MELBOURNE — The year is 2020, a number that implies clarity and vision, if not foresight. But the first tennis major of this year has been shrouded in haze. First, the literal variety—all that gunk in the air, residue from the devastating bushfires. Now, mercifully, the vapor is of the figurative variety.
Serena Williams’s great quest for a 24th major remains hazy. Karolina Pliskova and Stefanos Tsitsipas remain works in progress. Naomi Osaka remains enigmatic. But just as fog lifts and skies brighten, Coco Gauff’s vast potential is fully in focus. As is Novak Djokovic’s ownership of this event. And the prospect of an Aussie champ finally winning this event remains a clear possibility.
As we make the turn, some midterm grades from the 2020 Australian Open:
The trophy hunters: Some considerable upsets along the way. And some close calls, not least Federer d. Millman in a fifth-set superbreaker. But still plenty of chalk. (“I saw chalk. Chalk came up all over the place!”)
Coco Gauff: Summoning the future before our eyes.
Nick Kyrgios: He’s winning. And he’s winning fans. He kickstarted tennis’s bushfire relief. And his demands to play on the smaller Melbourne Arena—because fans with ground passes can get in—made for a nice populist touch.
Qiang Wang: You serve for a career win against the Mighty Serena Williams and get broken. You then recover and an hour later prevail 6-4, 6-7, 7-5. That’s courage.
Marton Fucsovics: From the Hungarian for “get off my lawn,” the vet beats Denis Shapovalov (19), Jannik Sinner (18) and Tommy Paul (22) to reach round four.
Ons Jabeur: The Tunisian beats two former No. 4s—Jo Konta and Caroline Garcia—and a former No. 1 in Wozniacki. And she has the presence of mind to celebrate but let Wozniacki have her moment. Speaking of….
Caroline Wozniacki: Next stop, Newport. Here’s how she takes us out: “I think the main thing I've learned is no matter where you're from, no matter what color of your skin, no matter if you're tall or short, big or small, doesn't matter. If you have a dream and you go for it and work hard, anything is possible. I had a dream when I was a kid. I wanted to win a Grand Slam. I wanted to be No. 1 in the world. People thought that I was crazy being from a small country. But I made it happen. I worked so hard for it every single day. I'm very, very proud of that.”
Cici Bellis: Perhaps the story of Week One, two wins and a three-set loss to a seed. A year ago her entire career was shrouded in uncertainty. Now, her wrist is healthy and so is her trajectory.
Tommy Paul: Scores two big wins (over Leo Mayer and a five-set thriller over Grigor Dimitrov) but mounts little resistance against Fucsovics. Overall, leaves with his head high.
Mikael Ymer: A dazzling younger player, the Ethiopian/Swede wins a match and serves for a match against Karen Khachanov. Alas, he can’t close, but good things to come.
John Millman: Pushes Federer yet again with four hours of dazzling tennis. Then, a Hawk-eye challenge within victory, he loses the last SIX points and falls in five, heartbreakingly. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie…oy, oy, oy.
Wild cards and qualifiers: Some nice wins and efforts. (One among many: Alex Bolt taking two sets off of Dominic Thiem.) But none are currently left.
Americans: A mixed bag. Some disappointments—Serena, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys—and some encouraging results, starting with Coco but including Sonya/Sofia Kenin, Ali Riske and Tennys Sandgren.
Canada: They’re fragile, these dynasties. Shapovalov lost to both Fucsovics and to his own self-sabotaging instincts; out of the tournament by lunchtime on the first Monday. Felix Auger-Aliassime also lost in round one, at the hands of Ernests Gulbis. And Bianca Andreescu didn’t post on account of a knee injury.
Men’s losing semifinalists at the 2019 U.S. Open: Both Dimitrov and Matteo Berrettini get bounced in round two. In tight sets. Against Americans. (Paul and Sandgren, respectively.)
Climate Change: Rain, winds, wavering heat. And when the Yarra turned the color of terre battue it told you all you needed to know about the air quality. Welcome to the new normal.