The 2014 Australian Open kicked off the Grand Slam cycle with a bang. There were underdogs (like Stanislas Wawrinka) rising to the top, favorites dropping like flies and a record-breaking heat wave to top it all off.
The players are already focused on their next tournaments, but we have the luxury of being able to bask in the after-tournament glow. Here are the moments that defined the Australian Open 2014.
Things got interesting from the get-go in Melbourne, but it wasn’t the type of attention the tournament officials were hoping for.
Players fainting, water bottles melting, the emergence of ice vests as the trendy new tennis accessory and hallucinations of Snoopy.
That’s what happened due to scorching temperatures that reached 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius).
In many ways, the Melbourne tournament will be remembered for the oven-like heat—especially by the fans in attendance—but it could also shape the policy of tournament officials in the future.
Many players complained about the conditions, the fact that play had to go on and the way tournament policy was enforced.
Greg Bishop of the New York Times provided some of the notable quotes from the players:
- Andy Murray called the conditions “inhumane”
- Croatian player Ivan Dodig legitimately wondered whether he would die on the court
- Maria Sharapova openly questioned the lack of information available to athletes. She received her first temperature-related correspondence from officials after her marathon match in the temperatures that forced officials to finally suspend play—when it was "a little too late"
The heat wave will certainly be remembered by the athletes who had to endure the torturous conditions, but it may also have a lasting impact on the future of the Australian Open and how the tournament is managed.
Apparently, big names don’t mean much down under.
A number of highly ranked players were knocked out of contention earlier than they would have liked, but none of them was more shocking—and therefore memorable—than the exit of Serena Williams.
Williams had been on an absolute tear prior to the tournament, and nobody owns the Australian Open like she does.
She proved as much in the third round with a win over Daniela Hantuchova that moved her past Margaret Court for the most wins in tournament history.
Her victory parade didn’t last long.
The fact that she lost at all was surprising. Who she lost to made it even more incomprehensible.
Not that Ana Ivanovic is any kind of slouch…except that she kind of is against Williams—at least in the past.
Ivanovic had never taken a set off Williams in their four previous meetings, and that trend looked set to continue after the American superstar won the first set, 6-4.
Throw in the fact that Williams was 51-1 when winning the first set in Melbourne, and the match looked like it was already over.
But then Ivanovic fought back, sent the contest into a deciding set and exorcised her demons. She will have given Williams some demons to deal with in the process, as the world No. 1 has some work to do—a fact she readily admitted and vowed to accomplish.
Li Na’s Win (and Speech)
Li Na became a national hero (and endorsement queen) after winning the French Open in 2011, but she has been heavily criticized for not doing better on the court since that Grand Slam win.
Now, she has silenced those critics.
This was her third Australian Open final in four years, but she finally got the monkey off her back and won the whole thing.
Na’s ability to perform in the clutch had come under fire, but she certainly looked the part of the favorite in this year’s tournament.
Luck definitely played a role—she didn’t face a top-25 opponent until the final—but nobody can take this win away from her.
She won the crowd with her play, and then with her personality after the tournament:
Wawrinka’s Unlikely Run
Some will look at Stanislas Wawrinka’s final against Rafael Nadal, notice that Nadal sustained a back injury in the second set and feel that it cheapens the achievements of Wawrinka.
That would be wrong.
Certainly, the outcome may have been different had Nadal been fully healthy, but Wawrinka was dominating the Spanish favorite before the injury anyway.
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated broke down Wawrinka’s authority well:
It's rare that a player faces the biggest match of his career and flat-out zones. For an hour Sunday, Wawrinka was clearly the better player. This was rogue tennis. He bullied Nadal from the baseline. He controlled long rallies. He sizzled the ball off both wings. He returned brilliantly. At one juncture, he won 12 straight points.
In a tournament that was largely about the favorites getting ousted, Wawrinka earned his victory and his trophy.
He also broke up the tyrannical reign of the “Big Four” (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray) who had won 34 straight majors. He also faced some awe-inspiring opponents and came out on top anyway.
Wawrinka built off his excellent 2013 form and rode his career renaissance all the way to the Australian Open trophy.
The bizarre men’s final was the most unforgettable part of the 2014 Australian Open, but there were plenty of other things to write home about.
Until next year, Melbourne. Thanks for the memories.