Ashraf Ali Siddiqui appreciates the performance of a gutsy player
The 2023 Australian Open, the first major tournament of the year took place in Melbourne from 16-29 January 2023. This Grand Slam was the 111th edition of the Australian Open and the 55th in the Open Era consisting of events for professional players in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Spectators returned to full capacity for the first time since 2020 targeting to exceed 900,000 fans, after capacity restrictions in the last two events due to the COVID pandemic. The Australian Open total prize money for 2023 increased by 3.38% year on year to a tournament record A$76,500,000. This represented a 155% increase in prize money over the last ten years, from the A$30 million on offer in 2013. In wake of Russian invasion of Ukraine the organisers of the tournament banned Russian and Belarusian flags from being displayed courtside. Country flags were initially allowed, but this was reversed after an incident during the match between Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova and Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindi when Russian supporters were accused of taunting Baindi but the group denied that they were being provocative. The move came after Russian and Belarusian players were banned from playing under their country’s flags.
The crowning event of the tournament was that an emotional Novak Djokovic beat Stefanos Tsitsipas to claim a 10th Australian Open title and equal Rafael Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam crowns, two clear of Roger Federer, a victory that returned him to world number one. The Serbian star overcame a hamstring injury and off-court drama on his return to Melbourne Park to sweep past the Greek third seed 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5) on Rod Laver Arena. He surged to victory without father Srdjan in the stands after he sparked controversy by posing with a fan carrying a Russian flag featuring Vladimir Putin’s face following his son’s quarter-final win. It capped a remarkable comeback by the 35-year-old fourth seed, who missed last year’s tournament when he was deported over his Covid vaccination stance.
With sizeable Greek and Serbian communities in Melbourne, and Rod Laver in attendance, there was a raucous atmosphere as Tsitsipas played against Djokovic. Both men were back on a court that helped them rise to stardom. Djokovic won his first Grand Slam in 2008 on Rod Laver Arena while Tsitsipas burst on the scene in 2019 when he stunned defending champion Federer in the last 16. Djokovic came into the match with his confidence high having won all nine of his previous Australian Open finals and with a 10-2 career advantage over the Greek. Tsitsipas, in only his second Grand Slam final to Djokovic’s 33rd, appeared nervous, losing the first set in just 36 minutes but he battled back into contention in a much closer second set as his confidence grew, improving his serve and winning some pressure points but failed to defeat his opponent.
As far as the Women’s events were concerned, with the elimination of world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, this became the first edition of the Australian Open in the Open Era to feature neither of the top two singles seeds of either gender in the quarterfinals. Belarusian fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam singles title by fighting back to beat Elena Rybakina in the Australian Open final. In an absorbing contest which showcased the power of both players, 24-year-old Sabalenka triumphed 4-6 6-3 6-4. Sabalenka, who won under a neutral flag because of Belarus’ support of Russia’s war in Ukraine, hit 51 winners as her high-risk game paid off in Melbourne. Kazakhstan’s Rybakina was unable to add a second Slam to her Wimbledon title. On her victory, Sabalenka, full of elation and emotion, instantly fell to the court and covered her face as she cried in celebration. TW