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The ‘Happy Slam’ has it all: Fashion, Fun and Fans • Day One Tennis Recap From The Australian Open

Denis Shapovalov of Canada in action against Jannik Sinner of Italy during the men’s singles tennis first round match of the Australian Open Grand Slam at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 08 February 2021. EPA-EFE/JASON O’BRIEN

By Alix Ramsay

There was a very strange moment in the early stages of Denis Shapovalov’s first round match against Jannik Sinner. Shapo was ready to play when he was interrupted by a gaggle of latecomers trying to sneak in and take their seats.

Just as the blood pressure was beginning to rise in Ramsay Towers and Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arbuthnot Fitz-Pphuttockstrangler (Retd) was penning his letter to The Times demanding such anti-social hooligans be horsewhipped, it dawned on us both: there were people. There were people watching. People with smiles on their faces. People clapping. People enjoying themselves. People enjoying themselves with other people. People sitting next to each other (admittedly, sitting next to each other in socially distanced clumps, but together nonetheless). And the fact that a few of those people were late to the party and causing a bit of a delay in proceedings mattered not one jot. This is what life looks like when we are not caught in the vice-like grip of the pandemic. Welcome to the Australian Open 2021.

After all the scares and problems, the quarantine issues and positive tests within the tennis bubble, the first grand slam of the year was up and running. The sun didn’t shine much – it was a cool day and a chilly night in Melbourne – but there was no rain and there was heaps of tennis. This was almost normal. There weren’t many people at Melbourne Park (a little under 18,000) but they were there and they made their presence felt. And it made all the difference in the world.

Serena Williams of the USA in action during her first Round Women’s singles match against Laura Siegemund of Germany on Day 1 of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 08 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

The sense of normality was increased when Serena Williams stepped out on the Rod Laver Arena to begin her umpteenth campaign for that elusive 24th major title. All thoughts of her recent shoulder issues were forgotten as she unpeeled her warm up gear to reveal her outfit: a one-legged catsuit in pink, red and black. This caused a few gasps and a bit of head scratching. When she wore a two-legged catsuit at the French Open in 2018, the FFT introduced a new dress code to ban such outfits in the future. This one-legged job was different – but what had inspired it. After all, how many one-legged cats have you ever heard of? And how many of them played tennis? Apparently, the inspiration came from FloJo, as Serena explained.

“I was inspired by FloJo, who was a wonderful track athlete, amazing athlete when I was growing up,” she said. “Well, watching her fashion, just always changing, her outfits were always amazing. This year we thought of what can we do to keep elevating the Serena Williams on the court.

“The Nike team actually thought of this design of inspiration from FloJo. I was like, Oh, my God, this is so brilliant. That’s where we started. Obviously we made some changes and tweaks to it. It became this.”

And after a few changes and tweaks to her preparations following that right shoulder problem, Serena became…well, Serena in the first round of a grand slam: she absolutely clumped Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-1 in 56 minutes. With 16 winners and only four unforced errors, she was pretty pleased with her performance.

“I was happy just to get through it,” she said. “Wasn’t sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it’s feeling good, I’m feeling good. So it felt really good.”

Novak Djokovic of Serbia in action during his first Round Men’s singles match against Jeremy Chardy of the United States of America on Day 1 of the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 08 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

Novak Djokovic was in similar form as he brushed aside Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 in 91 minutes to begin his title defence. It was the 14th time he had flattened the Frenchman and so straight forward was his victory that he allowed himself to experiment a little.

“I felt really relaxed and comfortable on the court tonight,” he said, “so I could allow myself to try out some things and coming to net. But, you know, I thought I was very solid and didn’t allow him to have time to try to do something with his forehand that obviously he was always looking to hit his forehand. Big serve and forehand, that’s his formula.

“I took that time away from him, and then, you know, he was just unable to read my shots and my serve. I think I managed tactically to do everything correctly.”

With that tactical correctness of his, he also managed to start a small row on the eve of the tournament. Over the course of the pandemic, Nick Kyrgios has been critical (to use the polite term) of the world No.1, calling him out on social media for his actions – such as the ill-fated Adria Tour – and his comments. In response, Djokovic said on Sunday that he respected Kyrgios on-court but not so much off-court.

This was meat and drink to the press pack and when Kyrgios wrapped up his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over Frederico Ferreira Silva from Portugal, he was asked what he thought of Djokovic’s comments.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia in action during his first Round Men’s singles match against Jeremy Chardy of the United States of America on Day 1 of the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 08 February 2021. EPA-EFE/DAVE HUNT

“I read his comments,” Kyrgios said. “It actually would make complete sense to me if he was like, Look, I don’t respect the guy on the court, because I understand if he doesn’t agree with some of my antics on the court that I have done in the past. And when we’ve played matches, I think I’ve actually been pretty good towards him.

“But I’m not quite sure how he can’t respect me off the court. I feel like I’ve gone about things extremely well, especially during the pandemic I was — I mean, driving around delivering food to people during the pandemic that didn’t or couldn’t get the supplies.

“I was extremely careful about what I was doing. I didn’t want to spread the virus to anyone.

“But, yeah, he’s a very strange cat, Novak is. Heck of a tennis player, but unfortunately someone that’s partying with his shirt off during a global pandemic, I don’t know if I can take any slack from that man. That’s as bad as it gets for me.”

After a year away from the tour, Kyrgios thinks that he is an older and wiser soul these days. He doesn’t get as worked up about things away from the court as he used to and while he will still get angry mid-match, he is trying to stay as calm as possible in his day-to-day life. So he was not going to bite too hard when offered the chance to lay into Djokovic again. As for Djokovic, his reaction to all of this was strictly “no comment” now that the tournament had begun.

But back to Messrs Shapovalov and Sinner. When the draw was made, theirs was the match of the opening round by some margin. And when they got to work, they did not disappoint. Sinner had looked out on his feet when he won the Great Ocean Road Open on Sunday – he had played two matches on the Saturday and then took more than two hours to beat Stefano Travalglia in the final. But that win extended his unbeaten run to 10 matches: he was the young gun in form and now faced the world No.12.

Jannik Sinner of Italy looks on during a break against Denis Shapovalov of Canada during the men’s singles tennis first round match of the Australian Open Grand Slam at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, 08 February 2021. EPA-EFE/JASON O’BRIEN

There were times when Sinner looked exhausted; there were times when he looked in control. On the other side of the net, Shapovalov was doing what he does best – attacking, volleying, hitting the most ridiculous one-handed backhands with both feet off the ground. This was the contrast of styles that produces the greatest matches and for almost four hours, the two young stars of the future kept the diehard fans who hung around until almost 1am enthralled. Sinner was knackered but he wouldn’t give up; Shapo was extravagant but refused to rein it in.

Finally, on his second match point, Shapovalov secured his victory 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. As the old GOATs try to eke out a few more major titles before they head into retirement, they can leave the sport in safe hands if the 19-year-old Sinner and 21-year-old Shapovalov have anything to do with it. And, who knows, there may come a day when we can all go and see it, not just the luck folk of Melbourne.