Australian Open Awards

By Owais Majid

The Australian Open has come and gone. It had us picking our jaws up off the floor on countless occasions, it had us destroying our sleep patterns the way Denis Shapovalov destroys his rackets and it delivered narratives at every turn. What better way of recapping it all than a look at the best and worst of the two weeks that were? So without further ado, grab your popcorn and settle in for the definitive end of tournament awards ceremony, Australian Open edition.   

Feel good story of the tournament: Alizé Cornet’s run to the quarter finals.

Going into the tournament, there was little to no attention on Alizé Cornet. If her name was mentioned at all before the tournament, it was that she would be the second round opponent of one of the favourites, Garbiñe Muguruza. Cornet beat Muguruza in emphatic fashion before backing that up with another solid victory over Tamara Zidansek in three sets. 

She then came through a gruelling encounter against Simona Halep in which both women were clearly finding the heat incredibly difficult to deal with. In her on court interview after that match, Cornet was understandably very emotional at having reached the quarter finals of a grand slam for the first time after 16 years of trying. She delivered one of the all time on court interviews as she and Jelena Dokic had an exchange which had Dokic and everyone else watching wiping their eyes. The goodwill towards her was already at a high and only increased. Although she went on to lose to Danielle Collins in the quarterfinals, Cornet left Melbourne with her head held high and having captured the hearts of many around the world.

All the quarterfinal emotions. Cornet celebrates after beating Halep in a war of attrition in the heat. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

Breakthrough star: Maxime Cressy

Very few people were familiar with the name Maxime Cressy prior to this year but a month later he is almost a household name on the ATP Tour. After being edged out in the Melbourne final by Rafael Nadal, Cressy would have had people talking about him anyway, but his throwback serve and volley style meant that the spotlight on him was even brighter. 

With eyes on him at the start of the tournament, Cressy impressed by scoring a five-set victory over John Isner in the first round. He got as far as the last sixteen where he gave Daniil Medvedev all sorts of problems. He eventually lost out in four sets, in a match that had Medvedev visibly and audibly rattled by Cressy’s play style. That performance came as a bit of a surprise to all but Cressy himself, who aspires to become a world number one someday. He makes no attempt at hiding his own belief in his ability and it will be intriguing to see how Cressy gets on through the rest of the year, and if his game will allow him to excel.

Maxime Cressy puts away a volley to retrieve a crucial mini-break against Medvedev. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

Disappointment of the tournament: Alexander Zverev.

Many people had earmarked Alexander Zverev as being the man who would bring an end to Rafael Nadal’s run at this year’s Australian Open (a take that aged like milk), but Zverev wasn’t even able to make it that far. Few could have seen his defeat to Denis Shapovalov in the round of 16 coming. Although Shapovalov is in his own right a solid player, Zverev was the heavy favourite going into their match due to the results he had put together in 2021. Whilst he has suffered unexpected defeats at grand slam events before, the tennis he had displayed at the back end of last year made this defeat especially disappointing. After winning gold at the Olympics and the year-end ATP finals, Zverev was regarded as one of the favourites for the tournament. As a matter of fact, he declared himself part of a new Big Three together with Medvedev and Djokovic (another take which hasn’t aged particularly well). Zverev was tipped to do so well here but once again, he failed to impress at a grand slam. A top-ten scalp at a major still eludes Zverev and he has only been successful against a top-20 opponent on four occasions. For someone who has done so well on the tour, this is hugely underwhelming. Thus, it’s difficult for me to look past Zverev as the disappointment of the tournament.

Surprise package of the tournament: Danielle Collins

Having only recently come back from a lengthy lay off due to having endometriosis surgery, few people were talking about Danielle Collins in any capacity going into the Australian Open. The fact that she was in the same half as Garbiñe Muguruza, Simona Halep and Iga Świątek meant that almost nobody predicted her to make a deep run here. Therefore her run to the final came as a major shock.  The tennis she was able to produce, beating one of the upcoming stars in Clara Tauson, Elise Mertens, an inspired Alizé Cornet and Iga Świątek along the way was nothing short of miraculous. That run of results would have been a seismic achievement under any circumstances, but given the severe nature of her surgery the magnitude of it is even greater. Even though she eventually came up short against Ash Barty in the final, she gave the champion a greater test than any of her previous opponents. 

Collins’ celebration after her semifinal win over Świątek was telling — it was the biggest victory of her life, and her reaction was businesslike. More work to do, she might as well have been saying. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

Collins is one of those players who appears to fly permanently under the radar, however this run may prompt people to view her through a different lens going forward. Now a two-time grand slam semifinalist, she has proven that the initial run at the U.S. Open wasn’t just a fluke occurrence and she will fancy her chances for the rest of the year.  

Match of the tournament: Medvedev vs. Nadal

There’s absolutely no competition here. Let alone match of the tournament, Rafael Nadal vs. Daniil Medvedev will go down as one of the all time great grand slam finals. Rather than indulge you too much with my thoughts here, I’ll direct you towards the outstanding article Owen wrote at the conclusion of the match and to the equally excellent piece Scott produced discussing the championship points. There were plenty of other matches in this tournament which would have been genuine contenders in any other grand slam, but this one stands head, shoulders and entire body above everything that came before it. It’s a match we’ll talk about for years and probably decades to come.

The Australian Open has certainly got the tennis year off to a great start. Here’s hoping everything that follows will be similarly good.

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