The 2017 Australian Open was a thrilling start to the tennis season, as newcomers and veterans thrilled crowds with excellent play and four of the greatest players of all time made their way back to the finals once again.
By Owen Panettieri (playwright, lyricist)
It's been a rough 2 weeks, y'all. Things in the United States? They ain't good. It seems almost every day came a new horrifying executive order from the President. It's been a lot to deal with. People are upset. People are scared. People are protesting. The anxiety is practically inescapable. But during these past two weeks, a shining beacon of welcome relief was being transmitted into our TVs each night. When the sun went down, the Australian Open was waiting for us shining brightly with tomorrow's sun. With progressive round of play, it became clear that this was one of the best tennis tournaments I have ever seen.
Going into this Major tournament, no one really knew what to expect. Federer and Nadal had take most of the last year off to heal lingering injuries. Their absence meant that their ranking would drop them both out of the top 8 for the first time in over a decade. This meant that they wouldn't get an automatic slot in the 8 corners of the 4 quarters of the draw and could wind up pretty much anywhere. Also, who knew how they were going to play when they showed up? Beyond Rafa and Roger, could Andy Murray maintain his dominance as the new #1? Would Novak Djokovic bounce back after a disappointing second half of 2016? So much drama to unfold!
On the women's side, several big names were not present and several question marks surround the health of Serena and Venus Williams. Serena missed the WTA Finals in 2016 with a shoulder injury. She relinquished her spot at the top of the WTA rankings. Would the Aussie Open be a chance for her to reclaim #1 and give her a 23rd career championship trophy? So much at stake!
Every day of the tournament featured incredible matches with unbelievable outcomes. And the level of play was SO HIGH. In the second round, No. 117 Denis Istomin became just the 2nd player outside the top 100 to defeat Djokovic in the last seven years. The shock wasn't that Novak played badly, but how Istomin played the match of his life beating Novak in 5 sets that lasted just under 5 hours. Istomin went two more rounds deeper in the draw after that as well. In the 4th Round, Murray met another shocking fate when he was handily beaten by #50 Misha Zverev. 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4. Again all credit to Zverev who played such an intense and unusual attacking style that left Murray completely confused. It was incredible! Through it all, the two veteran champions Federer and Nadal kept winning. No matter the challenge, no matter how many times a match went the distance to 5 sets, they kept finding solutions. Pretty soon tournament directors, commentators and spectators dared to dream - could we see another Rafa and Roger Grand Slam final?
On the women's side, Serena and Venus tore through their draws in remarkable fashion. But there were other amazing stories as well. The US Women went deep into the draw. Unseeded Coco Vandeweghe almost got bounced in the third round, but hung tough. Then she dialed in to her power game, knocking off No. 1 and reigning Aussie Champ Angelique Kerber in the Round of 16 and reigning French Open champion Garbine Muguruza to face Venus in the semis. Again we all dared to dream - Could we see an another All-Williams Grand Slam final? On Serena's side of the draw we had the improbable run of Mirjana Lučić-Baroni. I'm not sure if there was a more emotional story in the tournament than hers. A teenage phenom, Lucic-Baroni had very difficult years to get through getting away from her controlling abusive father. She did not make an appearance at a Major tournament for more than seven years from 2003 to 2010. Here she was at 34 ranked #79, kicking ass and making her way through the draw like she'd never been gone. She delighted in every moment. After reaching the quarterfinals in her on court post-match interview she said, “I’m a tough little cookie, and really, really stubborn. When I want something, I will work really hard and I will do whatever it takes to get it. It’s not a guarantee, by any means, that you’re gonna get there, but, man, what a satisfaction I feel right now. Incredible. And I will tell it to anybody struggling out there. 'F-' everything and everybody who ever tells you you can’t do it. Just show up and do it with your heart.” How can you not love this woman? She couldn't beat Serena in the semis, but her performance for the whole tournament was nothing short of inspiring.