Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year and new decade, began with a wet spell and a veterans’ show from the 38-year-old Serena Williams and Roger Federer on Monday.
While heavy rain in Melbourne caused chaos as more than half of the matches had to be pushed to Tuesday, the first day had enough action to entertain fans.
Last year’s women’s finalists Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova and men’s semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas joined Federer and Serena in ensuring smooth passage to the second round while defending champion Novak Djokovic and world No 1 Ashleigh Barty survived a scare as they dropped a set in the opener.
Denis Shapovalov, seeded 13th, became the highest seed to fall and 15-year-old Coco Gauff made a winning start to her third straight Grand Slam, beating 39-year-old Venus Williams again.
Here’s a look at three talking points from the opening day of Australian open 2020:
Venus Williams vs Coco Gauff, round 2
At 39, Venus Williams is the oldest woman in the Top 100 of the WTA ranking while 15-year-old Coco Gauff is the youngest. At world No 55, the seven-time Grand Slam champion is ranked 12 places higher than the teen.
The two first met in the first round of last year’s Wimbledon when the younger woman was a qualifier and that match changed the course of the Gauff’s young career. She beat the veteran, saved match-points in the subsequent round and reached the second week on her Grand Slam debut. Since then, she has played the US Open, won her first WTA title at Linz and managed a direct qualification at Australian Open.
As fate would have it, the two crossed paths again in the first round of a Grand Slam. The result in Melbourne was no different from that in London – a straight sets win for the younger competitor – but the margin was closer.
Gauff had won the Wimbledon match 6-4, 6-4 while Monday’s scoreline read 7-6(5), 6-3.
Venus, who had to delay the start to her season due to injury, was playing her first match since October and was broken in the very first game. She failed to convert a break point a couple of games later and was on the verge of going down by another game.
But with five deuces in the seventh game, she dug in, held and broke Gauff, who was serving for the first set.
The tiebreak didn’t go her way but in that brief passage of play, Venus showed once again what the game means to her. The older Williams sister has always been a fighter and the very fact that she is in the top 60 in the world in her 40th year is proof of that. Even against much younger legs and powerful strokes, Venus held her own for as long as she can.
Three years back, she was the runner-up at Australian Open and Wimbledon but in the last two years, she has failed to reach the fourth round of any Grand Slam.
As American rising star Gauff spoke about wanting to be the greatest, Venus’ fight to be among the top offers perspective on the drive champions have.
Federer’s fresh start
By his standard, Roger Federer started his tennis season late with his first match at the Australian Open. At 38, his decision to play fewer tournaments and skip the newly-launched ATP Cup made sense.
But heading into a Grand Slam with little match practice is always a gamble. He played just two matches on hard-courts before the US Open and dropped his first set in New York, eventually losing in the quarters.
However, in Melbourne there was no sign of rustiness as the third seed toyed with Steve Johnson with 11 aces, 34 winners, 72% net points won and just the one break point faced. Making his record 21st appearance at the Australian Open – the most by a male player – he looked fresh and belied his age, as he often does.
When asked about this, Federer’s answer underscored what is a major driving factor behind his success: “At the end of the day, old-school work ethic, there is nothing wrong with that... And learning from your mistakes is key, as we remember our losses more than our wins.”
The grand old man of tennis and his good old work ethic have defied time for so long now, it is almost easy to forget his fourth-round loss last year and the meltdown at Wimbledon and think of his as a genuine contender at 38. But even if he doesn’t go all the way, his old-school way of getting the job done is a treat for tennis watchers.
Shapovalov’s meltdown shows the challenges of Next Gen
While the women’s draw saw 32nd seed Barbora Strycova and 24th Sloane Stephens fall on the first day (25th seed Borna Coric was the only other in men’s), 13th seed Shapovalov was the biggest upset of the first day.
The 20-year-old Canadian has never really set the Grand Slam stage on fire, with a fourth round appearance at the 2017 US Open being his best. He was, however, counted as a dark horse for a good run in Melbourne.
With Mikhail Youzhny as coach, he reached the Paris Masters final to close out 2019 and started the 2020 season in fine form beating Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev before pushing Novak Djokovic to a tiebreak at the ATP Cup.
He lost early in Auckland last week but looked primed for a good run at the Major. But he was unable to control his emotions and errors in a 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-1, 7-6 (3) loss to Marton Fucsovics. He had a huge row with the chair umpire after he got a code violation for throwing his racquet and blasted the call in his post-match media interaction as well.
The youngster attributed the loss to nerves, saying: “Not all of me was there today. It happens to every tennis player and it’s just about learning to deal with.”
This is also the case for so many young, Next Gen players at the biggest stages.
A player like Tsitsipas is still learning to manage this, and spoke about becoming more mature after his crushing win in the opener.
With all eyes are on the talented crop of youngsters for causing upsets, the tables turning on them will never be an easy thing to deal with.
As Tuesday brings with it a heavily-packed schedule, it remains to be seen who will be the biggest casualty in the first round of this Australian Open.