And so it is over. After two weeks of upset and drama, a fortnight of toil and sweat, the tennis circus is packing up its tents and leaving town.
The Australian Open has crowned its two champions Caroline Wozniacki and Roger Federer, one leaving with her first major trophy and the No.1 ranking and the other pocketing his 20th title.
For Wozniacki, it has been a rollercoaster, harum-scarum ride, from fending off match points in the second round to finally cradling that precious trophy, her just reward in her third Grand Slam final.
For Federer, it was business as usual. When he surprised himself by beating Rafa Nadal in the final last summer, he jumped up and down like a kid surrounded by presents on Christmas morning. This time he was delighted but it was different. This time, he knew he could win, he played as if he meant to win (he got to the final without dropping a set) and then, in the championship match against Marin Cilic, he fought as if his life depended upon it.
It has been a long two weeks but it has been gripping stuff. And what do we remember most?
The History Boys
The men’s final was all about history. Had Marin Cilic won, he would have become the only Croat, male or female, to win the Australian Open. But he didn’t and as Federer collected the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the sixth time, he was giving the historians a lot of work. Now, try and keep up at the back because here we go: Federer’s win equaled Roy Emerson’s Amateur era record of titles and Novak Djokovic’s Open era record. He was playing in his seventh Australian Open final, and that was a new record. He was only the fourth player, male or female, to have won 20 or more Grand slam singles titles (Margaret Court, Serena Williams and Steffi Graf are all ahead of him with 24, 23 and 22 respectively). He was playing in his 30th Grand Slam final pulling him seven ahead of his nearest rival, Rafael Nadal. And just for good measure, this was the first time in 10 years that he had defended a Grand Slam title (the last was the US Open in 2008)
The Bold and the Beautiful
The women’s final was all about nerve: who had the sheer guts to claim the trophy. Twice before both Wozniacki and Simona Halep had reached major finals and twice before they had been thwarted. One of them had to win this time and it turned out to be Wozzy.
For nearly three hours, she and Simona Halep fought and chased and almost keeled over in the hot and humid night air. Wozzy had the opening salvos sewn up; Halep found a way to hang on and come back.
The incumbent No.1 was struggling with a dodgy left thigh and the heat in the second set. Wozniacki was struggling with a gammy left knee in the third set. And still they battled on.
Three breaks of serve in the first two sets; seven breaks in the final set – neither woman knew when she was beaten. And the longer it went on, the tighter Wozniacki looked. It was nearly eight years ago that she first became world No.1 but with no Grand Slam title to back it up, the critics lined up to take pot shots at her record. And it hurt. But when Halep dumped a final backhand in the net, her lifetime goal had been achieved. She had been bold and the moment was beautiful.
The Young and the Restless
Of the gang of Next Gen players who bounced into Melbourne Park on Day 1 all had high hopes and big ambitions. Yet of them (Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Denis Shapovalov, Borna Coric to name but a few), two stood out – and one of them was a surprise. That Hyeon Chung, the champion of the Next Gen Finals last November, should reach the semifinals was not completely unexpected. Young, powerful, fast and with armour-plated defences, he was crushing all in his path until a combination of Federer and a blistered left foot did for him on Friday night. But he will definitely be back.
“I think he’s going to be a great, great player,” Federer said admiringly.
The surprise package was Kyle Edmund. He, too reached his first Grand Slam semifinal only to be beaten by Cilic. A quiet soul, he had been working hard with his coaches Fredrik Rosengren and Mark Hilton over the off-season and came to Australia as a different player. Hilton had revamped the serve and Rosengren had reset the brain: Kedders (as he is known) now had the confidence and belief to fight until the last ball and he had a new and more powerful weapon to get him there. But Kedders is not done yet.
“This type of tournament just gives you the bug to want more. Once you get a taste, it's like, yeah, I want more of this. I definitely go away from the whole week feeling positive.”
For flux sake
When the tournament began, six women were in with a shout of claiming the No.1 ranking. As the women’s final began 13 days later, the issue had still not been resolved: the champion would walk away with the trophy and their place at the top of the hill. In the end, that woman was Wozniacki after a stunning three sets on Saturday.
It was never like this in Serena’s day. Since she won last summer and then disappeared off on maternity leave, there have been a further five women’s No.1s counting the new champion. Before the baby, there was Serena at the top and no more than one or two realistic threats to her position. Even then, the interlopers could not keep the great Serena away from the hot seat for long.
Now the 23-time Grand Slam champion is ready to return (she has Indian Wells pencilled in as the first tour date in her diary). She will come back with a protected ranking but not a protected seeding. That means she will be able to cause havoc in the early round of her first few tournaments until she gets her true ranking back to a respectable level. And when she does, we shall see how long the women’s game remains in a state of flux.