The Australian Open tournament 2017 symbolised the comeback of the over-30’s, who took centre stage and dominated proceedings. Roger Federer, at the age of 35, won his 18th Grand Slam title against 30-year old Rafael Nadal in a scintillating 5-set thriller. Venus Williams, at the age of 36, became the oldest woman to reach the Australian Open semi-finals in the Open Era, eventually losing to her 35-year old sister Serena Williams in the Women’s Final. This was a year where experience triumphed over youth and Serena Williams came a step closer to equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
The tournament included several surprise exits and triumphs. Viewers were shocked early on as Andy Murray, favourite to win and Number One in the world was stunned by the 50th seed, emerging talent Mischa Zverev in the Fourth Round, who had once been ranked outside the world’s top 1,000. Similarly, Novak Djokovic, who has struggled with form in the past year, suffered a shock defeat in the Second Round to Denis Istomin, the 150th seed from Uzbekistan, losing in 5 sets. In the women’s game, number one seed Angelique Kerber exited the tournament in the Fourth Round through a defeat to America’s Coco Vandeweghe, and thus lost her title as Number One to Serena Williams.
At the Women’s final, Serena and Venus Williams met for a record 9th time at a Grand Slam Final. Serena was the clear favourite, as she had stormed through the tournament without dropping a set and crushed her semi-final opponent Lucic-Baroni 6-2, 6-1. Whilst Serena was aiming for her 8th Australian Open title as well as a 23rd Grand Slam Title, Venus sought her first final win in Melbourne and her first title since Wimbledon in 2008. Whilst Serena won the final 6-4,6-4, it was clearly not vintage Serena. She broke Venus’s serve in the first and third game of the opening set, but could not hold the advantage and allowed Venus to break back each time, making 13 unforced errors in the first five games. In the second set, it was even at 3-3 before Serena broke Venus’s serve and then was able to make it 5-3 with her best service game of the match. It was an uneven match, as Venus struggled physically and Serena made uncharacteristic errors such as three double faults in one game in the opening set. However, it was a remarkable achievement by Serena, who regained the Number One ranking and became the most successful player in the Open Era as she won her 23rd Grand Slam Title, passing Steffi Graf in the all-time list of major winners.
it was a gruelling 5-set thriller
The Australian Open ended with the most anticipated Men’s final for years between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, a game that fans had been waiting for since they last met at the final of the French Open in 2011. Incredibly, coming into this tournament, Rafael Nadal was ranked 9th in the world, with Roger Federer having even fallen out of the World’s Top 10 and ranked 17th due to taking 6 months out with a knee injury. Despite the five-year age gap, it was a gruelling 5-set thriller, with Federer starting brightly against a passive Nadal, winning the first set 6-4. Nadal attempted to defend Federer’s shots instead of attacking, a clear sign that he was still suffering from the 5-hour Semi-Final against Dimitrov. However, Federer lost four consecutive games in the second set due to mistimed volleys and Nadal won the set. Equally, in the fourth set, Federer’s timing was off and a wild forehand meant that Nadal moved up 4-1 and won the set to make it 2 sets each. Federer, boosted by the crowd who were mainly supporting him, staged a formidable comeback in the final set after being a break down to make it 3-3 and then won successive games to win the final. Federer could not hold back his tears as won his 18th Grand Slam Title at a tournament where he expected to reach the Quarter Finals at most after his time out.
The player with the most astonishing journey this tournament was Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who has had a career resurgence since disappearing from the tennis scene in 2000. In 1998, at the age of 15, Lucic became the youngest player ever to win a title at the Australian Open, winning the Women’s Double Final with Martina Hingis. At this year’s Australian Open, Lucic remarkably defeated the 3rd seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the Second Round and the 5th seed Karolina Pliskova in the Quarter Finals, eventually losing in the Semi-Finals to Serena Williams in straight sets. It was an extraordinary renaissance for the veteran 34-year old, 18 years since she reached her only other Semi-Final at a Grand Slam.
The women and men’s finals were a repeat of the 2008 Wimbledon final, which highlights the dominance of these four tennis stars who have continued to excel in tournaments since then. Most importantly, reigning number one Serena has demonstrated that age is not an obstacle in her quest for the 24th Grand Slam title. With her dominance, power and speed of serve, it seems unlikely that she will not break more records.