The Australian Open ended with a thrilling rollercoaster tussle between champion Novak Djokovic and challenger Dominic Thiem on Sunday, which epitomised the up-and-down tournament that was constantly embroiled in controversy.
Kicking off the Grand Slam calendar, the Australian Open not only put tennis in the spotlight but raised more important social and political issues starting with the bushfires ravaging the nation.
Before the fortnight of tennis even started, qualifying events were underway and the world watched as a thick brown haze engulfed Melbourne and forced multiple players to suffer in the hazardous conditions.
The Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell claimed the tournament’s “image meltdown” also “tarnished tennis’ image” and it all started when it took days for Australian Open officials to dispel any fears of another horrible sight of a player retiring after a coughing fit on court in hazardous conditions.
“While the cheerleading television companies covering the first slam of the season for a worldwide audience of many millions could hardly ignore what their viewers saw through the yellow/brown haze on the screens, most dramatically the on-court coughing collapse of Dalila Jakupovic, it took the tournament days to satisfy the curiosity of the media and the inquiries of worried players and spectators about what constitutes safe air in Melbourne Park,” he wrote.
Fears were allayed when the bushfire smoke didn’t impact the schedule, but the tournament found further controversy.
Both John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova appeared in an on-court show of solidarity that saw them offer an apology for breaking protocol.
“It then moved on to the similar impact the twisted moral rectitude of Margaret Court had on everyone not born in the 19th century, most publicly Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe, who objected to the 77-year-old legend’s hardwired homophobia and almost forgotten apartheid apologia,” Mitchell wrote.
The final day of the tournament also brought with it plenty of talking points as hitherto seven-time champion Djokovic was embroiled in an ugly spat with the umpire.
The argument saw Djokovic touch the chair umpire’s shoe and despite talks of a fine, the Serbian escaped with no punishment.
This didn’t sit well with Mitchell, who questioned “image saved. Or maybe not” as the now World No.1 attempted to shrug off the incident.
One thing was clear to Mitchell, Djokovic’s brilliance is unmatched right now and he could be equal with Roger Federer’s 20 Grand Slam titles at the start of next year’s Australian Open.