January 24, 2020, will be remembered for a long time by tennis fans and observers. Let’s note the day’s main events in plain English so you can absorb the enormity of the long parade of tennis at the Australian Open:
- Caroline Wozniacki’s career ended
- Serena Williams lost in the first week of a hardcourt major
- 15-year-old Coco Gauff defeated defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka
- Maria Sakkari made her first fourth-round appearance at a major, beating Madison Keys
- Stefanos Tsitsipas was thrashed by Milos Raonic
- Marin Cilic defeated Roberto Bautista Agut
- Roger Federer barely escaped John Millman
The bigger stories were clearly on the women’s side of this sprawling two-week tennis festival, but the resonance of Serena and Federer — both age 38 — being stretched to the limit in high-wire acts created a bookend quality to a day which was already filled with beginnings and endings.
Wozniacki marked an end to her on-court life and the start of a new one which remains to be explored.
Gauff won a major-tournament match against a player who was defending that particular major title from the previous year. She had never done that before.
Wang Qiang was a remade, renewed player against Serena, completely unlike the overwhelmed figure she was in New York at the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
Naomi Osaka watched her Australian Open title defense end before the second week, resulting in a massive points loss which will create some fascinating draw scenarios at this year’s remaining major tournaments.
Tsitsipas won’t lose as many points as Osaka, but his loss quickly ended his campaign and put to bed the idea that the ATP Finals were a launching point for his 2020 season.
Beginnings and endings. Comings and goings. Few solid truths can be found at the 2020 Australian Open through five days of play.
Yes, older ATP players know how to fend off the younger guys. That is a relatively clear truth we can identify.
Another clear truth: The WTA is still volatile. We are assured of another first-time major semfinalist in the Serena-Osaka quarter. Unless we get a Simona Halep-Petra Kvitova final, we are very likely to have an Australian Open women’s final with at least one player who hasn’t previously played in a championship match in Melbourne.
Beyond that, however, there aren’t a lot of clear and broadly resonant themes one can apply to this tournament.
Consider: Serena played a full week of tennis before the Australian Open, in Auckland. She had some match play but hadn’t overplayed in the latter stages of 2019. She lost.
Federer hadn’t played at all leading into this tournament. He looked sharp in his first two rounds but then struggled in round three.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal battled with concerns about overplaying at the ATP Cup, but both men have handled their early rounds just fine, with Djokovic in particular looking very sharp.
Rest and rhythm are not easy to calibrate in various players right now. Expansive, linear patterns don’t exist.
Two more notes before I close this notebook:
"I think it's only fitting that my career finished with a three setter, a grinder, and that my career would finish on a forehand error. Those are the things I've been working on my whole career." – Caroline Wozniacki.
Easily my favourite Caroline Wozniacki quote of all time.
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) January 24, 2020
Two: If this Serena loss makes you think she will never win title No. 24, why? What makes this loss so unique and/or discouraging? Wimbledon and the U.S. Open still exist.
Writing off Serena Williams because of one match? Let’s not be like that in 2020.