No Roger or Serena: Australian Open starts minus 2 big stars

Jan 15, 2023, 5:09 AM | Updated: 10:02 pm
Coco Gauff of the U.S. prepares to serve to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic during their f...

Coco Gauff of the U.S. prepares to serve to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

              Coco Gauff of the U.S. prepares to serve to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Coco Gauff of the U.S. prepares to serve to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Spectators watch the first round match between Emma Raducanu of Britain and Tamara Korpatsch of Germany at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Balls placed on a court during a first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Kyle Edmund of Britain and Jannik Sinner of Italy play during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Wearing a dark blue T-shirt bearing Roger Federer’s first name and pushing a gray stroller carrying her 1-year-old daughter, Martina (as in Hingis), at the Australian Open, Angelica Ibarra spoke for many a tennis fan when she described her mood on the first day of Grand Slam action since two of the sport’s most significant athletes ended their careers.

“I’ve grown up seeing Roger play, so for me, tennis IS Roger and Roger IS tennis,” said Ibarra, who said she is from Colombia and now lives in Melbourne. “Not to see Roger back at the tennis is a bit emotional. I also like women’s tennis, and the Williams sisters aren’t here, as well. But I’m really excited to see the up-and-coming talent of the new generation. This will be my first time watching some new players.”

The 2023 edition of the Australian Open, which began on a cloudy Monday morning (Sunday night EST), is not the first Grand Slam tournament to be contested without Roger Federer or Serena Williams, of course.

That was the case at the 2022 edition of the Australian Open, too, to name just one example.

What is different now is that this marks the first major tournament since Federer and Williams — two larger-than-the-game, larger-than-life figures, both 41 and with a combined 43 Slam singles championships and years’ worth of weeks at No. 1 in the rankings — announced they would be retiring (or, to use her preferred term, “evolving”).

“They were amazing for the sport. They still are. You think these people will never retire, in a way. And to see them actually stop kind of puts things in perspective,” said Bianca Andreescu, the 21-year-old Canadian who beat Williams in the 2019 U.S. Open final and eliminated 25th-seeded Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 6-4 on Monday. “Roger wasn’t playing for a long time prior to his retirement, and even that time felt a bit weird. Serena was kind of up and down, too.”

So while in years past, one absence or another was met with shrugs of “Don’t worry, she’ll be at the next one” or “Hey, he’s definitely going to come back, right?” there is a concreteness about it all now, a finite knowing that they are, indeed, done. (No matter how much folks might keep looking for signs that Williams is not really and truly done.)

“Look, Serena Williams is irreplaceable. I mean, she’s an icon, both on and off the court,” said Steve Simon, the head of the women’s tennis tour. “The way that I look at it is: I don’t see us as losing Serena; we just will celebrate her and all of her accomplishments for many, many years to come and reflect back on what she’s brought to the game.”

Similar sentiments can be, and have been, expressed about Federer.

“Obviously,” eight-time major champion John McEnroe said about Federer, “there is a void that will never be filled.”

Still, the sport must proceed.

And so the start of proceedings on the blue hard courts of Melbourne glimpses of the faces and the games that will fill the empty space.

Players seeking a first Grand Slam title, such as a pair of American women ranked in the top 10, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, who both won in straight sets in matches that began shortly after 11 a.m. local time. As did Jannik Sinner, a lanky 21-year-old Italian man seen as among those with a shot to eventually get to the top. Scheduled for later action: Federer’s long-time rival, top-seeded Rafael Nadal, still at it at age 36 and owner of a men’s-record 22 Grand Slam trophies.

Even the other players find it a tad jarring to scan the Australian Open brackets and be well aware that there is no use looking for the names of Federer or Williams.

“For sure, it’s strange. They were great athletes, great players, legends of the game. But tennis still goes on, and there will be new players to look out for, new players who are going to win the Grand Slams,” said Casper Ruud, a Norwegian seeded No. 2 in Melbourne and the runner-up at the French Open and U.S. Open last season. “Hopefully we will see more first-time winners. That would be a dream come true.”

___

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

___

AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III, right, goes up for a basket as Denver Nuggets guard Jam...
Associated Press

Murray, Jokic help Nuggets hold off Pelicans 122-113

DENVER (AP) — Jamal Murray is locked in right now — with his shot, with his swagger and especially with his confidence in his team. “It’s fun to play basketball,” the Denver point guard said. “But we still have room to improve. We’re not satisfied with where we’re at.” Murray scored 32 points, Nikola Jokic […]
1 day ago
FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) drives past Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker (...
Associated Press

Griner’s return, free agency raises charter flight concerns

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after being traded in a dramatic prisoner swap in December with Russia has collided with free agency, creating potential travel complications for the league out of safety concerns for her. If Griner, who is a free agent but has said she’ll return to Phoenix, needs special travel […]
1 day ago
Milwaukee Bucks' Khris Middleton drives past Charlotte Hornets' Terry Rozier during the second half...
Associated Press

Bucks beat Hornets 124-115 for 5th consecutive victory

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton is making the most of his limited minutes as he works his way back from injuries that kept him from playing for much of the season. Middleton scored 18 points and sparked a third-quarter run that put the Milwaukee Bucks ahead for good as they beat the Charlotte Hornets 124-115 […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, right, slaps the ball away from Chicago Bulls forward DeMar...
Associated Press

Leonard, Powell lead Clippers past Bulls, 108-103

CHICAGO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 33 points and Norman Powell added 27 to help the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Chicago Bulls 108-103 on Tuesday night. Paul George added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Clippers, who’ve won six of seven. Nikola Vucevic had 23 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Bulls, […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis (3) defends a shot by New York Knicks' RJ Barrett (9) during the ...
Associated Press

James has triple-double, leads Lakers past Knicks in OT

NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James will soon be the NBA’s top scorer, though that was never his focus. He’s also one of the game’s leading passers, and combining the two — possibly better than anyone ever — is what really makes him proud. “I didn’t get to this point in my career by thinking […]
1 day ago
Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) dunks the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketba...
Associated Press

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 K-State, 90-78

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Jalen Wilson remembers every slight. Every criticism. Every chip that’s landed on his shoulder. You can bet the Kansas forward remembers watching Kansas State fans storm the court after beating the Jayhawks. So with revenge on their mind, Wilson and his pals jumped on the seventh-ranked Wildcats in the rematch Tuesday […]
1 day ago
No Roger or Serena: Australian Open starts minus 2 big stars