Tebbutt: The 2023 Australian Open Rear View

Tebbutt: The 2023 Australian Open Rear View

Pair zip-lining across the Yarra River is not far from the Australian Open venue. In the distance is the famous 100,000 seater Melbourne Cricket Ground and on the lower right the Tennis Australia Headquarters building at Melbourne Park.

Looking back, 2023 wasn’t exactly a year for the Australian Open. The main reason for this was the main players who didn’t play at all or who were absent when the event got into its actual final phase.

On the women’s side, that would be world No. 1 Iga Świątek and No. 2 Ons Jabeur, as well as No. 3 Jessica Pegula and No. 4 Caroline Garcia, all eliminated before the last eight except quarter-finalist Pegula .

The men’s tournament was desperate for a legitimate threat to the all-conquering Novak Djokovic. But underperforming, defending champion Rafael Nadal was eliminated in round two, No. 1-seeded and US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz (right leg injury) didn’t even make it to Australia and Holger Rune, who beat Djokovic in the Paris final in November, who saw him catapulted to the front of the challengers was ousted in a thriller by Andrey Rublev in the round of 16.

There was also no-show, host nation draw card Nick Kyrgios (left knee), as well as the early exits of rising stars like Casper Ruud, No. 6 Félix Auger-Aliassime and No. 8 Taylor Fritz, three of whom had all shown promise at the end of 2022 proven.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

On a positive note for the women, the sad memories of big names faded and were replaced as No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka defeated reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 4-6 6-3 6-4 in the final with an absorbing, hyper-aggressive tennis defeated. The 24-year-old Belarusian’s likeable personality and backstory was hard to resist.

Their struggles at the AO a year ago – six double faults in a single game – compared to just seven this year in the entire two-hour, 28-minute final – set up a Sabalenka fairy tale ending for the 2023 tournament and its slogan, “The story begins here.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Rod Laver Arena was the venue for Sunday night’s men’s final between Djokovic and No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. Unfortunately, little was left of the drama of the women’s championship game. Djokovic, still concerned about his left hamstring injury after his quarter-final win over Rublev, reached a level that was untouchable for the 24-year-old Greek or anyone else at this year’s event.

He defeated Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5) and overshadowed the historic significance of his win – 10 Aussie Open titles, 22 total Grand Slams and a return to the No. 1 ranking what happened during the two hours and 56 minutes of play on the pitch.

St Kilda Beach on Port Phillip Bay is a hip, cool place to hang out in Melbourne. The saxophonist, engrossed in her music, is just one example of the flora and fauna of trendy Acland Street.


BIANCA ANDREESCU: The biggest mystery among the Canadians was Andreescu and her 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-4 loss in the second round to 100th-ranked Cristina Bucsa of Spain. This was followed by her impressive 6-2, 6-4 win in the opening round against number 25 Marie Bouzkova.

The first set against Bucsa went as expected, but then Andreescu gradually lost her aggressive tennis and confidence. It was all the more puzzling when Bucsa lost 6-0, 6-1 to top seed Iga Świątek in the third round. A match-up against world No. 1 was what Andreescu really craved.

GENIE BOUCHARD: Fit and motivated to start the new year, she lost in the first qualifying round 2:6, 6:1, 4:6 to 18-year-old Ashlyn Krueger. Thirteen years after she first played the juniors event at Melbourne Park, Bouchard, 28, came into play strongly after a patchy first set and appeared poised to finish off the lanky, 6-foot-1 American. She had a break point in the final set at 4-all and tucked a forehand near the net, but missed to net.

Krueger then held and broke in the following game to end Bouchard’s hopes. After winning a qualifying round in Auckland the previous week, Bouchard had to retire with food poisoning – not ideal preparation for the AO.

GABRIELA DABROWSKI: It was a disappointing 14 days for the number 7 in doubles. She and Mexican partner Giuliana Olmos, number 3 seeded, were beaten 7-5, 6-2 in the third round by American-Russian duo Caroline Dolehide and Anna Kalinskaya. They had a solid second-round win over the Swiss pairing of Belinda Bencic and Jil Teichmann.

In mixed doubles, Dabrowski and Australian No. 8 seed Max Purcell were edged out in the second round by wildcard Aussies Lisette Cabrera and John-Patrick Smith.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

LEYLAH FERNANDEZ: After losing just four games in her first two rounds before the Aussie Open at the Auckland WTA 250, Fernandez met the left-handed, brute force of Belgium powerhouse Ysaline Bonaventure – indoors – and went 6-4, 6 beaten 2.

In the second round in AO, she lost 7-6(5), 7-5 to No. 4 Caroline Garcia after leading the tiebreak of the first set 4-0 and having a set point in the second. Two rounds later, a nervous Garcia lost 7-6(3), 6-4 to 45th-ranked Magda Linette. Unlucky Fernandez played well enough to have followed Linette’s eventual path to the semifinals had she gotten past Garcia.

REBECCA MARINO: With a record 1-1 against Zhu Lin of China in their previous encounters, Marino was dominated this time from the baseline 6-2, 6-4 by the 87th-ranked Chinese’s precise, fast balls. Zhu showed what good form she was in by reaching the fourth round with surprises from No. 32 seed Teichmann and No. 6 Maria Sakkari.

KATHERINE SEBOV: The Canadian revelation of the 2023 Australian Open, the 24-year-old qualified with wins over Czech Linda Noskova at No. 58, fresh off a second-place finish in Adelaide to Sabalenka, No. 170 Priscilla Hon of Australia and No. 128 Simona Waltert from Switzerland.

It was a first for Sebov – her first Grand Slam main draw, her first top-200 finish at No. 190, and her first experience at a major Grand Slam stadium, Rod Laver Arena, where she beat them 6-3 was , 6-0 by García.

CAROL ZHAO: Bidding for her first main draw at a Grand Slam, 27-year-old Zhao lost a soul-crushing second round qualifier to 130th-ranked Clara Burel 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6[10-2]. Rarely does a match turn as dramatically as this one. Zhao was on course to win 4-0 and a point to make it 5-0 in the second set against a utterly disheartened Burel.

There seemed to be no turning back for the 21-year-old Frenchwoman, but Zhao then smashed the baseline with a regular forehand. A resurgent Burel won six straight games and the set before winning the third seesaw set in a one-sided match tiebreak.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

FELIX AUGER ALIASSIME. He never got close to a cruising altitude in Australia. He lost in the first round to 113th-ranked Aussie Alexei Popyrin in Adelaide, then was defeated 4-6 6-3 7-6(2) 7-6(3) after the first set in the fast-moving Czech Jiri Lehecka (21) in 71st place in the fourth round at Melbourne Park.

An end to the 2022 season at the Davis Cup Finals and then an exhibition event in Dubai just before Christmas may have meant he wasn’t as fresh for Australia as he would have liked.

GABRIEL DIALLO: The 21-year-old from Montreal has made amazing progress over the past six months, rising from 669th in early August to 227th ahead of the AO qualifiers.

Diallo played Aleksandar Vukic in the first round and had four break points in the 26-year-old Australian’s first two service games. He failed to convert either of them and Vukic, who went on to qualify, needed just a single break in each set to win 6-3, 6-4. It was a first real taste of the big time for the 6ft 7 Diallo and should give him a solid experience to build on.

ALEXIS GALARNEAU: The 23-year-old played his first Grand Slam qualifier, winning his opening round 7-6 (5), 6-2 over 27-year-old Ryan Peniston of Great Britain. In the second, he faced another 27-year-old, Juan Pablo Varillas.

Galarneau won the first set on his fifth set point after saving a set point, but gradually the 103rd-ranked Peruvian began playing more consistently from the baseline. That was the difference in the score 6-7(8), 6-3, 6-4. Galarneau was ready to play but Varillas had a little more guts at key moments.

VASEK POSPISIL: After going through a late-season 2022 push – including winning the National Bank Challenger in Drummondville in his last event – to progress straight to the 2023 Australian Open, Pospisil drew fellow countryman Félix in the first round Auger aliassime. He started great and took a 5-0 lead in the first set before suffering (leg) cramps at 5-4 in the second set.

He ended up sweating through nine shirts before losing 1-6 7-6 (4) 7-6 (3) 6-3 on a mild evening. Both the (unlucky) luck of the draw and his ongoing problems with cramps made things extremely frustrating for an in-form Pospisil.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

DENIS SHAPOVALOV: He reached the third round before being knocked out by 10th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz 7-6 (3) 6-4 1-6 4-6 6-3. A poor sixth game in set five to get broken ruined the momentum of his dominant game in sets three and four.

But it was always difficult to win in five sets after losing the first two sets, especially after serving 5-4 in the first and having a point for 3-0 in the second. After the game, Shapovalov admitted that his nerves were an issue, which he’s continuing to work on.

The Young and Jackson Hotel is located at the intersection of downtown Melbourne – Flinders Street and Swanston Street. It’s become more gentrified in recent years, but in the days of 2002 winner Thomas Johansson, a lively group of young Swedes camped there – to grab a drink at the bar at 10am before heading to nearby Melbourne Park to cheer them on and sing countryman.

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