By U.B. Acharya
Regarding Australian Open 2024 which concluded last week, I need to discuss four issues. First one is about India’s Sumit Nagal. He came through gruelling qualifying rounds (because his ATP ranking was below 128) and capped it with a win in the first round of the main draw. For a qualifier, winning the first round is like winning the finals itself. He earned enough prize money that will see him through for the European circuit of the ATP tour.
The second issue is about our own 43-year-old Rohan Machanda Bopanna. Partnering Australian Matt Ebden, he won the Men’s Doubles title. This is his second Major title having won a Mixed Doubles title in 2017 along with Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski. He also became World No. 1 in ATP ranking in the Men’s Doubles category.
Reacting to this, Novak Djokovic put in his Instagram, “Congrats Bops. Amazing to become World No. 1 at this YOUNG age!” A telecaster named him “Greybeard Evergreen.” We Indians are proud of both Sumit and Rohan for their incredible performance.
The third issue is of the defeat of the reigning champion, 36-year-old top seeded Djokovic in the semi-finals by the fourth seeded 22-year-old Jannik Sinner. His team had planned its homework thoroughly and knew that Djokovic likes to jump off the block quickly by winning the first set. Sinner counter attacked by serving extremely well and also returning from the baseline equally well and Djokovic just could not handle this.
In tennis terminology, a score line of 6-0 is referred to as beagle and 6-1, a bread stick (a bakery analogy). Djokovic never had a bread stick for a long time but in this tournament, Sinner presented him with one! After the match, Djokovic congratulated Sinner profusely.
Meanwhile in the other half, second seeded Carlos Alcaraz Garfia moved up easily until he met Alexander (“Shasha”) Zverev in the quarter-finals. Zverev served with precision and blunted Alcaraz’s unplayable forehand returns. Zverev ultimately won in four sets. Some experts believe that Alcaraz and his team were thinking too far ahead of defeating Djokovic in the finals without realising that he had to win six rounds before meeting his opponent in the finals!
The semi-finals between Zverev and the fourth seeded Daniil Medvedev was won by Medvedev in five sets mainly because of his experience in playing Grand Slam matches. The final was won by Sinner after being two sets down in an exciting five set battle lasting three hours and 44 minutes. Full credit to young Sinner.
The last issue I want to discuss is the Oldies Vs Next Gen. In 1989, a 19-year-old Pete Sampras defeated the top seed, Mats Wilander in Wimbledon Championship. In turn, Sampras got beaten by a 20-year-old Roger Federer in 2002 Wimbledon. Continuing the story, in 2008, another 20-year-old Djokovic defeated Federer in Australian Open semi-finals. These are clear cases of older players yielding to newer ones. While it was the end of the careers of Wilander and Sampras, it was not so in the case of Federer. He eventually collected 20 Major titles before retiring in 2022. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal who was unfit for a year is set to restart his campaign at the French Open.
When Djokovic lost to 20-year-old Alcaraz in the Wimbledon finals last year, many pundits predicted that Djokovic’s era was over. After brooding for six weeks, he rose like a Phoenix and won Cincinnati Masters, US Open, Paris Masters and year ending ATP Finals. That was a remarkable performance for a player who was written off by experts like Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg!
Now Sinner has beaten Djokovic convincingly. Many readers may not know that Italian Sinner has Monaco as his residence and Djokovic had given him several tips as how to win crucial matches.
In the post-match press conference when Djokovic was asked whether he was contemplating on retiring, he replied, “It is in the horizon. I have to balance my personal life and the professional life. But as long as I am playing at a top level I will continue and when youngsters kick my a** off, I will retire.”
I am certain that a dozen Next Gen players including new finds like Ben Shelton and Arthur Fils are eagerly sharpening their knives (read skills) just to do that. As they say all good things must come to an end and whether it is the end for Nadal and Djokovic, only time will tell.
When an athlete who held multiple World Records was asked whether his records would ever be beaten, he replied, “Most certainly. Records are meant to be broken. However, whoever beats my records will be a dead tired man.” Djokovic could possibly say the same thing.