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22 Thoughts on the 2022 Australian Open: Aussie triumphs, American surges, and much ado about Djokovic
A wild start to the season gave way to a fortnight of thrilling tennis, and a slate of worthy champions come finals weekend.
Published Jan 31, 2022
WATCH: Tennis Channel Live delivers its final thoughts on the 2022 Australian Open.
It was heartening to see how swiftly the bad aftertaste left by l’affair Djokovic dissipated once the Australian Open was underway. The tournament was choc-a-bloc with agonizingly close matches, great fan engagement and, best of all, a terrific showing by the native players.
Eight different homegrown Aussies, led by women’s singles champ Ashleigh Barty made it to the quarterfinals in the main singles and doubles draws. Five Aussies including wheelchair sensation Dylan Alcott, made it to the semis or better.
Good on ya, all of ya, Aussies!
Here are 22 thoughts about the 2022 Australian Open.
1. The game has changed almost immeasurably, in almost every way, since the heyday of Rod Laver, whose name adorns the stadium on which Ashleigh Barty won the women’s singles title. But the celebrated Aussie ethic lives on in the 5-foot-5 wizard who has now won 12 of her last 14 tournament finals and didn’t drop a set in the tournament. She embraces traditional Australian values like humility, modesty and loyalty. Her warm relationships with Craig Tyzzer, her coach since 2016, her support team, fellow players and Aussie fans say it all.
Citing Australian role models including Rod Laver, Evonne Goolaging, Pat Rafter, Sam Stosur, Dylan Alcott and others, Barty told the press, “The way that they handled themselves on the court, for me that was—there's just no one better. I think I'm a very, very small part of that. . .to be a very small part of an amazing history in tennis as an Australian is really, really neat.”
2. It was gratifying to watch Rafael Nadal win this tournament for any number of reasons, starting with the fact that it represents a successful comeback from a career-threatening foot injury. Remember, Nadal missed far more Grand Slam opportunities (11), mostly in the peak years of his career, than either of his Big Three rivals. The 35-year old Spaniard broke a three-way tie on Sunday in Melbourne to claim sole possession of the men’s Grand Slam singles title record, with 21.
Beyond the athletic elements, though, there’s this: With Roger Federer mostly MIA and Novak Djokovic evolving (to borrow his word) into a polarizing figure, Rafael Nadal has emerged as the conscience of the sport.
Time and again, Nadal has eschewed complaining about the pandemic and the toll it has taken, or the demands health protocols have made of players. He publicly, continually reminded us that some things, including global health, were more important than a tennis pro’s career ambitions. He kept the nature of his debilitating foot injury in perspective and, when asked if he ever doubted in recent months that he would compete again, Nadal said:
“Yes, doubts. Have been a very tough six months, honestly. [However] In terms of life, I mean, I can't complain at all, and especially during the times that we are facing with plenty of people dying around the world, no? Of course, my months are not tough at all comparing to a lot of families that lost a lot of people. That's tough in life, not what I went through, no?”
3. Sometimes “Occam’s razor” is the best tool in mental box, as demonstrated by finalist Danielle Collins. The OR principle essentially holds that the simplest explanation for something is usually the best one. Collins put it to use when she was asked to comment on why the WTA has produced so many different Grand Slam champions.
“There have been so many people, so many women, in the last couple years who won slams that were not expected to win slams,” Collins told reporters after her semifinal win. “I think that gives hope to all of the players. Whether you're outside the top 50, whether you're outside the Top 100 or you're in the Top 10, I think everybody has a chance of making deep runs.”
4. In reaching a second consecutive Grand Slam final, and his third in a 12-month span—during which he won the 2021 US Open—Daniil Medvedev opened up significant daylight between himself and the other erstwhile heirs to the Big Three. The 25-year old, No. 2 ranked Russian is really bringing it at the majors. The ATP now has three tiers: The Big Three, Medvedev, everyone else.
5. Plenty of good players in the U.S., but a dearth of male champions. It’s becoming the mantra of American tennis. The men struggle to field an impact player, while the women continue to be the dominant force in tennis. Just consider how close Collins and company came to ruining Australian Day by providing the tournament with an all-American final even with the Williams sisters absent.
Fifteen men from the US were in draw but only Taylor Fritz and Maxime Cressy won third-round matches. Cressy then lost, but Fritz finally snagged his long-deferred ticket to the second week. The U.S. donated 19 women to the main draw including a trio of quarterfinalists in Jessica Pegula, Madison Keys and Collins. All three were left red, white, and bruised in succession by the Aussie mighty-mite, Barty. The loss by Keys was particularly disheartening, if not surprising.
6. The rumors of Andy Murray’s demise were greatly exaggerated, but then again maybe not. . . In 2019 in Melbourne, Murray sat on the sideline after his first-round loss to Roberto Bautista Agut, gazing at a “farewell” video prematurely compiled by enthusiastic officials. Two operations and three years later Murray is still hoping to become an impact player again but the 34-year old British icon continues to flounder. He’s still ranked outside the Top 100 and, despite a favorable draw, Murray lost in the second round to qualifier Taro Daniel. Murray told the press: “You know, making the second round of Slams is not something I find particularly motivating. I want to be doing better than that."
7. The only significant controversy during the tournament (Medvedev kerfuffles don’t count) was the Australian Open’s decision to forbid spectators from wearing t-shirts expressing their support for Peng Shuai. The furor created by the ban scared tournament director Craig Tiley into doing an abrupt about face and rescinding the edict.
While the players in general have expressed support for Peng (and the WTA Tour canceled its highly remunerative Chinese segment), it was disappointing to hear the two top Australian stars—Barty and Nick Kyrgios—dodge the Peng issues, albeit in different ways. Kyrgios, never one to swallow back criticism, made some rambling comments before lobbing in the disclaimer, “I don’t know much about [the Peng case], to be honest.”
Barty’s reaction, after the t-shirt imbroglio, was even more disappointing. The controversy, which couldn’t be simpler, was described to her. She was then asked if she “cared” if people in the crowd of spectators wore t-shirts supporting Peng. Easy-peasy question, right?
Barty replied, “To be completely honest with you, I haven't followed it or haven't seen any of that coverage. . . I haven't seen that one to give you an answer, sorry.”
We get it. Players don’t like to be caught up in controversies during majors. They have relationships to consider with, among others, their sponsors and the tournament. Why not just admit to that?
8. What does Matteo Berrettini have to do to win friends Down Under?The No. 7 seed, Berrettini was largely ignored—and even disrespected—in spite of his charismatic personality, thunderous game, sense of humor—and the fact that the Italian slugger’s partner is Aussie WTA pro Ajla Tomljanovic. Berrettini efficiently took care of business against, among others, rapidly rising star Carlos Alcaraz. In the quarters, he defeated resurgent fan favorite and No. 17 seed Gaël Monfils.
“I'm fine when the crowd is against me, and I think when you're playing Gaël, it's normal because Gaël is really loved,” Berrettini said later. “But I have a problem when you're not correct, because if you're saying something, screaming something between my first and second serve, when I'm about to hit a forehand, like you cough or you do something, then it's not right. I have a problem with that.”
Take note: the affable 25-year old has been to the quarterfinals or better (including a semi and a final) at each of the last four major tournaments.
9. Danielle Collins is more than happy with her coach, and she’d better be—Collins is one of the few players on the tour who acts as her own coach. It’s partly because she developed her game on public courts and learned early to rely primarily on herself.
“I think I went in with the right game plan, but unfortunately there were some things that were just not working for me,” she said after losing the final. “You know, I can certainly walk away proud without having a coach and kind of doing it on my own. So many of the top players have a full entourage or posse and support team doing their homework for them. That's not the way it's been for me really ever in my career. . .It’s very challenging and mentally taxing at times”
Is there better job security in tennis than being Collins’s coach?
10. It’s not about the chair, Dylan Alcott might say if he were to tell you how he came to receive the ultimate honor for an Aussie, recognition as 2021’s Australian of the Year. Asked after a match what he’s most proud of, Alcott told reporters: “Definitely off-court stuff. Not awards, none of that. Like you saw on my social media, the post of a little kid did the toss and we fist pumped. Then a tweet from a young woman called Hanna, who is in a wheelchair. She said, ‘I just can't believe I'm seeing two people like me in prime time doing what they love.’ That just didn't happen when we were young. That stuff, that's my purpose, changing perceptions so people with disabilities can live the lives they want to live.”
11. Is it too soon for Alexander Zverev to panic? The No. 3 seed was the choice of many pundits to win the tournament, based largely on his gold medal performance at the recent Tokyo Olympic Games, where he knocked off Djokovic, and then mastered No. 2 Medvedev in the ATP Tour Finals. But after a blazing start he came up inexplicably flat, failing even to win a set against No. 14 seed Denis Shapovalov. Sure, Zverev is still just 24, but this is the same guy who won two Masters 1000 titles and rocketed to the No. 3 ranking in 2017. He was just 20 at the time, and declined a berth in the under-21 Next Gen finals because he also qualified for the Elite 8-man ATP Tour finals.
12. The WTA appears to be dealing with a state like “thermal inversion,” in which the norm is reversed and warm air is found at higher altitude than cold air. The Top 10 during the tournament featured just three Grand Slam singles champions (Ashleigh Barty, Garbiñe Muguruza and Barbora Krejcikova), while more than half-a-dozen once-bankable stars including Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Bianca Andreescu, Sloane Stephens, and Sofia Kenin languished, some with good reasons, well below that elite cohort. It’s a sure sign of the WTA’s changing landscape.
- You might have thought that Nick Kyrgios won Wimbledon, not just a Grand Slam doubles title, judging by how he—and many fans—reacted after he and Thanasi Kokkanikis prevailed in the final. So, it seems that Kyrgios has found his “happy place,” and it’s on a doubles court. And while the “Special Ks” attracted gobs of attention, let’s not forget that were playing in their own backyard to a patriotic crowd and a mesmerized native media. With a singles ranking outside the Top 100, and an aversion to the grunt work of training and consistent tour play, it’s hard to imagine Kyrgios making a consistent impact on the public and the overall perception of tennis as a doubles specialist—much as he believes that the game is in dire straits due to lack of colorful personalities.
14. Attribute one of the sager bits of advice that cropped up in commentary to former elite coach and ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert, who suggested that you should never pick a first-time Grand Slam finalist to win a major when meeting an opponent who had been at that stage. There have been exceptions, of course, and sometimes a final is played between two debutantes (see US Open, 2021). But it’s a good rule of thumb. As volatile as the WTA is, only five women (including Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu) in the 23 majors played between 2016 and 2021 were debs who won their first major over a former finalist. It did not happen once amongst the men.
15. It was a long time coming for Alizé Cornet, but 63 majors later she finally made a breakthrough to a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Happy as we may be for her, the fact that she finally cracked the code pales alongside the simple fact that she has competed in 63 consecutive majors—period. Asked by a reporter why it took so long to punch through, Cornet replied: “I don't know what happened in the past, and really, honestly, right now I don't care.” Spanish ironman Feliciano Lopez owns the record for most consecutive major appearances, with 79. That includes four quarterfinals.
16. Canada’s bright young ATP stars, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, are acting out “kid brother” roles in a men’s field in which eight of the Top 10 are 25-years old—or younger. FAA is 21, Shapo, 22. They both made the quarterfinals, meeting or surpassing their seedings (Auger-Aliassime was No. 9, “Shapo,” No. 14) and they both paid a price for having become embroiled in some long matches on the way there. Call it a learning experience.
17. Back in the fall of 2019, Naomi Osaka beat Bianca Andreescu in Beijing in their first meeting. It was a whale of a match, won 6-4 in the third by Osaka. The pairing immediately had people talking about a potential “rivalry for the ages,” but for complicated reasons including injury and mental health the two have yet to play again. But there’s still time: Andreescu is 21-years old, Osaka is 24.
18. Medvedev could change is middle name to “Who me?” considering the way he’s mastered the role of the wrongly accused. Following a number of matches, the runner-up found himself rationalizing and explaining away words and actions that raised eyebrows. Against Auger-Aliassime, he appeared to be mimicking the French player’s grunt, to which Medvedev said:
“To be honest, in life, I think that's my character, like when I talk to a person a lot, so when I have a best friend or wife, they get nervous because I start to be like them in many things and I do it not on purpose. That's just how I am. Same, as I say, if I have a new friend and I'll talk to him a lot, I'll start to do some phrases like him. I'll start to sometimes act like him and he's going to be like, ‘What the hell, man? Why you doing that?’”
What the hell man? is right.
19. How’s this for diversity? Seven of the eight quarterfinalists in the Boys’ Singles (18-and-under) were from different nations. Only the US contributed two, including champion Bruno Kuzuhara. The eight girls in the quarters of their draw were all from different nations, including American Liv Hovde (seeded No. 13) and the Croatian champion Petra Marcinko.
- Hope springs eternal in some quarters for the rise of an old-school serve-and-volley specialist, a desire that may be satisfied by 6-foot-6 American Maxime Cressy. The 24-year old has been making great headway (he’s up to No. 70) with a game featuring two first serves and constant net-rushing. In his four matches, Cressy attacked the net 434 times and won 305 of those points, including 89 of 135 in the fourth round against runner-up Medvedev.
21. The tournament did just fine without Djokovic, underscoring the point that Grand Slam events are bigger than any one player and appealing to spectators regardless of the field. That continues to be the reality in tennis, and the thing that events on both tours ought to strive to achieve.
22. Wasn’t it great to see Amanda Anisimova in the fourth round, with the upset of defending champion Naomi Osaka on her resume? Anisimova was well on her way to stardom at the tender age of 17 when her father/coach Konstantin Anisimov died at the age of 52 in mid-August of 2019—mere months after she made the semis at the French Open. She subsequently struggled, and would not get beyond the third round again—until she upset Osaka. Now it appears that the worst may be over and she’s on the way back.