Tennis Tackle: Australian Open likes and dislikes
Well, if that was the Australian Open, it's been run and done.
From COVID to Kyrgios and every whine and cheer in between, this was the most unique tournament ever staged down under.
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Our reporters have been right at the pointy end of the action,
SEE THEIR LIKES AND DISLIKES FROM THE TOURNAMENT BELOW.
SOMETHING HAPPENED AT A PRESS CONFERENCE
Normally the media room is a place where players go to offer straight bats, go through the motion and generally spin answers or even not really answer questions properly.
It's a part of the gig that they least like and generally the press conferences are fairly dull affairs.
Not this year, Serena Williams put the media room in the headlines across the world when she fled in tears after being asked a fairly innocuous question about her "bad day at the office" against Naomi Osaka.
What a story. The world No.114 who few outside of ATP Challenger fanatics had heard of, who nearly threw in the towel three years ago because of a knee injury, came from the clouds to become the story of the Australian Open.
Karatsev, a 27-year-old qualifier, did what no one in history had done before him to reach the semi-finals on grand slam debut.
With an $850,000 windfall, a provisional ranking of 42 and a devastating back-court game, his world has changed forever.
RETURN OF THE KOKK
Special K dispatched Soonwoo Kwon in his opener to claim his first Aus Open singles win since 2015. It was an incredible moment, the Aussie overcome by emotion on court and reduced to tears. It was clear just how much this comeback on home soil meant to him.
But he wasn't done. Two days later in front of an incredible crowd he took eventual semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in an epic battle.
Playing doubles with Nick Kyrgios was an added bonus and for anyone who caught them in action, it was clear to see the joy was back for Thanasi and no-one deserves it more.
KYRGIOS ON JOHN CAIN ARENA
It was the night before lockdown and Nick Kyrgios had John Cain Arena absolutely rocking. One last Australian Open party before five days of being stuck at home. And it was some party!
But there was no bigger moment than when Australian sport's greatest showman unleashed an underarm serve to Dominic Thiem on set point in the second set.
It resulted in an ace and was followed by Kyrgios breaking out a serious strut on his way to the chair.
This was Kyrgios at his absolute best and the crowd loved every second of it. Hopefully one day he gives Melbourne Park seven matches at this level.
One of the best images from the Open was the embrace between Stefanos Tsitsipas and his father Apostolos after the biggest win of his career over Rafael Nadal.
The match was an epic five-setter and the Greek gun won plenty of admiration for his reaction after it.
Novak Djokovic's stage-managed arm-raising to the crowd is getting a bit stale so it was good to see some unprompted emotion between father and son.
PASSING OF THE TORCH
OK, so the torch was probably passed a little while ago, but Naomi Osaka rubber-stamped it with an absolute demolition job on Serena Williams in their semi-final.
Williams has been the dominant force in women's tennis for more than two decades but the Osaka Era is upon us.
The Japanese star will rule tennis for the next decade and there's nothing we can do about it - just sit back and appreciate her brilliance.
SILENCE THE WHINGERS
The tournament has been no stranger to criticism in recent weeks. Players in particular have been overly vocal in their negative views of hard lockdown on arrival in Melbourne.
Some complained they were being treated like criminals, others compared it to being in prison.
Jennifer Brady? Silence. She made no such complaint. She got on with training and making the best of a tough situation.
Where did the positive mental attitude get her? Her first grand slam final. Defying the odds, the American silenced the whingers.
A NEW FAN FAVOURITE
Few players provided more entertainment on and off the court than Hsieh Su-wei. The 35-year-old making her first Grand Slam quarter-final was a great story on its own and her funky style had Melbourne Park talking.
Even Naomi Osaka said when playing tennis video games she likes to use Su-wei as her character. But it was this quote that was a personal highlight: "I'm not worried about my tennis.
"If I don't play good, I go enjoy some good food here."
We could all learn a bit from Su-wei.
THE WTA TRAINER'S MAGIC HANDS
As Jim Courier remarked in commentary, he would love to spend some time with the trainer who produced a miracle treatment on Czech Karolina Muchova during the second set of her quarter-final against Ash Barty.
She said she was dizzy and "lost" on the court but returned after the trainer's intervention - we were told ice to cool Muchova was part of the treatment - playing like a world-beater who proceeded to break Aussie hearts everywhere.
There's nothing worse than watching an athlete vainly struggle in a contest while being repeatedly let down by their body.
We saw it all too often this past fortnight. Grigor Dimitrov slowed to a crawl as he limped around the court in his quarter-final exit, struggling with serious lower back pain. Earlier, Dominic Thiem looked a shell of himself as he went out in straight sets.
On paper it was a great idea from Australian Open organisers. Put Dylan Alcott's wheelchair quad singles final as the second match on Rod Laver Arena's night session and get maximum eyeballs in prime time.
After all, Rafael Nadal was a short priced favourite to race through his quarter-final. However, no one could have predicted we'd see one of the greatest comebacks ever from Stefanos Tsitsipas, which also meant Alcott's match had to be moved and didn't start until around 11pm.
Once it was locked in on the schedule there was no way organisers could move it but it would have been great for this to either have been played in front of fans or been seen at a decent hour.
To miss both was bad luck for everyone.
STARS IN TEARS
Watching Gael Monfils plead with the international media for mercy after his shock first round defeat was tough.
Seeing him in tears towards the end as he struggled to explain his form was gut-wrenching. And he wasn't the only star overcome by emotion this year.
Finally, Serena Williams was forced to leave the room after her bid for a 24th title came to an end in the semi-finals.
It's tough to the world's best overcome, but reinforces just how much passion goes into this sport.
ROGER FEDERER'S RECOVERY
It seems like Fed's recovery from knee surgery is suddenly looking a lot brighter than he predicted a few weeks ago.
His fitness was used as an excuse for why he wasn't at Melbourne Park but we all know the grand slam great simply had no interest in doing quarantine in Australia.
Federer has confirmed he will be ready to fire in Dubai and Doha in a couple of weeks.
Hopefully Australians get one last chance to see greatness next year.
THE ITALIAN SPAT
Don't get me wrong, this made for great TV but seasoned professionals should know better than to go at each other on court the way this pair did - especially when you're being broadcast around the world.
Fabio Fognini and compatriot Salvatore Caruso had to be separated at the end of their five set epic as tensions boiled over and insults were traded.
It all started with eventual winner Fognini saying his opponent had been lucky on a few points after the four-hour marathon concluded.
The theatrical exchange in Italian lasted about two minutes and - continued even when Caruso attempted to leave for the locker room.
Fognini accused his mate of "breaking his balls" among other things as officials came on court to keep them apart.
It's been great to see the Next Gen stars step up - but the past fortnight just didn't feel the same without Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
Both have given so much to tennis over the past 20 years, but had to withdraw for health reasons, robbing tennis fans not just of star power but of players will genuine class and appreciation for the sport.
Will we ever see two of the true gentlemen of the sport back at Melbourne Park? One can only hope.
LET THE PLAYERS PEE
Rules are always important. But if a 10-minute medical time-out for feeling hot gets the tick of approval then I think we can relax the rules on bathroom breaks a little bit.
For Denis Shapovalov to have to face a code violation just for needing to go to the toilet is tough to swallow. And while "I'm going to p**s my pants!" was one of the quotes of the Open, in future there is probably a common sense solution to make sure this doesn't happen again.
WHAT MADE NEWS AT THE OPEN?
Underarm serve: Dominic Thiem was standing in Dandenong waiting to receive Nick Kyrgios' serve, so, on set point in the second set of their third round clash, Nick did exactly what you'd expect from him, a little dolly underarm serve that clinched the second set and made a mockery of the pressure cooker situation.
Medical time out: Cheating? Not cheating? Gamesmanship? Fair game because it's part of the rules? There are plenty of opinions on Karolina Muchova's medical time-out against Aussie darling Ash Barty. Our Ash was demolishing the Czech, when she called for the time-out down a set and 2-1 in the second. Ash lost her mojo in the 10 minute break, allowing Muchova back in.
Middle finger salutes: Rafael Nadal laughed it off, and everyone else just laughed at the Rod Laver Arena 'Karen' who flipped the bird and spat a stream of vitriol at the classy Spaniard. There weren't many fans at the Open due to COVID, but it didn't stop this one making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Technology: The players were at first confused, and then embraced the electronic linesmen, although losers Francis Tiafoe and Gilles Simon had nothing nice to say after the Open did away with the tradition. The lack of build up on hawkeye when the crowd would slow clap the challenge in was a loss. A damaged net cord sensor had Kyrgios hot under the collar in his clash with Dimitrov, prompting a blow up with chair umpire Marijana 'J-Lo' Veljovic, who took it all in her stride.
Kyrgios-Djoker: The two tennis stars clearly love each other. The back and forth started before the Open when Djokovic finally hit back after years of being chipped by Nick. Djokovic said he did not respect Kyrgios off the court, Kyrgios fired back saying he didn't accept criticism from the "strange cat" and then proceeded to mimic the Serbian's celebration during one of his doubles matches with Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Djoker: Where do we start? He had a whinge about quarantine and gave tennis officials a list of demands, he had the aforementioned blow up with Kyrgios, then he suffered an 'injury' and miraculously recovered. The Open is always eventful for Nole and this one was no different.
Toilet trips: "I'm going to p**s my pants!" Poor Denis Shapovalov took the term 'holding on' to new levels when he was denied a toilet break in his clash with Italian Jannik Sinner "What happens if I go?" Canadian Shapovalov asked the chair umpire. "I'm going to p**s in a bottle! You guys are not allowing players to p**s? I don't understand this rule!"
Abdominal issues: Injuries were the talk of the Open, none more than a pair of men who suffered abdominal issues. Well, Novak Djokovic did, and he was back on court two days later. The other guy, Matteo Berrettini, pulled out before a ball was struck in his fourth-round clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas. Did we mention Novak blamed his injury on quarantine?
Benoit Paire and the French in general: French tennis players clearly love a good a whinge. Benoit Paire had no shame when his crappy tennis cost him a first-round exit at the hands of Belarussian court cleaner Egor Gerasimov. Paire whined the tournament was "s**t" and "shameful" after his loss. Alize Cornet sooked, then apologised for sooking about quarantine.
Bernie: Where do we start? Bernie and his missus had a right old whinge about quarantine. Sierra whatever her name is then took it all back after backlash. She, along with Tomic's elusive dad, John, were courtside for Bernie's first-round win. He lost in the second round and then started a war of words with former Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald who he labelled "the worst commentator in the world." Just another Weekend at Bernie's
Ballkid collapse: There was a distressing scene early on at the open when a young ballkid collapsed in the heat. The girl fell to the ground on Court 16 during the match between Lloyd Harris and Mikael Torpegaard. She was attended to by medics and rested for several days
Smash!: Alexander Zverev backed up his incredible meltdown last year with another racquet destruction - and gifted it to a young fan - Nick Kyrgios ruined his weapon of choice, Karolina Pliskova demolished two racquets and had a big argument with the chair umpire, and Novak lost his marbles and annihilated his racquet against Zverev. It wouldn't be an Aus Open without a few demolition derby code violations.
COVID: What a s***ty thing for everyone to have to go through. It played havoc with the Australian Open, forcing players from three flights into 14 days of hard quarantine. Then the snap Victorian lockdown forced fans out for five days. Dealing with the pandemic has cost the tournament its $80 million reserve tennis boss Craig Tiley says they could borrow as much as $60 million on top of that, just to stay afloat for 2022
WEEK ONE LIKES AND DISLIKES
First we had crowds, then we had none. But we still have the tennis!
Here are our writers' likes and dislikes from the first week of the Australian Open
MILLMAN IN THE COMMENTARY BOX
He is one of the most respected voices among players on the ATP Tour and it is easy to see why. Once he is finished playing, John Millman has a long career in front of him as a TV commentator. His work on the Alex de Minaur v Pablo Cuevas match was first class. At 31 he has plenty of years left at the top but if I was a TV network, I'd be signing him up now.
THE TOMAHAWK - ALMOST
Many had their eyes fixed on Nick Kyrgios' match on Wednesday night, but at the same time Ajla Tomljanovic had those in the stands at Margaret Court Arena on the edge of their seats.
The 27-year-old Queenslander and world No.72 ultimately lost to world No.2 Simona Halep, but won plenty of fans in the process as she put up a mighty fight across three sets.
Reporters around the world had already begun typing the ultimate underdog story before hitting the backspace bar as firm favourite Halep wrestled her way to a win late in the piece.
Tomljanovic has been on the tour for some time, but the match might be looked back on as a turning point in her career.
KYRGIOS' NEW ADDITION TO HIS ARSENAL
We're used to Nick Kyrgios flailing full-throttle winners to all parts of the court, but my biggest take away from him this week was his fourth-set comeback against France's Ugo Humbert. By set's end, he was smacking obscene winners, including one that seemed like tennis' version of a 'heat check', where he flat-batted an extraordinary forehand.
However, the reason he was able to play freely again was because he left his ego at the door and regularly retreated metres behind the baseline to fend off Humbert in full flight. Kyrgios desperately hung in points, showed composure and patience, and was rewarded. Let's hope we see more of it from him in the future.
TAKE YOUR SWEATY TOWELS BACK
For years I've wondered how players throwing their sweat-drenched towels at poor innocent ballkids is not a breach of multiple health and safety rules.
Enter COVID and every single player on court now has to endure the labour of fetching their own towel between points, game sand sets.
What's funny this tournament is how so many stars appear to have less need for their body parts to be wiped dry mid match when they don't have someone at their beck and call.
Here's to this being a post-COVID norm.
NEXT GEN ARE COMING
OK, so (injury permitting) the old guard of Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal will probably still win, but it has been sensational to see some real life from Generation Next (are we up to version five or six by now?) The major complaint of the men's tour over the past two years has been a lack of challengers to the crown, but this past week we've seen 20-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime properly announce himself as a grand slam winner of the future, Daniil Medvedev confirm his place on the head table and his Russian stablemate Andrey Rublev playing similarly ruthless tennis.
Denis Shapovalov and Jannik Sinner played out one of the matches of the tournament in a five-set epic on its opening night, and 17-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz won his first grand slam match with "the Next Nadal" tag hanging next to his name. It feels like the most exciting crop of young stars we've seen for years and the Aussie Open has been a coming-out party for so many of them.
CHAIR UMPIRE MARIJANA VELJOVIC
Complete genius by Australian Open officials to put the game's leading female chair umpire Marijana Veljovic in charge of Nick Kyrgios' second-round match. As we know our man Nick has a penchant for losing it regularly in his matches but there was no doubt the presence of the rather fetching Veljovic had him winding it back a touch.
She calmly dealt with a net-chord issue that at one stage had Kyrgios threatening to stop playing.
Social media went into meltdown - there were comparisons with Jennifer Lopez - with many clearly unaware that Veljovic is one of the best on tour and has previously umpired women's singles final at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
DOES HISTORY MEAN AS MUCH WITH NO ONE WATCHING?
The thought of no crowds at the men's and women's finals is a real shame. Imagine if Ash Barty breaks through for her first Australian Open title or if Serena Williams breaks Margaret Court's record and no one is there to see it.
Talk about an anticlimactic way to make history. To make matters worse, it felt like we were so close to normal watching the Nick Kyrgios epic comeback. But 48 hours later, fans were being marched from RLA.
GIVING RAFA THE BIRD
Of all the players on the tour you could give the finger to ….Rafael Nadal? Really?
One of tennis' good guys, the Spaniard was an unlikely target of the bird by a drunk spectator who later claimed he was "boring" and went on to say she had her "doubts" about whether he was a cheat.
The No.2 seed laughed off the incident in classic Nadal style and said he found it "funny", adding the spectator might have had "too much gin or tequila".
But C'mon, Karen.
Give us a spell.
MORE FROM THE OPEN:
THE RANTY FRENCHMAN
Of course you're going to be a little sour when you lose in the first despite a world ranking of 29 but Benoit Paire taking aim at organisers was classless.
Safe to say Australians have had a gutful of whinging tennis stars in recent weeks and the Frenchman's departing words were nothing short of childish.
"I think it's s**t, and what happened is shameful," Paire said of quarantine and conditions for players. "I'm very disappointed with this tournament."
Well $100k in your pocket should soften the blow and no one forced you to be here.
Talk about tone deaf.
Don't say COVID. Don't say COVID. Don't say COVID.
OK, so aside from the blindingly obvious … Australian tennis fans haven't covered themselves in glory this past week.
Throughout his clash with Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios - even Nick! - had to have words with the chair umpire about the rowdiness of the crowd.
Fans were repeatedly warned against cheering Thiem's faults and chattering between serves.
These are some of the most incredible athletes from around the world, many of whom have made significant sacrifices to come and entertain the Australian public.
The least you can do is show some respect. C'mon. Be better.
Anyone else miss players being able to challenge calls? One of my favourite parts was the suspense of Hawkeye and the slow clap excitement as a player challenges the authority of umpires. #AO2021— Mason Cox (@masonsixtencox) February 13, 2021
MISSING LINES PEOPLE
While we understand because of COVID-19 the reasoning behind getting rid of the lines people, it still takes away a lot of theatre from the matches.
The crouching officials are always good for some entertainment whether it's being hit by flying balls (sometimes courtesy of world No.1 Novak Djokovic) or getting stared down by an angry Nick Kyrgios losing his marbles.
The all-electronic set-up also takes away the challenge system which may have become a little bit of farce at times (Roger Federer did it for fun in the end) but it did provide a break in play and get the crowd on the edge of their seats watching the big screen to see where Hawk-Eye had the ball landing.
Tennis already has the capability to be a tad boring, stripping it of more opportunities to show personality is far from ideal.
STOSUR'S LOPSIDED EXIT
I think most of us smiled when Sam Stosur snapped her run of five straight first-round defeats at the Australian Open with a victory over young Aussie Destanee Aiava.
Stosur's had such a torrid time of it at Melbourne Park and been on the receiving end of some stinging criticism for much of her two decades competing there.
There's no shying away from the fact she's in the twilight of a wonderful career, but she is still holding out some hope of a 20th main draw appearance in 2022. Having said all that, it was painful watching the 2011 US Open champion win only one game against American world No.61 Jessica Pegula in round two.
At age 36, Stosur has a big decision ahead on how she wants to finish.
Originally published as Tennis Tackle: Australian Open likes and dislikes