The 2005 Australian Open featured some of the best tennis at a Grand Slam event in quite some time. Melbourne is the place to be in mid January for 2 weeks while the highest ranked players in the world come to get off to an early season start. The week before the Aussie Open, many of the players either play in the tournament in Sydney held at Olympic Park (home of the 2000 Summer Olympics) where Lleyton Hewitt took home the championship again in 2005; or many of the top ranked players get to play in an exhibition style tournament held in Melbourne at Kooyong Tennis Club. Here is a look at the top players and how they fared.
Roger Federer breezed to victory without losing a match in this round robin play at Kooyong handling Andy Roddick in the finals (6-4, 7-5). Federer came into the Aussie Open nearly unbeatable in the last year. The 23 year old Swiss Star won 3 of 4 Grand Slams in 2004 and finished with an astounding 74-6 record including 17 straight victories and counting over Top 10 players and going undefeated in 13 finals. The fluid Swede was off to a great start already with one Tour Victory (Doha, Qatar) and was going strong not losing a set wiping out Agassi in the quarterfinals in straight sets. After that victory, I asked him in the post match press conference which player gives him the most trouble at this time. He replied, Have you looked at the rankings lately? I mentioned that doesn’t mean that much since he has been dominating and wanted a more specific answer. He finally said Marat Safin because of his big serve and how he came on strong at the end of 2004 winning a couple of tournaments and losing a close match to Federer at The Masters Cup in Houston including a 20-18 second set tie-breaker. That came true to form in the semis as Safin came back from match point down to win a thrilling marathon match and 9-7 in the 5th set. Safin completed his great triumph beating local favorite Hewitt in 4 sets (1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4) in the finals after dropping the first set for his 2nd Grand Slam Career Title. Hewitt played some exciting matches along the way to the finals outlasting Rafael Nadal of Spain and David Nalbandian of Argentina both in 5 sets before knocking out #2 seed Andy Roddick in 4 sets in the semis. (Photos below of Hewitt/ his coach cheering him on / and his aussie rooting section in yellow) He was trying to become the first Aussie to win down under since 1976. He gave it a great shot and his never say die attitude and energy is second to none out there.
The womens final came down to a pair of Americans with Serena Williams beating Lindsay Davenport (2-6, 6-3, 6-0) for the title after barely defeating Maria Sharapova in the most exciting match of the tourney in the semis. The back and forth match included match points for each player and Williams finally prevailed. Many of the top women had to withdraw because of injuries and limited the field but still made for a nice draw. Mike and Bob Bryan came close to capturing the doubles title only to succumb to Zimbabweâ€™s Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett 6-4, 6-4.
Of all the tennis tournaments I have been to and covered the Australian Open ranks right up there in terms of quality of tennis; incredible fans from all over the world supporting their countries players; friendliness of all the people; organization and location. Melbourne Park is about a 10-15 minute walk from downtown Melbourne and along the Yarra River. Rod Laver Arena and Vodafone Arena are the 2 most popular courts with retractable roofs. Margaret Court Arena (outdoor) gets the most rowdy and loud fans while Show Courts 2 & 3 are not far behind. The first week of play utilizes about 20 of the courts with plenty of great tennis action and activities all over the Park. Everything is easy to find and there are quite a few information spots if you get stuck. American Express was one of the sponsors and they had a few nice hospitality booths for customers. Plenty of official merchandise stores and places to eat were available as well.
A few records were broken during the 2 fun filled weeks. The attendance record was broken again with well over a half million people. Also, Swedens rising star Joachim Johannson was involved in 2 records. Most combined aces (72) with Spains Feliciano Lopez in their long lasting 5 set 3rd round match won by Johannson 13-11 in the final set. Then Johannson met Agassi in the 4th round and set the all time record for aces in a match with 51. Even that didnâ€™t prevent him from losing to Agassi in 4 close sets as Andre took advantage by staying in rallies. He forced Johannson into many unforced errors ( many from his backhand), while Agassi played quite error free during the match as that was his only way to top the young Swede. For more information, specific stats throughout the tourney, or how to get tickets for 2006, visit their comprehensive website at www.australianopen.com