Australian Open 2017 Review: The tournament that had it all

Australian Open 2017 Review: The tournament that had it all

Roger Federer and Serena Williams won their 18th and 23rd Grand Slam titles respectively. It concluded a blockbuster fortnight at Melbourne Park, as the first Grand Slam of the year didn't disappoint.

Joe Nicholson

This year’s Australian Open had it all. Unthinkable upsets, five set thrillers and two vintage finals which surely settled the debate about the two greatest players of all time.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams won their 18th and 23rd Grand Slam titles respectively, making them the most successful male and female players in tennis’ open era.

Their triumphs concluded a blockbuster fortnight in Melbourne, as the first major of the year well and truly delivered.

Here are the main taking points from an enthralling tournament.

Federer - Nadal rivalry reignited

Federer’s tale was particularly enchanting, with the Swiss playing his first tournament for six months after missing the second half of last year with a knee injury.

The 35-year-old hadn’t won a major for four and a half years and no one was quite sure what to expect from the great champion, who had slipped down to 17th in the ATP rankings.

Yet he returned fresher, fitter and hunger, beating four top 10 players - including his illustrious rival Rafael Nadal - on the way to the title.

Federer already held the record for the most number of majors in the men’s game but this triumph moved him four ahead of Nadal, who would have been breathing down the Swiss’ neck with another title in Melbourne.

Nadal’s comeback was equally refreshing after the Majorcan’s fallow 2016, in which he failed to reach a major quarter-final. Like Federer, Nadal cut his season short at the end of last year and it paid dividends here.

The Spaniard looked more like the bullish, fierce competitor who lifted the title in Melbourne back in 2009. His five-set thriller against the spirited Grigor Dimitrov was a quite extraordinary contest, as Nadal eventually prevailed after 4 hours and 56 minutes.

Federer too was taken to five sets by compatriot Stan Wawrinka in the last four, however that had no bearing on a classic final.  

The two remarkable champions traded blows in a five-set epic, before Federer eventually prevailed under the lights on the Rod Laver Area.

Serena breaks the record

A year ago, Serena Williams was stunned by Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who won a brilliant final to claim her first title in Australia.

Kerber went on to snatch the world number one ranking away from the American, who won just one of the four majors- at Wimbledon- in 2016, following a year of almost complete the year before.

However, Serena was back to her ruthless best at this event, storming to the title without even dropping a set.

Serena’s final hurdle came in the shape of her sister Venus, whose run to the final was a remarkable story in itself. At 36, Venus appeared sharper than ever as she reached her first major final for seven years.

In the denouement, though, Serena was too strong for her older sibling, as she claimed her 23rd major, surpassing Steffi Graff’s 18-year record. Serena is now the most decorated female player in the open era and is just one major away from equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 slams.

Court speed causes major upsets

The speed of the court was a major taking point at this year’s tournament and it contributed to some major upsets which simply didn’t seem possible.

The first seismic shockwave came on the fourth day when world number 117 Denis Istomin overpowered defending champion Novak Djokovic in five sets. Surely Djokovic’s departure would open the door for five-time finalist Andy Murray to win his first title down under. Yet it wasn’t to be.

The world number one appeared to be in scintillating form when he impressively dispatched American Sam Querrey in the third round but no one could have predicted what would happen next.

Murray faced the unseeded German Mischa Zverev, an unorthodox serve-volleyer whose career had been blighted by injuries, in the last 16. After dropping the first set, Murray recovered to take the second and from there it seemed inevitable that the Brit would eventually pick-off his plucky opponent.

Yet, Zverev kept coming, charging to the net at every opportunity as he blew the world number one off the Rod Laver Arena. Even when the finish line was in sight the German barely flinched, as Murray suffered his earliest defeat at a major since 2009.

The upsets didn’t end there. On the same day as Murray’s exit, women’s world number one and defending champion Kerber also crashed out, losing in straight sets to the heavy-hitting American Coco Vandeweghe.

Vandeweghe went on to beat seventh seed Garbine Muguruza before losing to Venus Williams in her first major semi-final.

There’s no doubt that the speed of the court favoured the more aggressive players in the draw and made for some cracking matches across the fortnight.

Promise for the Brits as the Aussie struggle

Murray aside it was successful tournament for the British players at the first slam of the year.

Dan Evans played superbly as he reached the fourth round of a major for the first time, beating world number seven Marin Cilic and home favourite Bernard Tomic along the way.

Johanna Konta made another quarter-final before coming up short against the eventual champion Serena Williams.

Kyle Edmund recorded his first win in Melbourne, although he may have been a little disappointed after a straight sets defeat to Pablo Carreno Busta in the second round.

There was also an impressive first round victory for Heather Watson, over 18th seed Sam Stosur, however the Brit then squandered five match points before losing to American Jennifer Brady in her next match.

It wasn’t such a good tournament for the Aussies, however, as the temperamental Nick Kyrgios was eliminated in the second-round - after surrendering a two-set lead against Andres Seppi.

Tomic went the same way in round three, going down to Evans, as women’s world number 23 Daria Gavrilova was left to fly the flag for the home nation.

Gavrilova made it through to the fourth round before running into fifth seed Karolina Pliskova. It meant there were no Australian singles players left in either draw when the second Monday came around.