Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Australian Open Review: Djokovic and Osaka Champions in Melbourne

Posted on 21 February 2021 by Ben Thompson

Co-written with Sam Jacot

The 2021 Australian Open came to a close with a familiar sight on the Rod Laver Arena as Novak Djokovic held his ninth Australian Open title above his head on Sunday evening after defeating Daniil Medvedev in the final.

Djokovic was in imperious form as he rebuffed everything the rising Russian threw at him in a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory that was fairly comfortable. It means the world number one moves onto 18 Grand Slams, two behind current joint leaders Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the race for the record continues.

The 33-year-old’s run was far from simple though as he fought on with injury in the third round to prevail against the 27th seed Taylor Fritz in five sets. He recovered in time to beat Milos Raonic and then sixth seed Alexander Zverev in the quarter-final. This set up a semi-final clash with qualifier Aslan Karatsev. A straight sets win saw Djokovic through but for Karatsev to even be there was remarkable.

Having only won a single tournament in 93 tries before Covid-19, the qualifier has now won 26 of his 33 matches since the tour resumed in August as he became the lowest ranked man to reach the last four at a Major since Goran Ivanisevic, ranked 125, won Wimbledon as a wildcard in 2001.

Ranked 114, the Russian knocked out notable names in the shape of Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov.

For Medvedev, while he is now two defeats from two in Major finals – the other being a five-set loss to Nadal at the US Open in 2019 – the world number four enjoyed a superb tournament, dropping just one set on his way to Sunday’s showdown as he dismantled Stefanos Tsitsipas and compatriot Andrey Rublev on the way.

A Fourth Major for Osaka

The women’s tournament provided plenty of excitement and surprises, but it was a tournament to forget for the British players in the draw.

Naomi Osaka convincingly defeated American Jennifer Brady, 6-4 6-3, in the final to lift her second Australian Open and fourth major title.

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The match was tight early on but momentum shifted in Osaka’s favour at 4-4 in a tense first set, when Osaka saved a break point and went on to break Brady in the following game.

The Japanese star was on top form throughout the tournament despite the difficult draw she had to navigate through.

Osaka had to play two former Grand Slam champions on her road to the title: Garbine Muguruza, who she saved two match points against, and Serena Williams, who she defeated in straight sets.

Not many would have expected Jennifer Brady, 25, to have been Osaka’s opponent in the final, yet throughout the tournament she proved that she deserved to be playing on the highest stage of the sport.

In her press conference following her defeat in the final she stated: “I think I belong at this level. I think winning a Grand Slam is totally achievable. It’s within reach.”

Now that Brady has the self-confidence to match the already evident talent, it would not be a surprise to see her in more Grand Slam finals in the future.

It would also not be a surprise if 23-year-old Osaka was able to add many more Grand Slam titles over the course of her burgeoning career.

Cameron Norrie the Best of the Brits

In the men’s draw, 30th seed Dan Evans came up against the only other Brit Cameron Norrie in the first round. Despite being the underdog, Norrie was the far better player in the contest, coming through in four sets before he beat Roman Safiullin 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (3) in round two to equal his best Grand Slam performance.

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The 25-year-old’s reward was a match-up with Nadal in Rod Laver Arena and while he fought well, he came up short, losing in three close sets.

It was not a successful tournament for the British women this year, as three of the four competitors in the event lost their opening matches.

Jo Konta was on top in her first round match against Kaja Juvan, but was forced to retire early in the second set due an abdominal injury which hampered her ability to serve.

Francesca Jones, who despite being ranked outside the top 200 managed to qualify for the event, and Katie Boulter also lost in the first round, with Jones losing 6-4 6-1 to Shelby Rogers and Boulter losing 6-1 6-4 against Daria Kasatkina.

The lone Brit to win a match in Melbourne was Heather Watson, however she was ultimately defeated in the second round against Estonian Anett Kontaveit.

Notable Names and Performances

Elsewhere in the men’s draw, Nadal breezed through his opening four rounds and was certainly not showing signs of a back problem which had dominated the coverage surrounding the Spaniard before the tournament.

After easing past the entertaining Fabio Fognini in the fourth round, Nadal went into his quarter-final clash with Tstisipas as the favourite but saw his two-set lead overturned as the Greek surged back to win 3-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5 in a classic encounter.

Elsewhere, US Open champion Dominic Thiem put on a sensational show with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios in the third round on the last day that crowds were allowed in before a five day quarantine was introduced prior to the semi-finals. The world number three clawed his way back to win in five against the controversial Aussie, but then put on a flat display in the next round against Dimitrov as he crashed out.

There were a few shocks in the women’s draw this year, with the most notable being Karolina Muchova’s comeback victory over number one seed and home favourite Ash Barty in the quarter-finals.

The Czech also defeated sixth-seed Karolina Pliskova in the 3rd Round as she sent a message in Melbourne that she is a name to remember.

Jessica Pegula was keen to stress that she is more than simply the daughter of Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and she made that message even clearer with her play on the court. The American upset fifth-seed Elina Svitolina before falling to countrywoman Brady in the quarter-finals.

Another player worth a mention is the Su-Wei Hsieh, who at 35-years-old, with her unpredictable and unique playing style, was able to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career.