As was to be expected, the Australian Open winners have dominated the headlines over the last few days, but yet there were plenty more stories to reflect upon after an incident-packed two weeks.
Here is your All Court Tennis Club wrap-up of the first major of 2023, with the stage now set for an epic year in the sport.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN CHAMPIONS SHINE
If Novak Djokovic’s victory was expected at the men’s singles in Melbourne, Aryna Sabalenka’s victory at the women’s event was certainly unexpected.
While Sabalenka’s powerful game has always offered the potential for success at the highest level, the Belarusian appeared to be destined for defeat by her own demons.
Last year started with a tearful Sabalenka offering up 21 double faults and ultimately led her to start serving underarm as her confidence in the shot had collapsed to alarming levels.
She went on to serve a startling 428 double faults over the calendar, 151 more than any other player on the WTA Tour.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2023
While her powerful all-court game was keeping her in matches, Sabalenka’s hopes of winning the game’s biggest prizes appeared to be forlorn as long as her serving nightmares remained unresolved.
So to see her holding her nerve to beat Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in a Grand Slam final on Saturday was all the more remarkable considering the mental state she was in just a few months ago.
This year marks two decades since Andy Roddick’s US Open win, with no American player lifting one of the game’s great titles since his victory in 2003.
For much of that drought, it seemed as if an American winning in a Grand Slam final was a distant dream, but shoots of a recovery are now thrillingly evident.
Tommy Paul’s impressive run to the semi-finals in Melbourne was complimented by 20-year-old Atlanta-born Ben Shelton’s appearance to the quarter-final and Sebastien Korda’s breakthrough run to the last eight, which was eventually ended by injury.
Mackenzie McDonald’s victory against an injury-hit Rafael Nadal was another notable moment for US tennis and American icon John McEnroe believes a Grand Slam win may not be far away now.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2023
“There is hope for America now,” declared McEnroe at a Eurosport event.
“I’m not saying we are going to win one of the majors in the next two or three, but you can see one of these kids coming through and doing it.
“If I had to pick one, Korda looks like he has a game to go all the way, but Ben Shelton was fantastic at this event and has real game.”
WHAT COMES NEXT?
One question that must be answered in the coming weeks is what happens next with Russian and Belarusian players.
Two Russian players reached the last eight of the men’s draw, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov, while the women’s draw featured a Belarusian winner in Sabalenka and her compatriot Victoria Azarenka reaching the semi-finals.
All of those players were banned from competing at Wimbledon and the grass court events in England last summer in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That decision was widely criticised by the tennis community, with ranking points stripped from Wimbledon and the LTA handed hefty fines by the ATP and WTA.
With Olympic chiefs confirming last week that they will allow Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag, it is hard to see how Wimbledon and the LTA can repeat their approach from last summer again.
If ranking points were taken away from the LTA grass court events at Queen’s and Eastbourne, there is a strong chance that players would pull out and play in other events around Europe.
Moreso, the lack of support from the tennis authorities for the Russian and Belarusian ban means a repeat will be greeted with even bigger fines.
What cannot happen at Wimbledon are the scenes we saw in Melbourne with pro-Russian protesters making political statements on the grounds of the tournament.
Novak Djokovic’s father even posed (inadvertently) with the protesters for a photo, with UK government chiefs quick to remind Wimbledon that they will not tolerate such scenes at the biggest tournament of them all next summer.
Sport and politics are never welcome bedfellows and once again, the tennis year will have both fused into its narrative.