Melbourne (AFP) – Memories from week one at the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the season:
Monday, January 15
— Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and CoCo Vandeweghe — all semi-finalists at least at the 2017 US Open — led a string of seeds sent tumbling out. Men’s eighth seed Jack Sock soon joined them in a calamitous day for American players with only three of the 15 in action progressing. With Venus departing, it became the first time since 1997 that no Williams sister made the second round, with Serena not playing after giving birth to her first child.
Tuesday, January 16
‘Don’t be robots’
— Consummate media performer Roger Federer urges his fellow professionals to act themselves and not like “robots” with the press to keep tennis interesting for the sporting public. With some of the greats of the modern game in their twilight years, he understands the need for more players to step up, and open up. “I would like to see more players just being really themselves in front of the press, being more relaxed about it, not worrying so much about making mistakes. You’d rather see that than robots left, right and centre,” he said. The Swiss great said he always tried to “give it a little bit something extra” during his interviews to keep everyone happy.
Wednesday, January 17
What a racket
The ear-busting grunting and screeching of rising Belarusian star Aryna Sabalenka grates on the centre court crowd in her match against Aussie favourite Ashleigh Barty, with fans mocking the 19-year-old, earning a rebuke from the umpire. Long a divisive issue in tennis, Twitter lit up the following day with many calling for more to be done stamp out the racket. The women’s governing body, the WTA, said grunting “is a natural part of the game”, although it did acknowledge fan concerns. “Excessive grunting is being addressed through a commitment to an ongoing educational outreach,” it added, whatever that means.
Thursday, January 18
Heat is on
— Melbourne’s notoriously fickle weather dished up a day of 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and it played havoc. Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils copped some of the worst of the scorching conditions in an afternoon match. The Serb called it “brutal” on court while Monfils complained he was suffering heatstroke. Caroline Garcia said her feet were on fire, but ice queen Maria Sharapova said she “loved summertime”. No matches were called off with the weather not considered severe enough to enforce the tournament heat policy.
Friday, January 19
Lesson from god
— Fifteen-year-old sensation Marta Kostyuk was the youngest woman into the Australian Open third round since “Swiss Miss” Martina Hingis in 1996, but her fairytale unravelled against fourth seed Elina Svitolina. She lost 6-2, 6-2 and was seen sobbing on her mum’s shoulder. Despite the loss, she relished the “free” tennis lesson from her fellow Ukrainian. “I had the chances, but because I thought, like, she is incredible, she’s a god, I cannot do anything against her, that’s the problem.” Kindly Svitolina predicted Kostyuk had a big future ahead.
Saturday, January 20
— World number one Simona Halep said she was “almost dead” after one of the longest Australian Open women’s matches ever. “I never played a third set so long. I’m almost dead,” said the Romanian after finally edging across the finish line 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 against Lauren Davis in 3hr 44min. “My muscles are gone. I don’t feel my ankle any more.” The longest match at Melbourne Park was in 2011 when Francesca Schiavone of Italy beat Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in 4hr 44min.