Despite the hype around so-called "Next Gen" men's players such as Alexander Zverev, they failed to make much of an inroad at the Australian Open. Not so for their female counterparts including champion Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty and Danielle Collins.
Ahead of this year's Australian Open, there was much talk of 2019 being the breakthrough year for Next Gen players such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Alex de Minaur and Daniil Medvedev. After Tsitsipas defeated defending champion Roger Federer in the fourth round, John McEnroe announced that the world was witnessing a "changing of the guard." But that prediction now seems short-sighted, especially after fourth seed Zverev lost badly to Milos Raonic in the fourth round and Tsitsipas was crushed by Rafael Nadal in the semis.
The 20-year-old Greek was left wondering how Federer had ever managed to beat the Spaniard with a "similar game style like me" and saying that Nadal was playing a "different dimension of tennis." Though 20-time grand slam champion Federer has been written off too soon before, at 37 he is five and six years older respectively than Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who claimed a record seventh title at the tournament. After last year's Australian Open, Federer's grand slam achievements were below par – he skipped Roland Garros, crashed out of Wimbledon in the quarter finals and of the U.S. Open in the fourth round.
He was the only member of the "Big Three" to be defeated in Melbourne by an up-and-comer. Nadal barely broke a sweat as he disposed of de Minaur, Frances Tiafoe and Tsitsipas, and Djokovic was also quite comfortable as he saw off Medvedev and Denis Shapovalov.
So while Federer's career may be slowly coming to an end, Djokovic, who has now won three consecutive grand slams, and Nadal, the reigning French Open champion, are still in ominously good form compared to the rest of the tour. Indeed, after his victory over Tsitsipas, Nadal made clear he was going nowhere when he said the "beautiful thing about this sport [is that] we are able to share generations" and that he hoped to face Tsitsipas "in important rounds in the next couple of years."
If Djokovic and Nadal continue for another five years, it could well be that men's tennis produces another generation of "middle-aged" players like 28-year-old Raonic and 29-year-old Kei Nishikori, always on the cusp of grand slam glory, but never achieving it. In the women's game however, younger players mounted a much more successful challenge to their elders.
Japan's Naomi Osaka, at just 21, cemented her position at the top of the tree by seizing both back-to-back grand slam titles and the world number one ranking.
She had already beaten the doyenne of women's tennis, Serena Williams – who is the same age as Federer – in the final of the U.S. Open. Williams meanwhile, who was appearing in Melbourne for the first time in two years after giving birth to her first child, managed to oust world number one Simona Halep but was in turn defeated by another younger woman, 26-year-old Czech Karolina Pliskova, in the quarter-finals. But she said she wasn't giving up on her quest to reach a record-equaling 24th grand slam title. "The big picture for me is always winning. I'm not going to sit here and lie about that," she told reporters. "It hasn't happened yet, but I feel like it's going to happen." Australian hope 22-year-old Ash Barty also made her mark on the women's scene, making it all the way to the quarter-finals by defeating five-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova.
Her run was only stopped by Petra Kvitova, who ended the tournament by playing in her first grand slam final since her racquet hand was severely injured in a knife attack at her home in 2016. One of the tournament's surprise stars was the 25-year-old unseeded American Danielle Collins, who, never having previously won a match at a grand slam, reached the semifinals, trouncing 14th seed Julia Goerges, 19th seed Caroline Garcia and second seed Angelique Kerber along her way.
She is a little older than most starting their professional tennis careers, having previously played on the U.S. collegiate circuit as she completed her degree. With a brash confidence that matched that of her male counterparts, but perhaps with more success to back it up, she announced after demolishing 31-year-old three-time grand slam champion Kerber that she was here to stay. "I may not have won a grand slam match before this but I gotta tell ya, I think it's going to keep happening."