Having been involved with three weeks of coverage from Melbourne Park, the ausopen.com writing team has watched, absorbed, processed and documented a hefty amount of tennis at Australian Open 2023.
After reflecting on an incredible level of tennis, a variety of breakthrough performances and stars, milestones achieved, and countless emotional scenes, these were the moments that stayed with them.
Sometimes the best moments come at the most unexpected time, and well away from the court. The opportunity to interview Sam Stosur ahead of AO 2023 was exactly that – sitting in a small interview room in the days before main draw, I expected to feel sad that we were discussing the end of a legendary career.
RELATED: Sam Stosur ends grandest of careers
SAM STOSUR: 21 memorable moments in a legendary career
But if there was nostalgia from Sam, it was of the happy kind. A champion completely at peace with everything the sport had given her and everything she had given back. And even more delightful was knowing that Sam’s time in the sport is far from done. Assuring us that she can’t imagine a life without tennis, Sam was already planning her next steps in commentary and coaching.
Given all the qualities this much-loved champion has showcased in more than 20 years as a professional, the game remains in good hands.
It’s been an absolute privilege to watch you play all these years. Truly an inspiration, for all of us.— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2023
Thank you for all you have done for Australian tennis, Sam Stosur 🇦🇺 💙 @bambamsam30 pic.twitter.com/hnMoOKMUjf
Only 12 months ago, Aryna Sabalenka ran a gamut of emotions dealing with a serve that had become her Achilles heel. The tears and laughter were very public before a biomechanics specialist was called in during the season to iron out her problematic motion once and for all.
Stepping up to serve for her first major championship in one of the greatest Australian Open women’s finals staged on Saturday night, Sabalenka threw her head back in disbelief after a double fault ensued. Elena Rybakina was circling and a heaving Rod Laver Arena crowd wanted this bout to go the distance. The tension inside the stadium was thick as three match points passed before the 24-year-old finally lay prone beyond the baseline in triumph.
The tears and laughter were again very public but this time for all the right reasons.
Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler’s title-winning run in the men’s doubles competition was simply remarkable. Despite the Aussie wildcards’ lack of experience on the Grand Slam stage, they eliminated seven of the world’s top-20 players and multiple seeded teams to clinch a maiden major title. This was an incredible effort, especially considering this was their first tournament together and they were one point away from being knocked out in the third round.
WILDCARDS TO WINNERS 🏆— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2023
🇦🇺 Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler have won their first Grand Slam title in their first event as a team! @wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis • #AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/lCn9kvsmn4
The 21-year-old Hijikata and 29-year-old Kubler’s exuberance and positive attitudes on court made their performances throughout the fortnight even more captivating. It also served as a reminder that having fun and enjoying the moment is sometimes the most effective strategy.
AO 2023 was a thriller from day one, but for me nothing came close to this classic Murray rollercoaster. Two sets down, a carousel of tense, pulsating points, the five-time finalist just would not give up. Cue the clips of Murray roaring, square-mouthed, towards pockets of Scots in the stands.
I luckily made it courtside. Murray and Kokkinakis cajoled the crowd, who responded to produce a cauldron on MCA right up until the 4am finish. It wasn't just the tennis, it was the impact it had on social media, how so many players got involved and congratulated the herculean Murray throwback.
My favourite moment this fortnight was the heartfelt embrace Aryna Sabalenka shared with her team after earning her maiden slam by closing out one of the most electrifying women's finals we've witnessed in years. I teared up when we saw her coach Anton Dubrov bawling into his towel on the big screen, bursting with pride for his charge – and I also loved that her team made the shape of a heart with their hands during her speech. It had been such a long and challenging road for them because of her streaky results in 2022, but it finally paid off.
SPECTACULAR SIX: Best matches of AO 2023
In her post-match press conference, Sabalenka said that after her loss to Petra Kvitova in Dubai eleven months ago, Dubrov wanted to end their coaching relationship – but they ended up working things out, which she said made her breakthrough victory on Saturday night even sweeter. Does it get more wholesome than that?
It means so much.— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2023
Even to the coach 💙@SabalenkaA • #AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/h2nrtD3MmN
I remember how excited I felt when Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina set up their fourth-round match, pitting the reigning Roland Garros and US Open champion against the most recent Wimbledon winner. It felt huge. And while the match was not the best – Rybakina won 6-4 6-4 in less than 90 minutes – it was terrific to watch two of the game’s most significant players meet in a high-stakes affair at Rod Laver Arena.
A combination of injuries, pregnancies, mental health breaks, retirements and inconsistent form have prevented the biggest women’s names from thriving simultaneously. In fact, Swiatek v Rybakina was the first time since 2016 that two major champions from the previous 12 months had clashed at a Grand Slam.
That was nearly seven years ago. Hopefully it won’t be as long until the next one.
Jason Kubler becoming a Grand Slam winner warmed my heart. By now, many know of the six knee surgeries he has undergone. Many also know that to not only keep playing but then to hit such lofty heights is close to impossible.
The way the 29-year-old triumphed with his younger fellow Aussie Rinky Hijikata, 21, was exciting, too. Hijikata’s all-action personality proved a balance to elder statesman Kubler’s calmish demeanour. Maybe that youth explained Hijikata going for a wild — ok, crazy — cross-court smash to save a match point in the third round. And when it comes to match points to seal Grand Slam titles, you’d be hard pressed to find more entertaining ones than Saturday’s at Rod Laver Arena.
Kubler said afterwards that their accomplishment hadn’t quite sunk in. It will at some point. And no matter what else happens in his career — let’s hope he has a while to go yet — he achieved what few else in the sport ever have.