1. Juniors battle it out
The most engaging contest of the fortnight came on Rod Laver Arena a few hours before the women’s singles final when two 15-year-old best friends from Moscow, Alina Korneeva and Mirra Andreeva, fought out a three hour and 18 minute battle for the Junior Girls singles title, pure tension and quality. Korneeva prevailed, Andreeva was distraught but friendship was the winner. Try and catch the highlights somewhere. Outstanding.
2. Empty seats in royal box
Not a single seat was taken in the VIP area (maybe 100 places?) behind the server’s arm during the junior girls and boys (another cracker) final. Someone from TA should have put the word out and filled a few places – for free if need be. Shameful.
3. Rinky and Jason
A wholly different offering to last year’s Special Ks win but, from nowhere, came Australia’s Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler to win the men’s doubles title. An uplifting, magical feat.
4. Nick Kyrgios
The biggest stampede to the media interview room came on day one when news of Nick Kyrgios’ imminent withdrawal filtered through. A small tear and a cyst in his lateral meniscus ruled him out, his physio Will Maher told the press. “I’m devastated. It’s brutal,” said Nick who hopes to be playing again in March.
5. Aryna Sabalenka
A year ago the Belarusian Amazonian had the biggest case of the yips ever and even resorted to underarm serving. She rebuilt her serve, but the biggest change came in her head as the 24-year-old pulled herself together to win the women’s singles title. A fearsome look (and tiger tattoo) hides a genuinely nice person beneath. A first-rate champion.
6. Australia Day Pride
A few years ago Australia Day was a big thing at the AO. But this year on-site references to it had all but disappeared, seemingly replaced by a (very well received) Pride celebration. Who decides these things?
7. Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King and the ‘Original Nine’ women who started the women’s tour (leading to equal prize money and opportunity) were in town to celebrate 50 years of momentous achievement. BJK lectures and hectors always and at almost 80 years old is tremendous value still.
8. Ajla Tomljanovic
The 29-year-old who reached the last eight at Wimbledon and the US Open last year pulled out with injury two days before the AO began. Sad, but more than anything it highlighted just how much Australia misses Ash Barty.
9. Thanasi Kokkinakis
Can the 26-year-old pick himself up after that late, late night defeat against the metal-hipped Andy Murray? Kokkinakis was sublime for two sets and then it all unravelled. He will know he should have won.
10. 4am alarm
It was 4.05am when Thanasi and Andy finally finished playing on Margaret Court Arena on Friday of week one. It was cold and almost six hours since play began. It’s all good, said TA. Not so, said almost every player canvassed. Global tournament publicly ensued … but madness.
11. Record crowds
Crowds were up, with a record 94,000 turning up on the middle Saturday. The Serbs and Greeks came along to support their men, Aussies too despite the loss of the main drawcard Kyrgios. Avoid the merchandise shops if you don’t want a second mortgage though.
Alex de Minaur turns 24 next month and was trounced by Novak Djokovic in round four, winning just five games. He needs to step up his game he knows, but off court he is growing into a rounded, thoughtful presence.
13. Celebrity oasis
Dannii Minogue was top of the celebrity watch list for the men’s final. In previous years we have had Anna Wintour, Gladys Knight and Will Ferrell. Is anyone coming from overseas anymore? Is the AO becoming ever more Aussie centric?
14. Jelena Dokic
The former player turned TV commentator came out fighting when she was body shamed over her current, fuller figure. How realistic is it to expect all former sports stars to stay trim? And how harmful and spiteful is such public haranguing?
15. Heat stoppage
Hysterical pre-AO media calls for the tournament to be moved to a cooler month proved nonsensical. Three hours were lost on day two to a heat delay but way more to the rain that followed. Finals weekend was cold and school holiday January remains the perfect time to play and watch.
16. Ageing Aussies
Rod Laver showed up as usual and Ken Rosewall had a public moment or two, but the ranks of our golden oldies on show were much depleted. It is a reminder that time moves on. We should cherish them all now.
17. The president
TA boss Jayne Hrdlicka came dressed for a party it seemed at the women’s final presentation ceremony. Her fashion sense will divide opinion as does an apparently autocratic leadership style (and don’t mention her 2021 misreading of the room when she thanked the Victorian government post lockdown.)
18. Empty finals seats
Clutches of empty seats littered Rod Laver Arena during the women’s singles final. A time for a rethink on pricing?
19. Absent Aussies
Demon aside, the Aussie singles campaign was a disaster. Indeed the women’s contingent was made up of five wildcards. A serious sit down is called for.
20. Novak Djokovic
The story of the fortnight. Inspiring, real yet surreal by turn, the 35-year-old anti-vaxxer is an enigma and a star. The greatest player ever (he dearly wants to be)? Probably.
21. Mr Djokovic Sr
This is the man remember who likened his son Novak to Jesus Christ a year ago in terms of public persecution. This year he was photographed with a pro Putin, Russian flag. You couldn’t make it up.
Out in week one, the defending champion was statesmanlike and imperious in his media dealings. No one in tennis has greater gravitas than Rafael Nadal, but he is 36 years old and perennially injured. We must hope we will see him here again.
23. John Cain Arena
Out at the back near the train lines and as close to the MCG as Rod Laver Arena, the 10,000-seat stadium was shorn of its regular guest Nick Kyrgios but shone anyway. Most of the seats are available via a ground pass only and a virtual queuing system meant it was constantly full and noisy. Court of the tournament.