Australian Open 2017: Rivalry Renewed

2209141430_45d132c9a3_oWhat a tournament. For all the wrong reasons perhaps, but still a grand slam that will go down in the history books. The two best players in the world, the two that were expected to dominate all year, dumped out in the first week. Up stepped Federer and Nadal, my word was it good too see them back to that level.

So, before the tournament it was case of Murray vs Djokovic. Who had the better draw? Will Murray cement his no.1 spot, or can Djokovic reign in Australia for the 6th time? If you weren’t thinking of any of these possibilities, I’d head to the doctors. It was simply impossible to oppose Murray and Djokovic, they’ve been on another level for the past 18 months.

Dimitrov and Nishikori both came into the tournament in solid form, both reaching the final in their warm-up tournaments. Federer we know is so classy and arguably still the most talented player on the circuit, but surely his 6 months absence would take it’s toll over the two weeks? And Stan is always capable of a big tournament when at his best. That’s right, Nadal didn’t even cross my mind.

All of the pre-tournament favourites started the tournament well, cruising through in straight sets. Until Denis Istomin came along in round 3. Djokovic certainly wasn’t at his best by any means, looked frustrated throughout, devoid of a plan B. Maybe a coach would help? However, take nothing away from Istomin, he was outstanding. How many times have these ‘underdogs’ been in match winning positions against champions, yet wilted on the pressure points. Not this guy, he closed the match out in style, knocking out the five time Australian Open champion.

It’s Murray’s to lose now surely? No it wasn’t. He lost even more convincingly to Mischa Zverev. Like Djokovic, Murray was below his usual standard, but credit to Zverev for thriving on the opportunity to knock him out. I don’t think Murray’s loss signals any problems like Djokovic’s does, he just had an off day, where as Djokovic hasn’t been at his best for a good few month now which is becoming a worry. So now it’s anybody’s tournament. Will Nishikori or Dimitrov win their first slam, or can the old guard roll back the years?

Federer’s comeback looked on when he surged past Nishikori in the quarter-finals, a much closer match was anticipated, but Federer at his best was just way too good for Nishikori. It was an all Swiss semi-final. Roger vs Stan. Wawrinka seems to have that winning mentality at grand slams, he doesn’t know how to lose in big matches. That’s unless he’s playing Federer of course. After dominating the opening two sets, Stan staged a superb fight back to set up a decider. Federer’s class, guile and experience saw him come through 7-5 6-3 1-6 4-6 6-3 to reach another grand slam final. Against? You guessed it, his old nemesis- Rafa Nadal.

The Spaniard also won a five set thriller against the in-form Dimitrov, who came so close to that breakthrough win he needs. I think this could be Dimitrov’s year, he’s hitting the ball as well as he ever has, but just lacked that killer instinct against Nadal when he needed it. One win over a top, top player in a grand slam semi final/final could make his career. He had chances of his own to break in the deciding set, but Nadal fought back as he does, to hold then break serve to win the decider 6-4.

It almost felt like a charity match to me. Two legends of the sport going toe-to-toe on the big stage again, Murray vs Djokovic has sort of took over now, but it was brilliant to see them battling it out for a grand slam title again. It lived up to the expectations, momentum swings ended with Federer in the form of his life, reeling off the last five games to grab his 5th Australian Open title. Nadal a credit to the sport as always, gracious in defeat, consoled an emotional Federer at the net after winning on a hawk-eye decision.

A brilliant tournament as always, but not in the way I or you expected. It was disappointing to see Djokovic and Murray play so poorly at the start of the year, but anything for a Federer vs Nadal final. It just shows how amazing these two players are. Nishikori and Dimitrov are the rising stars, but quality still shone through in favour of the champions. It was a pleasure to watch them take advantage of the mishaps of Murray and Djokovic. Who’s winning the French Open then? I’ll leave that to you.