c/o Forbes

c/o Forbes

The first Grand Slam of the calendar year, 2021’s Australian Open, gave way to two champions a generation apart.

For men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic won his 18th Grand Slam, and at 33 years old, he still has a few more years to catch up to Federer and Nadal’s 20 titles. On the women’s side, Naomi Osaka bested Serena Williams once again and went on to secure a championship, sparking many debates on whether she will eventually replace Williams as the GOAT. Osaka is only 23, yet her stellar play over the past few years has convinced many that she has the potential to reach the greatness of Williams. She’s reached four Grand Slam finals already, and guess what? She’s won all four! Her stunning performance in the Australian Open also extended her streak of consecutive games won to 21, a formidable achievement even without a Grand Slam title at the end. However, Osaka is still as humble as they come. She deflects most comparisons to Williams, focusing on how Williams has always been an idol.

“You can only just keep going down your own path,” Osaka emphasized after the tournament. 

Osaka has yet to play on a clay court, which is where her next Grand Slam, the French Open, will be. The new surface will be her next test, and Osaka is poised to become a household name for years to come as she continues to shine in the spotlight. 

The men’s tournament was graced with a different story. Novak Djokovic overcame a troubled 2020 to reassert his prowess. Before I go into the nitty-gritty storyline of angry ball-throwing and COVID-19 violations, however, there’s another, lesser known story that deserves to be touched on.

Aslan Karatsev, ranked 114th in the world, reached the semifinals in his Grand Slam debut and held his own for the first couple games before losing to Djokovic. Karatsev was a true underdog story, with a tough, scrappy, and relentless style of play. Although he was still defeated by the reigning champion in the semis, the 27-year-old Russian has certainly made a name for himself. 

On the other hand, for Djokovic, the story of this tournament was less about making a name for himself than regaining the fame he once had. That’s not to say he hasn’t always been a star, but before the Australian Open, there were a few events that definitely cast a cloud over Djokovic’s achievements. His ill-fated Adria Tour, a tournament that he sponsored during the thick of the pandemic, went up in smoke after he contracted COVID-19. Then, during the US Open, he accidentally/on purpose threw a tennis ball at a ball-person’s throat in frustration and was promptly ejected from the tournament. He sought redemption during the French Open, but was obliterated by Rafael Nadal in the finals, giving Nadal a three win lead over Djokovic’s 17 titles. Essentially, Djokovic needed this win in Australia to show himself and the world that he could still reign supreme. He beat Danil Medvedev handily in the championship, and is focused once again on his chase of Nadal and Federer. 

Players aside, this Australian Open, like many other sports events in the present day, looked different than previous Opens. If even a few of the players had gotten COVID-19, the whole tournament would have had to be shut down. Melbourne had recovered from the hardest days of the virus, and city officials did not want to risk the great progress they had made. There actually was a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne, but the players were not affected. A hotel containing some fans that were attending the tournament experienced a bout of the virus, prompting five days where the stands remained completely empty. 

Individual players also experienced difficulties chartering flights to Australia and became restless, as they had to quarantine before playing their matches without many opportunities to exercise in all their free time. However, the tournament was played through without too many hiccups, showing us all that maybe there is a chance for some tennis normalcy once again in our new, COVID-ridden world. 


Lewis Woloch can be reached at lwoloch@wesleyan.edu

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