Aussie Open Tennis - 2023 Wrap-Up
It pains me to admit it, but it was hard for the casual fan to get too excited about the 2023 tournament.
Our Australian Open Tennis blog has become something of a tradition at the end of January, but this year’s edition has a bit of a ‘contractual obligation’ feel to it.
2022 was always going to be a hard act to follow, given the heroics of Ash Barty, Rafa Nadal, and the “Special Ks” doubles duo.
The instinctive reaction was to lower our expectations this year, and that proved to be a good approach.
No Shows and Early Exits
I’m not suggesting that the winners were any less deserving, or the losers any less gallant, but for the casual fan, the tone was largely set by the big names who failed to make it to the starting line through retirement or injury.
No Roger Federer. No Ash Barty. No Serena Williams or Naomi Osaka. No Nick Kyrgios.
On top of that, the late withdrawal of the young gun Carlos Alcaraz, World #1 and superstar-in-the-making, was something of a gut punch for both fans and organizers.
More air was sucked out of the tournament when #1 seeds Iga Swiatek and Rafa Nadel exited prior the quarterfinals, along with other crowd favourites like De Minaur, Gauff, and Sinner.
Don’t mention the war…
The shadow of the war in Ukraine also loomed large. The women’s singles final featured a Moscow-born Kazakhstani against a de-flagged Belarusan.
Novak Djokovic, controversial at the best of times, suffered a further PR setback when his father was photographed with Putin supporters after his son’s quarterfinal. The explanations and apologies weren't entirely satisfying for many.
Hits & Misses
Despite all that, there was actually a lot of good tennis played! To wrap up, here are some of my standout memories:
- Novak Djokovic, after being deported for his ‘NoVax’ stand in 2022, cruised to a 10th Australian Open title despite carrying a much-publicised hamstring tear through the tournament. Love him or loath him, he is a genuinely great player. The gap in class between him and the next-gen stars was quite eye-opening.
- Stefanos Tsitsipas gave the huge Melbourne Greek population, and most of the other viewers, someone to cheer for while Djokovic played the type-cast villain. (That said, what the local Serbians lacked in numbers they more than made up for in visibility and passion.)
- Aryna Sabalenka (winner) and Elena Rybakina may not have been household names or crowd favourites (despite Rybakina being the reigning Wimbledon champion), but they certainly put on a great show in a very high-quality Women’s final that could have gone either way.
- Andy Murray, whose career looked over in 2019 before major hip surgery, survived two epic 5-setters before losing in the 3rd round but left with his head held deservedly high.
- Emma Radacanu has had a horrid run of injuries and poor form since her barnstorming 2021 US Open win as an unheralded qualifier. She also suffered a bad ankle injury in the leadup. Her 2nd round match-up against 7th seed Coco Gauff was one of the highest quality contests of the fortnight. Despite losing she showed enough form to convince her legion of fans, and perhaps herself, that there are bigger things not far around the corner.
- Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler were a late wildcard entry into the Men’s Doubles, despite having never played together. The Aussie pair went all the way, winning the title in a fairytale finish that emulated the heroics of compatriots Kyrgios and Kokkinakis the year before.
Here’s hoping that the 2024 tournament generates more cheers than jeers, and unearths some new heroes or pleasant surprises.
If so, I’ll be writing this blog in early next year with a little more enthusiasm.