By Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent
The 2023 edition of the Australian Open is here. The weeks leading up to the season’s first Slam had built up a hefty amount of anticipation. Despite the various surprises – which were par for the course and numerous, including a last minute withdrawal of Nick Kyrgios due to knee injury – Melbourne Park is ready for this fortnight Down Under.
There have been certain palpable changes at this year’s Australian Open that make it irrevocably different when compared to the years preceding it.
For one, tennis making peace with the postmodern over-the-top (OTT) platforms – read, Netflix – came to fruition in “Break Point,” which brought its own fervour and flavour as a lead-up to this particular Australian Open. The series has attracted some criticism about how much it offers to someone who might want to explore tennis for the first time. In parallel, it covered some ground in showing the usually unseen reality of tennis players, and how the grass is always greener on the other side of the net.
In an adverse twist, three players who were featured on Break Point didn’t get to play this Australian Open due to injuries. Kyrios was one of them, with Paula Badosa and Kyrgios’ fellow Australian Ajla Tomljanovic sidelined. These announcements have rerouted attention to the Break Point series itself.
The 2023 Australian Open also begins a new year which followed the retirements of Ashleigh Barty, Serena Williams and Roger Federer in 2022.
Barty’s retirement came as a shock, but given that the tennis world had seen how determined the Australian could be in prioritising and compartmentalising her professional life, assimilating the information didn’t take much long. With Williams and Federer, who had been longstanding fixtures on the circuit for over two decades, processing their retirement hasn’t been so straightforward – neither for their fans nor for the players.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously we all never wanted Roger to leave, you know, because he’s a great guy, obviously (an) incredible inspiration not only for us on the tour, but for many kids around the world,” Marin Cilic had remarked about playing in the Swiss’ absence for the first time, while getting ready to start his new year in Pune. “And also, to many of these Next Gen guys that are now at the top he was, and probably still is an idol. So, definitely difficult to see him go and the tour is definitely going to be different.”
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to conclude that among the women, a similar sentiment would be prevalent regarding Williams.
It’s not hard to discern why.
Over the course of their long and gainful careers, alongside the build-up of titles, victories and records, Federer and Williams also amassed an aura of dominance that was unlike anyone else’s. Their varied losses did dent this aura time and time again, especially in the last few months of their respective careers – sparing though their appearances on the circuit were – but these losses only highlighted their magnificence as larger-than-life athletes and the efforts it took to defeat them.
On the other hand, the repetitiveness of their defeats and their inability to take control of the narrative – on the court – partly due to their faltering physiques and partly due to their desire to explore a life beyond the tennis tour, also drove home the point that life still had a way of asserting itself even upon those who were thought to be impervious to its relentless forces.
Within the confines of tennis’ much-discussed and broken-down storylines, these retirements also brought an unexpected end to a lot of theorising, specifically, on the men’s tour.
Ever since the Big Four and the Big Three plotlines had taken root on the men’s tour, predictions never stopped regarding how this phenomenon would end. Still, when the end did come about, it was bereft of the fanfare that prognostications had accorded to that eventuality.
So, then, we circle back to the Australian Open and to some of its contenders – among the men – two of whom are Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. They comprised two-thirds of the Big Three era and have now begun a timeline of their own, while trying to patch the frailties of their bodies for as long as they can, uninterrupted by the calling of changes.