What was predictable was that Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic would be walking out onto Rod Laver Arena for their respective finals of the 2016 Australian Open. What was less so was that only one of them would leave Australia with the first slam of the year. Djokovic’s obscene run of one loss since Cincinnati last year continues unabated. Serena William’s soul searching after the agonising defeat at the U.S. open to Roberta Vinci is, however, still a work in progress.

Labelled in a weirdly patronising manner, ‘The Happy Slam’, due to its rating as the event most enjoyed by the players, the position of the tournament at the front end of the tennis season means it has historically thrown up surprises. Amongst them were the highly mature and consistent performances of Miloš Raonic and Britain’s own Johanna Konta.

However, none can usurp the battling, and in the end the triumphant display by the German Angelique Kerber. Serena Williams has a habit of finding it particularly difficult when players don’t try to take her on from the baseline. Despite her dominant head to head against both Kerber and the similarly styled counterpuncher Agnieska Radwanska, to have to play both of them at the latter end of the tournament was always going to be tough for Williams, who is more partial to the gladiatorial butting of heads from the baseline, rather than the guile and finesse at, or approaching, the net.

“Andy Murray, with impending fatherhood looming large seemed at a loss, especially at the beginning of the match where Djokovic continued in the similarly rampant form he finished with in his semi-final against Federer”

Nowhere was this clearer than in the final where a very uncharacteristic change in tactic involving ill-advised net rushing ultimately ended in disaster. In the coming year it is unlikely she will change her style a great deal, and will aim to hit players off the court before they have the opportunity to approach the net or use dainty dinks or chips. Still the dominant player on the women’s tour, even at the age of 34, she will enter every tournament this year as the heavy favourite for each title. It is most likely she will equal, if not surpass Steffi Graf’s slam record of 22 this year.

The men’s final was, alas, less entertaining and more predictable. Andy Murray, with impending fatherhood looming large seemed at a loss, especially at the beginning of the match where Djokovic continued in the similarly rampant form he finished with in his semi-final against Federer. Murray-Djokovic slam matches have tended to hinge on individual points and moments as their styles are so similar that the points won ratio borders on 50:50 each time.

Frankly, Murray’s minor reluctance to be the aggressor on the forehand side combined with Djokovic’s current invincibility, meant it was always unlikely he was going to pull off his maiden title in Melbourne. Off court matters at the tournament clearly hindered him. His father in law Nigel Sears, coach of Ana Ivanovic collapsed during her 3rd round match against Madison Keys. His brusque press conference and quote “I just want to go home” speaks volumes.

“With form and hard work, often fortune and luck seem to follow and that was definitely the case for Johanna Konta, who bettered her surprising fourth round showing at the US open by making the semi-finals”

Murray’s performances had been strong throughout the tournament, edging past an in form Raonic in the semi-finals, who will likely take a lot of confidence from his strong showing. The young Canadian, former record holder for the world’s fastest serve, has slowly worked his way up the rankings, improving steadily in his game and in his results, including beating Federer in the final of the warm-up tournament in Brisbane. Especially encouraging for him will be the mental fortitude he displayed to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in five sets in the fourth round. An abductor injury during the fourth set against Murray unfortunately put paid to his ambitions to reach his first grand slam final, but these experiences will inevitably aid him in his attempting to do so.

With form and hard work, often fortune and luck seem to follow and that was definitely the case for Johanna Konta, who bettered her surprising fourth round showing at the US open by making the semi-finals, before losing to the eventual champion Angelique Kerber. Brilliant in dispatching Venus Williams and digging deep to beat Makarova in the fourth round, the draw fell kindly for her and allowed some matches against much more comfortable opponents in the later rounds. As with most unexpected achievements it is more how she performs from here as to how much this nonetheless impressive result means.

Going one better than his baby brother, Jamie Murray finally attained his first men’s doubles title with partner Brazilian Bruno Soares, who also put the pain of lost slam finals behind him. They defeated the hugely experienced pair of Daniel Nestor and Radek Stepanek in a tough three set match. “We can retire now” quipped Soares after the match. This being the pair’s first slam tournament together made this achievement all the more remarkable. On the ladies’ side Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza won their third title in a row, with Hingis reclaiming the No. 1 doubles spot having last held it in the year 2000.

The storylines after this year’s Australian Open remain the same as those going into the tournament. The men have to collectively find a way to defeat their number one player whilst the women know that their’s, whilst dominant, is beatable. It will, on both sides, take some doing.

Stephen Kenny

Image courtesy of diggita.it

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