Tennis fans across the world pulse with excitement each year when the time comes for the Australian Open. The tennis season’s annual curtain raiser never fails to deliver its share of unforgettable moments. With this year’s tournament, we look back at some of the most memorable ones in the ‘Happy Slam’s’ history.
Sometimes circumstances prove to be a perfect storm of trouble, or at least a perfect flood in this case. Immediately after Andre Agassi defeated Aaron Krickstein 1995 in the semi-final, the stadium’s drainage system collapsed and released litres upon litres of water onto the main court. Making that year even more bizarre was the heat wave, which followed the flood, forcing the Williams sisters to take their finals showdown indoors to avoid 45-degree heat. A moment to remember as nature had shaken the tournament even though the court had a roof.
Many matches have gone on for several hours in the tournament’s history, but no match was so demanding as the 2012 meet up between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The players battled for record-breaking five hours and 53 minutes, making it the longest final played in a major championship. Both players ignored the aches and pains of a brutal encounter, which eclipsed the previous record-holder, the 1988 US Open final between Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander, by close to an hour. “We made history tonight,” said an exhausted Djokovic in the post-game ceremony before adding, “Unfortunately there couldn’t be two winners.” By then the pair were struggling to stand.
The 2002 Australian Open Women’s Singles final between Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis is remembered not only for the thrilling contest and miraculous fightback by the American, but also for the sweltering conditions on centre court that turned the Australian Open final into the Australian Open furnace. Temperatures on court almost hit the 50 degree mark.
Capriati was the defending champion having beaten Hingis the previous year. Hingis looked to have the match wrapped up when she took a big lead in the second set. Capriati refused to wilt, pulling off her greatest comeback.
In between long, searching points both players sought relief by taking the shady seats of line judges, slumping exhausted over the courtside barriers, leaving the court several times, and in the case of Hingis, donning an ice vest. During the 10-minute break at the end of the second set, both women were packed in ice in the locker room.
Well-known for his temper and throwing his tennis racquet, American tennis pro John McEnroe is no stranger to being kicked off the court. It happened in a unique way, though, at the 1990 Australian Open. McEnroe was playing the Swede Mikael Pernfors and already had collected an early warning for intimidating a lineswoman and had been docked a point for smashing a racket. Apparently unaware that the tournament had changed the previous year’s four-strike rule to a three-strike rule, McEnroe went a bridge too far and instructed to the tournament supervisor to, ‘Just go f*** your mother.’ Within moments, Gerry Armstrong, the British umpire, was announcing: ‘Verbal abuse, audible obscenity, Mr McEnroe. Default. Game, set and match, Pernfors.’ And McEnroe’s response? ‘I can’t say I’m surprised. It was bound to happen.’ He was the first player in almost 30 years to receive his walking papers.
The 2005 men’s semi-final between Marat Safin and Roger Federer is regularly cited as the finest ever to have been seen on the hard courts of Melbourne. The five-set thriller concluded with the Swiss master in obvious physical distress, but his stubbornness drew the utmost effort out of Safin before the mercurial Russian could prevail. Style vs strength, and much, much more in an enthralling encounter.
Considered one of the greatest matches in Australian Open history, as well as in the two women’s rivalry, the 1982 battle between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert-Lloyd was a classic. This match, however, is not remembered for an epic scoreline (Evert prevailed 6-3, 2-6, 6-3), but for the quality of the play. With both women starting slowly, they had some fantastic rallies over the course of the match. Being the first Australian Open for Evert that is a match that she won’t want to forget.
The result of the 1992 men’s final was not that much of a surprise, with Jim Courier dominating Stefan Edberg all the way through. The celebration he took after the matchup, however, made history. Overcome by the heat and the physical challenge of the match, Courier jumped into the Yarra River with his coach. The oversight board in charge of the river had already declared it 18 times more polluted than acceptable limits for humans.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were evenly matched and highly competitive players when they met up in the 2009 finals at the Australian Open. Following a heart-breaking loss at the hands of his greatest rival, Roger Federer found the pain too much to keep in. The Swiss legend started crying very hard, his tears streaming down his face. In a great display of sportsmanship, Nadal went to comfort his competitor with a hug, warming the hearts of everyone watching. Nadal eventually won the game and the match. However, Federer won the crowd’s heart with his emotional display.
Having the Williams sisters in a final round matchup is exciting enough, but their 2003 showdown at the Australian Open was particularly compelling since the sisters had faced off in three Grand Slam matchups already that year, with Serena taking all of them. The fact that Venus committed four errors while serving in the final game took just a bit of the luster off a match that had been a showcase of power tennis.
Fun fact: For the first time in tournament history, this whole Australian Open final was played indoors because the temperature in Melbourne skyrocketed to an astounding 45 °C.
Rod Laver’s victory over Tony Roche in the 1969 Australian Open semifinals is a must on this list based on the legend that surrounds it. Laver went on to win this year’s tournament as well as the other three majors that year to capture the second single-year Grand Slam of his career. He finished off the Slam by beating Roche again in the U.S. Open finals.
While the second set consisted of 42 games played on what modern players consider demanding and with vintage racquets is impressive enough, the real takeaway for many is that Laver and Roche played this extended match in 40.5 degree heat, with Laver even wearing cabbage leaves in his hat to stay cool.
Despite losing the first two sets, Roche won the third set and blew Laver off the court in the fourth. Roche appeared to be the fresher player, but Laver showed his toughness by beating the heat and stopping Roche’s momentum in the fifth set.
This year’s Australian Open come to an end this weekend and it remains to be seen wether this list has to be revised by then.Novak Djokovic, who beat Roger Federer in a semi-final battle of the giants on Thursday, will face the british, world ranking number two Andy Murray or Canadian Milos Raonic in the men’s finals on Sunday.Angelique Kerber reached the women’s finals in Melbourne and will meet Serena Wiliams on the court on Saturday. Kerber became the first German since Anke Huber 1996 to reach the Australian Open finals.