The 2018 Australian Open has to go down as one of the best tournaments in the modern era. Melbourne brought us everything possible in tennis over the last two weeks resulting in two memorable finals on Australia Day weekend.
It is appropriate to start with the incredible Roger Federer claiming a scarcely believable 20th Grand Slam at the ripe old age of 36. Any additional superlatives for the great man ran out 12 months ago when he beat his greatest rival, Rafa Nadal, in an amazing five setter. Federer is truly remarkable, a freakish athlete with the mentality and a passion for the game to match.
What makes Federer’s achievement so special in defending his Australian Open title was that at the age of 36, we expected him to do it. He was up against the fast improving Marian Cilic, probably the one man in the draw besides the great Rafa who was capable of beating the Swiss maestro. Cilic did himself proud in taking Roger to five sets and could have gone all the way if he had managed to grasp the break points he had on Federer’s serve in the first game of the fifth set. In the blink of the eye Federer saved the game, then immediately broke Cilic and cantered his way through to victory.
Action and drama from day one
We will come back to Roger in a moment. The past fortnight in Melbourne has thrown us many tense, dazzling and heart breaking moments in both the men and women’s draw. The tournament started with the exciting news that the wounded warriors and past champions, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, declared themselves fit for action (sadly not Andy Murray with his ongoing hip injury).
Each day fizzed with action and drama, particularly when Caroline Wozniacki somehow came back from 15-40 down and 1-5 down against the little known Croat, Jana Fett, to triumph memorably. The brilliantly named Tennys Sandgren had not won a grand slam match before Melbourne and showed all of his promise by thumping a hobbling Stan Wawrinka in the second round and going on to the quarters having also ousted fifth seed, Dominic Thiem. Sandgren eventually bowed out to the equally impressive Hyeon Chung in the quarterfinal.
Much has been said about Chung and we should expect the young South Korean to be in the top 10 sooner rather than later. Let us not forget Kyle Edmund either, who has finally made his breakthrough on the men’s tour by reaching the semi-finals including highly notable victories against Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov. From a British perspective, it is great to see Edmund join Andy Murray in the men’s elite.
There were some cracking matches in the first week particularly Nick Kygrios’s triumph over Jo Tsonga suggesting that the often controversial Australian is close to maturing into one hell of a player.
We had tears aplenty from the two great champions, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, both of whom succumbed to injury. In Novak’s case his ongoing elbow issues are of great concern to his future participation in the sport and along with Wawrinka and Murray, we have to hope that they can all return to the court somewhere near their best. The game desperately needs them.
In what was an absorbing quarterfinal, Rafa Nadal tragically injured his hip (although thankfully not serious) against Marian Cilic as the match was going into a thrilling fifth set. Who knows what would have happened if Rafa had stayed fit, although Cilic was looking just as strong as the match wore on. A side issue, all be it an important one, is the continuous injury list that is blighting men’s tennis. In the last 18 months alone, pretty much every player in the top 10 has had months out of the game with some kind of injury complaint. The ATP needs to address this fast otherwise we are going to lose some great names way to soon before their time.
The women’s draw was equally exciting, we saw the resurgent Belinda Bencic knock out Venus Williams in the first round, Wozniacki’s incredible comeback in the second round and the likes of Halep and Kerber begin to make their move towards the finals.
New names combine with legends in a memorable second week
The finals on both sides were always going to be exciting given that we had a few new faces come to the party, especially on the men’s side. Messrs. Chung and Sandgren fighting it out for a spot in the semis was totally unexpected having between them seen off the likes of Djokovic, Wawrinka, Thiem and Zverev. Gnarled warrior Tommy Berdych was looking powerful until he came up against you-know-who in the quarters and Rafa was promising so much until his unfortunate injury against Cilic. It was exhausting and thrilling to watch Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber play out a classic in the women’s semifinals for the right to meet Caroline Wozniacki in the final.
The two finals promised much and my word did they both deliver. In recent years we have seen heavily one-sided matches at Grand Slam finals in the women’s section (not surprising when you have Serena Williams competing in the draw) but Halep and Wozniacki played out one of the great Australian Open finals. Both players showed incredible courage and ability leading to the final and a special mention to Halep, who had to go on a drip after the match given how dehydrated she was. It is this kind of dedication and ‘stay in the fight’ attitude which we love to see as fans of the sport. To have the top two women’s players going for their first major was great for the sport and Simona Halep’s time will come sooner rather than later.
But the main course was always going to be whether Roger Federer could defend his title. It was an excellent match with Cilic contributing richly to the quality of tennis. Indeed, Cilic has all the guns to be a contender for many years to come especially on the hard courts. He hits a very heavy ball on both wings together with a 130 mph serve and has matured into a fine player. Expect to see Cillic’s name on the cup in the next couple of years.
Federer’s enduring brilliance
Embed from Getty Images
Inevitably though, the final word goes to Roger Federer. The consistency in his game seems to be getting better, not slower or worse. That in itself is extraordinary given the miles on his clock in an ever-changing sport. As long as he stays fit, he will go into Wimbledon as the favourite and he will back himself at the US Open as well. Not to mention being number one in the world again. Simply remarkable. Well done Melbourne for yet again putting on a great show and I cannot wait for next January to roll on.