Sports

Packman's Wrap: The Australian Open Was A Far-Fetched Fantasy No One Could Have Predicted

The most complete wrap of the Australian Open action from our man on the ground, David Packman.
January 30, 2017, 9:50am
Rafael Nadal, Rod Laver and Roger Federer. Image: youtube

Nobody raised more than a casual eyebrow when this year's Australian Open draw revealed that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were on opposite sides of the draw, leaving the door ajar for a potential final for the ages.

The same is true on the women's side when Serena and Venus Williams landed similarly.

It was so far-fetched that few even mentioned it in vague dispatches, but two weeks on and we are in awe at what turned out to be a miraculous unfolding of events at Melbourne Park.

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The Williamses played off in their ninth Grand Slam final, resulting in Grand Slam No.23 for Serena and strengthening that 'best-ever' conversation significantly. It had been fourteen years since the sisters played in the 2003 final, and another five years before that since they first faced off at Melbourne Park.

Then on Sunday night, we witnessed 'Fedal XXXV'. A repeat of the 2009 epic, and once again a highly entertaining battle befitting of the occasion. Nadal – with his Jedi skills on full display - had his nose in front early in the fifth set, but the Swiss maestro found a way, elevating his game with a newfound 'play free' mantra that echoed around the world. He was fearless – and it showed – and he claimed the eighteenth major that some felt might've been just out of reach. But the quintessential renaissance man, now 35, delivered.

There were sub-plots galore in 2017; none better than the Cinderella story of Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni making her semifinal run some 19 years after she last won a match at Melbourne Park.

Hers is a tough tale of against-the-odds persistence, and the on-court quote she gave after her quarterfinal victory still reverberates.

"Eff everything and everybody, whoever tells you that you can't do it. Just show up and do it with your heart."

If the Williams sisters weren't enough, the Zverev boys wrote another story. Young Sascha announced himself on the big stage, very nearly knocking off Nadal in a five-set thriller before big brother Mischa went one better and bundled out world No.1 Sir Andy Murray.

American upstart CoCo Vendeweghe also arrived. The powerful blonde firebrand swept all beside her on her way to the semifinals, mowing down world No.1 and reigning champion Angelique Kerber and seventh seed Garbine Muguruza for a combined loss of just nine games.

Then there was Denis Istomin. The Uzbek journeyman created the first big story at AO17 when he dumped Novak Djokovic from the tournament in a marathon second round. "I feel so sorry for Novak, I mean, I played unbelievable today," he said. He did.

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As for the Aussies, it was once again left to Daria Gavrilova to fly the flag in the second week. She repeated her 2016 fourth round appearance but had nothing for new world No.3 Karolina Pliskova, who dispatched her comfortably. Nonetheless, another great run for Dasha who should be roundly applauded.

And before we go any further, we must also call attention to Dylan Alcott – the dual Rio gold medallist claimed his third consecutive Australian open title in the quad wheelchair event.

In doubles, we fared incredibly well with perhaps the local story of the tournament belonging to John Peers who, along with his Finnish partner Henri Kontinen, took out the title. They defeated the Bryan brothers in the final and did so with style – Peers' topspin lob to seal it was an absolute gem.

Wildcard pair Andrew Whittington and Marc Polmans also made the semifinals and played to a packed out Margaret Court Arena on three consecutive occasions.

In the mixed doubles, the two Sams (Groth and Stosur) made the semifinals, as did Chris Guccione (with Ukrainian Elina Svitolina). The Gooch was also a quarterfinalist in doubles with Groth.

On the flipside, the demise of Nick Kyrgios to Italian grinder Andreas Seppi in the second round has been widely documented. There's some lingering demons, no doubt, but the raw talent is there for all to see. He will continue to polarise the nation and only time will tell what happens from here.

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Meanwhile, Bernard Tomic was serviceable at best, and his loss to Daniel Evans – while lopsided on paper – was no great travesty. The Brit has been in outstanding touch and has had Tomic's measure in the past.

Wrapping up the men, qualifier Alex Bolt and wildcard Andrew Whittington achieved their Grand Slam victories on debut, while Jordan Thompson continued to announce himself – eventually losing to top-ten Austrian Dominic Thiem, also in the second round.

Unfortunately, Sam Stosur again succumbed to the pressure of playing at home, but her first-round catastrophe was in part mitigated by Ash Barty, whose run to a best ever major third round on return from a tennis hiatus and a season with the Brisbane Heat in the Women's Big Bash League, was a stand-out.

Early in the tournament, 17-year-old wildcards Jaimee Fourlis and Alex De Minaur both won their opening matches on Grand Slam debut. While they couldn't back it up, they are on the rise and their names are likely to be on our lips once again next year.We'll leave the dismount to Roger, who was majestic in his post-match interviews:

"It would have been nice for both of us to win, but there's no draws in tennis. It's brutal sometimes. (But) now we made it. We're going to be partying like rock stars tonight. I can tell you that."