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2024 Australian Open – Two Tales of No. 1 in the doubles

By Vanessa Taylor

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No. 1 in the world.

Rohan Bopanna and Storm Hunter have both experienced the exhilaration of making it to the top.

Bopanna knew that by winning his Australian Open quarter-final with partner Matthew Ebden, he had achieved enough ranking points to reach the pinnacle of the doubles game.

After defeating 6th seeded Argentine pair Andrés Molteni and Máximo González, he walked towards the net with Ebden and raised an index finger to his player box to indicate his ascendency, after a career of 21 years.

Following the match, Bopanna told the on-court interviewer, “today’s game gets me to world No. 1”, before she had a chance to mention it. “He took the surprise that I had”, she happily told the cheering crowd.

Rohan Bopanna holds up a finger to his box for No. 1 in the world.
Photo: Vanessa Taylor

The 43-year-old acknowledged that it was also a special moment for his team and family. “They’ve been through some really tough moments. The career highlight was back in [2017]…” (when he won the Roland Garros mixed doubles with Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski).

Doing it in Melbourne made it extra special for the Indian. “For me also, I consider this a lot to be the home grand slam, coming from the Asian continent,” Bopanna explained.

The quarter final had begun on Court 3, but was paused when bubbling was detected on its surface. All four players inspected the damage, with Ebden saying to the umpire, “If a serve hits this, there’s a problem.”

Resumed at Margaret Court Arena, the match was close but Bopanna and Ebden were able to take it in straight sets, 6-4 7-6(5).

As an aside, when he walked to his box after the win, Bopanna looked down the camera lens and said “All the 1.5 billion people there…”, referring to his home country.

The men’s doubles quarter final moved to Margaret Court Arena.
Photo: Vanessa Taylor

Having made his first men’s doubles semi in Melbourne, Bopanna teamed brilliantly with Ebden to defeat China’s Zhang Zhizhen and Tomáš Macháč of the Czech Republic.

In a hard fought contest, the sides split the sets, before the third went to a ten-point tiebreak. The last two serves were on Bopanna’s racquet. Both were sent down roaring the middle, with a 204 km ace on match point. In 122 minutes, for a score of 6-3 3-6, 7-6 (10-5), he and Ebden had made the final.

Already a two-time Grand Slam doubles winner, Ebden had made the Australian Open final in 2022 with Max Purcell, going down to another all-Australian combo, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.

In 2023, the first year of their partnership, as well as winning the Indian Wells Masters 1000, Ebden and Bopanna made the finals of three other Masters 1000s and the US Open final. In 2010, Bopanna and Pakistani player Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi had finished as runners-up at Flushing Meadows.

As well, Bopanna twice played in losing mixed doubles finals at the Australian Open, with Timea Babos in 2018 – losing 9-11 in the match tiebreak – and with compatriot Sania Mirza last year.

Andrea Vavassori and Simone Bolelli in the doubles final.
Photo: Tennis Australia

Also making it to this year’s men’s doubles final in Melbourne were Italians Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori.

The first set was tight and tense, but Bopanna and Ebden played a perfect tiebreak. And it was the seventh winning tiebreak of the seven they played in the tournament.

At 5-5 in the second set, they managed to achieve the only break by either side in the match, and then held serve to claim the championship, 7-6(0), 7-5.

Amazingly, the pair did not commit a single unforced error in the 99 minutes of the final.

Bopanna’s obvious sadness last year over losing the mixed doubles final with Mirza in her retirement Grand Slam, was now at least balanced by what he described as “without a doubt the best moment in my career”.

“For years and years I’ve been trying to, you know, get there,” Bopanna said.

“I had thoughts of quitting and stopping, but to just persevere and enjoy what I was doing, I think, was the best thing I told myself.”

Matthew Ebden and Rohan Bopanna perform the Bryan Brothers bump after winning the final. Photo: Getty/Tennis Australia

Australia’s Storm Hunter returned home to Melbourne in November as the No.1 doubles player in the WTA. She described the feeling as “insane, it doesn’t feel real, to be honest.”

The 29-year-old finished the year in the top spot after she and Belgian Elise Mertens won the Masters 1000s in Rome and Guadalajara, were doubles finalists at Wimbledon and reached the semis of the WTA Finals in Cancun.

Hunter and Matthew Ebden were top seeds in the mixed doubles but lost in the second round to another Australian duo, Jaimee Fourlis and Andrew Harris, in straight sets.

In the meantime, Hunter progressed to the quarter finals in women’s doubles.

From this point of the tournament, the intrigue began. Hunter had dissolved her union with Elise Mertens to start a new one for 2024 with Kateřina Siniaková.

Storm Hunter and Kateřina Siniaková discussing tactics.
Photo: Tennis Australia

Siniaková, of course, had previously partnered her Czech countrywoman Barbora Krejčíková, with whom she’d played for the last 10 years. Beginning as juniors, they were paired for three Grand Slam wins.

In their professional partnership, they won seven Grand Slams and an Olympic gold medal.

Now they faced each other across the net: Siniaková with Hunter, and Krejčíková with German Laura Siegemund, who just happened to be Hunter’s partner before Siniaková took over the role.

What followed was an remarkable match, full of rapidfire exchanges between all four at the net and ripping groundstrokes. One of many suspenseful exchanges was a lengthy groundstroke rally exclusively between the Czech former partners. Krejčíková held her nerve to win it.

Barbora Krejčíková and Laura Siegemund playing Kateřina Siniaková and Storm Hunter. Photo: Vanessa Taylor

Each of the Czechs was the most consistent and creative player in their new partnerships. Although Siegemund hit some impressive winners, as did Hunter, both seemed hesitant about the timing of interceptions, something that will no doubt resolve as they get more experience with their current partners.

Siniaková and Hunter won the match, 4-6 7-5 6-4.

Their semi was just as thrilling as the quarter final. In another twist, they met Mertens, newly reunited with Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan.

Mertens and Hsieh were down 0-4 in the first set but forced their way back to seize the set 7-5. Perhaps they relaxed a little as they promptly went down 0-3 in the second set, but were unable to recover and lost it 1-6. In the decider, they broke in the eighth game to lead 5-3.

On match point, Mertens ran way out wide of the court and swiped the ball over the net on an extreme angle to the other side. It topspinned away from the racing Siniaková’s racquet and Mertens let out an almighty roar. It was over at 7-5 1-6 6-3.

Hseih and Mertens had combined better than their opponents, and from the back of the court Mertens whipped winners to all angles as Hsieh did the same at the net.

Storm Hunter overjoyed to win through singles qualifying.
Photo: Tennis Australia

So Hunter was out of both doubles tournaments and would now go down two places in the rankings to No. 3. In the partner merry-go-round, Mertens would replace her as No. 1 in the world.

Hunter would have taken some consolation from her singles performance. With a singles ranking of 180, she was forced to make it through qualifying to enter the main draw.

Interestingly, having beaten veteran Sara Errani in the first round, she then encountered Siegemund and Krejčíková in the next two rounds. She got past Siegemund in three sets, but fatigue affected her in the final set of her loss to No. 9 seed Krejčíková, 6-4 5-7 3-6.

For Hunter, it was her best singles performance at a Grand Slam and saw her ranking rise 51 places to 129.

Storm Hunter making her way in singles. Photo: Vanessa Taylor

Title photos of Rohan Bopanna and Storm Hunter by Tennis Australia

Matthew Ebden rose World No. 3, moving up two places after his Australian Open success. This meant that together with new World No. 1 Rohan Bopanna, they became the top men’s doubles team in the world.

Hsieh Su-wei moved up four places to World No. 2, making her and World No. 1 Elise Mertens the top-ranked women’s doubles team.

Barbora Krejčíková dropped 13 spots to No. 25, while Kateřina Siniaková dropped 10 places to No. 23. Both players were defending points accrued when they jointly won the 2023 Australian Open.

Laura Siegemund moved up one position to No. 4.

Hsieh Su-wei made it a doubles double as she also won this year’s mixed doubles title with Jan Zielinski of Poland.

FURTHER UPDATES

On 26 February 2024, Matthew Ebden replaced Rohan Bopanna as No. 1 in the world in the doubles rankings. Bopanna dropped to world No. 2.

On 17 March 2024, Hsieh Su-wei moved up a rankings spot to become No. 1 women’s doubles player in the world, after she and Elise Mertens defeated Storm Hunter and Kateřina Siniaková for the Indian Wells championship.

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