Sports

Djokovic dominates, Osaka waffles but earns big win

Last weekend, the Australian Open concluded with women’s and men’s single champions, both familiar faces, but in very different moments of their career. Naomi Osaka solidified her place as one of the stars of the next generation of tennis players, winning her second grand slam in a row at just 21 years old. Novak Djokovic won his 15th slam, his seventh in Melbourne, inching on Roger Federer’s 20-slam record and proclaiming the longevity of his legacy as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

Osaka’s slam final was a test of will. After beating Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina and Czech Republic’s Karolína Plíšková in the quarter and semi-finals, respectively, Osaka met Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitová in a tight match. Osaka took the first set in a tie breaker but unraveled late in the second set. Up 5-3, she blew three championship points as Kvitová came back from love down to take the set and break Osaka. Kvitová went on to win the set and force a third. Osaka regrouped, however, to eventually win the third set and the championship with a powerful serve.

Though this Australian Open is Osaka’s second, it feels like the first that is completely and unconditionally hers. Last year’s U.S. Open championship match against Serena Williams was riddled with controversy, and though Osaka was on her way to the slam win before the referee and rule disputes, they overshadowed her stellar play on the court and the unexpected arrival of a new contender in the women’s tennis world not named Williams. This time, her championship win and the personal adversity on the court she overcame signals that she’s ready to become the new face of the sport.

Her shy personality off the court endears her to people, as does her accomplishments at such a young age. Osaka also has a multicultural and multinational appeal that could shoot her into the stratosphere if she continues performing on the court, as she is half-Japanese, half-Haitian, and grew up in the United States. Now the world No. 1 for the first time and with a long career ahead of her, Osaka is not just the future anymore. She’s the present.

On the men’s side, there was no new, young upstart in the championship final. In the semi-finals, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal defeated France’s Lucas Pouille, 24, and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20, respectively, in straight sets. Djokovic is 31, Nadal is 32, and Roger Federer, who just lost in the quarterfinals, is 37, and all of them seem to have something left in the tank. Andy Murray has announced that he will retire at the age of 31 after this year’s Wimbledon, but it doesn’t look like any new blood will be winning slams anytime soon on the men’s side. Since 2010, only two players (Stan Wawrinka and Marin Čilić) besides Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray have won a slam, just four out of 37. Going back even further, only two more players have broken the Big Four’s hold on the championships since 2004. Their dominance is astounding and doesn’t look to end anytime soon.

This final was a familiar competition between two long-time rivals. Everyone was expecting a grudge match between Djokovic and Nadal that looked to be déjà vu of the 2012 Australian Open men’s singles final, a six-hour marathon that Djokovic won over Nadal in five sets. But it was starkly different. Djokovic burst onto the court with his usual speed, agility, and power, and seemed to counter everything Nadal gave him. In the 6–3, 6–2, 6–3 match, Djokovic had complete control, and the match felt decided long before the final point was played. He easily won his 15th slam, 11 years after winning his first one in Melbourne.

With this championship, Djokovic continues his furious pace since his injury struggles in 2017 and into 2018. He now holds three slam titles — Wimbledon, U.S. Open, and Australian Open — and has a chance at Roland-Garros in May to hold all four titles at once for the second time in his career. At 31, Djokovic is playing the best tennis of his career, and now, unlike earlier parts of his career, it doesn’t look like there’s anyone to seriously challenge him. If he continues this pace, he can reach Federer’s 20-slam record, and perhaps cement a place as the best tennis player ever.