Who would have thought that the first major tournament of 2021 would include fans. That’s right. This year’s Australian Open has been able to bring in spectators to the grounds at Melbourne, though limited to 30,000 per day, which is half what they would expect under normal circumstances. On day one only 17,922 fans showed up to “The Happy Slam”, according to the New York Times.
Even with there only being limited fans in Melbourne there has still been enough to create an atmosphere for the matches, some more than others, and it’s quite refreshing. The tennis itself does have to be good, but crowds help to create the energy that makes certain matches timeless to watch.
Speaking of timeless matches, here are my three standouts from the Australian Open so far in the tournament.
- Nick Kyrgios vs. Ugo Humbert
One of the hardest things to do in tennis: beat Nick Kyrgios at John Cain Arena at the Australian Open. Ugo Humbert found out just how hard it is to do just that earlier this week when he faced Kyrgios in a second round match in an arena that Nick had been 8-2 prior to their match. Kyrgios has created a bond with the Aussie crowd in the newly-named arena, as fans know they’re going to get the very best from the world number 47 each and every time he plays there.
On the other end, Ugo Humbert has been one of the better young players on the ATP tour. The 22-year old reached a career high last November when his rank peaked at 30th in the world, and he was a finalist for most improved player of the year in 2020.
It wasn’t going to be an easy match for either player and it turned out to be a classic. It went the distance. A five-set thriller that saw Nick Kyrgios save two match points in the fourth set and won the last set 6-4, it was everything you would expect from this match: drama, electric atmosphere, and great tennis.
2. Simona Halep vs. Ajla Tomljanovic (2nd round)
Another match that involved an Australian playing in their home country. This proved to to be a battle between a pair of talented players. Although she didn’t produce the same results that Kyrgios did against Humbert, she played an incredible match against world number two Simona Halep. Halep ended up winning the match, 4-6 6-4 7-6, but two things I absolutely loved about this match:
- Seeing someone like Tomljanovic, who has had a very solid career, push Halep to her limit and play great tennis in front of her home crowd. It’s refreshing to see from a competitive standpoint.
- Simona Halep proved why she’s won multiple majors and is one of the WTA’s very best. She fought back from not only losing the first set, but being down a break twice in the third set, and was able to will her way to victory.
3. Denis Shapovalov vs. Janik Sinner (1st round)
When I first peaked at the Men’s Draw last weekend this match immediately caught my eye. Denis Shapovalov has been a part of the surge of the young Canadian talent in recent years and peaked at 10th in the world in September. That same month he reached his first Quarterfinal of a major in the U.S. Open. Janik Sinner has become one of the brightest young players on the tour. He’s 19 and already made his first major Quarter Final at Roland Garros in October. He doesn’t have the charismatic personality like Shapovalov, but he plays extremely calm and poised, and hits the ball very hard.
Like the two former matches, this one went the distance. It had everything, minus an atmosphere of Kyrgios and Humbert. Long rallies, athleticism, big serves, and drama. Shapovalov won 3-6 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4 in one of the best matches of the tournament so far.
Unfortunately, for the next five days there will be no fans permitted onto the grounds in Melbourne. According to Jake Michaels of ESPN, “the state of Victoria prepares for a five-day lockdown amid a growing COVID-19 cluster in the city’s outer suburbs.” Australia has done a great job to even allow fans in the tournament, as they’ve done a good job of keeping the Coronavirus under control in their country over the past year. If the lockdown doesn’t extend past the five days fans will be able to start attending again during the Quarterfinal stage.
The tennis will be great, but hopefully we can see fans back for the better part of the second week at the Slam down under.
Featured Image: AP