Classic Australian Open moments: Part 2

Following Part 1, here is Part 2 of my look back on the greatest Australian Open moments in recent history.

A grunt-off and a classic men’s finale at the 2012 Australian Open
Anyone who can recall the 2012 Australian Open will remember just how loud it was, literally.

So much so, earplugs were mandatory for the women’s final between Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, two players who gained notoriety for their inappropriate verbal gestures (grunting) than the way that they play.

It earned the ire of women’s top ten player Agnieszka Radwanska, who described it as “annoying”, to which Sharapova hit back by saying “isn’t she back in Poland already?”

History will tell us that Azarenka won her maiden grand slam title in a landslide, defeating Sharapova 6-3, 6-0 in one hour and 22 minutes.

But it was the men’s final for which the 2012 tournament will forever be remembered.

By this point in time, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal had become the two most dominant men in the sport, with the former winning three of the four majors in 2011 (with Nadal winning the other at his pet event, the French Open).

Novak Djokovic

(Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)

Djokovic went into this match on the back of a nearly-five-hour semi-final against Andy Murray, while Nadal defeated Roger Federer in his semi the previous day to take his place in his second Australian Open final.

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Thus, Nadal went into this match the more fresher of the two, and many believed his 24-hour advantage on Djokovic worked in his favour.

What unfolded was a war of attrition that would last nearly six hours, with the match not ending after 1:30am local time.

The Spaniard struck first, claiming the first set 7-5, as he did in 2009. At this point, history favoured the Mallorcan native, who had never lost a grand slam final after winning the first set.

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Djokovic was quick to hit back, claiming the second set 6-4 and then the third 6-2, after breaking Nadal twice in the latter set, which lasted 45 minutes.

The fourth set went to a tiebreak, during which Djokovic led 5-3 and was two points away from the title, before Nadal rattled off the next four points to claim the breaker and force a one-set championship shootout.

By the time the final set commenced, the clock ticked past midnight and it also eclipsed the 12:15am finish from the 2009 final.

After the first five games went to serve, the Spaniard broke in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead, and with the finish line in sight, missed an easy winner which would’ve made it 30-all in the seventh game.

Djokovic broke back immediately, and hold to level proceedings at 4-all. After both men held their following service games, the Serb made his move in the 11th game, breaking Nadal’s serve to put himself in the position of serving for the championship.

Finally, five hours and 53 minutes after the first ball was struck in anger, Djokovic hit a forehand winner into the court, and collapsed to the court after winning what was the longest men’s grand slam final on record and the longest ever match at the Australian Open.

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Both men were visibly exhausted after the match that they were given chairs to sit on during the post-match ceremony, which Nadal jokingly started with “Good morning everybody”.

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A major upset rocks the 2014 Australian Open
World number one Serena Williams entered the first major of 2014 as the rampaging hot favourite to reclaim the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy for the first time since 2010.

The American had enjoyed a dominant 2013 season, winning 12 titles (including the French and US Opens), racking up over $12 million in prize money and returning to the top of the women’s rankings.

True to form, she began the 2014 season by successfully defending her title in Brisbane, and then won her opening three matches at Melbourne Park with minimal fuss.

The fourth round saw her matched up against former world number one Ana Ivanovic, who hadn’t won a title since 2011 and who had never even won a set (nor won more than four games for that matter) against the legendary American in four previous meetings.

When Williams served an ace to start the match, it appeared she was in for a short afternoon in the office. True to form, she took the opening set 6-4 and well and truly had one foot in the quarter-finals.

But Ivanovic, a finalist at Melbourne Park in 2008, threw the history book out the window, not facing another break point thereafter as she pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

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It later emerged that Williams played through the match hindered by a back injury, which affected her performance in the second and third sets. Still, the defeat was proof that you should not take an opponent of Ivanovic’s calibre lightly.

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The result saw Ivanovic pull off her second win over a Williams sister in the month, having defeated Venus Williams in the final of the warm-up tournament in Auckland. The Serb’s run came to an end with a three-set defeat by Eugenie Bouchard in the quarter-finals.

Williams’ defeat began a domino effect that saw Maria Sharapova crash out 24 hours later, followed by the exit of two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka, whose bid for a three-peat was ended by Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals.

Lleyton Hewitt farewells tennis in 2016
Midway through the 2015 Australian Open, Lleyton Hewitt announced a 12-month farewell tour that culminated in him making his 20th consecutive and final appearance at Melbourne Park in 2016.

In the lead-up to the 2016 Australian Open, Hewitt paired up with Jarmila Wolfe as one of two Australian teams that would contest the Hopman Cup, recording his only singles win against Jack Sock, which will most likely be remembered for him asking Sock to challenge an umpire’s call.

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At Melbourne Park, Hewitt was drawn to face compatriot James Duckworth in the opening round, before a potential second-round showdown against Spanish warrior David Ferrer.

The then-34-year-old defeated his younger opponent to set up the clash against Ferrer, which marked their fourth meeting at a major, having met at each of the other three such tournaments (Wimbledon in 2006, the French Open in 2008 and the US Open in 2012).

Promising to give his all, Hewitt did just that, but would go down in straight sets: 6-2, 6-4, 6-4, thus ending one of the most illustrious careers in not only modern tennis history, but also Australian sporting history.

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He bowed out having won two major titles – the 2001 US Open and Wimbledon in 2002 – as well as having won the ATP Finals twice, in 2001 and 2002. He also became the youngest man to ever hold the world number one ranking, doing so from November 2001 to May 2003.

Injuries plagued his career thereafter, including a rib injury which he suffered while descending a set of stairs that forced him out of the 2005 French Open, as well as a troublesome hip that brought forward his retirement from the sport.

Still, despite clearly being a shadow of his dominant self, he managed to reach the final of the 2005 Australian Open, and pulled off two significant victories over Roger Federer in the finals of the Halle and Brisbane tournaments in 2010 and 2014 respectively.

He also managed to down fellow former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro multiple times in 2013, including at Flushing Meadows where he defeated the tall Argentine in five sets, reinforcing his status as the king of five-set tennis.

After his playing retirement, he assumed the captaincy of Australia’s Davis Cup team, and has on occasions contributed on-court by playing in the doubles. Even today, he continues to play doubles intermittently, proving that he hasn’t lost his competitive edge.

Legends turn back the clock at the 2017 Australian Open
The 2017 Australian Open saw some incredible upsets shape both the men’s and women’s draws, two surprise semi-finalists in the women’s draw, and two 35-year-old legends lifting the trophy.

The men’s final was contested by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, which despite their storied rivalry and their respective career achievements, came as a major surprise given both players appeared to be a shadow of their former selves.

Federer hadn’t won a major title since 2012, and an injury-plagued 2016 season saw him very nearly drop out of the world’s top 20 for the first time since 2001. Further, he hadn’t beaten Nadal anywhere since 2012, nor at a major tournament since Wimbledon in 2007.

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On the other hand, Nadal had endured two seasons without winning a major title, his previous success coming at the 2014 French Open, after which he was beset by injuries that saw him abort his US Open title defence that year, as well as withdraw from the 2016 French Open mid-tournament.

Still, the excitement and publicity generated out of what was dubbed Fedal XXXV made this one of their most significant meetings over a storied rivalry, which began in 2004 and is still ongoing today, despite their last meeting coming at the 2019 French Open.

Federer ended his four-and-a-half year wait for that elusive 18th major title by defeating his career nemesis in a final so highly anticipated that officials chose to open up Margaret Court Arena where the match was televised.

The two gladiators of men’s tennis certainly did not disappoint as they fought out the first Australian Open five-set final since the 2012 epic between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

After a close opening set, Federer set up two break points with a terrific forehand volley winner, then broke Nadal’s serve on the next point to take a 4-3 advantage; an ace on his first set point saw him take it 6-4.

But as expected, the Spaniard hit straight back, at one point leading by a double-break before Federer pegged one of them back. Still, Nadal took the second set 6-3 and it was well and truly game on.

Federer then dominated the third set, taking it 6-1, but had to save three break points in the opening game, which he did by serving an ace each time. Had Nadal converted any of those break points, who knows what would’ve happened.

Rafael Nadal

(Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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Instead, the Swiss took a two-sets-to-one lead against Nadal for the first time at a major since the 2007 Wimbledon final, which to that point stood as his second and most recent win over the Spaniard at a major.

History favoured the 35-year-old, whose sole loss after such an advantage came in the final of the 2009 US Open when he went down to Juan Martin del Potro in five sets – his first loss to anyone other than Nadal in a major final.

Again, Nadal hit back in the fourth set, breaking in the fourth game and then holding his advantage to all but ensure we were going to a deciding set. The score after four sets was 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6.

The match was certainly living up to expectations and it was only appropriate that a one-set shootout decided the most unlikeliest of champions given both men are over 30 and were enduring their longest grand slam title droughts.

It appeared that Nadal was the one to break his drought, having not saluted since the 2014 French Open, when he broke Federer to start the final set.

He then took a 3-1 lead and was surely on his way to becoming the first man in the Open era to win each of the four majors at least twice, until Federer broke back in the sixth game to completely swing the momentum his way.

The 35-year-old then broke Nadal two games later to put himself into the position to serve for the championship, but there was yet more drama to come.

He fell behind 0-30 in the ninth game, and then faced two break points as the Spaniard attempted to keep the match ticking over. Federer saved both with an ace and a forehand winner, and then earn a championship point.

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Federer double-faulted on his first opportunity, but was not denied a second time shortly after, hitting a forehand winner, which Nadal then challenged. Once the Hawkeye system confirmed it was in, the title was finally won by the Swiss legend.

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It saw him win his fifth Australian Open title, but first since 2010, and at the time his 18th major men’s singles title saw him four clear of the Spaniard and Pete Sampras (14 apiece).

It also made up for his heartbreaking defeat in the 2009 decider, which also went to five sets, where he just fell short of equalling the then-record of 14 major titles which was held by Sampras.

On the women’s side, Serena Williams claimed her 23rd major title, and seventh at Melbourne Park, by defeating elder sister Venus in the final in straight sets.

Serena hadn’t served a ball in anger since the previous year’s US Open, where she lost her world number one ranking after losing to Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals.

She was dealt a tough draw which saw her face (and defeat) former top ten players Belinda Bencic and Lucie Safarova in the opening two rounds. She also had to face the emerging force that was Johanna Konta in the quarter-finals.

Nonetheless, the American produced a dominant performance all around to become the first woman since Maria Sharapova in 2008 to win the Australian Open without dropping a set or even be taken to a tiebreak.

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By winning the title, she also took back top spot in the rankings from dethroned champion Angelique Kerber.

There was a major twist that followed in the months ahead, as it was later revealed that Serena contested the tournament while two months pregnant with her first child. At the time, only her closest family and friends as well as a doctor knew.

The younger of the Williams sisters would therefore not serve another ball in anger for the rest of 2017, and would not win another title anywhere until Auckland last year.

For Venus, reaching the final was a huge surprise by her standards, given she has been battling Sjorgen’s syndrome since 2011, hadn’t reached a major final for seven and a half years, and hadn’t won a major since Wimbledon 2008.

The 2020 Australian Open
To many sporting fans around the world, last year’s Australian Open will probably go down as one of the last sporting events in a normal world before the COVID-19 pandemic took its grip on the globe last March.

On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic created history by winning a record eighth Australian Open title, but by doing so had to do it the hard way, needing to win the championship match at Melbourne Park in five sets for the second time.

He also had to overcome a major hoodoo. Never had he won a major final after trailing two sets to one.

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On the other side of the net on this occasion was Dominic Thiem, who had twice reached the final at Roland Garros and was hoping to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a major title.

The Austrian looked to have the momentum when he won six straight games, from 4-all in the second set, to lead 4-0 in the third set, this coming after he had dropped a hard-fought opening set.

He then had Djokovic on the ropes early in the fourth, generating a break point in the third game, before the Serb roared back into the contest, taking the final two sets to underline his status as the king of Melbourne Park with an eighth title down under.

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On hand to present the trophy was Marat Safin – Djokovic’s very first opponent at a major. On that occasion – at the 2005 Australian Open – the Russian, who eventually went on to win the title, handed Djokovic his worst ever defeat at a major with a 6-0, 6-2, 6-1 thumping in the first round.

Apart from Djokovic’s victory, Roger Federer also created history by defeating John Millman in the third round to bring up 100 match victories at Melbourne Park, also becoming the first man to win as many matches at two majors (Wimbledon being the other).

Federer’s semi-final defeat to Djokovic, 12 years after the first occurrence at the Australian Open, stands as his most recent match, with the soon-to-be 40-year-old having been sidelined for the past 12 months with a knee injury.

On the women’s side, young American Sofia Kenin took advantage of a draw ravaged by numerous major upsets to claim her maiden grand slam title, coming from a set down to defeat two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza in the championship match.

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En route to the final she defeated world number one Ashleigh Barty in the semi-final, having to save several set points in each set to do so.

The tournament also saw the sequel between defending champion Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff, who repeated her stunning victory over Venus Williams from the previous year’s Wimbledon with another shock victory over the veteran American in the opening round at Melbourne Park.

Gauff marked her coming of age by ousting Osaka in the third round, before falling to eventual champion Kenin in the last 16.

The 2020 Australian Open also saw the final appearances of past champions Caroline Wozniacki, who announced that the tournament was her last before retirement, and Maria Sharapova, who hung up her racquet a month later after struggling for form following a drug ban between 2016 and 2017.

The 23-time major champion Serena Williams also suffered her earliest defeat at Melbourne Park since 2006, when she fell to Wang Qiang in the third round, with speculation growing that next month’s season-opening major could be her final appearance in Australia.

Already, the tournament has copped a major blow with the news that Roger Federer has opted out of the Australian Open, meaning it is all but certain he has made his final appearance down under.

Towering American John Isner has also withdrawn, while women’s world number five Elina Svitolina has announced she won’t be making the trip to Melbourne Park either.

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Players will start arriving in Melbourne or Adelaide (for an exhibition tournament to be played at the Memorial Tennis Drive) where they will start serving two weeks’ quarantine, during which they will be permitted to train and practice for up to five hours a day.

Two joint ATP-WTA tournaments, plus an abridged version of the ATP Cup, will be played at Melbourne Park in the first week of February, before the year’s first major gets underway on February 8.

And in another boost for the country, Adelaide will host a WTA-only event in the week beginning February 22, straight after the Australian Open.

Those were just some of the great Australian Open moments that have occurred this century – from Lleyton Hewitt’s run to the 2005 final, the epic men’s finals from 2009, 2012 and 2017, Serena Williams’ run to redemption in 2007, and Jelena Dokic’s inspiring run to the quarter-finals in 2009.

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