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The photo at left to me tops any other from the tournament (great choice SI Beyond the Baseline). Rafa and Novak had just battled it out for nearly six hours on court but were struggling to stand during the trophy ceremony. They both simultaneously leaned down in a poignant moment which brings tears to my eyes. Oh this sport.
My list of the biggest storylines from the 2012 Aussie Open:
- Withdrawals pretournament: Petkovic, Venus Williams, Robin Soderling, Marin Cilic, James Blake, Tommy Robredo, Fernando Gonzalez and Somdev Devvarman. It's never good to start the season with so many injuries and health concerns. Soderling's presence is very missed on tour and the clock is certainly ticking for Venus, Robredo, Gonzalez and Blake. I hope these favourites will make at least one more appearance in Melbourne. Petkovic's injury, a stress fracture in her back, sounds very serious and is the very one that has possibly ended Dinara Safina's young career.
- Retirements - was it the heat or are athletes just still carrying injuries from the 2011 season? The men had eight retirements and one withdrawal due to injury in the first four rounds, from Andy Roddick and Xavier Malisse to Ivan Dodig and poor Jarrko Niemenen who played in two rain delayed Sydney finals on Sunday and still was made to play his opener against David Nalbandian on Monday. The ladies weren't quite as bad with four retirements, most notably Maria Kirilenko in her match against Petra Kvitova and Anabel Medina Garrigues who badly sprained her ankle while playing Li Na in the third round.
- Nalbandian/Isner - exhibit A of why the challenge system and umpires don't always work well together. I was so disappointed in this ending - a fantastic five setter (both men seem to be addicted to them) that regardless of whether the call was right or wrong deserved a better ending. People said Nalby was right, the umpire was a moron, that Isner shouldn't have celebrated the way he did. Just a bummer all around and it ended with Nalbandian being fined for some post-match incident (throwing water at an official?) and many tennis fans extremely angry at umpire Kader Nouni.
- The Australian men - two Aussie men made the fourth round this year which is great for the locals. The two, Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic, have certainly polarised fans in their long and short careers respectively. But the Aussies know how to get behind their own, and with the first round departure of Sam Stosur it was great to see the men keep local hopes alive and entertained through the four rounds.
- The unpredictable WTA. Before the tournament started, many named 5-6 probable winners on the women's side and we ended up with arguably the most fascinating quarters we've seen in a slam for some time. The winner was not one of the multiple grand slam winners (Serena, Kim, Maria) it was the talented Victoria Azarenka who stormed to her first slam, meaning the past four slam winners were all first timers. Compare this to the men's side, in which two men (Rafa and Novak) have won the past eight slams. Give me unpredictability any day!
- Linecalling, challenges, etc. Much has been said about this tournament being one of the worst in recent memory with officiating. I'll add that yes the human eye is not perfect and umpires using their discretion on calls can lead to inconsistent results. The funniest tweet I saw about this by @Janie5Jones: "...did Tomic break? The new #ausopen tagline should be, "Don't beat your opponent, the umpire will do it for you."
- The final. Whether you were cheering for Novak or Rafa or neither, the men's final was one of the best in memory. As a Rafa fan I thought he was out after that third set and I screamed hard when he somehow came from from 0-40 on his serve at 3-4 down in the fourth set and managed to win it in a tiebreaker. I hid when he missed that backhand at 4-2, 30-15. I cried when it was over and turned the TV off instantly. Then I calmed down, watched the ceremony and marvelled at our sport. Amazing.