European teams sweep the board at Australian Open

Still of tennis player Rafael Nadal playing at the Australian Open. (Courtesy of The Australian Open)

The Australian Open tournament from Jan. 7-29 marked the first event on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) 2023 circuit.

The first Grand Slam event of the year brought together hundreds of players to play singles, doubles and mixed doubles under the sun at Melbourne Park.

First Grand Slam for Sabalenka

The women’s draw saw a new name etched onto the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, as Aryna Sabalenka downed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, the winner of the Wimbledon tournament in 2022.

Rybakina showcased strong performances for the full two weeks, beating the number one seed Iga Świątek and two-time Grand Slam winner Victoria Azarenka, both in straight sets to earn her spot in the final. 

However, the 24-year old Sabalenka from Belarus showed great calmness and poise on the court, coming back to beat Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. After double-faulting on her initial match point, then losing the other two by unforced errors, Sabalenka managed to put the match away in three sets.

Djokovic wins tenth title down under

Novak Djokovic reigned supreme in men’s singles, continuing his dominance on virtually every surface. Djokovic beat the fifth ranked seed Andrey Rublev in straight sets to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. The Serbian bested Tsitsipas in three sets: 6-3, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (7).

Tsitsipas, from Greece, wasn’t too disheartened by the loss, showing confidence in his final press conference of the tournament.

“I am born a champion,” he told reporters. “I can feel it in my blood. I can feel it as a competitive kid that I was when I was young. It’s something that is within me.”

This finals appearance pushes Tsitsipas to third in the ATP rankings, behind only Carlos Alcaraz Garfia and Novak Djokovic.

This win marks Djokovic’s 22nd Grand Slam success, which ties him for most all-time Grand Slam wins with the Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

When Nadal lost in the second round, the door opened for a young player to make the final, and many were up to the task. Nineteen-year-old Holger Rune, of Denmark, didn’t drop a set until the fourth round, where he was eventually bested by Andrey Rublev in a thrilling five-setter. 

Ben Shelton, 20, strode through to the quarterfinals in just his second Grand Slam appearance, while Czech player Jiri Lehecka had a breakthrough performance, beating Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime and eleventh seeded Cam Norrie of Britain.

Australians win doubles final

The men’s doubles trophy will be staying close to home in 2023, as Australian wildcards Jason Kubler and Rinky Hijikata came out with a straight-sets win in the final.

With fellow Australians Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis unable to defend their title due to injury, Kubler and Hijikata took the task in stride and kept the trophy in Australia, despite it being the first tournament they had played together.

On the women’s side, defending champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova continued their hot streak, winning their 24th consecutive Grand Slam match. The two players from Czechia won the Australian Open, the US Open and Wimbledon in 2022, and now have their sights set on Roland Garros in France this coming May.

Brazilians Rafael Matos and Luisa Stefani were strong all tournament, taking home the mixed-doubles trophy in a 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory over Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza in the final. This win marks the first Grand Slam title for both Matos and Stefani, and brings their record to 7-0 when playing together.

Short trip for Canada

It just wasn’t the year for Denis Shapovalov, who lost in the third round to tenth seed Hubert Hurkacz. Bianca Andreescu fared even worse, losing in the second round.

Felix Auger-Aliassime had the longest run of all the Canadians, first knocking out fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil in four sets. He had a strong run until the fourth round, where he was downed by Czechian player Jiri Lehecka, despite putting up an impressive 20 service aces.

The Match of the Tournament

It’s an easy choice for match of the tournament, as local Thanasi Kokkinakis and Brit Andy Murray engaged in the second longest match in Australian Open history, in just the second round. 

The five hour and forty-five-minute battle saw Murray come back after being two sets down, to eventually win 4-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-5. Kokkinakis had an astounding 37 aces, but Murray’s determination took over and earned him a third round appearance.

The top players on both the ATP and WTA tours will now look to prepare for one of the best master’s tournaments of the year, coming up in March. The BNP Paribas Open will take place in Indian Wells, California, from March 6 – 19.