5 things we learned from the Australian Open

By Sports Desk January 29, 2024

Jannik Sinner became tennis’ newest grand slam champion at the Australian Open while Aryna Sabalenka successfully defended her title.

The year’s first grand slam brought plenty of long matches and late nights and set the tone for an intriguing season to come.

Here, the PA news agency picks out five things we learned at Melbourne Park.

Changing of the guard

The shifting sands of the sport have moved extremely slowly over the last decade, but there is no doubt change is here – and more is on the way. No one will be writing off Novak Djokovic after one off-colour tournament – he still reached the semi-finals despite being nowhere near his best – but power is moving towards the youngest generation, led by Carlos Alcaraz and now Sinner. Rafael Nadal’s comeback adds extra intrigue heading towards the French Open.

Sabalenka setting the standard

Iga Swiatek remains world number one but not by much and, based on the last five slams, Sabalenka can lay claim to be the best across all surfaces. While Swiatek will be favoured to sweep all before her on clay again, she has work to do to prove she can be a consistent force on hard courts and grass. Sabalenka was awesome in Melbourne, never dropping a set and maintaining a sense of emotional calm that the rest of the locker room would have observed with some trepidation.

New Norrie

Cameron Norrie has been Britain’s Mr Dependable over the last three years, using his physical and mental prowess to battle his way into the top 10. But in Melbourne the 28-year-old showed a whole new attacking side to his game that was a joy to watch. Norrie pulled off the best slam victory of his career over Casper Ruud in the third round and pushed Alexander Zverev all the way to a deciding tie-break before bowing out. If he continues on the same path, he can put himself right in the mix at the biggest tournaments.

Raducanu back on track

Emma Raducanu may only have made the second round of her comeback slam before a tight loss to Wang Yafan but the signs were very encouraging. The 21-year-old played with conviction, looked good physically barring an unfortunate stomach bug and, most encouragingly, appeared happy and excited to be back on tour. It will take Raducanu time to find her level but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, especially if she sticks with new coach Nick Cavaday for a sustained period.

Late night addiction

Tournament director Craig Tiley’s claim that extending the event to 15 days would somehow fix the problem of matches going late into the night was always farcical, and so it proved. Even only having two matches in the day session did not guarantee the night session began on time, and Daniil Medvedev’s second-round clash with Emil Ruusuvuori did not finish until 3.39am. Until tennis accepts that matches are becoming ever longer and schedules accordingly, nothing will change.

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    Iga Swiatek acknowledged her mind was not always in Wednesday's match as the world number one survived a French Open scare against Naomi Osaka.

    The three-time Roland-Garros champion appeared set for an early exit on Court Philippe-Chatrier after trailing 4-1 in the deciding set.

    Matters worsened for the Polish tennis star when Osaka mustered a 5-3 lead, but Japan's four-time major winner relinquished a match point with Swiatek on the ropes.

    The defending French Open champion responded in blistering style, eventually triumphing 7-6 (7-1) 1-6 7-5 to reach the third round unscathed.

    After a shock to the system and nearing an early exit, Swiatek said she struggled to focus at times in Paris.

    "For sure I felt for most of the match that I wasn't really here and now," Swiatek said.

    "My mind was flying around sometimes, but when I was really under the biggest pressure I was able to focus more and play better, not thinking about what the score is and that I was really close to losing.

    "I just kept going forward and I hope that my game is going to get better because of that."

    Aged 22 years and 363 days, Swiatek is the third-youngest women's player, after Monica Seles and Steffi Graf, to win 16 consecutive matches at the French Open during the Open Era.

    Victory also marked her 30th win at Roland-Garros, as many as Seles before turning 23.

    Only Graf (47), Sanchez Vicario (39), Gabriela Sabatini (34) and Martina Hingis (31) have registered more wins when under the age of 23 at this event during the Open Era.

    "For sure this match was really intense," Swiatek added in her on-court interview.

    "Much more intense for the second round than I ever expected. Naomi played amazing tennis, with a really loose hand – maybe she's gonna be a clay-court specialist in a while."

    The Pole has also now won 69 of her 70 completed WTA main-draw matches on clay after winning the opening set.

  • Gauff recovers from slow start to overcome Zidansek at Roland Garros Gauff recovers from slow start to overcome Zidansek at Roland Garros

    Coco Gauff booked her place in the French Open third round with another straight-sets victory over Tamara Zidansek.

    The third seed is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros in her opening two matches, but was made to work for her 6-3 6-4 win over the former Roland Garros semi-finalist.

    Zidansek broke in the opening game on the way to a 3-1 lead, but Gauff broke back in game six, and again in game eight on the way to drawing first blood.

    The players exchanged two breaks apiece to leave the set finely poised at 4-4, until the American's crucial break in the ninth game paved the way for victory.

    The 2022 runner-up will play either Dayana Yastremska or Wang Yafan in round three.

    Data Debrief: Gauff matches Evert

    The 20-year-old has now registered 17 match wins at the French Open. That is as many as the great Chris Evert managed before turning 21.

    In fact, only Kathy Rinaldi Stunkel and Mary Joe Fernandez have registered more victories amongst American women before the age of 21.

  • Swiatek survives huge Osaka scare in French Open thriller Swiatek survives huge Osaka scare in French Open thriller

    Iga Swiatek survived a huge scare before eventually seeing off Naomi Osaka in a thrilling second-round clash at the French Open.

    After winning the opening set, the reigning champion was pegged back by her Japanese opponent, and trailed 4-1 in the decider before saving match point at 5-3 behind.

    However, she dug deep to prevail 7-6 (7-1) 1-6 7-5 as Court Philippe-Chatrier was treated to a blockbuster battle of the four-time major winners.

    The opening set went the distance with Swiatek eventually dominating the tie-break to draw first blood. However, Osaka broke at the start of the second as she came roaring back to level the contest.

    The world number 134 built on that momentum, saving several break points while also breaking her opponent for a commanding 4-1 advantage.

    She then reached match point at 40-30 in game nine, and stood on the brink of becoming only the third player to beat Swiatek at Roland Garros after Simona Halep and Maria Sakkari.

    However, a trio of untimely backhand errors - two into the net and one long - allowed the top seed to survive and break back, and she did not look back from there.

    Osaka double-faulted at the end of game 11 to hand Swiatek another break at 6-5 up, and she successfully held out for victory after her opponent sent a forehand wide.

    Data Debrief: Swiatek matches Steffi and Seles

    It was touch and go at one point but, at 22 years and 363 days old, Swiatek is the third-youngest player after Monica Seles and Steffi Graf to win 16 consecutive matches at the French Open during the Open Era.

    Meanwhile, the Pole has now won 69 of her 70 completed WTA main-draw matches on clay after winning the opening set.

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