When the newly appointed Australian Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich called Cara Koenen to let her know that she had been selected in the squad to play New Zealand in the upcoming Constellation Cup, Koenen remembers bursting into tears.
After another Australian Open it’s clear that the three certainties in life are death, taxes and Novak Djokovic winning the title at Melbourne Park.
In the women’s tournament Naomi Osaka continued to show why she is the emerging dominant force, winning her second Australian Open title to go with her success in 2019 along with the two US Open titles she won in 2018 and 2020.
The Djoker won his record-extending ninth title in dominant fashion, defeating Daniil Medvedev in the final and dispelling any injury concerns after he had suffered a muscle tear in his third-round victory over Taylor Fritz.
The 33-year-old made his intentions very clear from the get-go, beginning the match with an ace and then breaking Medvedev’s serve in the second game to quickly skip out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set.
However, Medvedev quickly broke back and the first set remained on serve until the Djoker broke at the death to take it 7-5.
The fourth-seeded Russian managed to break Djokovic’s serve to start the second set, but it only fuelled the Serb’s hunger as he then won six of the next seven games to take the second set 6-2 and take a two-sets-to-love lead.
Quickly Medvedev’s title hopes were fading away, and if he wanted to turn things around, he needed to overcome two major hoodoos.
Firstly, not since 1965 has a man come from two sets down to win an Australian Open final. Not once in the open era since 1968 has this occurred.
Secondly, only one man has ever come from two sets down to defeat Novak Djokovic in a best-of-five match – Jurgen Melzer came back from the dead to upset the Serb in the quarter-finals of the 2010 French Open (at which point Djokovic had won only one major title).
The Djoker continued to show no mercy in the third set, breaking Medvedev’s serve in the second game of the third set and then again another six games later with an overhead forehand volley on championship point to cement himself as the undisputed king of Melbourne Park.
It marks his quickest victory in a championship match at the Australian Open, with his title-winning point being converted seven minutes short of the two-hour mark.
That was exactly four hours less than it took him to defeat Rafael Nadal in the epic 2012 championship match, which took five hours and 53 minutes to complete, and 11 minutes quicker than when he defeated the Spaniard to win his seventh title in 2019 (two hours and four minutes).
As for Medvedev, it marked his second defeat in a major final after previously losing to Nadal in the final of the 2019 US Open, but surely, like many before him, his time on the big stage will come.
But just exactly when that will happen is the question – since Stan Wawrinka won the US Open in 2016 only one man has managed to interrupt the big three’s dominance at the majors, when Dominic Thiem broke through for his first major title at last year’s US Open.
Granted, he took advantage of a playing field that was missing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and capitalised on Djokovic defaulting out of the tournament in the fourth round when he unintentionally struck a line judge with an astray ball.
But when you’re up against one of the three in a major final, you know you’re going to be in for a tough time, and that’s exactly what Medvedev faced as he sought to fire another shot in the big three’s dominance.
Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas were also among those found wanting at the Australian Open, with the former bowing out in straight sets to Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round and Tsitsipas losing to Medvedev in the semi-finals after coming from two sets down to upset Nadal in the quarter-finals.
But the biggest story of the tournament was the run to the semi-finals of the unheralded Russian Aslan Karatsev.
The 27-year-old had on numerous occasions failed to qualify for the main draw of a grand slam tournament, but when he managed to do so, he went on a run that had many daring to dream of pulling off a Marlion Pickett in his maiden main draw appearance.
AFL fans will remember that Pickett won an AFL premiership on his debut match, the 2019 grand final. He was the first debutant in 93 years to win a premiership medal on debut.
Ultimately Karatsev found a colossus named Novak Djokovic too high a mountain to scale, and his run came to an end in straight sets in the final four stage.
On Saturday night Naomi Osaka regained the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup with another dominant run to the title that so nearly hit a major hurdle when she faced two match points in her fourth-round match against 2020 finalist Garbine Muguruza.
The Japanese star claimed her second title here and fourth major title overall by defeating first-time finalist Jennifer Brady in straight sets to prove herself as the most dominant player of her time.
While the world rankings may not accurately reflect this – Osaka will this morning wake up to find herself ranked second in the world behind Ashleigh Barty – it is starting to become clear that the 23-year-old is destined for a prolonged dominant spell in women’s tennis.
She is the first player to win a fourth major title since Maria Sharapova completed her set of grand slam titles at the 2012 French Open, and she also became the first woman since Monica Seles to win her first four major finals without defeat.
She joins only the Williams sisters among active players to have won at least four major titles, and on the basis of her dominant form since breaking through for her first title at the 2018 US Open you can bet that number will continue to grow in the coming years.
The challenge for Osaka now is to continue that dominance on the clay courts of Roland Garros and the grass courts of Wimbledon, tournaments in which she has never progressed past the third round, including a first-round loss in the UK in 2019.
The Japanese star has never lost a match after clearing the first week of a major tournament, and if she can do well at those two competitions, then a career grand slam is not out of the question.
That would spell bad news for some of her major rivals, namely Ashleigh Barty, whose dream of winning her national championship ended in major controversy in the quarter-finals, as well as Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova, among others.
Barty was cruising through her quarter-final clash against Karolina Muchova, being a set and break up, when the Czech player took a medical timeout that would ultimately turn the match around and destroy Barty’s momentum.
The Queenslander lost the match in three sets, while Muchova progressed to her first major semi-final, where she lost to Jennifer Brady in three sets.
Halep’s title hopes were crushed by Serena Williams in the quarter-finals, leaving her major title tally stalled at two for now.
Williams’s bid for a record-equaling 24th major title was ended by Osaka in the semi-finals, after which there was wide speculation as to whether the 39-year-old would ever return to Melbourne Park. However, she put the defeat down to simply playing poorly.
With her 40th birthday looming, time is running out for the legendary American to equal the mark set by Margaret Court, and it’s also starting to become clear that several years of relentless domination is starting to finally catch up to her.
Her best chance to equal Court’s record of 24 major singles titles will come later in the year at Wimbledon or the US Open. She has won six titles at each tournament, so she probably will want to capitalise when she can before she retires from the sport, whenever that comes.
Djokovic and Osaka’s victories bring to an end a successful running of the world’s first major international sporting event of the COVID-19 era.
This year’s Australian Open, which wasn’t without its hiccups, was proof that, apart from the vaccines that are being rolled out worldwide, there is definitely some light at the end of the tunnel.
It also proved that the Victorian government could stage the event in a COVID-safe way, especially after the state was rocked by a devastating and deadly second wave of coronavirus infections in the second half of last year.
Just over seven months ago Melbourne, the undisputed sporting capital of Australia, was plunged into a lockdown that would last over a hundred days, with all of the city’s professional sporting clubs forced to evacuate the state to keep the Australian sporting calendar running.
Who would’ve thought that the city could’ve successfully completed the world’s first major sporting event in the COVID world?
It wasn’t without its issues, with the tournament delayed by three weeks to allow players to quarantine in specifically arranged hotels in Melbourne and Adelaide for a fortnight before contesting several warm-up events in the lead-up to the first major of 2021.
Up to 72 players, including women’s singles finalist Jennifer Brady, were put into hard quarantine after they were identified as passengers on the same flights as several positive COVID-19 patients, including outspoken Spanish player Paula Badosa.
To compensate for the lack of practice, the WTA hastily arranged a tournament named the Grampians Trophy, which ended without a champion being crowned after a whole day’s worth of action was wiped out due to another positive case of COVID-19 being identified in a quarantine hotel.
Additionally, the whole state of Victoria was also plunged back into five days of hard lockdown after the UK strain of the coronavirus leaked into the community from the Holiday Inn hotel at Melbourne Airport.
The evening that followed Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’s announcement of this lockdown saw fans evicted from Rod Laver Arena during the fourth set of the Novak Djokovic vs Taylor Fritz match at 11:30pm, half an hour before the shutdowncame into effect.
Australian tennis' new reality, for the moment.
Fans are asked to leave the stadium.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) February 12, 2021
This meant that for the five-day period fans would be locked out of Melbourne Park, with Channel Nine using canned crowd noise on its broadcasts, as they did for NRL matches upon that competition’s season resumption in May last year.
Nonetheless, Melbourne’s successful staging of the 2021 Australian Open should serve as a guide for the rest of the world as to how to hold a COVID-safe sporting event, with the next real test to come when Tokyo hosts the postponed Olympics in five months.
But that’s all she wrote for the 2021 Australian Open, where Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka have once again proven that they are the dominant figures of Melbourne Park.
The next major tournament, the French Open, is now just three months away, and it will see Rafael Nadal aim for a record-extending 14th title as well as a record-breaking 21st major men’s singles title, which would see him overtake Roger Federer.