues to search for a new champion. For a player born in the 90s to lift a grand slam title. Novak Djokovic defied Dominic Thiem to exemplify his almost inhuman status. The 'Big 3' have now won 13 straight grand slam titles, Djokovic (17) is now within two slams of Rafael Nadal (19) and three of Roger Federer (20).
Over on the women's side, Sofia Kenin defied odds to beat Garbine Muguruza to tarnish one more dream title aspirant on the way to making it her own. The Moscow-born American is a ball of energy on and off the court. The fact that she won a slam comes as no surprise once you watch her video clips as a five and seven-year-old.
Without further ado, presenting a wrap into two weeks of breathtaking tennis played out in weather which saw intense heat, rain, rain muddled with dirt and celebration of firefighters who worked in excruciating conditions due to the raging bushfires.
Nothing can stop Djokovic
Djokovic is the Australian Open champion. Well what's new? He's got seven in the past, he's never gone home without the trophy when's he reaches the last-four. So what is new this time? Djokovic himself. The Serb has had lengthy finals in Melbourne in the past: three hours, 39 minutes in 2015, three hours, 40 minutes in 2013 and five hours, 53 minutes in 2012. This one clocked four hours just as Dominic Thiem's groundstroke landed wide.
What was different this time was Djokovic looked down and out. Never has he looked as hapless, as clueless and as sapped in a previous Australian Open final. He later claimed it was the dehydration in the second and third sets which made him feel low on energy and dizzy during points. The energy shakes, bottles of nutrients following the third brought him back.
In the previous rounds his improved serve got him out of the cage, the error count would grind to a halt in tiebreaks - as it did against Federer - and the new World No. 1 would make things very difficult for the opponent. When things tightened, so would Djokovic and not present any opportunity - be it to Federer in that crucial first set or to Thiem in the fifth.
Question: Which is the bigger challenge: beating Nadal at Roland Garros or Djokovic at Melbourne Park?
Visor-clad Sofia Kenin runs through them all
Just 21, playing just her third Australian Open with best of second round last year, Sofia Kenin went all the way this time. And truth be told, not many backed her for the title even as she ended aspirations of Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur and Ashleigh Barty.
She was, afterall, going up against Garbine Muguruza who had been in incredible touch of her own. The Spaniard was pounding the ball from the back and going about as if it was 2017. In a way she had tried to rewind the clock by bringing Conchita Martinez back into the back and playing the fearless brand of tennis that she was known for.
But then she ran into Kenin. The American is full of energy from the word go and you wouldn't think for a second that she is early into her career. 'Sonya' would save set points in the win against Barty with crowd well in favour of the Australian. And then she would come from a set down to beat Muguruza. To further highlight her incredibly focused approach, look no further that the 2-2 game in the third set. At 0-40, Kenin banged five straight winners: backhand, backhand, forehand, ace, forehand to get herself out of the cage which could have well and truly put the Spaniard into the driving seat.
Djokovic within two and three
Plenty of focus is reserved for Federer and Nadal for their longevity in the sport. And rightly so. But it deserves to be made for Djokovic too - maybe equally. As Novak comes within two slams of Rafa and three of Federer, the gap with the Swiss is shortest since 2004. And that was when Djokovic was just 17, having turned pro a year back, and the tally read 3-0.
Further, another astounding stat to put things into perspective: Djokovic has now won at least one title for 15 years! Astounding.
'Big 3' and who else?
Amid the celebration of tennis' greatest era with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all playing at the same time, an aspect that doesn't get as much attention is the missing future. Many have been claimed as ones for the future: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini and David Goffin. But as the clock ticks down, they continue to come short time and again.
The same cannot be said for the women's side of things. The younger players have pushed the envelope and taken over from the more experienced members on the tour. A baffling stat to justify how much of a difference there is between the two tours:
Number of different men's singles champions since 2006: 7
Number of different women's singles champions since 2006: 25! Kenin is the 11th different women's champion since 2017 to win a major.
What next for Federer?
The question that keeps lingering every year, every few months. It persists even more when Federer gets injured. In Melbourne, it was the groin. Despite that, he came on to play against Djokovic and threw the kitchen sink at him. The first set went close after an uncharacteristic start by both. The second and third were more routine, with Federer lacking, even though Djokovic celebrated as if he had just redone *the* 13-12. Now, was this one blow too many for a body which is giving up?
Mind, he battled past John Millman, winning six points in a row, against Tennys Sandgren having saved seven match points. The ability to play on when facing physical and mental challenge is there in the 38-year-old, just like 2003, but how long can it withstand the wear and tear of gruelling regular tennis played around the globe?
Is '24' further than ever for Serena?
Serena Williams has come to the final step multiple times since returning from motherhood only to be stopped short. This time, it looked promising. The American ended her trophy drought in Auckland. The draw started to open up with Bianca Andreescu, the US Open champion, dropping out due to injury. She faced little resistance in the first two rounds, started with a bagel, and had Qiang Wang in the third. The same Chinese player she faced in New York and won 6-0, 6-1 having dropped just 15 minutes in mere 44 minutes. This time Wang played better, put Serena on the back foot and the outcome was far different. Wang eventually won 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 and the wait for 24 continues.
Not just for Serena but for John McEnroe. Sort of.
Honor Margaret Court are you kidding I'd rather have dinner with Connors let's be honest. pic.twitter.com/goUB9wxpa1
— Pseudo McEnroe (@McEnroeTweets) January 29, 2020
Young brigade winning hearts if not trophies
“There are way more important things in life and it’s very tough what this beautiful country has been through and is still going through. I think that the Australian Open was a great distraction, but I still hope that Australia – it’s so beautiful, it’s so amazing – all the people who were affected, the wildlife and the animals that were affected, that they are recovering very soon and that a disaster like this never happens again,” said Thiem in the trophy ceremony.
Zverev promised to donate his entire winnings, the whole 4 million, to bushfire relief, if he went on to lift the trophy. Alas it didn't come to be.
One of the greatest interviews you'll ever see.
Kyrgios dedicates his win to injured Alex de Minaur. ✅
John McEnroe pledges $1000 per set win for the rest of Nick's campaign. ✅
Amazing viewing. ❤️️
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 21, 2020
Nick Kyrgios had gotten the ball rolling by pushing Tennis Australia to setup a charity drive. And it snowballed into over six million dollars by the end, claimed an official, which was a great initiative by the sport. The Aussie was visibly emotional through the course of the month whenever he talked about the bushfires and the effort of the rescue workers.
The younger players may not be lifting the grand slam trophy just yet but they're doing far bigger, far important things.
Will the real Sascha stand up?
What an incredible turnaround in just two weeks! At the start of January, Alexander Zverev was drawing blanks. He took on Alex de Minaur, Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov and lost all three. He double faulted 31 times in 31 serves. He left his father in tears after an outburst. It all looked miserable for the German.
He then moved to Melbourne. There were no competitive matches played. He went about warming up for the first grand slam of the year with little distraction and with the same team, including father as coach.
And things turned around stupendously. Straight set wins in the first four rounds and then a four setter with Stan Wawrinka got him to his best showing at a slam. In the semifinal against Thiem, the Austrian proved to be a better played in the crucial tiebreaks for the win.
Up until 2019, the Zverev who played in ATP 250, 500 and 1000 events was different to the one that played the slams. Over the latter two weeks of January 2020, that bridge has been drawn closer.
Non-traditional countries make themselves count
Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a grand slam. Hailing from Tunisia, she had been on the tour for a while but hadn't earned as much attention as she did with her foray in Melbourne. Unlike many other players who move to more developed centres to get better exposure, Jabeur considers herself a "100% Tunisian product". A call from the President to cap off all the attention? Perfect.
14-year-old Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva went all the way in the junior girls' singles draw. Kasintseva, from Andorra, saved match points in the third round and came from set down twice on her way to lifting the title. The tiny European nation is populated by just 77,000 and has a single indoor tennis court to speak of. She trains in Barcelona but has no desire to represent Spain in the future.
From 77,000 to 133.92 crores
Not much to talk of in India's showing at Australian Open 2020. Prajnesh Gunneswaran was the only main draw entrant and remained winless in the first round of a grand slam. That also extends India's losses in main draw first round to 16 matches going back to 2013.
Sumit Nagal, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Ankita Raina had lost in the qualifying rounds. In the doubles department: Rohan Bopanna lost in the first round of men's doubles and reached the quarterfinals of mixed alongside a late change in partner (Nadiia Kichenok instead of Sania Mirza); Divij Sharan reached the second round in men's doubles; Mirza played a set before retiring hurt in the women's doubles and Leander Paes went out in the second round of mixed doubles in his farewell year on tour.
Djokovic was among several players to test positive after last year's event, which was held in front of thousands of fans with no social distancing.
Charleston Open: Ashleigh Barty overcomes American Shelby Rogers in three sets to book quarter-final berth
Barty moves on to the quarter-finals where she will face Spain's Paula Badosa, a 6-3, 6-3 winner over Caty McNally of the US.
Monte Carlo Masters: Stefanos Tsitsipas strolls into last-16; Novak Djokovic to face rising star Jannik Sinner
Tsitsipas, who had been given a bye into the second round, took just one hour and 24 minutes to beat 29th-ranked Russian Karatsev.