It lasts just a fortnight. But the first Major of the year, the Australian Open, has shown just how much water can flow under the bridge in two short weeks.
With the draws made, the pundits placed their bets, the journos made their predictions and the fans prepared their banners. Everyone had a view on who would take to the court on the final day.
There were column inches on whether home favourite Lleyton Hewitt could make one last assault on the tournament. There was high excitement surrounding the return of former world No. 4, Juan Martin Del Potro. And there was the newly-promoted world No. 4 Robin Soderling to assess: was he really on a par with ‘the top four’?
Possible upsets were, as usual, eagerly sought. Gilles Simon, the proud owner of the most recent ATP title in Sydney, met Roger Federer in round two. It was tough, but the reigning Australian champion forged onward and upwards, and the odds on his retaining the title shortened with each successive win.
Then there was Tomas Berdych rediscovering his Wimbledon form at just the right time. He made it effortlessly into the quarterfinals, as did the long-life-battery-driven David Ferrer and the new-Swiss-on-the-block, Stanislas Wawrinka: dangerous dark horses, all of them.
And, as with every Major tournament, a new talent strode into the limelight to thrill the lovers of the underdog. Take a bow, Alexandr Dologopolov.
But few really doubted that the dominant four of men’s tennis would eventually take their allotted semi-final places: Federer and Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
And, tough call though it was, the final was almost certainly destined to be Roger-and-Rafa. After all, one or the other had featured in every Major bar one for the last six years and they had won all but two of the last 23.
But 14 days proved to be a mighty long time in the unfolding story of 2011’s first Major and, in the end, the Earth seemed to pause on its axis while it adjusted to the prospect of a final without either top seed in attendance.
Instead it came down to the two men widely regarded as the second pair in the tennis hierarchy.
They have been bracketed together for years, yoked by their ages (they were born in the same week), the weight of expectation, their struggles to keep emotions in check and with sparkling talent at their disposal.
And they are, in the first Power Rankings of 2011, yoked together in the two top spots. More significantly, there’s a real sense that the duopoly of the last six years is under threat.
The Nos. 1 and 2 in the world may have to get used to some company in their tennis stratosphere.