This past fortnight has been an incredible show of athleticism. The Australian Open tennis tournament was held in Melbourne, marking its 50th anniversary. Every game watched was a feat of athleticism that some of us can only dream of. There were many, many games played over the course of the two weeks, however, the ones I want to talk about, of course, are the finals. Specifically, four of the finals. Now, I may be a little biased when writing this article because there is no coincidence that three of these four finals had Australian tennis players, and being a proud Aussie, I just had to talk about them. But I can say, without bias, that these were also incredible games.
The first of these finals, and one of the most touching finals that I have ever watched, was the men’s wheelchair quad singles. The final was between Australian legend Dylan Alcott, winner of 15 Grand Slams, and Sam Schroder, a very young but already successful Dutch tennis player. Alcott had recently defeated Schroder in the final of the Tokyo Olympics. In a very tough final, Sam Schroder came out on top, with a 7-5, 6-0 victory. It was such an impactful game, with huge viewing numbers, that the channel showcasing the game held all news off for the entirety of the game.
This was Dylan Alcott’s final Australian open appearance. All of Australia has loved to watch him play tennis and be an advocate for people with disabilities around the world. A couple of days prior to the final event, on Australia Day, Alcott was named “Australian of the Year”, the first Australian with a disability to win this award, demonstrating the impact he has had on Australia and the wider community. “This was my purpose,” Alcott told Tennis Australia, “To change perceptions so that people with disabilities could live the lives they deserve to live, and I really wanted to get greater representation for athletes with disabilities.” I think I speak for everyone when I say both of these men have definitely fulfilled this purpose. If you do get a chance, out of all these finals, please watch this one. Just as Alcott says, para-sports don’t get the recognition they deserve, so watch this final, and see the high level of performance displayed in this sport.
The second final I want to talk about is the Women’s Singles Final. Ashleigh Barty (or as we all call her, Ash) played American tennis player Daniella Collins in the final. Collins played fantastically, with incredible power and agility throughout the game, however, Ash Barty won the game, 6-3, 7-6. I have never seen anyone play like Ash. She was so calm and composed throughout the whole game! We almost never see any emotion at all, no disappointment or pride, she is so completely focused. This probably makes it even more special when she won the final and cheered and showed so much emotion; we all couldn’t help but smile! She is the first Australian to win the Australian Open since 1987. She is a proud Aboriginal (Kooyong) woman, so it was even more special to have the trophy awarded to her by Evonne Goolagong Cawley, the Australian former world No. 1 player and Australian of the Year in 1971, and the first aboriginal woman to win the Australian open. Ash has made all of Australia proud and we all can’t wait to watch her continued successes.
After Ash Barty’s beautiful win, the men’s doubles final was on, with a guaranteed Australian win with both teams being fully Aussie: The M’s (Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell) versus the Special K’s (Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios). I sadly didn’t get to watch many of the previous games the M’s played in, but based on the final, they deserved every win! They had fantastic chemistry together and read each other so well, with some beautiful volleys at the net. The Special K’s on the other hand, I had watched quite a few of their games. They have some of the best personalities I have ever seen. They played each game with so much happiness and excitement and passion, and the entire crowd was always rooting for them (of course, them being Australian might have helped with that, but their personality definitely went a long way). The crowd loves them, and they play up to it! In the end, the Special K’s did win, 7-5, 6-4, with each side struggling to break the other’s serve. Max Purcell has won previous tournaments, we know his career isn’t over yet, and Matthew Ebden, at only the age of 23, has a very bright future ahead of him in the world of tennis. In addition, we hope to see more of the Special K’s special chemistry in future tournaments: our fingers are crossed.
The final game I want to talk about is the men’s single. Even if you didn’t watch the Australian Open, I am sure you heard about this game. The final was between 25 year-old Daniil Medvedev and 36 year-old Rafael Nadal, two incredibly talented and matched players. Medvedev had a fantastic start to the game, absolutely dominating the first two sets. We all thought that would be the end of the game, with Medvedev having a predicted 94% chance of winning after the second set. However, Nadal managed to break his serve in the third set, winning it 6-4. There still wasn’t a lot of hope for Nadal to win, but it was definitely more than at the end of the second set. And somehow, yet again, Nadal managed to win the fourth set 6-4 as well. This is after 4 hours of playing in the Australian Summer heat; I can barely walk from the garage to the house without sweat pouring off me and struggling to breathe, so I cannot even imagine how exhausted they must have been. Finally, the fifth set came, and we were all holding our breath. Most of the stadium was rooting for Nadal; if he won this tournament, he would make history by winning 21 Grand Slams, surpassing Federer and Djokovic. When the set tied 5-5, five and a half hours in, firstly, we couldn’t believe the incredible game we all had already witnessed, and secondly, we had no idea where the game would go. Somehow, through all the exhaustion, Nadal won the next two games, winning his second Australian Open and making history. The game was nothing short of incredible, with some of the most athletic abilities I have ever seen: 205km/h serves consistently throughout the five and a half hours, forty shot rallies, constant back and forwards sprinting as if they hadn’t been running more than I ever have in my life... the list goes on and on. Medvedev will become an incredibly well known player and might become one of the greats. But Nadal will always be remembered in history, not just as one of the greats, but possibly the greatest tennis player to have ever been.
Every tennis Grand Slam event is absolutely brilliant, but as an Aussie, the Australian Open has a special place in my heart, so it was lovely to be able to watch the success in this tournament. I have the utmost admiration for every single one of the tennis players during the tournament, their dedication and love for the sport was seen throughout, and their mental strength is something special. I am looking forward to the Winter Olympics starting in the next few days to see even more incredible feats of sport!