Success in the men’s and women’s singles may have eluded local hopes at the 2019 Australian Open, but home favourites gave tennis fans plenty of great moments to cherish.
In fact, seven Australians played in grand slam finals at Melbourne Park, with Dylan Alcott, Heath Davidson and Samantha Stosur all enjoying the spoils of victory.
Alcott won two finals, backing up his win with Davidson in the quad wheelchair doubles with a win in the quad singles, while Stosur paired up with close friend Zhang Shuai to win the women’s doubles.
Other local hopes went close, too, with Astra Sharma and John-Patrick Smith beaten in the mixed doubles final, while John Peers and Finland’s Henri Kontinen missed out in the men’s doubles decider on Sunday.
Sydney-born Ben Weekes, playing with Frenchman Stephane Houdet in the men’s wheelchair singles, was also defeated in a final.
Reaching a final is not the only definition of success, of course.
New faces of Australian tennis
For the first time since 2004, five Australians reached the third round of the Open, with Ashleigh Barty and Alex de Minaur leading the charge.
That pair – surely now the face of Australian tennis – were joined by Kimberly Birrell, Alex Bolt and Alexei Popyrin in getting to the third round.
Barty’s progression was particularly exciting, with the 22-year-old’s fourth-round success against Maria Sharapova a sign of her growing maturity.
The Queenslander was eliminated in the quarter-finals to eventual runner-up Petra Kvitova, but it was her best ever result at a Grand Slam event.
All of those achievements are genuinely good stories.
Then there’s the fact the Open was another smash with players and fans alike.
The stars of the sport loved the refurbished complex and record crowds piled in to watch a new breed of Australian stars.
But despite all of that, there is still a bitter taste in the mouth.
A taste provided by an unedifying, ugly spat that dragged on for almost the entire first week of the tournament and partly overshadowed all of the outstanding achievements of local players.
As Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt traded barbs in the press, it was not just the reputations of those directly involved that were on the line. It was the reputation of Australian tennis.
Countless overseas journalists were staggered by the saga, particularly its length and the fact it seemed to get worse every day.
Allegations of favouritism soon morphed into allegations of threats and blackmail, filling back pages and talkback radio switchboards.
The story could have been put to bed within 24 hours, yet constant soundbites kept fuelling the fire, taking the gloss off what should have been a week to celebrate.
It was a saga that should have been handled a lot better.
If it was not clear already, Tennis Australia should be investing all of its energy into the likes of Barty, Alcott and de Minaur.
They are names that are starting to resonate, not just in the sporting world, and the trio’s positivity is refreshing.
The Nine Network deserve special praise for their coverage of Alcott’s matches during the tournament.
Yes, the 28-year-old was a member of the Nine team during the Open, but it was great to see some of his matches live on free-to-air television. We can only hope for a repeat next year.
A repeat of all the Australian success would be great, too.
And, hopefully in 2020, that success will get the coverage it deserves.