The No. 1 ranking was at stake at this Australian Open, with defending champion Novak Djokovic poised to wrest it back from Rafael Nadal if he could defend his title.
The odds were excellent; seven previous times the Serb had made the final. And seven previous times he had taken away the big trophy from the final Sunday in Melbourne.
But although, somewhere in the middle of the five-set victory, it seemed as though one of the next would break through, in the end it was Djokovic who won his eighth Australian Open title.
And in the process, he’s No. 1 again.
The speeches were appropriately somber and thoughtful, even if the runner-up was steaming a little bit at the lost opportunity,. As for the victor, he was relieved and – although he didn’t allude to it directlly – annoyed at some of the fans in Rod Laver Arena who actually booed the eight-time champion of their tournament.
The champion deserves better than that.
ON THE UPSWING
Novak Djokovic (SRB): No. 2=========> No. 1 (Djokovic, with his eighth title, gets back to the No. 1 spot)
Dominic Thiem (AUT): No. 5 =========> No. 4 (the Australian Open runner-up ties his career high).
David Goffin (BEL): No. 11=========> No. 10 (He didn’t have a great Australian Open, losing in the third round. But it was enough to get the Belgian back into the top 10 for the first time since before the 2018 US Open. He had dropped as low as No. 33).
Stan Wawrinka (SUI): No. 15 =========> No. 13 (As high as the Swiss has been since March 2018, after a quarterfinal effort in Melbourne).
Andrey Rublev (RUS): No. 16 =========> No. 15 (It’s a career high for the 22-year-old Russian. But you suspect he’ll top it in short order).
Nick Kyrgios (AUS): No. 26 =========> No. 20 (Back into the top 20 for the first time since Aug. 2018. He was at No. 66 to start 2019, and No. 30 to start 2020).
Hubert Hurkacz (POL): No. 31 =========> No. 28 (A career high for the 22-year-old from Poland, whom many expect to climb much higher).
Cristian Garin (CHI): No. 36 =========> No. 31 (A second-round finish in Melbourne lifts the Chilean to a career high).
Milos Raonic (CAN): No. 35 =========> No. 32 (If he hadn’t made the quarters at the Australian Open a year ago – feels like five years ago – his effort this year would have been worth a lot more).
John Millman (AUS): No. 47 =========> No. 41 (The Aussie came oh, so close to beating Federer in the third round).
Marton Fucsovics (HUN): No. 67 =========> No. 53 (A good tournament for the 27-year-old Hungarian, who made the second week).
Tennys Sandgren (USA): No. 100 =========> No. 56 (He squeezed into the main draw, and went on another great Melbourne tear to the quarterfinals).
Tommy Paul (USA): No. 80 =========> No. 70 (A third-round effort gives Paul a career-best ranking. And he’s not done).
Vasek Pospisil (CAN): No. 138 =========> No. 132 (Pospisil lost in the first round in Melbourne, but made up some ground. But once again, this week in Montpellier (as in Auckland), he’s looking at playing countryman Shapovalov in the second round. The draw gods are not kind).
Alejandro Tabilo (CHI): No. 208 =========> No. 172 (The Chilean-Canadian qualified in Australia for the first time in his Grand Slam career, and won a round. He’s at a career high).
Ernests Gulbis (LAT): No. 255 =========> No. 178 (The veteran Latvian took care of Félix Auger-Aliassime in the first round of the Australian Open, and made the third round. Except … he goes to Pune this weekend and loses in the first round of qualifying).
Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (USA): No. 270 =========> No. 181 (a career high after winning his first career Challenger event in Newport Beach).
Max Purcell (AUS): No. 215 =========> No. 205 (The 21-year-old Aussie qualifies at his home Slam – and bigger than that, reaches the doubles final as a wild card and ups his ranking 48 spots to a career high No. 40. Before the tournament, he had been 1-6 at the ATP Tour/Slam level in doubles.
ON THE DOWNSWING
Rafael Nadal (ESP): No. 1 =========> No. 2 (A quarterfinal in Oz wasn’t enough for Nadal to keep his grip on the No. 1 spot)
Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP): No. 9 =========> No. 12 (All in all, though, with his ATP Cup effort, a decent trip to Australia for the Spaniard).
Denis Shapovalov (CAN): No. 13 =========> No. 16 (There will be better Australian Opens for the Canadian, who lost in the first round to Marton Fucsovics of Hungary)
Kei Nishikori (JPN): No. 18 =========> No. 26 (The Japanese star, his elbow not ready yet, missed the entire Australian swing).
Lucas Pouille (FRA): No. 24 =========> No. 62 (A semifinalist a year ago, Pouille missed the whole swing, and still isn’t ready to come back on the French indoor circuit).
Frances Tiafoe (USA): No. 50=========> No. 79 (The 22-year-old, ranked a career-best No. 29 a year ago, former lost in the first round in Melbourne. He also lost in the third round at the Newport Beach Challenger, which he entered as a wild card. Before that, he lost in the first round in both Doha and Auckland. He seems healthy, so he’s going to have to perhaps look at changing some things up).
Brayden Schnur (CAN): No. 103 =========> No. 118 (Narrowly missing the main draw in Melbourne,Schnur lost in the second round of qualifying, and the third round in Newport Beach. He’ll play the Dallas Challenger this week. But he’s got a finals result looming at the New York Open, so it’s a crucial stage of his season).
Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS): No. 198 =========> No. 224 (Will the injury bug ever stop biting for the 23-year-old Aussie?)
Donald Young (USA): No. 256 =========> No. 292 (Crazy to see the former junior No. 1 down there, after losing in the first round of qualifying in Australia).