The first week of the year’s first Grand Slam saw some brilliant tennis being played by both the experienced and the relatively less-experienced. Here, we take a look at the results of the top players from the first week of the Australian Open.
The women’s side has seen a significant number of seeded players toppled by their less-experienced counterparts; meanwhile, while the Big Four have all gone through to the next round, the biggest shocker of the tournament so far has come in the form of a certain Rafael Nadal crashing out in his first round match.
The younger players in the women’s draws put in revelatory performances of their own as the higher ranked players in the draw were unable to keep up. World No. 2 Simona Halep was ousted despite having been in strong form last year. She went down to the unseeded Shuai Zhang, who is ranked a lowly 133rd in the singles – and did not even offer much of a contest to the Chinese as she suffered an ignominous 6-4, 6-3 loss that saw her dispatched from the Open.
Former World No. 1 Venus Williams, who re-entered the top 10 last year as she won the WTA Elite trophy in Zhuhai after beating a younger, in-form Karolina Pliskova, went up against British No. 1 Johanna Konta in her own first round match.
Last year, everyone had written off the older Williams sister – they called her old, unfit, over the hill, seeming to forget once ruled the roost, as her sister is doing yet again – and despite dealing with the debilitating effects of an autoimmune disorder, Venus came back in style.
Seeded eighth at the Australian Open, however , Venus proved no match for a fiery Konta, who left the Grand Slam winner seething and dazed in the wake of her attack.
Venus would go on to incur a fine for not turning up to the post-match conference.
Young blood rules
Daria Gavrilova. Belinda Bencic. Those two are fairly well-known names, with the Australian Gavrilova, who represented Russia until 2014, pulling off a number of major upsets this tournament.
Although she recently crashed out against 10th seed Carla Suarez-Navarro, she tested the mettle of the Spaniard, whom she bageled in the first set before ultimately losing to her.
Bencic is widely being touted as the next Swiss Miss – and it’s not hard to see why. With a seamless game and some brilliantly accurate service, she is very reminiscent in many ways of a woman not unlike her many moons ago; a player who continues to rule the roost today, this time in the doubles.
It must be immense pressure on young shoulders to draw comparisons to the legendary Martina Hingis, but Bencic has handled this and more with aplomb.
She has won Grand Slams already – in the juniors, and finished at the quarter-finals of the US Open in 2014.
Currently ranked 14th, ahead of many more experienced rivals, Bencic had quite the run at this year’s Australian Open. Dropping only a single set en route to her 4th round match against former No. 1 Maria Sharapova, the Swiss teen eventually crashed out; but not before testing the Russian.
Although she lost in straight sets, they were both closely fought, with Bencic resolutely trying till the last to hold on.
21-year-olds Margarita Gasparyan of Russia and Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany also played some exceptional tennis this week; First, the Russian upset Italian Sara Errani, who was seeded 17th, then took on the more-experienced Kurumi Nara and Kazakh ace Yulia Putintseva, who had earlier ousted 16th seed Caroline Wozniacki from the tournament – and she beat both in straight sets.
It was perhaps the luck of the draw that ended Gasparyan’s run at this stage; drawn against thoroughly dominant World No. 1, reigning champion Serena Williams, Gasparyan may not really have stood much of a chance at all.
Predictably, Williams absolutely decimated the youngster’s attack, beating her 6-2, 6-1 in under an hour, quickly closing up the match and sealing herself a quarter-final berth.
But her victories in past rounds showed a tenacity and bravado few would have had.
For her part, Friedsam has shown a fighting spirit few players on the circuit have shown recently. The 21-year-old’s most recent win, against 2015 US Open finalist Roberta Vinci, was a masterclass in the art of the comeback. Bagelled in the first set 0-6 and looking set to lose in straight sets, the German exhibited the most immense return in the entire draw so far.
Today, although Friedsam crashed out after a severe cramp impaired the last bits of her game, eventually losing to her rival, Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska she fought until the last nevertheless.
Winning the first set convincingly, Friedsam dropped the second and then looked to be on track to winning the decider and pulling off her second upset in a row before losing 5 straight games to hand the Polish WTA World Tour Finals winner victory.
American Madison Keys, who is fast moving up the rankings, also recently pulled off an upset – against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, and players like Serena Williams have acknowledged the power of Keys’ serve.
Keys lost to Shuai Zhang, who ousted Simona Help from the tournament, – and looks in good form going into the quarter-finals.
Hewitt bids adieu
Perhaps the biggest moment of the week was Lleyton Hewitt’s retirement. He had announced last year that the 2016 Australian Open would be his last tennis tournament, and up against 8th seed David Ferrer of Spain, most would not have given former No. 1 Hewitt a chance.
Although he crumbled against the Spaniard to put paid to his Australian Open hopes, Hewitt continues to hold on to the record of being the youngest ever men’s No. 1 - a title he won when he was 20.
Crowds cheered each point, letting out raucous cries of “Come onnnnn!,” Hewitt’s signature catchphrase during his 18-year career. Tennis’ best – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic all paid tribute to the star following the match, with the recently-ousted Spaniard telling Hewitt he found their rivalry inspirational.
Crowds, fans, rivals were all emotional – but perhaps none more so than Hewitt himself, and the ace choked back tears as he reflected on his own illustrious career, which saw him win 2 Grand Slams and titles on every surface in the sport.
Hewitt had progressed in the men’s doubles with compatriot Sam Groth, but those dreams have also now ended with the Australian pair losing out to Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock.
You can check out the highlights of Hewitt’s final point against Ferrer on SonyLiv.com here. You can also check out the SonyLiv app and enjoy his last moments on a tennis court.
All in all, it’s been an eventful week in tennis – and the meatiest part of the tournament is still on the cusp of beginning. If the first week of the tournament is anything to go by, the road ahead at the Australian Open promises to be an exciting one.