The Australian Open 2013 has been an eventful one on the women’s side, including controversy, breakthrough performances, shock results and one of the more bizarre Grand Slam finals you’re ever likely to see. So who leaves Melbourne with their head held high, and who has had a tournament to forget?
Yes, she may have drawn the ire of both seasoned observers and casual fans following her mega-dubious decision to take a medical timeout at a tense moment in her semi-final match, but the controversy should not take away from the fact that Victoria Azarenka won the tournament. Facing a blizzard of media pressure, a quasi-hostile crowd (“Cheatarenka” said one of the banners) and one of the trickiest opponents on tour, Azarenka was a paragon of mental strength. She came from a set down to defend her title, keep her top ranking and set herself up for another hugely successful season.
Beloved by the Australian crowd – as well as anyone who watches her post-match interviews – Li Na proved that she could still hang with – and beat – the best in the world. The 2011 French Open champion had struggled to make an impact at recent Grand Slams, leading some to bemoan her inconsistency and label her a “one-slam wonder.” But last summer, China’s best ever player got a new coach (Carlos Rodriguez, the man who led Justine Henin to seven Grand Slam titles), and got to work. She outwitted Agnieszka Radwanska and out-blasted Maria Sharapova on her way to the final, and but for two untimely and painful-looking falls, she may well have lifted the trophy. It wasn’t to be, but hopefully Li can take this form forward and become a serious contender again.
Along with Li, Stephens became the darling of this year’s Australian Open. Smiling all the way to the semi-finals, and entertaining us with her brand of tactically aware and courageous tennis, the 19-year-old hit the big time with an unforgettable victory over Serena Williams. Granted, Williams was injured and far from her best, but even a hobbled Serena is good enough to beat most players. Stephens stepped up and played the big points brilliantly, proving that she really can live up to the hype. Melbourne was undoubtedly a life-changer for the Floridian, and it will be fascinating to see how she makes the transition from up-and-coming challenger to bona fide top player.
Petra Kvitova has no shortage of admirers. The legendary Martina Navratilova said she saw shades of herself in the 2011 Wimbledon champion, and her game has been hailed as one of the most complete in tennis: she has a big lefty serve, great volleys and power from the back of the court. Which makes her second round exit at the Australian Open all the more disappointing. Kvitova lost a scrappy but enthralling battle to Laura Robson 11-9 in the third set, hitting far too many unforced errors and looking, at times, like a shadow of her former self. At her best, she could dominate the rest of the field, and possibly even give Serena a run for her money, but Kvitova needs to rediscover her confidence fast before an ignominious rankings spiral beckons.
The curious career of Sam Stosur took another turn for the unfortunate in Melbourne. Her poor home record is well-documented, but after winning her opening match and leading Jie Zheng 5-2 in the third set of their second round match, it looked as though Stosur might have finally put those demons to rest. Alas, the Aussie lost the next five games and tumbled out of the tournament, a situation she later described as “a bit of a choke.” Like Kvitova, Stosur has an elite game when on form: her stunning victory over Serena Williams in the 2011 US Open final is proof of that. Yet her confidence, mental clarity and consistency can utterly desert her, leading to ugly, head-scratching losses to players she should beat as a matter of routine. Where she goes from here is anyone’s guess, but it would be a great pity to witness such a talented player suffer an extended slump.