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Classic Australian Open moments: Part 1

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Roar Guru
12th January, 2021
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With this year’s Australian Open pushed back by three weeks, let’s take the time to look back at some classic moments from what is dubbed the happy slam.

Originally slated to start on January 18, the tournament will now start on February 8, just one day after the commencement of the television ratings season, with players to arrive in Melbourne or Adelaide this week where they will be required to quarantine for a fortnight.

Players will be permitted up to five hours of training each day, so they can continue to ramp up their preparations for the first major tournament of the year.

However, local players such as Nick Kyrgios, who has not played competitively for nearly 12 months, will be spared the need to quarantine when they arrive in Melbourne, thus potentially gaining an advantage on their international rivals.

Ash Barty, who is based in Brisbane, will have to quarantine when she touches down in Melbourne, as greater Brisbane is deemed to be a hot spot by the Victorian government.

Ashleigh Barty serves

(Chaz Niell/Getty Images)

Once the quarantine period for international players passes, the abridged ATP Cup plus two joint ATP/WTA tournaments will take place, all within Melbourne Park, in the week beginning February 1, before the first major gets underway on February 8.

But for now, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at some of the most memorable Australian Open moments.

This will be split into two parts. Here, I look back at Lleyton Hewitt’s rollercoaster ride to the 2005 final, Serena Williams’ unexpected 2007 title, the memorable 2008 tournament, Jelena Dokic’s inspiring run to the quarter-finals in 2009, plus the men’s final from the same year.

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In Part 2, I will look back at the classic 2012 finale between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, as well as a major upset from 2014, Lleyton Hewitt’s farewell in 2016, the back-to-the-future finals in 2017, and last year’s tournament.

Lleyton Hewitt’s run to the final
What an inspiring and dramatic ride all of Australia were made to endure as Lleyton Hewitt attempted to become the first men’s homegrown champion since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

Hewitt, then aged 23, entered the 2005 Australian Open having enjoyed a resurgent 2004 season, which saw his ranking rise from 15th at the start of the year to third behind Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.

Hewitt warmed up for the tournament by successfully defending his Sydney International title, defeating qualifier Ivo Minar in the final. It was his fourth Sydney title in six years, previously winning in 2000, 2001 and 2004.

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Expectations were high for the Aussie heading into his ninth consecutive appearance at Melbourne Park dating back to his debut as a 15-year-old way back in 1997. His best result at the time was a run to the fourth round in 2000, 2003 and 2004.

The draw saw him assigned to then-world number two Andy Roddick’s half, meaning he would avoid potentially facing Federer until the final.

The first round saw him dealt a tough opponent in the form of Arnaud Clement, a finalist only four years earlier when he lost to Andre Agassi in straight sets.

Hewitt had also just defeated him in straight sets en route to winning the aforementioned title in Sydney for the fourth time.

The result was no different when they met in the first round in Melbourne – again it was Hewitt who was victorious in straight sets, and onto the next round he went, where he was pitted up against American James Blake.

Blake took the first set and appeared set to take a two-set lead when he led twice in the second-set tiebreak. However, Hewitt regrouped, took the second set and then ran away with it in four sets to dismiss Blake from the tournament and reach the third round.

What followed would be a spiteful four-set win over Juan Ignacio Chela, who during the fourth set was continually incensed by Hewitt’s famous celebratory gesture of “C’mon!”, such that he was seen spitting towards his direction after Hewitt appeared to have muttered something towards him during a changeover.

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Jim Courier, commentating the match for Channel Seven, said it was “not good sportsmanship” (watch at 0:38 in the following video):

Next was Spanish young gun Rafael Nadal in a rematch of their third-round encounter from 12 months earlier. On that occasion, Hewitt won in straight sets with the first two sets being decided in tiebreaks, but this one was tougher.

Though Hewitt was the favourite leading into the rematch, he was made to work hard for victory.

Nadal led by two sets to one as Hewitt struggled with a hip injury, and kept up the pressure as the fourth set went to a tiebreak. The Australian would display his fighting spirit, level the match at two sets all then take the final set 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals of his national championships for the very first time.

Hewitt praised Nadal after the match, saying, “Rafael had nothing to lose, he’s got a great attitude and he’s good for the game. He’s hungry, he wants to play these matches in front of big crowds… this guy’s going to be around for a while.”

Next in the quarter-finals was Argentinian rival David Nalbandian, Hewitt’s victim in the 2002 Wimbledon final. In stark contrast to that one-sided final, their first meeting at grand slam level since then was highly dramatic and spiteful.

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For the second consecutive match, Hewitt had to endure a five setter, with the deciding set taking over 100 minutes to complete. In the end, the Australian took it out 10-8, sending him through to a semi-final showdown against Roddick.

World number two Roddick became the favourite for the title after defending champion Federer got knocked out by Marat Safin 24 hours earlier.

True to form, three aces from the 2003 US Open champion saw him clinch the first set 6-3. Hewitt, however, was not to be denied, winning the next two sets in tiebreaks to take a two-sets-to-one lead into the fourth set.

Hewitt dominated the fourth set as he completed victory in just under three hours, and his qualification for the Australian Open men’s final was the first by an Australian man since Pat Cash in 1988.

Awaiting him in the final was Safin, who had appeared in the decider two times previously, only for Thomas Johansson and Federer to deny him in 2002 and 2004 respectively.

In his semi-final, Safin had to save a match point against Federer in his preceding semi-final to qualify for his third Australian Open final. He was looking to win his first grand slam title since the 2000 US Open. Hewitt was looking to win his first since Wimbledon in 2002.

Undeterred by the pressure of a nation on his shoulders, Hewitt dominated Safin to take the opening set, 6-1.

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However, the Russian came back and took the second set to level the match at one set all. Hewitt then took a 4-1 lead in the third set but that was where it all started to unravel.

Safin won the next seven games, in the process taking a 2-0 lead in the fourth set. He held on to win in four sets, denying Hewitt the one grand slam title that he had longed to win.

It remained the only ever time Hewitt went past the fourth round at Melbourne Park, his best result since then being when he lost to Novak Djokovic in four sets in the final 16 in 2012.

Serena Williams’ stunning run to the title in 2007
Entering the 2007 Australian Open, Serena Williams had just endured the worst year of her tennis career, failing to reach the quarter-finals of either the Australian or US Opens, while also missing the French Open and Wimbledon due to injury.

Williams contested just four tournaments in 2006, failed to win a title in the entire calendar year, and at one point dropped out of the world’s top 100. She also had not defeated a top ten opponent since overcoming then-world number one Lindsay Davenport to win the 2005 Australian Open, which stood as her most recent title entering the 2007 season.

Williams came to the Australian Open out of shape and ranked 81st in the world. Nothing much was expected, but over that fortnight dished up one of the most inspiring runs in the tournament’s recent history.

In the first round, she came up against 22nd-seeded Italian Mara Santangelo, who had reached the fourth round in 2004. Williams won in straight sets, then defeated Luxembourg’s Anne Kremer to set up a third-round showdown against Russian fifth seed Nadia Petrova.

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Petrova dominated the opening set, winning it 6-1 in just 29 minutes and serving three aces to close it out.

From 3-5 down in the second set, the American reeled off four games in a row to claim it 7-5 and send the match to a deciding set.

Williams broke for a 2-0 lead early, and after two hours and five minutes, Williams emerged from her toughest test yet to progress to the fourth round.

Awaiting Williams was Jelena Jankovic, who proved no match as she lost in straight sets. After the match, the American, who was accused of lacking match fitness after her injury-riddled 2006 season, gestured “number one” with her index finger.

Next was Israeli teenager Shahar Pe’er, who had upset third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach her first grand slam quarter-final.

Williams again started poorly, dropping the first set 3-6, before hitting back to take the second 6-2. As Pe’er served for the match in the 11th game of the final set, the Israeli dropped serve and suddenly the score was 6-6.

Williams held in the next game to make it 7-6, before Pe’er lost the match after sending a backhand wide.

In the semi-finals, the American came up against Czech teen sensation Nicole Vaidisova, who matched Maria Sharapova’s feat of reaching two grand slam semi-finals at age 17.

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Williams dropped serve in the opening game, before breaking back to level the opening set at 3-all. Vaidisova broke later in the set and had a set point on her serve at 5-4, but Williams forced a tiebreak, which she took 7-5 after leading 5-1.

The Czech was broken twice in the second set, before the teenager pegged back four games in succession, including saving three match points from 0-40 down (and holding) in the ninth game.

The American’s tenth ace of the match brought around her sixth match point, which she converted to advance to her third Australian Open final, to face 19-year-old Maria Sharapova in their first meeting in a major final since the 2004 Wimbledon Championships.

What shaped as an intriguing final turned into a nightmare for Sharapova, as Williams won the opening set 6-1 – including the first five games of the match without reply.

Williams was just as merciless in the second, dropping just two games, as she completed her comeback with a straight-sets humiliation of the stunned Sharapova.

It was Williams’ third Australian Open title, her eighth major title overall, and the most improbable of her 23 grand slam titles to date – yet it was sealed in the most devastating fashion possible.

A lot happened in the decade since that most unexpected title. Williams won 15 more major titles, and this year has the chance to equal, or even overtake, the record of 24 held by Margaret Court.

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The 2008 Australian Open
The 2008 tournament had just about everything – a change in court surface, a match that finished at 4:30am in the morning, an apparent changing of the guard in men’s tennis and the notable performances by Serbian players.

After two decades of employing the rebound ace surface, which had previously been in effect since the tournament moved from Kooyong to Melbourne Park in 1988, a decision was made by Australian Open organisers in May 2007 to change the surface to plexicushion.

The tournament would be best remembered for the breakthrough performances of Serbian players, namely Janko Tipsarevic, Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, as well as two gripping five setters, which makes the Australian Open the tournament that it is.

Tipsarevic, ranked 49th in the world, stunned the tennis world when he took the opening set in a tiebreak in his third round match against Roger Federer. This marked the first time since the 2006 final that the Swiss maestro had lost the first set in a match at Melbourne Park.

After dropping the second set in a tiebreak, Tipsarevic went on to take the third 7-5 and leave Federer on the ropes, down two sets to one and facing his earliest Australian Open exit since 2001.

However, the Swiss hit back, taking the fourth set 6-1 before embarking on what could only be described as a gripping and nail-biting fifth and final set.

Games went to serve but when the score reached 6-all, everyone was left on the edge of their seats to see if Federer – at the time still a clear-cut world number one ahead of Rafael Nadal – could pull through his toughest test yet.

When Tipsarevic reached 40-0 in the 17th game of the deciding set, many thought the match kept going on and on and on. However, Federer came from behind and finally break the 23-year-old Serb to finally put himself into the position where he could serve for the match.

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Federer did exactly that, the final set score reading 10-8.

The length of the Federer versus Tipsarevic match, which clocked in at just under four and a half hours, meant the evening session, which was to feature a marquee match between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis, was delayed by under two hours.

Before the men, Venus Williams and Sania Mirza took to the court for their third round match, which the American won in straight sets.

Then, at last, Hewitt and Baghdatis, both former finalists at Melbourne Park, took centre stage with the first ball not struck until eight minutes to midnight Melbourne time.

By this point, nearly all of the eastern seaboard was asleep in bed. But the die-hards who remained at Melbourne Park to watch their hero was treated to over four-and-a-half hours of pure tennis drama.

Baghdatis took the opening set 6-4, before Hewitt struck back to take the next two sets by 7-5 to take a two-sets-to-one lead.

Then, in the fourth set, Hewitt reached match point at 5-2, but Baghdatis rallied, saving it and then dominating the ensuing tiebreak to level the match at two sets all.

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From there it was anyone’s game.

Hewitt broke in the fifth game and then again once more, in the final game of the match, to win it 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3. The match finally ended at 4:33am, an hour or two before sunrise.

His reward was a fourth round showdown against third seed Novak Djokovic, who had finished his third-round match against Sam Querrey some ten or 12 hours beforehand.

Hewitt finally ran out of gas, going down to the Serb in straight sets and seeing his Australian Open dream end for another year.

Djokovic would go on to end Roger Federer’s title defence with a straight-sets win in the semi-finals, before defeating first-time grand slam finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final in four sets.

Tsonga went into the match on the back of a straight-sets thrashing of world number two Rafael Nadal, who was contesting his first major semi-final outside of Europe, and his first on hard courts.

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The opening set Tsonga took in the final against Novak Djokovic was the only set the Serb dropped throughout the tournament, as the third seed went on to win the first of 17 (and counting) major titles, and first of a record eight titles at the Australian Open.

On the women’s side, fifth seed Maria Sharapova stormed through the tournament, winning the title without dropping a set the entire tournament.

Her victims en route to the title included Lindsay Davenport in the second round, Elena Dementieva in the fourth, Justine Henin in the quarters, Jelena Jankovic in the semis, and Ana Ivanovic in the championship match.

The tournament also saw the inspiring run by Casey Dellacqua to the fourth round, with her upset of 2006 champion Amelie Mauresmo being the highlight.

Her run came to an end in the last 16, where she was beaten by Jankovic in straight sets.

Jelena Dokic’s inspiring run to the 2009 quarter-finals
If there was one woman who lit up the 2009 Australian Open, it was Jelena Dokic.

The one-time world number four’s career spiralled out of control in the mid 2000s, to the point that she was unranked in 2008, and needed to enter the wildcard playoff tournament to be able to play at her national championships.

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Then 25, Dokic’s journey began with three-set victories over Tamira Paszek, Anna Chakvetadze, and future champion Caroline Wozniacki, before she came face-to-face with Alisa Kleybanova in the fourth round.

Kleybanova went into their last-16 clash having upset the previous year’s finalist, Ana Ivanovic, in the third round, so Dokic knew she had her work cut out if she were to break new ground and become the first local woman since Alicia Molik in 2005 to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park.

What unfolded was a night of drama as the two women went toe-to-toe in a match that will forever be remembered by Australian tennis fans for the ferocity and intensity displayed throughout.

Dokic won the first set 7-5, but not before starting the match with a double-fault, then dropped the second by the same scoreline as the match went into a one-set shootout.

Kleybanova broke early in the deciding set, but Dokic broke back to level proceedings at 3-all.

Games remained on serve until Dokic broke at the death to secure a remarkable 7-5, 5-7, 8-6 victory, sending her into the quarter-finals of a major for the first time since the 2002 French Open, and first and only time at the Australian Open.

Her run would eventually come to an end at the hands of third seed Dinara Safina, but not without an almighty fight, with Dokic again going the distance as she bowed out with a 4-6, 6-4, 4-6 defeat.

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Exactly six years to the day after Dokic’s dramatic win over Kleybanova, Nick Kyrgios broke the drought of a local player appearing in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park, when he came from two sets to love down to defeat Italian veteran Andreas Seppi in the fourth round.

It was not until a decade later that another local woman would reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park, when Ashleigh Barty got this far in 2019 and then went one better last year, reaching the semi-finals.

The Federer versus Nadal final
That same year, in 2009, the men’s championship was to be decided by long-time rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

History rode on the result of this match, as either Federer had the chance to equal Pete Sampras on a then-record 14 major men’s singles titles, or Nadal would become the first Spaniard to ever win the Australian Open.

A major subplot of the match was the fact that after years of playing second-fiddle to Federer in the rankings, despite dominating most of their rivalry to that point, Nadal entered 2009 as the men’s world number one after unseating his nemesis the previous August.

Federer went into the championship match having dominated Andy Roddick in his semi-final, while Nadal was stretched to his limits in his semi-final against Fernando Verdasco, which went to five sets and did not finish until after 1:00am local time.

After winning the pre-match coin toss and electing to receive, the Spaniard drew first blood, breaking Federer’s serve in the opening game, only to be broken back immediately after a ten-minute second game, which set the tone for the entire evening.

The then-22-year-old broke again in the 11th game and served out the opening set, taking it 7-5 three minutes short of an hour.

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Nadal broke in the fifth game for a 3-2 lead in the second set, but Federer hit back to take the next four games and win it 6-3, levelling the match at a set apiece.

Games went on serve for the most part of the third set, during which the Basel native had six break point chances, but was unable to convert. Eventually, it went to a tiebreak, and a double fault from Federer on Nadal’s set point saw the Spaniard edge ahead two sets to one.

After holding to start the fourth set, Federer broke for a 2-0 lead, and while he dropped serve in the next game, he stayed ahead, breaking in the eighth game and then serving it out 6-3 to force a one-set championship shootout.

Two backhand errors from Federer saw Nadal break in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead in the final set, and from there the Spaniard held his lead to the death, claiming it 6-2 to become the first man or woman from his country to salute at Melbourne Park.

During the post-match ceremony, Federer was overcome with emotion as he missed the chance to equal Pete Sampras on 14 major men’s singles title, but was assured by Nadal that he would eventually achieve the milestone (in fact, he did exactly that at the French Open, thanks to a man called Robin Soderling).

The men’s final was the last of 23 five-set men’s matches at the 2009 Australian Open.

Nadal’s Australian Open title win continued his dominance in men’s sport, having won his fourth consecutive French Open, his first Wimbledon title, and the Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing, plus ascending to the top of the rankings for the first time.

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We would have to wait another eight years for the sequel. Find out what the result was in Part 2.