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2024 Australian Open – The Adventures of Dino and Dane

By Vanessa Taylor

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Both are qualifiers who made their first ever Grand Slam main draw.

But their paths to Round 1 of this year’s Australian Open were very different.

Dino Prizmic is an 18 year old Croatian, who won the only junior Grand Slam he played last year, Roland Garros.

Dane Sweeny is 22 and currently ranked No. 257 in the world. As a teenager, he had risen as high as 21 in the junior rankings.

In 2019, without sponsors to assist with the considerable costs of touring, Sweeny launched a crowd-funding page to successfully raise $10,000.

Dino Prizmic playing the second round of qualifying. Photo: ATP

Prizmic started his qualifying campaign against 18th seed Mariano Navone of Argentina, needing three sets to win 5-7 6-3 6-2. The next two rounds he won in straight sets against fellow Croat Duje Ajduković and Tunisian Aziz Dougaz.

He was rewarded with a first round in the main draw against world No. 1, defending champion and 10-time Australian Open winner, Novak Djokovic.

Dino Prizmic proceeded to give Djokovic the longest first round match of his career, for a score to Djokovic of 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4 in a minute over four hours.

When the length of the match caused the evening’s schedule for Rod Laver Arena to run late, tournament director Craig Tiley explained, “No one could have predicted that Novak would have gone over four hours to play a qualifier”.

Dino Prizmic playing Novak Djokovic. Photo: Frank Molter

Prizmic looked a little overawed in the first set. Djokovic was playing aggressively with sudden changes of direction and going for the lines. But Prizmic didn’t let him run away with the match.

In the second set, he settled into the match. At 2-1 40-15, he had two break points and got the first with a 160 km forehand passing shot cross court and past Djokovic at the net. It signalled that a fight was on.

The number of errors coming off Djokovic’s racquet revealed the pressure he was under.

Meanwhile, Prizmic was defending brilliantly, chasing every ball and sliding all over the court. His retrieving efforts were worthy of Djokovic himself. Indeed, Djokovic commented later that the match was sometimes like “playing myself in the mirror”.

But eventually he broke back and the set went to a tiebreak. Prizmic stayed calm and persisted to win his fourth set point and level the match.

He continued that form into the third set to break and lead 3-2. Again, Djokovic responded and broke back next game through remarkable returning. With his serve also becoming more consistent, he won eight consecutive games to be well ahead in the fourth set with a 4-0 lead, with a break point to go 5-0.

Prizmic managed to serve out that game for 1-4, and then at 3-5 down, saved three match points to make Djokovic serve it out. He managed to save a further two match points before the match eventually ended in the Serb’s favour.

After the match, as Djokovic was still standing on court receiving the crowd’s applause, he pointed at Prizmic sitting in his chair, acknowledging his contribution to the match.

“I had an amazing opponent tonight,” he said at his press conference. “For an 18 year old, he played so maturely and so confidently on the court, fighting through, not giving up even when he was four down in the fourth set. Just very impressed with his mentality, with his approach, with his game.”

Novak Djokovic and Dino Prizmic congratulate each other at the net.
Photo: ATP
Dane Sweeny practising before his practice session with Novak Djokovic.
Photo: Vanessa Taylor

Djokovic had a part in Sweeny’s Australian Open story too, inviting him to become his hitting partner in practice sessions.

From the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Sweeney looks like a cricketer, with the thick white sun protection smeared over his face.

He received a wild card into the qualifying event of the Open and made the most of it.

In the first round, he beat Italian Matteo Gigante, taking the first set tiebreak then the second set 7-5.

Another Italian, Luca Nardi, watched on in the second round as Sweeny’s incredible diving volley on match point – worthy of Boris Becker in his prime – helped the Australian seize the match, 7-6 6-2.

Dane Sweeny playing his final round of qualifying. Photo: Patrick Hamilton

The misfortune of his next opponent assisted Sweeney to qualify for the main draw.

Zizou Bergs of Belguim won the first set 7-5, but late in the second, started to cramp. Sweeny was already playing well but this development allowed him to more easily win the second set 7-5.

Bergs’s cramps, which had started with his hands, soon progressed to a total body cramp and he had to retire at 0-2 in the final set. Sweeny served a career high of 16 aces in the match.

(Happily for Bergs, he ended up making the main draw as a Lucky Loser, replacing the injured Matteo Berrettini to play Stefanos Tsitsipas.)

Sweeney’s next opportunity came as a surprise with a phone call after the match. That was when Novak Djokovic rang with the invitation to join him at a practice session on Rod Laver Arena the next day.

Djokovic must have been happy with how the session went, as several days later, he asked Sweeny to join him for practice again, this time on his favourite outdoor venue, Court 17.

The experience must have been something of a culture shock for the young Australian. After the stands of Court 17 quickly packed out in anticipation of Djokovic’s arrival, security guards roped off the Eastern Courts at Court 16 and created a massive queue of fans who could only enter Court 17 as the same number of fans left.

Of course, no one left.

Dane Sweeny and a trainer pointing out to security guards that they need to get onto the practice court of Novak Djokovic. Photo: Vanessa Taylor

Sweeny didn’t look at all overawed in his first slam match. On John Cain Arena, probably the biggest court he’d played on, he faced 22nd seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina who’s 2024 season began with losses in the first rounds of Hong Kong and Auckland.

He broke in the second game and kept the break for the set, 6-3. On the way to that score, at 3-1 40-30, Sweeny ran so hard as he tried to return a smash that he ran sideways into a ball boy, hugging him on the way down to cushion the boy’s fall. The ball boy was a pro who got straight back up.

Cerundolo’s forehand had often missed its mark by great distances, but he cut the errors to lead 3-0 in the second set. He maintained the lead with three huge serves to 4-1, despite Sweeny’s magnificent backhand passing shot down the line from well outside the doubles alley.

Despite excellent play, Sweeny failed to convert any of his break point opportunities so lost the set 3-6.

In the first game of the third set, he produced another of his trademark sliced serves, this one so deep and curly into the corner of the service box that Cerundolo could only return it into the umpire’s chair.

Sweeny kept chasing every ball. At 2-2 his running from side to side across the baseline retrieving the ball caused his shoelaces to break – something that also happened in qualifying.

At 4-4, it was Cerundolo’s turn to run back and forth over the baseline in an 18 shot rally, and gain a break point. Sweeny double-faulted to lose serve and soon Cerundolo took the set with an ace out wide.

The net interfered with two serves for Cerundolo, before he contributed a double fault to go down 1-3 in the fourth set. Sweeny was invigorated by that break and held to love for 4-1.

Serving to stay in the set at 2-5, Cerundolo began with another double-fault, with both serves into the net. The next point he hit down the line for a winner as Sweeny’s running strides turned into full splits on the ground in an effort to reach the ball. But when Cerundolo’s drop shot landed out, Sweeny had the set 6-2.

With the match now poised at two sets all, the final set was something of an anti-climax as Sweeny ran out of steam. It was, after all, his first best-of-five set match.

He struggled to win his first service game and Cerundolo lifted, creating pace and depth of shot to gain a double break for 4-1.

Sweeny was still running hard but as he tired, his balls were landing shorter. At 5-2 15-0 Cerundolo sent down his fastest serve for the match, which was shown to be just five millimetres in. Sweeny was convinced it was out and pointed at the mark agitatedly.

When his own shot was just out in the final game, his opponent gained three match points and ripped a forehand down the line to progress to Round 2.

Francisco Cerundolo and Dane Sweeny acknowledging each other.
Photo: Chris Putnam

But Sweeny demonstrated skills, nous and tenacity well beyond his ranking. He has speed and variety; a handy slice serve, sharp volleys, and strong groundies off both sides. The only thing he lacked was legs in the fifth set.

There was some compensation in earning AU$120,000 for losing in the first round on top of the $65,000 he received for making it through qualifying. Until this year’s Australian Open, his entire career prize money was AU$309,701.

Title photos of Dino Prizmic by Reuters and of Dane Sweeny by Vanessa Taylor

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