Already the Novak Djokovic saga feels like another country. Just 15 days ago the Serb was yet to board a plane home yet the furore now is almost as if it never happened.
And now, we officially have a new GOAT.
As the clock struck 1.11am on Monday Rafael Nadal finally saw off the Russian Daniil Medvedev after coming back from the dead at two sets down. A match that threatened to become a rout in favour of the Russian morphed into a classic for the ages. It was the last match this fortnight but the most compelling one by a country mile.
A record 21st major title and a second Australian Open crown 13 years after his first, belongs to the Spaniard, 2-6 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-4 7-5 the final score.
Rafa is stronger in his head
Rafa’s coach for many years, Uncle Toni, famously once said that no matter how strong Rafa is physically, he is even stronger in his head. And so it proved.
This is the second consecutive major final that Medvedev has faced an opponent chasing their 21st grand slam title. Djokovic was despatched in New York last September but Rafa was not to be foiled after a five hour 24-minutes marathon.
Two sets in, though, such a scoreline had appeared an impossibility with Nadal badly hampered by excessive sweating that caused a shower of droplets every time he struck the ball but the Spaniard dug as deep as he will ever have done to regroup.
No Nadal service point it seemed was won without a lengthy rally or struggle while Medvedev breezed through his games on serve, the final ace count 23 to three in his favour, a remarkable disparity
When Nadal served for the match at 5-4 only to lose the game, it might have been impossible on finding odds to back a recovery. But he broke again to lead 6-5 and then served out an impeccable last game to love.
The GOAT? Absolutely.
And to think that we had thought the AO 2022 was to be all about Ash Barty.
Until Saturday night it had been 44 years since an Australian won the Australian Open. Sure Pat Cash, Lleyton Hewitt, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley and Ash all had won Wimbledon since – but no-one had triumphed here, where we can all see and hear about it in real time.
Ash is the new queen
Ash is the new queen, a fairytale backstory, the Brissie girl with an Indigenous background who smiles and seems, genuinely, pals with almost everyone. The early achiever who packed in tennis to play cricket when she’d lost her love for her sport but found a way back.
The girl who has fashioned a way of winning without the heaviest serve but transformed it into a weapon of Swiss accuracy and value. A woman who has learned to trust herself and her people always. A winner.
She doesn’t have the biggest game but she does have the best game. Martina Hingis springs to mind as a template, Barty’s movement and positioning too are sublime. Hingis, by the way, won the Australian Open three times, a feat Ash can replicate.
Hingis in fact won five majors, not too many for Ash to surpass either.
The exhilarating matches didn’t involve Ash this AO, the comeback from 5-1 down in Saturday’s second set against Danielle Collins aside, excitement around her was minimal. And even this hiccup felt transient, Ash never visibly panicking, calmly working her way through the deficit, edge-of-the-seats stuff absent.
A view. She has reached her present place through hard work, feel and experience which has placed her several layers above most players. Think Pete Sampras when he was winning his seven Wimbledons or Rafa in Paris.
Ash Barty 2022 is simply very, very good.
“Being able to surround myself with amazing people who have invested so much time and effort and love into my career, and for them to be able to support me and to be able to experience it with me is really cool,” she says.
Spoke thoughtfully and beautifully
Shortly before the handing over of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy, compere Todd Woodbridge announced he had a surprise in store.
There was a momentary glint in his eyes as he said this abetted by a pause just long enough for the quicker witted to wonder whether the return of Novak Djokovic was to be rather sooner than anticipated. Instead, out trotted Evonne Goolagong-Cawley to great applause, a warming, special moment albeit with shock value appropriately minimal.
Immediately post-final, Ash was magnificent as she addressed the Rod Laver Arena crowd, speaking thoughtfully and beautifully.
She retained a calm and enduring dignity. There were no ecstatic, me me me celebrations and it was genuine pleasure that shone from her on the whistle. She was happy, everyone was happy for her. She deserves it. Well done, superstar.
And next. The French Open. Already won. And again? Yes.
Wimbledon. Current champ. Again? Yes
The US Open. The toughest call. Why not?
Onto Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios.
Special Ks have turned tennis on its axis
Watching doubles has long been beyond the call of duty, it’s a must only for the frugal spectator determined to squeeze every cent out of the admission charge.
The Special Ks, for the moment, have turned tennis on its axis. The new men’s doubles champs have forced a rethink on how the game is consumed that no end of sub-committees could ever achieve.
Once Ash disappeared on Saturday, up popped Nick and Thanasi, Matt Ebden and Max Purcell, Aussies all. The last time Purcell played in the doubles final here, in 2020, there were handful of spectators only, family and friends in essence.
This time, despite a tee-off time approaching 10pm, the drift-aways were almost none as the combatants made their way into a baying cauldron. The watching Russell Crowe, in the guise of his most famous role as Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, will have appreciated the ferocity.
K&K have made doubles trendy again, summoning an interest entirely absent before and should be commended. Australia has its famous pairings – John Newcombe and Tony Roche, the Maccas [Peter McNamara and Paul McNamee], the Woodies [Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde] – but this is something else, doubles played by singles players often from the back of the court with crowd involvement near mandatory.
Kyrgios lives in the moment he says and how this partnership will develop is anyone’s guess. It is enthralling, engaging, bums on seats material yet to expect all other doubles wannabes to mimic the Special Ks will not happen.
When three spectators were ejected from RLA late in the final for shouting on the Ebden and Purcell serve, it was perhaps time to rethink the accoutrement this show brings. Michael Venus, a defeated doubles opponent last week, called Kyrgios “a knob” for the way he conducts himself. He won’t be alone but there will be many more siding with Nick and what he brings.
Pair have set a new benchmark
Regardless, K&K have set a new benchmark and put tennis front and back page which, whether TA admits it or not, is where tennis’s governing body wants it to be.
Do not expect much more this year though.
“I’m not playing the French and I’m not playing Wimby doubles. Maybe just US and the (ATP) finals,” says Nick.
“I have won some big titles around the world, played some amazing matches. This one ranks No.1 for me. It was just special.
“I would say that we’ve created probably the best atmosphere this tournament has ever seen. Ash’s father came to us and said the crowd was the best he’s ever seen.
“There’s a reason why the ratings are the way they are and people were glued to the TV when we play. Speaks for itself really.”
It will create a dilemma for TA. Other players will be increasingly vocal about the partisan atmosphere the Ks bring yet killing the golden goose is untenable. Not quite on the scale of the pre-tournament cliff hanger but one that won’t go away.
But the memories should be of Ash and Rafa as well as the Ks and not forgetting the now retired Dylan Alcott and Sam Stosur too.
All in all, this has been a first rate tournament indeed. One of the very, very best.