After two weeks of thrilling and unprecedented tennis in Melbourne, familiar faces on both the men’s and women’s sides emerged victorious at the 2021 Australian Open. To those who have witnessed their brilliant performances over the years in Tennis Paradise, it came as no surprise that Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka each rose above the competition to claim the first Grand Slam titles of the 2021 season.
Amidst the summer heat from the land down under, Djokovic and Osaka did their best to return the world (the tennis world at least) to a bit of normalcy. For the World No.1 and No.2 respectively, the famed Rod Laver Arena provided the perfect backdrop for their incredible displays of dominance to which tennis fans have become accustomed.
Djokovic, who entered the tournament as the unanimous favorite, did not disappoint. After battling through a loaded draw highlighted by Taylor Fritz, Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev, the Serb toppled rising Russian Daniil Medvedev in straight sets in the final. While Osaka’s rise on the women’s side is much more of a recent phenomenon, she provided a similar reminder to the rest of her competition. Dropping only one total set in Melbourne, the 23-year-old phenom downed Garbine Muguruza, Hsieh Su-Wei and Serena Williams before halting the rise of upstart American Jennifer Brady in the final.
First GS champions of 2021 🏆
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) February 21, 2021
For fans of the BNP Paribas Open, Djokovic and Osaka’s on-court brilliance were a reminder of the many times each player has wowed and awed tennis enthusiasts in the desert over the years. So as the tennis world gets set to traverse the rest of the 2021 season, let’s take a look back at this year’s Australian Open champions’ top-5 moments from throughout their time in Tennis Paradise:
Novak’s Desert Arrival (2008): While Djokovic is now unanimously considered an equal part of the “Men’s Big Three” (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal) with 18 career Grand Slam titles and counting, the Serb was a far cry from that level way back in 2008. Although already highly ranked and making deep tournament runs, Djokovic would truly announce his arrival on Tour throughout the 2008 season. After winning his first career Grand Slam title in Melbourne, he immediately followed up the performance by claiming his first trophy in Indian Wells with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 victory over veteran Mardy Fish. Little did the tennis world know at the time, that Djokovic would go on to secure four more titles and counting in Tennis Paradise.
A Second Streak Begins (2014): To be truly dominant at a tournament, it’s widely considered that a player must go on a streak of consecutive titles over the field. That’s exactly what Djokovic began at the 2014 BNP Paribas Open, when he won the first of three consecutive ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells, beating Federer in the final, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3). Djokovic (’14-’16) and Federer (’04-’06) remain the only players to reel off three straight in the desert, each owning a tournament-best five titles overall. Perhaps more importantly, as the goat debate rages on to this day, the career head-to-head matchup of Federer vs. Djokovic drew closer to even by way of a razor thin 17-16 advantage for the Swiss Maestro.
Five for the Superb Serb (2016): There’s only one word that is appropriate to describe Djokovic’s start to the 2016 season, and his subsequent performance in Tennis Paradise: perfection. After claiming his 60th career title in Doha, breaking his own ATP ranking points record and winning his sixth Australian Open, the Serb arrived in Indian Wells playing some of the best tennis of his career. His form carried over into the desert, as he was simply too much for any competitor to provide even the slightest bit of opposition. After downing Nadal in the semis, he overwhelmed the always game Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-0 in the final. The crowds in the desert were treated to a performance for the ages, cementing Djokovic as one of the greatest players in tournament history.
Future Downs the Present (2018): Heading to the desert as a 20-year-old unheralded newcomer, there’s little doubt that even Naomi Osaka would have had trouble envisioning the title run she would go on throughout the 2018 BNP Paribas Open. While she would eventually claim the tournament title, it was her performance in the semis that truly broadcast the arrival of a future star to the rest of the tennis world. Ranked World No. 44 and without a single win of any size on the WTA Tour, she entered into the biggest match of her career against World No. 1 Simona Halep. To say the odds were against her is about as massive of an understatement as one could make. And yet what did Osaka do? She crushed Halep 6-3, 6-0 with a breathtaking display of precision and power that befuddled the best women’s player on the planet. Osaka had officially arrived.
Osaka Emerges (2018): After her spectacular performance in the semis, Osaka was faced with overcoming one final challenge in order to take home the 2018 BNP Paribas Open title. In her seventh match of the tournament, the unseeded upstart blitzed 20th seeded Daria Kasatkina in the final by the score of 6-3, 6-2. Osaka completed the most unprecedented title run in Tennis Paradise history, behind the strength of a mellow yet powerful energy or which the rest of the women’s field had no answer. Although no one could have predicted it at the time, Osaka’s 2018 triumph in Indian Wells would kickstart her ascension to the top of the WTA Tour rankings.