After an unforgettable two weeks in Melbourne, Sam Price analyses the key takeaways from a tournament that has teed up a mouth-watering year in tennis
Epic encounters, seismic shocks and fairytale comebacks – the 2017 Australian Open will go down as one of the greatest tennis tournaments in history. A fortnight that was as enjoyable as it was unpredictable saw evergreen 35-year-olds Roger Federer and Serena Williams win the singles competitions for the fifth and seventh times respectively, leaving plenty to ponder as attention now turns to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships at the end of February.
If there was any debate as to whether Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time then surely the Swiss superstar settled it in Melbourne with an 18th Grand Slam title. It wasn’t until November that Federer resumed full practice sessions on court for his pre-season training block in Dubai, following extensive rehabilitation from knee surgery. But it was like he’d never been away. Federer thrived on the lightning-quick courts, his movement impeccable, as he beat top-10 players Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Stanislas Wawrinka before downing his long-time rival Rafael Nadal in a vintage final. Majestic.
“King of Clay” could reign again
Federer’s triumph defied logic and suggested he can add to his record Grand Slam haul, but just as surprising and heart-warming was Nadal’s journey to the final. Ravaged by injuries in recent years, the Spaniard banished doubts that his body is no longer up to the rigours of Grand Slam tennis on hard courts, outlasting a resurgent Grigor Dimitrov in a marathon semi-final before taking Federer the distance two days later. If he can stay healthy, Nadal stands a great chance of winning an unprecedented tenth French Open crown on his favoured clay in June.
No stopping Serena
Finals weekend at Melbourne Park felt like a time warp. A day before Federer and Nadal squared off in a Grand Slam decider for the first time since 2011, Serena Williams took on her sister Venus, who was reaching her first major final since 2009 having completed her own arduous road to recovery from illness and injury. Serena’s two-set victory took her past Steffi Graf as the most decorated player in Open Era history with 23 Slams, and in this form she looks equipped to continue adding to that record tally.
Intensity is key
The only thing harder than getting to the top is staying there, and as legends returned to form in Melbourne the established, top-ranked players fell by the wayside. Novak Djokovic, for many years a beacon of consistency in the men’s game, suffered a shock second-round defeat to wildcard Denis Istomin, while top seeds Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber – both of whom achieved career-defining goals last year to become world No. 1 – fell in the fourth round. In order to dominate such a physically and mentally demanding sport as tennis and to consistently challenge in Grand Slams, maintaining an edge of intensity is essential.