Australian Open 2019: the end of the Federer, Williams era

Australian Open 2019: the end of the Federer, Williams era

The Women’s Singles Finals between Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova lived up to expectation. It was a true battle for so much on the line – a first Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, the $2.56M prize money and the World number one position.

Every serve, every point, every ace, every racket smash, every grunt, every game, every set, every match has brought us here and looking back, what a great start to the 2019 season that was!

The match looked like it would end in straight sets for Naomi Osaka when she had three championship points but a quick turn around saw Petra Kvitova take the second set 7-5 to send the match into a decider, leaving the young Osaka in tears of disbelief. The third set however went Osaka’s way and she went on to close out a 7-6, 5-7, 6-4 win, clinching her second consecutive Grand Slam title, reaching the peak of the WTA rankings.

The Men’s Singles Final was a blockbuster match up between multiple Grand Slam Champions, a perfect meeting of the world’s top two players, a repeat of the 2012 final which went on for over 6 hours. The world expected a keenly contested clash but Novak Djokovic stunned Rafael Nadal and the world with a very straight forward 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory.

Winning his third consecutive Grand Slam title, his 15th Grand Slam title and becoming the first man to win the Australian Open 7 times. Maybe the match was a little bit of an anticlimax but it was a Novak Djokovic masterclass.

With the Australian Open done and dusted, the world has gotten a glimpse into what the 2019 season and the future holds. As much as tennis has its twists and turns, the first Grand Slam of the season has naturally brought expectations.

Naomi Osaka is here to stay. 
With the inconsistencies in women’s tennis over the years, with many hopefuls disappointing, the young Haitian-Japanese woman has shown a level of consistency. In January 2016, she made her Grand Slam debut as a qualifier at the Australian Open, beating Donna Vekic and Elina Svitolina before crashing out in the third rounds in the hands of Victoria Azarenka.

Naomi Osaka went on to break into the WTA top 50 and was named ‘Newcomer of the year’ at the season-ending WTA awards. In 2017, making her debut at Wimbledon, Osaka upset Barbora Strycova, went on to the US Open to upset defending champion, Angelique Kerber in the first round.

In 2018, starting the season as World number 72, she returned to the top 50 after reaching the third round of the Australian Open before losing to then World number one, Simona Halep. Osaka then went on to win her maiden WTA title at the Indian Wells, beat Serena Williams at the Miami Open, went into the US Open and defeated Serena Williams (again) to win her first Grand Slam title. She ended the season sitting 4th on the WTA rankings.

The 2019 Australian Open was full of upsets but Osaka avoided them all, ultimately winning the title, becoming the world’s top ranked player, the first woman to back up her maiden Grand Slam title with another Grand Slam title since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 and the first woman to win two Grand Slam titles in a row since Serena Williams in 2015. This says a lot about the 21-year-old.

Becoming world number one however comes with a lot of pressure. Reaching that height is one thing, staying there is another. Naomi Osaka will need to work harder on every aspect of her game, especially on her weaknesses which include battling with her own emotions – something she somewhat conquered during her final match against Petra Kvitova. In her own words: “I felt like I didn’t want to have any regrets. If I didn’t regroup after the second set, then I would have looked back on this match and probably cried. I literally just tried to turn off all my feelings.”

Naomi Osaka has become a strong force and in the rest of the season, she will lose matches but she will remain the force that she is.

The beginning of the end for Roger Federer 

Many times in the last few years, Roger Federer has made incredible comebacks. Like fine wine, getting better with age, Roger Federer has shown little signs of slowing down. But after his loss to rising star, Stefanos Tsitsipas in the round of 16 of the Australian Open, there are many questions.

Maybe it was just a bad day at the office, one of those slip ups that even the best players have every now and then, maybe it was a sign. The world of tennis is getting more competitive. Novak Djokovic just won his 15th Grand Slam title, in the best form of his life after a comeback 2018 season.

Rafael Nadal who lost to Djokovic is definitely not done yet and stays strong even with his almost constant injury problems. There are many other players to contend with and they are all younger. Roger Federer turns 38 in August and the world has to get ready for the looming end. His legendary status remains. He will not be in this form (which is not his best) for much longer.

After his Australian Open exit, Roger Federer announced he would be playing at the French Open for the first time since 2015. With clay being his least favourite surface, the veteran had skipped that part of the season for the last 2 years.

“It’s a bit of a desire. I’m in a phase where I want to have fun and I’ve missed not doing it. I don’t feel it is necessary to have a big break again.” With these words, Federer seems to be embracing this time of his career and he looks to enjoy it till the very end, as he deserves to.

Greater hope for the future of men’s tennis.

Stefanos Tsitsipas had a breakout 2018 season, crowning it by winning the Next Gen ATP Finals. His victory over Roger Federer in the round of 16 of the Australian Open that has brought him even more into the limelight.

Incredibly talented and a joy to watch, the 20-year-old Greek sensation has broken into the ATP top 15 and looks like the ‘real deal’. The likes of Frances Tiafoe and Alex De Minaur also impressed.

With Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and many others failing to live fully up to expectation over the years, these young guns are giving the world of tennis something to look forward to. Though faltering in Grand Slams, Alexander Zverev 21-year-old leads the pack of young men with the potential to usurp the veterans. When the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are no longer around, we will be hearing the names of these young men.

The end of Serena Williams’ dominant era 

Arguably the greatest of all time, Serena Williams has returned from childbirth and shown that even at 37 years old, she is still one of the world’s best players. It will however never be the same. With how competitive women’s tennis is becoming, winning two or more Grand Slams in a year does not look likely anymore for the 23-time Grand Slam winner.

With Naomi Osaka’s rise, Petra Kvitova’s comeback, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Karolina Pliskova, Sloane Stephens, Elina Svitolina, Aryna Sabalenka, Ashleigh Barty and many more in contention for everything, it is difficult to see her getting to that level again.

Very young players like Bianca Andreescu, Amanda Anisimova and Dayana Yastremska are also on a rise.
Serena Williams’ greatness can never be changed, it will also always be a herculean task for anyone to replicate but there is a shift now and the 37-year-old will not be as dominant as she used to be.

Novak Djokovic can match or beat Roger Federer’s Grand Slam tally. 

Most Grand Slam titles (Men’s Singles):
1. Roger Federer – 20
2. Rafael Nadal – 17
4. Pete Sampras – 14
5. Roy Emerson – 12

A year ago, after being in pain for about two years, Novak Djokovic had to undergo elbow surgery. He returned after over a month, struggled some more before making an incredible comeback in the second half of the season, winning the last 2 Grand Slams of the year.

At the start of July 2018, he had 12 Grand Slam titles to his name. 7 months down the line, his tally has increased to 15, winning three consecutive Grand Slam titles. With his 2019 Australian Open win, he has moved past Pete Sampras to third on the all-time list of men’s singles Grand Slam titles.

Novak Djokovic is 31 years old and has enough time to climb up that list to match Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles in the next few years. At this point, he looks unstoppable. There will always be obstacles but he has proven that he can go through them all, come back over and over again to win the majors.

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