Novak, Naomi, other things we learned at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia — The way things went at the Australian Open didn’t exactly teach the world that Novak Djokovic is the best there is in men’s tennis right now. Certainly confirmed it, though.

And while those within the game knew all about Naomi Osaka, she made sure her talent is more obvious to more people.

Djokovic, a 31-year-old already ranked No. 1, now has won the past three men’s Grand Slam titles. Osaka, who earned her debut at No. 1 at age 21, has won the last two women’s trophies at majors.

When it’s time for the next Grand Slam tournament — the French Open, four months from now — all eyes should be on them.

“Obviously, it’s just the beginning of the season. I know there’s a lot of tournaments to play before Roland Garros, so I have plenty of time to build my form slowly,” Djokovic said. “I have to work on my game, my clay-court game, a bit more.”

After his impressive 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Rafael Nadal in the final at Melbourne Park on Sunday, Djokovic can pursue a fourth consecutive major championship, something he already accomplished from 2015-16.

But the possibility also exists for him to aim for a calendar-year Grand Slam, something last done 50 years ago by Rod Laver.

It’s the kind of thing that could get everyone talking about tennis.

As for Osaka — a 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 winner over Petra Kvitova in Saturday’s final — what makes her sudden surge to the top particularly noteworthy is that it comes right after a period of apparent depth but no dominance.

Until this Australian Open, eight women had divided the previous eight major titles. Not since Serena Williams took four in a row from 2014-15 had one woman won consecutive Slam tournaments.

And you have to go all the way back to Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to find a woman who won her first major championship and followed it up at the very next Slam with a second title.

“I always hear stories that the best players win matches even when they’re not playing their best. And I’ve always wondered how they did that,” Osaka said. “So I feel like this tournament, for me, was that.”

Djokovic is at the height of his powers. Osaka is only getting better. Who will challenge them?

Here is what else we learned at the 2019 Australian Open:

SERENA AND ROGER

Serena Williams and Roger Federer are both 37. No one has won more Grand Slam singles titles in the professional era than Williams’ 23. No man in history has won more than Federer’s 20. Williams owns seven Australian Open trophies, Federer six. But she lost in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park this time, and he exited in the fourth round. Maybe age is catching up to them. Maybe not. The idea that either is done contending for big titles seems far-fetched, though. One key thing moving forward: Federer is planning to play the European clay-court circuit and at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015.

HEALTHY NADAL

Nadal was not up to slowing down Djokovic, but he otherwise sure looked terrific — and, most importantly, healthy. There’s little doubt who the favourite will be on the clay courts in France. “The positive things that happened these couple of weeks make us very optimistic regarding his future and his level,” said Nadal’s coach, Carlos Moya. “We know there is room to keep improving and we are going to be working on that a lot.”

UP-AND-COMING

If there are those who fret about what will happen when the players who ruled tennis for the past 15 years or so move on, there were several new faces who made statements in Australia. Stefanos Tsitstipas, a 20-year-old from Greece, upset Federer on the way to the semifinals. Lucas Pouille, a 24-year-old from France, arrived with a 0-5 record at Melbourne but was guided to his first major semifinal by coach Amelie Mauresmo. American Frances Tiafoe, a son of immigrants from Sierra Leone who turned 21 during the tournament, pulled off a couple of upsets on the way to the quarterfinals. Danielle Collins, a 25-year-old from Florida, beat three-time major champion Angelique Kerber and made her semifinal debut. Amanda Anisimova, a 17-year-old from New Jersey, showed she has a bright future.

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