I love the Australian Open. For the tennis fan, there is something special about the first Grand Slam of the year. It’s always an exciting open, with something for almost everyone. Australia is a great host country, with friendly people, avid and knowledgeable fans, and summer weather when we are smack in the middle of winter here in America. The tournament also saw the continued rise of Eastern European players, the rise of a dynamic Frenchman, and the validation of a Russian powerhouse.
Novak Djokovic took the men’s title Sunday night with a four set win over the up-and-coming French player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The opening set of the final Djokovic dropped in the entire tournament. Tsonga has been given the nickname “Ali” by many fans because he looks quite alot like the boxing legend. Tsonga took out world number two Nadal on the way, while Djokovic dispatched the winning machine that is Roger Federer. Djokovic is the first Serbian to win the Australian Open.
There was a chance for a Serbian sweep of the top matches, with Ana Ivanovic in the women’s final. But alas, Ana will have to wait for her first Grand Slam win. She ran headlong into a determined and focused Russian, Maria Sharapova. Sharapova played most of last year with a shoulder injury that impacted her serve. It’s better now. It’s not that surprising for anyone who watched the final in Madrid last year between Sharapova and Justine Henin. Although Maria lost, it was clear she was back with a single-minded determination. With play like hers, she may well be the world number one soon.
She played against another Serbian star, the affable Ana Ivanovic. Ana won the affection of the Australian crowds, perhaps because she has family in Australia, or maybe because she is just so likable. Ivanovic rose to number two in the world rankings because of her play in Melbourne this year. You can’t help but like Ana when she speaks about being 11 years old during the bombing of Belgrade and how she practiced in a drained swimming pool. Her upbeat and somewhat naive demeanor endears her to her fans.
The women’s doubles went to a sister duo, the Bodarenko sisters from Ukraine. Both had fallen earlier in the tournament in the singles draw, but were on fire as a team. With the exception of the men’s doubles winning team, all the winners were from Eastern Europe. This was the first Open in the modern era when no American made it past the quarterfinals in the draws.
There are more rising stars in the background from places like Poland and Slovenia and Denmark, as well as the more known places like Russia and France. But the most notable success comes from the Serbian contingent. The women’s side has top players Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, the men’s Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic. This from a country with roughly the same population as New York City. Remarkable indeed. Their success has made tennis the hot sport in Serbia, and the players superstars.
The 2008 Australian Open was fun, exciting, and something I must see in person someday!