If this year’s Australian Open taught us anything, it’s that experience is one of the most important yet underrated factors in any tennis match.
For years, tennis commentators have been discussing young up-and-coming players, such as American Jack Sock and Canadian Milos Raonic, and their potential to win grand slam tournaments. However, the 2017 Australian Open proved that the legends of the game aren’t quite done winning major tournaments.
Both of this year’s champions are part of the 30 and over club, a very rare occurrence in a sport where many retire around that age. On the women’s side, Serena Williams prevailed as the Australian Open champion, taking out her sister Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 in the final. Serena’s victory not only allowed her to regain the world No. 1 ranking, which she lost to Angelique Kerber in September 2016, but also to break the Open era record for grand slam titles won. Previously, Steffi Graf held that record with 22 grand slam victories, but Serena’s Australian Open win propelled her to 23 grand slam titles, the new record.
On the men’s side, Roger Federer took down long-time rival Rafael Nadal in a five-set thriller that retired tennis professional John McEnroe has already coined an “instant classic that we’ll be telling our grandchildren about.” The now 18-time grand slam champion and Open era record, defeated Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to claim a fifth Australian Open title and further cement himself as the greatest tennis player of all time.
Of this year’s men’s and women’s semi-finalists, six of them were 30 years old or older, featuring many of the tennis stars that were dominant in the 2000s. These included Federer, Nadal, and Venus and Serena Williams, as well as the lesser known Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The other semi-finalists were Stanislas Wawrinka, CoCo Vandeweghe and Grigor Dimitrov.
Furthermore, according to Wimbledon’s twitter account, the last time that the Williams sisters, Federer and Nadal all made it to the finals of a grand slam was Wimbledon in 2008. Seeing these four legends together in the finals of a grand slam surely gave tennis fans a sense of nostalgia.
What’s more, ESPN reported that the four Australian Open finalists have earned a combined total of 60 grand slam titles, a lofty total for only four players.
Aside from grand slam titles, these legends are breaking other records. According to Market Watch, this is the first time in the Open era that all of the singles finalists in a grand slam are 30 years of age or older, as Venus is 36, Federer and Serena are both 35, and Nadal is 30.
With the exception of Serena’s complete demolition of Lucic-Baroni (6-2, 6-1), each semi-final matchup offered a riveting experience for tennis fans around the world. Perhaps the most emotional of these was Venus’s victory over Vandeweghe, a three-set match which saw Venus prevail 6-7, 6-2, 6-3 to reach her first grand slam final in eight years, where she lost to her sister in the Wimbledon 2009 final.
From Venus’s post-match celebration, it was clear to see just how much tennis means to the seven-time grand slam champion, who was in tears after her victory. After being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011, Venus’s career went into a slump, but since then, she’s improved her game and has brought her ranking back up into the top ten. For tennis fans, Venus’ run to the Australian Open finals is a sign that she’s brought her level back up to where it was in the 2000s, which is inspirational to see.
In her post-match conference after she defeated Vandeweghe, Venus said, “I really think that I was born to play this game,” and if anything, her run to the Australian Open final has proven that to be true.
On the men’s side of the draw, 17-time grand slam champion Federer defeated the No. 4 seed Wawrinka in a hard fought five-set match 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3. While Federer has the potential to go down in history as the greatest tennis player of all time, his success at this year’s Australian Open was unexpected, seeing as this was his first grand slam back after taking off half of his 2016 season with a leg injury. Despite this, Federer amazed the crowds down under with play reminiscent of his “glory days,” which allowed him to take out No. 10 Tomas Berdych and No. 5 Kei Nishikori en route to the final.
Federer’s long-time rival Nadal also encountered an unexpected run to the final, taking out up-and-comer Grigor Dimitrov in another epic five-set battle 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6(4)-7, 6-4 in the semifinals. Nadal, who has struggled with several injuries during the past couple of years, took out next generation star Alexander Zverev, No. 6 seed Gael Monfils and No.3 seed Milos Raonic to make his first run to a grand slam final since Roland Garros 2014, where he defeated Novak Djokovic to set up a dream final with Federer.
Aside from the epic return of several legends, another major storyline of this year’s Australian Open was Vandeweghe’s unexpected run to her first grand slam semifinal. The 25-year-old American encountered former top 10 player Eugenie Bouchard in a third round battle, only to face off against 2016 Australian Open champion and world number one Angelique Kerber, who she shockingly upset 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals. Vandeweghe went on to demolish No. 7 seed Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-0 to reach the semifinals, where she was defeated by Venus.
Several other shocking upsets happened on the men’s side of the draw. Perhaps the biggest upset in Australian Open history featured a second round match between six-time Australian Open champion and No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 117 seed Denis Istomin. In a five-set battle, Istomin shocked the defending champion and the rest of the tennis world, blowing the draw wide open.
After Djokovic’s defeat, tennis fans saw this as new world No. 1 Andy Murray’s Australian Open to win, but world No. 50 Mischa Zverev had other ideas, knocking Murray out in the fourth round, giving Murray his first defeat at the Australian Open to anyone outside the top four since 2009.
While the 2017 Australian Open saw numerous up-and-comers make significant strides, it was ultimately the legends of Federer, Nadal and the Williams sisters that made the most remarkable impressions at the grand slam this year.