Novak Djokovic And Naomi Osaka Went Home As Champs At The 2019 Australian Open
As the second week Men’s Quarter Finals of the year’s first tennis Grand Slam, the Australian Open, commenced; the buzz was all about the new Guard, the young guns, represented by the likes of Tsitsipas, Tiafoe, and Medvedev. And yet, when all was said and done, left standing for Sunday’s final were grizzled veterans 32-year-old Rafa Nadal (owner of 17 GS titles) and 31-year-old Novak Djokovic (14 GS titles).
If anything, the in-hindsight premature talk of a changing of the guard, should have been directed to the Women’s draw, where 21-year-old Naomi Osaka emerged 2 for 2 in Grand Slam Finals, annexing the Aussie Open Cup to the US Open win she garnered last September, and becoming the world’s #1-ranked Women’s player—the first time an Asian can claim that distinction.
The Women’s Final between Osaka and Petra Kvitova turned out to be a real three-set nail-biter; and it was a Final that had us fully conflicted on who we’d like to see emerge champion. We all remembered the US Open when Osaka soundly defeated Serena Williams in a highly controversial match, where the umpire took away a point from Serena for receiving coaching. During the awarding, Osaka was roundly booed when her name was announced, and was in tears, apologizing to the crowd for having defeated their "champion." So it was great to now see a smiling Osaka at the podium, just confessing to how lousy a public speaker she was, and charming us in the process.
While Kvitova emerged a runner-up, we were happy to just see her in a Final round; as it’s been a long and painful comeback for this 28-year-old. She won Wimbledon twice, but in December of 2016, had to fend off a knife attack from an intruder in her home. Suffering deep lacerations to her left hand and fingers (she plays left-handed), there was a question mark over whether she’d ever play again, much less reach a level where she would be figuring again in Grand Slam Finals.
As for the Sunday’s Men’s Finals, it was a near-perfect Novak Djokovic facing a determined but outclassed Rafa on the day. Hard courts have always been the Achilles heel of Nadal in his Djokovic encounters, and this was no different. Novak now has 15 Grand Slam titles and is off to a flying start in 2019. It’s hard to believe that just a mere year ago (and until Wimbledon), Novak was seemingly out of the conversation but has staged a masterful comeback, now having won three Slams in a row: Wimbledon, US Open, and now the Australian.
It wasn’t so much that Rafa was playing badly, but that Novak was returning everything with interest, and with such pinpoint accuracy. Taking a page from the Federer playbook, Djokovic was even playing drop shots from the back of the court with surprising regularity. Melbourne Park has been a favorite hunting ground for Slam titles for Novak (7 of his now 15), and that was reconfirmed this year, along with solidifying his world #1 ranking.
So as we close the book on this first 2019 Slam, we congratulate Naomi and Novak for their terrific two weeks.
Photos from @australianopen