Wozniacki & Federer on top Down under
28 January 2018 - By Yannis Blackburn. Photo: Caroline Wozniacki celebrates her first Grand Slam title
Caroline Wozniacki cast aside her demons to claim her first ever grand slam title, while Roger Federer solidified his status as the greatest ever by successfully defending his crown in Melbourne to win his sixth AO title and 20th major overall. After winning almost everything there is to win and having previously been ranked number one for 67 weeks, Wozniacki finally claimed her much deserved major win over Romania’s Simona Halep. Federer, meanwhile, showed that he might be quite a long way away from retiring, coming home strongly against Marin Cilic in their final.
Whichever way the cookie crumbled would have spelled heartache for one of the two women’s finalists. Both players were making their third appearance in a Grand Slam final, with neither having ever held aloft a major winner’s trophy. Although ranked and seeded number one going in to the final, Halep had been on court far longer than Wozniacki who perhaps went in to the match slightly fresher. Either way, both players had plenty to prove and plenty to fight for. After a tough battle, it was the Dane’s day, as Wozniacki slogged it out for a 7-6(2) 3-6 6-4 win.
The number ‘one’ has many meanings for Wozniacki on this occasion. It was obviously her first major. The win also propels her back to #1 in the rankings. And importantly, the victory marks her first in a grand slam over a top 5 player. After years of waiting in the wings, the Dane said it best herself in a tweet in just four concise yet long-awaited words: “a dream come true.” An affable and popular player among fans and players alike, her win garnered many tweets from her fellow pros with nothing but kind words for the new champion of Melbourne.
The final was a tale of ups and downs as Wozniacki grabbed the first set in a tough tiebreaker over Halep, still physically reeling from two weeks of intense tennis and a couple of marathon matches. That she was able to push Wozniacki in that set, and then find that extra energy to claim the second, is a testament to her fighting qualities and physical condition. Alas, after the set was pushed into a decider, the Dane, with fresher legs, ran down everything like a terrier, as the Romanian was almost completely spent. Wozniacki’s resilience and consistency paid off, and as Halep netted a backhand from what seemed to be sheer exhaustion, the Dane collapsed in tears of joy. The pair shared a warm embrace at the net, and there was much appreciation for Halep who by her own admission had cried but said “I can still smile - it’s just a tennis match in the end.” No doubt Halep has won many more hearts in Australia, and will surely be a favourite going into upcoming majors.
Federer reached his milestone running away with the fifth set after having split the first four with his Croatian opponent. His 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3 3-6 6-1 win equals Novak Djokovic’s six AO title haul and pushes him even further ahead of nearest rival Rafael Nadal on the overall Grand Slam singles tally. In a see-sawing match, Federer sealed the deal in just over three hours having withstood the heavy artillery Cilic was blasting at him. Cilic outdid the Swiss in winners, but it was Federer who held his nerve and was more in control in some of the tight moments to seize the final set and match in convincing style. Echoing Wozniacki’s sentiment, Federer also claimed that it was an “absolute dream come true” for him, although probably not for the same reasons as the Dane. At 36 years of age, it was impossible for Federer to hold back the tears when contemplating his achievements and thanking his entourage.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Very recently a top Tennis Europe Junior Tour player, Marta Kostyuk has made strides for herself in this year‘s event having gone through qualifying and reaching the third round of the main draw. A former Les Petit As winner (coincidentally held at the same time as the AO) and with an AO and US Open junior doubles trophy under her belt in 2017, Kostyuk’s rise to the big time has been meteoric and her open and outgoing personality has won her many fans with her eloquent and mature press conferences. Although she fell to her compatriot Elina Svitolina in third round, Kostyuk claimed that the whole experience had been nothing but a positive learning experience, especially after her “free one hour lesson” from her fellow Ukrainian.
Svitolina has herself improved considerably over the last two years but has failed to take that to the next level at slams. In any case, 2018 may be her year after winning in Brisbane and making it to the quarterfinals for the first time. Carla Suarez-Navarro has made a semi come-back, falling to Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. However, her compatriot Garbine Muguruza, has had some injury issues of late which hampered her performance and led to her demise in the second round at the hands of Su-wei Hsieh of Taipei. The Asian, the discovery of the tournament, then went on to oust Agnieszka Radwanska but subsequently fell to Angelique Kerber, not before giving her a run for her money.
Kerber, for her part, has shown a distinct return to form, taking the title in Sydney, she outdid Hsieh after earlier eviscerating Maria Sharapova in the third round, showing perhaps how far the Russian has to go to regain her top ten form. Kerber then went out to Halep 9-7 in the third, in what was perhaps the match of the tournament. Another player on the comeback trail is Petra Kvitova, who was unfortunate to have run into Andrea Petkovic in the first round. Venus Williams also made a first round exit, having unluckily been drawn against the in-form Hopman Cup champion Belinda Bencic.
With all eight men's’ semi-finalists hailing from eight different countries, it was a very international set of matches to say the least. South Korea had their first Grand Slam semi-finalist in the form of Hyeon Chung. Having previously defeated Novak Djokovic, he then took out controversial American Tennys Sandgren in the quarters, but he eventually had to retire from his semi-final match against Federer due to blisters on his feet.
Nadal looked great going in, but his was perhaps the most anticlimactic story of the entire tournament. His injuries once again caught up with him and he was forced to retire unceremoniously in the fifth set against Cilic while trailing 0-2.
Grigor Dimitrov is yet to make serious inroads at a GS and this time fell to Britain’s Kyle Edmund in four sets in the quarters. Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios had played arguably the match of the tournament in their fourth-round encounter. In a match of fabulous shotmaking played in great spirit, the joust showed that these are two players whose Grand Slam spoils may not be too far away.
The same could be said of Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, however both had lacklustre performances by their own high expectations. They were outdone in the fourth and third rounds by Sandgren and Chung respectively.
While Kristina Mladenovic might be going through tough times on the singles court of late, the same cannot be said for doubles. Along with Timea Babos of Hungary, the Frenchwoman won the doubles title 6-4 6-3 over Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina. In the mens’, Mate Pavic of Croatia played with Austria’s Oliver Marach to win their first ever doubles Grand Slam title. Their 6-4 6-4 win came at the expense of Juan Sebastian Cabal & Robert Farah. Pavic then claimed a ‘doubles double’. Along with Gabriela Dabrowski, he defeated Rohan Bopanna & Babos in a come-from-behind 2-6 6-2 11-9 win in the mixed doubles final.
Sebastian Korda, representing the USA, won the boys’ singles exactly twenty years after his father, Czech Petr Korda took home the men's’ singles trophy. In the semi finals, he overcame the 2015 Tennis Europe Junior Masters champion, Marko Miladinovic of Serbia, before defeating another former Les petits As winner, Chun Hsin Tseng (TPE) 7-6(6) 6-4 in the final.
The girls’ champion was En Shuo Liang (TPE) who had come through some tough three-setters to make her way to the final. There, she faced unseeded Clara Burel of France. Burel, the 16 & Under runner up at the 2016 European Junior Championships, was a tough opponent. In the end she went down 6-3 6-4.