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Australian Open: What we learned in two weeks

At a tournament where both world No. 1s walked away as Grand Slam champions for the first time since this event in 2013, there was plenty more we discovered about the tennis world the last two weeks in Melbourne.

Who’s Madison Keys? What’s “twirl-gate?” And is Australia a tennis powerhouse once again?

Here, are those and a handful of other takeaways from the year’s first Slam.

Big four, top four: It was the tale of two paths for tennis’ “big four” this fortnight, as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic played their way into the final while Roger Federer (third round) and Rafael Nadal (quarterfinals) lost earlier.

But on Monday those four men will once again be atop the rankings, going 1-2-3-4 for the first time since May of 2013, 88 weeks later. Djokovic will hold on to that top spot while Federer stays steady at No. 2, Nadal three and Murray jumping to No. 4 (from six). “Generation next” will have to keep knocking for a while longer as tennis’ establishment holds its ground.

Team America: Serena has flown the American tennis flag (with help from Venus) for much of the last decade, but was this the tournament where we saw the first bright light of a future star? Nineteen-year-old Madison Keys made her breakthrough run at a major by making the semifinals, the hard-hitting pupil of former world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport beating fourth seed Petra Kvitova before taking out Venus in the quarterfinals. She gave Serena a tough test in the semis, showing a kind of power game that could win majors down the road.

Who else had a great Australian Open? Delaware’s Madison Brengle did, who at 24 made her first-ever fourth round of a Slam. Wisconsin’s Tim Smyczek did as well, the qualifier earning accolades for his effort and sportsmanship in a five-setter against Nadal. And so did Arizona’s Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who won the women’s doubles title with first-time partner Lucie Safarova.

Downward spiral (or twirl?): Controversy followed Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard Down Under for the second straight year, once again asked a question on court that many people… well, questioned. In 2014, Bouchard was asked what celebrity male she might have a crush on, a query that was deemed sexist by some. Following her second round win this fortnight, an Australian TV reporter asked her to twirl in her post-match interview.

Controversy flared up, once again, as critics said a male player wouldn’t be asked to twirl on court. Bouchard, asked about it two days later, shooed away the drama: “Personally I’m not offended,” Bouchard told reporters. “No, I think it was an in-the-moment thing and it was funny. But, yeah, I mean, it’s just funny how it’s taken a life of its own.”

Nick’s knack for drama: Is Nick Kyrgios Australia’s next big tennis star? He might be its current one. The 19-year-old Australian came to life at Wimbledon last year with a shock win over Nadal to make the quarterfinals, and this fortnight was at it again, winning through to the last eight by coming from two sets to love and match points down in the fourth round.

Thanasi Kokkinakis, just 18, also had a down-and-out five-set win, while Bernard Tomic (22) and Sam Groth (27) also made their mark on what was the best showing for the host nation in recent memory.

Welcome, ladies: It was a big event for female coaches in tennis, suddenly making a stand in a sport where men have long served as advisors on both the men’s and women’s tours. Murray’s public support of his coach Amelie Mauresmo was perhaps the most noteworthy of moments, the Briton telling the crowd and international TV audience after his semifinal win that his effort here had “shown that women can be very good coaches as well.”

Davenport’s work with Keys was praised, as well, and Martina Navratilova is coaching for the first time ever, working with world No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska.


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