Melbourne | AO Shorts… a diary from Down Under

A summary of the news in and around the recent Australian Open…

Our position is unchanged: as long as there is a war in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be in international competitions!!! ... If we are not heard, I do not rule out the possibility that we will boycott and refuse participation in the Olympics. Vadym Guttsait, Ukrainian Sports Minister

Ukraine considers Olympic Games boycott

Ukraine is considering boycotting next year’s Olympic Games in Paris if athletes from Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete, the country’s Sports Minister Vadym Guttsait has warned.

It followed the confirmation by the IOC that they were continuing to ‘explore a pathway’ for Russian and Belarusian athletes’ participation at Paris 2024 under a neutral banner.

Guttsait, also President of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine (NOCU), has vowed they will do everything they can to ensure Russia and Belarus are not represented in any form in the French capital.

“For the whole Ukrainian sports community, this is a question of principle!” Guttsait wrote on his Facebook page. “In this, we are supported by both the President of our state, and all society.

“Part of the International Federations are outraged by the IOC’s efforts to promote the return of Russians and Belarusians.

“We have addressed and will address all international organisations that can influence the situation and whose opinions the IOC members can listen to.”

Last week, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to help ensure they are not represented at next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

It followed insidethegames‘ exclusive revelation that Guttsait had told IOC President Thomas Bach during a conference call involving several NOCs that athletes from Russia were serving in the country’s armed forces and they were ‘killing our people’.

Guttsait made Ukraine’s position clear in a lengthy Facebook post in which he condemned the IOC position to try to find a way to let athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete at next year’s Olympics.

“Our position is unchanged: as long as there is a war in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be in international competitions!!!” Guttsait wrote on Facebook. “Certainly, our national sporting federations need to strengthen communication with international federations to keep the ban in effect.

“Work is currently underway on further possible steps and first steps to continue sanctions and prevent Russians and Belarusians from international competitions.

“If we are not heard, I do not rule out the possibility that we will boycott and refuse participation in the Olympics.”

There was support for the IOC position from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

“I think this is a moment for athletes and that athletes should not be deprived of their competition,” she told television channel France 2. “But I think and I plead, like a large part of the sports movement, so that there is no delegation under the Russian banner.”

The Olympic Council of Asia reaffirmed their invitation to athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in qualifying competitions, while the European Olympic Committees said in a statement that it ‘does not feel athletes should be prevented from competing solely on the basis of which passport they hold’.

The United Kingdom Government, however, which has been Ukraine’s biggest supporter since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last February with Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak both having visited Kyiv, criticised the IOC position.

“We condemn any action that allows President Putin to legitimise his illegal war in Ukraine,” the UK’s Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said.

“This position from the IOC is a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people – and IOC President [Thomas] Bach’s own words less than a year ago where he strongly condemned Russia for breaking the Olympic Truce and urged it to ‘give peace a chance’.

“We, and many other countries, have been unequivocal on this throughout, and we will now work urgently across like-minded countries to ensure that solidarity continues on this issue.”

Rublev and Dimitrov added to 2023 ATP Player Advisory Council

Russia’s Andrey Rublev and Grigor Dimitrov from Bulgaria have joined the ATP Player Advisory Council for 2023, having held their first meeting of the year on the eve of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

The pair are joined by Spaniards Pedro Martínez and Bernabé Zapata Miralles as singles representatives.

World No 5 Rublev’s inclusion comes at a time, controversially, when players from Russia and Belarus can only compete in ATP and WTA as neutral players following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

Dutchman Wesley Koolhof is the top representative for doubles players, having reached the World No 1 spot in the men’s doubles with Britain’s Neal Skupski at the end of 2022, the same year he won his first Grand Slam title, lifting the French Open mixed doubles title with Ena Shibahara from Japan.

Harri Heliövaara of Finland is the other doubles player on the Council.

Argentina singles player Pedro Cachín and two-time Grand Slam doubles winner Matthew Ebden from Australia were elected too, as at-large members.

Venezuelan Daniel Vallverdú, the current trainer of Dimitrov, is the coach representative, while compatriot and former player Nicolás Pereira joins the Council as the alumni representative.

Former World No 3 Dimitrov claimed he had been asked previously, but felt now was the correct time to join the Council.

“I’ve been asked so many times in the past but I just never felt it was the right time and the right fit for me at the time,” the 31-year-old, whose best Grand Slam was reaching the 3rd-round of the French Open in 2013, said. “I think now I’m in a position where I’ve got a few years behind me, I have the experience on the court, I have experience with the players and I’m looking forward to it.”

The ATP Player Advisory Council meets several times a year and makes recommendations to the governing body and its Board of Directors.

World No 1 Novak Djokovic used to be ATP Player Advisory Council President, but resigned due to concerns over player interest, forming the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) with Canada’s Vasek Pospisil.

Djokovic makes record jump to top ATP rankings

Novak Djokovic made the biggest jump to World No 1 in the history of the ATP rankings after his men’s singles triumph at the Australian Open.

Djokovic won his 10th title in Melbourne and, as a result, climbs from fifth to the summit.

The 4-place ascent is a bigger than the 3 places climbed by Spaniards Carlos Alcaraz last year, and Carlos Moyá in 1999, and Americans Pete Sampras in 2000 and Andre Agassi in 1999.

If Djokovic remains in pole position through the week of 20 February, he will tie German Stefanie Graf’s record for most weeks as World No 1 in history at 377.

Runner-up in the men’s final, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece would have taken top spot had he beaten Djokovic, but his straight-sets defeat sees him remain in third place.

Djokovic begun his 374th week as World No 1 on Monday after the record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title.

He has held the position for more than a year longer than any other man in history, with Switzerland’s Roger Federer second on the list at 310 weeks.

Sabalenka returns to No 2

AO Women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka has returned to her career-high position of second in the world rankings after defeating Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the women’s singles.

Competing as a neutral, the Belarusian returns to her career-high ranking of No 2, having collected 3,525 ranking points from her past 3 tournaments.

In addition to earning 2,000 points for winning the Australian Open, the 24-year old gained 470 points for winning the title at Adelaide 1 and 955 points for finishing as runner-up at last year’s WTA Finals.

Even with her recent success, Sabalenka still trails current World No 1 Iga Swiatek by 4,385 points, but through Roland Garros, the Belarusian is defending 1,115 ranking points compared to the Pole’s 6,270 points.

Rybakina enters the WTA top 10 singles ranking for the first time in her career after rising from 25 to No 10, which makes her the first player representing Kazakhstan to break into the elite ranking.

Andy Murray spent more than 14 hours on court during the Australian Open and is delaying his return to the match court

© William West/AFP via Getty Images

Murray pulls out of Rotterdam

Andy Murray has pulled out of the ABN AMRO Open in Rotterdam and rescheduled his season after his Australian Open exploits.

The former World Number 1, Wimbledon champion and Olympic Gold Medal winner will now take part in the Qatar Open in Doha from 20 February.

Murray has played in Rotterdam 7 times, winning the title in 2009 over Rafael Nadal and losing in the 2nd-round 12 months ago.

He was initially scheduled to take part in the Netherlands tournament that begins on 11 February, but he will now take the time to focus on a training block.

The Scot will be replaced by Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor in Rotterdam, and ABN AMRO director Richard Krajicek said: “We consider it a blessing in disguise.

“On the one hand, it is a pity that Andy Murray will not be present. On the other hand, I am glad that we can admit Tallon to the main draw.

“He is the man in form and I think he can show great things in the ABN AMRO Open.”

Murray rolled back the years in Australia with two epic wins over Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis that lasted a combined 10 hours and 34 minutes in the first two rounds.

The 35-year-old reached the last 32 when he was defeated by Roberto Bautista Agut just over 24 hours after his win over Kokkinakis in what was his longest match since turning professional nearly two decades ago.

Robson calls for 5-set women’s Grand Slam matches from quarters onwards

Five set matches should be introduced in the women’s draw at Grand Slam events from the quarter-finals onwards, according to Eurosport pundit Laura Robson.

The former British No 1 believes that, although longer matches would create logistical problems, they would give players a better chance of reacting to a slow start under intense pressure.

Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina both took well under two hours to win their Australian Open semi-finals against Magda Linette and Victoria Azarenka respectively on Thursday.

Currently women play best of 3 set matches at the majors, while the men will play best of 5, but Robson believes it is time for change.

“I think women, absolutely, could play best of five sets,” Robson said during Eurosport’s AO coverage. “I think it’s a logistical nightmare for any tournament director to try and plan 2 best of 5 tournaments.

“I don’t see why we don’t play best of five from quarter-finals onwards.

“Over the last few years, with the nerves of some playing their first finals, it would help them to have another set to work with.

“If they just had more time out there, you can tell that they’d recover further into the match. I know opinion is split, but I think they can do it.”

Former world No.7 Barbara Schett pointed out that it had been tried in the past and said: “Women are definitely able to do that.”

Seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander agreed that bringing in longer matches would be fairer in giving slow starters a better chance.

“Two out of three sets – at Wimbledon – must be absolutely nerve-racking, because, in 40 minutes, you can be down a set and a break,” he said. “These days, with the way that the women serve, that can be tough.”

Robson agreed, saying: “It’s an impossible situation, especially if you’re coming into your first Slam final and you’re nervous for the first few games.

“You blink, and you’re a set and a break down. We’ve seen it so many times, and it’s an impossible situation to try and get yourself back in the match when someone’s got such a comfortable lead.

“In that situation, I would love to see best of five. I think the players would benefit so much. Yes, it’s more work, but why not? We’re there to work. The players do the same off-season and the same amount of training as the men, anyway.”

Another flag furore at AO

Another flag furore hit the Australian Open as an apparent Novak Djokovic fan was seen brandishing an ‘ultra fascist symbol’ during the men’s final on Sunday.

A Twitter user noticed the fan holding up a Chetnik flag during the TV broadcast of the Djokovic-Tsitsipas match.

“Why am I seeing a Chetnik flag amongst the Serbian crowd at the Tsitsipas vs Djokovic match? Are ultra fascist symbols allowed in the Australian Open now?” Sophie Mak asked.

The Chetniks were Serbian ultranationalists who committed war crimes during World War II and are widely considered to be a far-right group.

Tennis fans took to to social media to criticise the officials for allowing the flag to be held up at Melbourne Park.

“@AustralianOpen @TennisAustralia still hasn’t removed that fascist or confiscated their flag. A total failure and a disgrace. Genuinely shameful and embarrassing,” wrote one Twitter user.

“Chetnik fascists collaborated with Nazis and murdered tens of thousands of Muslims and Croatians during World War II in efforts to create Serbian ethno state. Unsurprisingly the Australian Open security let fascist flags into stadium while cracking down on Peng Shuai shirts,” said another.

“Tournament security has been pretty abysmal (though we haven’t had the annual court invader during the men’s final yet),” posted tennis writer Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg).

“I really think they need to make the 2024 #AusOpen a flag-free zone if their security repeatedly can’t figure this stuff out.

Earlier in the tournament, Djokovic’s father Srbjan was warned he could face a ban from the men’s final after causing outrage by being filmed next to a man who was posing with a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it.

One of the men in the video clip was wearing a shirt with the ‘Z’ symbol – an emblem representing support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Australian Open entry rules forbid the display of any flags in support of Russia or Belarus.

Iga Swiatek congratulated her United Cup teammate Magda Linette on her excellent run to the AO semi-final

© Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

Sky is the limit!

World No 1 Iga Swiatek commended her compatriot Magda Linette for her fabulous run to the Australian Open semi-finals.

Linette, who had never been in the second week of a Grand Slam before, upset 4 seeded players, including World No 4 Caroline Garcia in the 4th-round, before meeting her match in Aryna Sabalenka.

Displaying little signs of nerve against the 5th-seeded Sabalenka, Linette burst out of the blocks, taking an early lead, but the Belarusian fought back from 2-1, 40-0 down on her opponent’s serve to get back on serve before clinching the opener in a tiebreak.

Linette ran out of steam in the second, as Sabalenka burst into a 4-1 lead, and although the Pole saved 3 match points in the 7th game, she was powerless to stop her from crossing the finish line.

Swiatek endured a surprise 4th-round exit at the hands of Elena Rybakina but was thrilled with the 30-year-old Linette’s inspired run to the Last 4, congratulating her compatriot in a tweet: “Mega gratulacje Magda (Huge congratulations Magda)! Sky is the limit!”

“I’m just proud that I could keep the level for so long” Linette said, showing little signs of nerves despite playing in the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time this fortnight.

Although she came up short against Sabalenka, who won her maiden Grand Slam final against Rybakina, Linette was happy maintaining her high level of play, and has risen to No 22 in the world this week.

Special commemorative Federer cap

Honouring Roger Federer’s retirement from tennis, a new edition of his signature ‘RF’ cap has been released by Japanese brand Uniqlo.

Federer retired from tennis in 2022 at the O2 Arena in London after losing his doubles match alongside Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup.

His farewell included emotional scenes between him, Novak Djokovic, Nadal, and other top players.

Uniqlo’s special edition of the RF cap is black and emblazoned with Federer’s signature logo in gold, and is available to buy on Uniqlo’s official website.

The Japanese clothing brand announced the news on Twitter and shared a message from the 41-year-old in which he expressed how the RF cap has been a special part of his tennis career and has allowed him to connect with his fans more effectively.

“The RF Cap has been a very special part of my tennis career and allowed me to have a connection with my amazing fans,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said. “I feel grateful for all the love and support and hope people can enjoy this commemorative edition.”

After his emotional farewell to the sport, Federer took the time to thank his devoted followers for their support before delivering them a special message during an interview with the ATP.

“This is definitely a big moment for me to thank everybody who has always supported me. I feel the Federer fans became more and more the older I got,” he said.

“If I had all these emotions on the court, it’s because of the fans. They know that, I know that, and those are the things I’m going to miss.

“Traveling around the world, have somebody wait for me, and be so excited to see me, that’s why I wrote in the letter that I love tennis and I will see you around,” he added.

“For me, it was important to remind the fans that I will not leave the game and I will be there,” the Swiss continued. “People will get a chance to see me again.

“We’ll have moments again, they might be different, but they will be beautiful moments. It was important to remind myself that and also the fans, who I am so very thankful to.”

Since Federer’s retirement, Panatta has little interest in tennis

Adriano Panatta, a former Italian player and a big fan of Roger Federer, has revealed that he is watching less tennis now that the Swiss has retired from the tour.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Italian weekly magazine Chi, Panatta explained: “Now that Federer has stopped I follow much less. The reason? Everything has changed. Now the champions walk around with a court of miracles. There’s too much stardom, it seems like they’re doing who knows what…

“After all, they’re only playing with a ball. However, when you stop and it’s all over, you have to be ready, it’s certainly not a walk in the park. I’ve had ups and downs too. But now I’m reborn. I have my company, home, friends.

“I like to get around by bike, every day. I have amazing walks. And I live very close to Venice and Cortina, where I often go during the year.”

Four months have passed since Federer played his last official match at the Laver Cup in London.

The Swiss experienced constant knee problems but decided to play one last tournament in the company of his two historic rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Team Europe, for the first time, failed to conquer the team event dedicated to Rod Laver, and Federer was seen in tears with Nadal after the doubles match, an image that will remain forever in the history of the sport.

AO viewers down

Viewership numbers for the Australian Open Finals on Saturday were down by 66% compared to 2022, attributed to the absence of fan favourites Ash Barty and Nick Kyrgios.

The women’s singles final and men’s doubles final took a hit on Channel 9, the Australian TV network that signed a contract extension until 2023 to broadcast the Grand Slam, and splashed around $500 million on the deal

The women’s singles final was contested between reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and 5th seed Aryna Sabalenka in 2023, while the men’s doubles final featured the Aussie duo of Rinky Hijikata & Jason Kubler at Rod Laver Arena on 28 January.

According to reports, during Saturday night’s women’s singles final and the men’s doubles final, the ratings peaked at 1.437 million viewers, which does not come close to last year’s numbers, which peaked at 4.261 million viewers.

Sabalenka went on to beat Rybakina to lift her maiden Grand Slam trophy, while Hijikata & Kubler trumped the all-Polish pairing of Hugo Nys and Jan Zielinski to win their maiden doubles Grand Slam title.

In the 2022 women’s singles final, on the other hand, Aussie superstar Ash Barty clinched the title in front of her roaring home fans, while in the men’s doubles final Nick Kyrgios & Thanasi Kokkinakis brought delight to Melbourne fans when they clinched their maiden Grand Slam doubles title.

Although the Aussie faithful did get an all-Aussie pairing lifting the men’s doubles trophy again, Barty and Kyrgios’ absence from the tournament was quite palpable.

The three-time Grand Slam champion retired from the sport shortly after lifting the trophy in Melbourne, while Kyrgios withdrew from the tournament at the last minute citing a leg injury.

Novak Djokovic won his 10th Australian Open on Sunday, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 7-6(4) 7-6(5) in straight sets in the final, a year after he was deported from the country due to his vaccination status.

Although the 22-time Grand Slam winner is a popular figure Down Under, TV expert Colin Vickery opined that the Serb wasn’t a ratings drawcard and that his return to the Australian Open after all the drama in the previous edition wouldn’t make much difference.

“We know Djokovic really isn‘t a ratings drawcard in my mind, so the fact of him being part of it this year, I think doesn’t make any difference,” Victory to the Herald. “The world of tennis is lacking TV rating drawcards at the moment, it is in a transition phase.

“The drawcards who are reliable like Ash Barty, [Roger] Federer, they have gone and there are very few coming through right at this moment.”

Busy Barty

Ash Barty was kept pretty busy during her stay in Melbourne, including a personal appearance on court with fashion icon Pip Edwards alongside commentator Casey Dellacqua and presenter Darren McMullen.

The fitness guru posted snaps of her day out with the sporty crew on Instagram, wearing an all black tennis ensemble from her own P.E Nation label.

Edwards, 42, stepped onto the court with Barty, 26, on Saturday as they hit a few balls together at the Australian Open in Melbourne Park.

After posing for a few pictures with her friends, Edwards shared candid shots of herself and also picked up a few tips from the former AO champion, who told her to ‘always hit the ball long’.

‘Out and long is better than hitting the net,’ Edwards captioned one of her photos.

Barty was given a very warm welcome as she carried the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup onto the Rod Laver Arena ahead of the women’s singles final on Saturday.b

The Big Three, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, were last seen together at the Laver Cup in London before Federer retired from the tour

© Julian Finney/Getty Images for Laver Cup

Nadal congratulates Djokovic for tying men’s Grand Slam record

Rafael Nadal shared a congratulatory message to Novak Djokovic on Instagram after the Serbian tied the men’s all-time Grand Slam record this weekend.

“Amazing achievement Nole, many congrats to you and your team!” Nadal wrote. “Well deserved. Enjoy Nole!”

Djokovic won his 22nd major title, and 10th Australian Open, when he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets in the final Sunday.

The overall record belongs to Margaret Court, who won 24 Grand Slam titles, while Serena Williams won 23.

Nadal was the defending champion in Australia and entered the tournament as the No 1 seed, but he lost in the 2nd-round to American Mackenzie McDonald and, afterwards, announced that he will miss the next two months due to a hip injury.

Djokovic has taken over the No 1 ranking in the world after his win in Australia, and is the current Wimbledon title holder, too.

Margaret Court’s Perth home targeted in Australia Day burglary

Tennis great Margaret Court had some of her trophies and medals stolen during a burglary at her City Beach home in Perth, Western Australia, on Australia Day last week.

A WA Police spokeswoman said the coastal abode of Court and her husband Barry was targeted on Thursday evening at about 8pm, when thieves allegedly broke in through the front door and rummaged through the property.

They apparently stole a number of items, including trophies, jewellery and medals relating to Court’s tennis career, which were later recovered from nearby bushlands and gardens.

Two people have been charged in relation to the incident, a 33-year-old and a 34-year-old, both men from Edgewater, accused with aggravated home burglary and stealing, and are due to appear in a Perth court next month.

Court, a former World No 1 and conservative Christian minister is considered one of the sport’s all-time greats, having won 24 major singles titles and a phenomenal 64 major titles in total, but is a controversial figure.

She retired from tennis in 1977 but the 80-year old has since made headlines for her views on same-sex marriage, previously describing gay marriage as a ‘trend’.

Her stance has put her off-side with openly gay players, and there have been calls for the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne to be renamed.

While Court has not appeared at the Australian Open since 2020, she was a special guest at Wimbledon in 2022.

BJK announces new tournament named Ilana Kloss

Billie Jean King was proud to announce the launch of The Ilana Kloss International, a new tournament named after former doubles World No 1 and her life-partner of 40 years, Ilana Kloss.

The tournament comes under the ITF and is set to take place in Pretoria, South Africa, from 5 March 2023.

Kloss, who was born and raised in South Africa, is considered one of the country’s greatest sporting icons and organisers chose to name the tournament after her to carry forward her legacy.

King took to social media on Friday to share the news of the launch, posting: “Incredibly proud to share that my partner, former South African No 1 tennis player, Ilana Kloss, will have a tournament named after her. The Ilana Kloss International, an ITF Tennis tournament taking place in Pretoria, begins on March 5,” wrote the former World No. 1 in her tweet.

Ahead of the tournament, Kloss wished luck to all the participants.

“I wish all the participants the best of luck, and I know this tournament will give rising South African stars a chance to display their immense potential,” said the former doubles No 1. “Work hard, surround yourself with great coaches.”

The tournament offers a $25,000 prize money and will be hosted at TuksTennis, the University of Pretoria’s tennis center.

Speaking ahead of the The Ilana Kloss International, the former player shared her message, adding that it is important for players to consistently take part in tournaments to have any growth in the sport.

“Work hard, be sure to compete in tournaments, and surround yourself with great coaches on and off the court,” said the 66-year-old.

Meanwhile, Kloss emphasised how much the ITF tournament named after her will provide an opportunity for such players to earn valuable points and boost them at an international level.

“These tournaments don’t just further TSA’s [Tennis South Africa] pledge to host more women’s events, they offer South African players an opportunity to earn valuable international ranking points on their home turf without incurring the high costs and associated stresses of international travel.”

Sabalenka didn’t watch Wimbledon

Elena Rybakina proved her qualities by winning the 2022 Wimbledon, but her final opponent at the 2023 Australian Open, Aryna Sabalenka didn’t watch.

The Belarusian was one of the players who were not allowed to compete in the last year’s Championship, and she admitted that she didn’t watch the tournament.

“Oh, no, I didn’t watch Wimbledon last year,” she said ahead of their AO final. “I was feeling really bad about that, and I didn’t watch Wimbledon at all.

“I mean, little bit the final just because I was working out in the gym. I saw a little bit. It was great tennis.”

Shriver causes mayhem criticising Rybakina coach

Elena Rybakina’s coach Stefano Vukov drew criticism with his poor court-side behaviour, and none more so than from 22-time doubles Major champion Pam Shriver, who voiced her displeasure over how poorly he treats his charge during matches, and his aggressive coaching style.

Vukov was repeatedly spotted screaming at Rybakina during her semi-final clash against Victoria Azarenka on Thursday, and the Croatian continued his antics during Saturday’s final against Aryna Sabalenka, which she lost in 3 sets.

Many fans felt he was disruptive and rude, and Shriver took to social media during the final, writing on Twitter: “As I watch Rybakina try to win her second major in 7 months, I hope she finds a coach who speaks and treats her with respect at ALL times and does not ever accept anything less.”

A fan responded to the American, pointing out that Rybakina did not seem to mind her coach’s antics: “Not sure, but it seems that she [Rybakina] is quite happy with him despite some antics,” the fan said.

Shriver replied: “Happy with not being treated respectfully… hmmm not a good pattern for life.”

After Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, Vukov said: “I have to scream out something if she’s off track.”

Players are allowed to receive on-court coaching these days, and Vukov later told that he had no choice but to scream at his ward due to the extreme amounts of noise in the stadium.

“There’s 10,000 people out there, to get the attention of the player is definitely not easy and people don’t understand that,” he said. “People can interpret that how they want but, at the end of the day, we’re just doing our job.

“Coaching is now allowed and she’s using it in the best possible way,” he added. “I think, with all the emotions, sometimes the player doesn’t understand which situation of the match they are, which is absolutely normal,” he concluded.

7 of the Original 9 were at the Australian Open - (L-R) Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Dalton, Billie Jean King, Kerry Melville Reid, Kristy Pigeon, and Valerie Ziegenfuss were presented on court ahead of the semi-finals singles match between Elena Rybakina and Victoria Azarenka

© Graham Denholm/Getty Images

The Original 9

Eurosport pundits Laura Robson and Barbara Schett paid tribute to the ‘Original 9’, the group of nine women’s players who launched their own professional tour in 1970, after they were in attendance for the semi-finals in Melbourne.

“They were real trailblazers,” said Schett. “Billie Jean King is the spokesperson for all of the original nine.

“We have to thank them for the path they’ve paved for us.

“Those girls, they didn’t make a lot of prize money. There was no pension plan, but now, we have it all.

“There are millionaires now, and we all owe it to these nine ladies. It’s so beautiful that they’re here.”

Robson added: “Every time I have a conversation with Billie, I get goosebumps, because she and all the others have so many stories to tell.

“Billie is just one of the trailblazers. No matter what she’s saying, you have to listen, because she’s got so much life history.

“She’s so passionate about everything she’s involved in; we’re still learning from her every time she takes to the press conference mic.”

Despite the success of the WTA Tour and the rapid growth of women’s tennis, both Schett and Robson warned that more needs to be done on the road to equality.

“You can certainly improve things all the time, but tennis [can definitely stay at the top],” said Schett. “The more combined events around the world – with men and women – can make the product stronger.

“You always need personalities, which women’s tennis has.

“Billie has fought for a long time to get equal prize money going, and for more than 15 years, women and men get paid the same at Grand Slams.

“You can never underestimate the hard work that is put in on the women’s side, and I’m tired of people asking me why women get paid the same!”

Robson said: “Me too, to be honest. Across the year, it’s not equal, looking at the other tournaments. We have a long way to go to get there.

“There are still big differences across the WTA and the ATP (men’s tour). The stronger the product there is, the more joint tournaments there are – everyone loves them!”

Raducanu signs up for inaugural WTA 250 event in Texas

Emma Raducanu is set to kick off her 2023 North American hard-court swing at the inaugural ATX Open in Austin, Texas, at the end of February.

The British No 1 will be one of two former US Open champions in the 32-player field, as 2017 Flushing Meadows champion Sloane Stephens is also on the entry list.

“We are thrilled that Emma, the youngest Grand Slam champion in the game today, will be coming to the ATX Open,” Christo Van Rensburg, DropShot Series Tournament Director, said. “We look forward to her joining Danielle [Collins], Sloane and Peyton [Stearns] for our inaugural tournament, and are very excited to know that we will be welcoming them to Austin in less than one month.”

2021 US Open winner Raducanu has had another injury-disrupted start to the campaign as she injured her ankle at the season-opening ASB Classic in Auckland and was a major doubt for the Australian Open.

She was declared fit, however, for the hard-court Grand Slam and won her opener against Tamara Korpatsch in straight sets before she went down in two sets against fellow young gun Coco Gauff in the 2nd-round, although there were plenty of positives for her to take from the defeat.

After reaching a career-high of top 10 in early 2022, Raducanu has slumped to No 77 in the WTA Rankings, but she insisted after her AO exit that she is confident her fortunes will eventually turn around if she continues to put in the effort during training.

“I’ve had some niggles in the past few months, and I just need to get that sorted, train, and then we’ll see after that,” the 20-year-old said. “But I’m actually just looking forward to putting in the work, and I feel, as I said before, I’m putting in a good system in place, and I’m really buying into and trusting the work that I’m doing with Sebastian [Sachs] and the rest of the team.

“I’m feeling good and confident that in six months time I know it’s not going to be, like, the finished product, but hopefully I would have made strides.”

Raducanu doesn’t have too many points to defend over the next two months as she lost her opening match at the Monterrey Open last year, lost in the 3rd-round in Indian Wells and the 2nd-round at the Miami Open.

The ATX Open will run from 27 February – 5 March at Westwood Country Club in Austin after which players will move to California for the WTA 1000 Indian Wells Open before the swing ends with the Miami Open in Florida.

Billionaire Bill Gates keeps a low AO profile

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and a billionaire in his own right, was spotted attending the Australian Open over several days.

The 67-year old, who loves his tennis, kept a low profile in a black cap and was first spotted watching the women’s semi-finals with his sister Kristianne Gates.

The tech tycoon and philanthropist was all smiles as he watched the match between Elena Rybakina and Victoria Azarenka on Thursday night

The Microsoft founder was Down Under after attending a meeting with Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister of Australia, whom he met at the PM’s residence at Kirribilli House to discuss climate change, energy and health issues.

Gates is visiting the country with the Gates Foundation and representatives from his Breakthrough Energy company, which drives innovation in sustainable energy and in technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He thanked and commended the prime minister for his ‘great partnership’ on international health issues, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Gates also made headlines on his trip after warning that Australia had to be ready for the next pandemic, which he said could be man-made and far more brutal than Covid-19.

Speaking to the Lowry Institute in Sydney earlier this week, Gates said political leaders needed to set aside their differences and work together to prepare for the next virus.

‘With the pandemic we were foolish not to have the tools, the practice and global capacity to be on standby like we do with fire or earthquakes,’ he said.

The billionaire philanthropist called for greater global cooperation and said that the Covid-19 pandemic as an example of how countries could improve on their response if they worked together.

Azarenka made to remove PSG top

Self-proclaimed ‘obnoxious soccer mom’ Victoria Azarenka was ordered to take off her Paris Saint-Germain shirt at the Australian Open on Thursday before bowing out of the Grand Slam with a straight-set defeat to Elena Rybakina in the semi-finals.

The 33-year-old two-time champion 6-year-old son, Leo, who is also a big fan of the Paris club.

After an exchange of words with the chair umpire at Rod Laver Arena, Azarenka took off the PSG shirt before warming up in her regular kit against Rybakina.

“They told me to take it off twice because I had a different shirt,” she told reporters after losing 7-6(4) 6-3 to Rybakina. “I think it’s the issue with the sponsorships. I guess the logos are too big… I know that I’m not allowed to play in that. I knew those type of things.

“But I can still step on the court in what I want to step on the court. I do it for my own reasons.

“My son wore the white jersey today to his practice, and I tried to wear a white jersey to my match but couldn’t. So that’s okay.”

That was the lesser of two disappointments for Azarenka on Thursday, as her bid for a third title in Melbourne ended with some regret at her missed chances against Rybakina.

“I’m proud of myself how I fought and I tried, but just was not — tennis-wise I felt like [I] just wasn’t there, especially in the important moments when I kept creating those opportunities,” Azarenka said. “Not a great feeling right now to digest.

“But give me a couple of hours and I can have probably a better outlook on this month in Australia. I look forward to, throughout the year, what I can do.”

The tragic story behind AO trophy named after Daphne Akhurst

The Australian Open women’s singles trophy is named the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup and has a bit of a history.

The inspiration behind the name of the silverware comes from a woman who was prolific in the tournament long before the present day stars had taken to a court.

Sydney-born Daphne Akhurst won 5 Australian Open singles’ titles and 9 doubles’ titles in a stellar period between 1924 and 1931.

In the 92 years since, only Margaret Court (11), Serena Williams (7), and Nancye Wynne Bolton have prevailed more times in the individual event, but Akhurst’s haul is made all the more remarkable given her life was tragically cut short, aged just 29, when she suffered an ectopic pregnancy in 1933, and died during the ordeal.

A tribute on the official Australian Open website described how Akhurst debuted in her home Grand Slam 1924, losing in the second round to Esna Boyd.

The pair met in the final the following year, though, and Akhurst gained revenge by winning 1-6 8-6 6-4, with tiebreaks yet to be introduced into the sport.

Another final win came over Boyd in 1926, with a clinical 6-1 6-3 victory, but it was the latter who took the title when they met again at the last hurdle in 1927.

A famous showdown in their epic rivalry came at the same stage a year later, with Ackhurst putting on a masterclass to win 7-5 6-2.

Two more final victories followed over Louie Bickerton in 1929 and Sylvia Harper in 1930, but Akhurst was unable to repeat that success outside of her native Australia, a semi-final appearance at Wimbledon in 1928 her best Slam effort overseas.

The men’s trophy also bears the name of an Australian icon from a bygone era, with the Norman Brooks Trophy named after the player who won the title back in 1911, in between two wins at Wimbledon.

He also won two doubles’ titles, albeit when the event was named the Australasian Championships. Brooks died in 1968, aged 90.



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