Serena Williams and Roger Federer have underlined their status as icons in one of the most nostalgic and heartwarming grands slam events of recent years. In taking home the Australian Open trophies, these living legends have once again inspired fans and other sportspeople alike, while yet again rewriting the history books.
Federer claimed the seesawing final against Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 to defeat his friend and long-time rival. The Swiss master has now won his fifth title in Melbourne and 18th Grand Slam overall, thus extending his lead on the all time list. Poetically, it was also his 100th match victory at the AO and his first major win since wimbledon in 2012.
The men’s final was arguably the final everyone was hoping for. Two greats of the sport, sidelined by injury and in perhaps the twilight of their careers, fighting their way through tough draws in an even tougher Australian summer.
In a match full of ups and downs, Nadal seemed to have the upper hand having taken the fourth set as well as a lead in the fifth. Then the momentum swung back in Federer’s favour as he broke Nadal and served it out for the win. Always gracious in victory or defeat, Roger congratulated his friend and lamented the fact that there are no draws in tennis, but that he “would have been happy to lose too - or to accept a draw.” It was an emotional night for him in Melbourne, especially after being out for six months due to a knee injury.
Nadal, for his part, made it to his first major final since 2014 when he clinched the French Open. Having also recovered from setback and injuries, the Spaniard was definitely proud of his self-proclaimed “great month” in Australia. He stated that “Roger deserved it probably a little more than me,” and joked that, although happy with his “beautiful” runner’s up dish, declared that he would keep fighting to come back for many years to play for the winner’s trophy. After their performances, Nadal will move from 10 to 6 in the ATP rankings, while Federer return to the top 10, climbing 16th to 10th.
Elsewhere in the men’s draw, semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov has made an important step up in the rankings, after a year lingering in and around the top 20. He consolidated a win in Brisbane with a great showing in Melbourne, pushing Nadal to the limit in their encounter. The first week saw many upsets, mostly surprisingly that of new world number one Andy Murray, falling to Misha Zverev of Germany in the fourth round. The capitulation of Novak Djokovic in the second round to Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan was unexpected but perhaps less surprising given his recent form.
In the women’s draw, the fairytale run of Mirjana Lucic was stunning. Having come through so much adversity in her private life she managed to make it first major semifinal since Wimbledon in 1999 where, she lost to the legend of that era, Steffi Graf, who had just won her 22nd major. Once again she fell to another legend, in the form of Serena Williams in these semifinals.
Serena’s run to the finals was perhaps more taxing than it seemed on paper. In the quarterfinals, she took out in-form Aussie-born Brit, Johanna Konta, who consolidated her spot in the top 10. Venus Williams, complete with her own inspiring comeback story, marched her way into her first grand slam final since Wimbledon 2009, where she fell to baby sister. The final between the sisters, age-wise the oldest for a women's major final in the open era final, was a somewhat subdued affair, due to the mutual respect and love shown between Serena and Venus. There were very few displays of emotion, “come ons” or gestures of the sort, and the crowd was relatively quiet.
Before the historic final, Serena claimed “I couldn't write a better ending so this is a great opportunity for us to start our new beginning,” perhaps alluding to more time away from tennis in the future. A straightforward 6-4 6-4 victory gave Serena the win as well as confirming her return to the number one spot in the WTA ranking. For the 23rd time, she holds a grand slam trophy in her hands and steps ahead of Steffi Graf on the open era list. Being the competitor that she is, she will be keen to make her mark on history by eclipsing Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 grand slam victories.
Gracious and eloquent as ever, Venus stated in her post-match speech, “ Your win has always been my win.” Serena, returning the compliment, praised her sister for being an inspiration, gushing “there's no way I'd be at 23 without her. There's no way I'd be at one."
Looking at the women’s draw as a whole, there was carnage in the first week, as many tops seeds fell by the wayside. Out of form Simona Halep was sent packing on day one, and she was quickly followed by Agnieska Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and Carla Suarez Navarro. American CoCo Vandeweghe was the surprise package of the tournament, combining strength and athleticism to take out top seed and defending champion Angelique Kerber in the fourth round. She backed this up with a straight sets win over reigning Roland Garros champion Garbiñe Muguruza before falling to Venus Williams in a tough three set match in the semifinals.
In the doubles, the Bryan brothers were vying for their 17th grand slam title but were not able to do so.They fell to Henri Kontinen of Finland and local player John Peers 7-5 7-5, who had made it to their first grand slam final while playing just their fifth major together. As a team they won five titles in 2016. The women’s doubles title went to Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, who defeated Andrea Hlavackova and Shuai Peng. This victory solidifies Mattek-Sands’ position as the number one ranked doubles player. The mixed doubles trophy went to Abigail Spears of the USA and Juan Sebastian Cabal of Colombia.
Hungarian Zsombor Piros won the boys' event, becoming the first player from his country ever to do so, while Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk was the girls’ champion. Seeded 15th, Piros won a tough two-hour match over the number four seed Yshai Oliel (ISR) 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. The Budapest native was playing in only his second junior grand slam event and managed to beat two other seeded players en route to the final
Kostyuk defeated top-seeded Swiss Rebeka Masarova 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 in the girls’ final. The 14-year-old took advantage of the only break she got in the third set to seal victory, showing remarkable progression after a year of great results in 2016. Having qualified for the Tennis Europe Junior Masters in 2015, she was the champion at Les Petits As three months later, and maintained the number one spot on the 14 and Under rankings for most of the year. She was also pivotal in Ukraine’s victory in both the Winter and Summer Cups.
The junior boys’ doubles trophy was won by number four seed Yu Hsiou Hsu (TPE) and Lingxi Zhao (CHN) while the girls’ doubles title went to the Canadian and American combination of Bianca Andreescu and Carson Branstine.
With over 740,000 spectators attending this year, the Australian Open broke its own attendance record. For arguably the most modern event on tour which is always looking for ways to change and modernise with its surface, venue, roof, lighting, billboard screens and the like, this year’s event will be remembered for the hark back to the days of the mid noughties. The four timeless, iconic finalists made sure of that.