Australia’s summer of tennis is officially over and like many before, it was a summer which bared little success for the home country’s heroes.
While the emergence of Alex De Minaur, the continued success of Dylan Alcott and a Fed Cup tie win are cause for mild celebration, Australia bombed out of the Davis Cup early and the draught of home Grand Slam winners stretched out to 40 years.
Not since Chris O’Neil lifted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy on the grass courts of Kooyong in 1978 has an Australian won the Australian Open, while no Australian male has claimed the title since Mark Edmonson two years earlier.
Ranked 212 in the world, he is still the highest ranked player to win a slam.
Sure, the draught was not expected to end this year given the relatively poor seeds of the country’s best hopes Nick Kyrgios, Ash Barty and Daria Gavrilova, however the question does need to be asked; Why can’t Australians get it done on their own hard court?
Pat Cash, Lleyton Hewitt and Wendy Turnbull have come closest since 1978, each reaching a final (two in the case of Cash) before falling at the last hurdle. Australia’s last Grand Slam champion Sam Stosur hasn’t recorded a single victory in Melbourne since 2014.
The home Grand Slam draught isn’t exclusive to Australia.
France haven’t had a winner of the French Open since Mary Pierce in 2000, and before Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2013, Great Britain hadn’t crowned a home men’s champion since Fred Perry in 1933.
But with the amount of funding that goes into developing these players and the yearly announcement of upgrades to facilities at Melbourne Park, shouldn’t Australians be expected to go deep into the second week?
It seems that the transition from star junior to champion pro is the biggest obstacle to ending the draught.
While Ash Barty was the last girls singles champion this country has produced at Wimbledon in 2011, Australians have been largely dominant at the boys level, taking home the most slams of any nationality in the past 11 years.
Australia has had five winners of the Australian Open boys championship over those past 11 years; the furthest any have made it in a male Grand Slam is the quarter-finals.
Brydan Klein took out the last Australian Open boys title on the green courts in 2007, the first home champion at this level since Ben Ellwood in 1994. Klein gained a wildcard into the main draw the following year and lost, however he won his first and only Grand Slam match to date in 2009.
A string of on-court misdemeanours led to a fractured relationship with Tennis Australia, and in 2013 he announced he was switching his nationality to Great Britain. He has since been granted three Wimbledon main draw wildcards without a victory and is currently ranked 333 in the world.
The story of 2008 Australian Open boys champion Bernard Tomic is well known. Tomic won the tournament as a 15-year old and turned pro the next year, being heralded as one of the most exciting Australian prospects in years.
A quarter-finals appearance at Wimbledon in 2011 is all he really has to show for his career as of February 2018, and it’s hard to see him expanding on that, as he devotes his time nowadays to “counting his millions”.
His laconic and apathetic nature overshadows the fact that he is potentially the most gifted player on this list. If Tomic gets his mental state right, there is still a huge opportunity for him to achieve great things.
2012 Australian Open boys champion Luke Saville’s greatest contribution to Australian tennis is in the form of his girlfriend. Saville started dating Russian Daria Gavrilova in 2011, when both were junior world number ones.
Their relationship led Gavrilova to defect to Australia and since then she has led the charge for Australians on the WTA Tour.
Saville meanwhile has struggled, winning only one Grand Slam match in his career to date. At age 24, and currently ranked 575 in the world, it’s hard to see Saville entering the top 100, let alone challenging for Grand Slams.
Nick Kyrgios is without a doubt the most successful from this list. Australia’s current top-ranked player defeated countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis in the 2013 boys final, and while he has faced much criticism for his on-court actions and attitude towards the game, Kyrgios has more often than not let his racquet do the talking.
Four career ATP titles, quarter-final appearances at his home slam and Wimbledon, and wins over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have the Australian public hoping Nick can take the next step.
The story of Oliver Anderson is a sad one. The 2016 boys champion was found guilty of match-fixing when he threw the first set of a match at the Traralgon Challenger just months after taking out the Australian Open title.
He was fined just $500 and escaped conviction but was suspended from tennis indefinitely when text messages revealed the 19-year old had agreed to lose the first set to Harrison Lombe, ranked 700 places lower than him.
It looks unlikely Anderson will ever play tennis again, and even if he does, it’s very long odds on him breaking through for a Grand Slam victory.
Young Australians have also enjoyed success at other junior Grand Slams. In 2014 Omar Jasika won the US Open boys singles and doubles title while Alexei Popyrin won the 2017 French Open boys slam; a promising sign considering Australia’s lack of success on clay courts.
Jason Kubler was also ranked the number one boys player in the world in 2010 and shared a Junior Davis Cup victory with Luke Saville in 2009.
So where is it going wrong? Why can’t most of these players transition onto the senior circuit successfully?
The world-class facilities are certainly not the issue, nor the Tennis Australia funding. Is it the coaching? Do Australian players no longer possess the mental toughness that this country is so famous for? Do they just not have enough weapons to compete on the tour?
Of all the players listed, only one is ranked inside the top 100. Australia must do better than that.
The quick rise of Alex De Minaur is proof that all it takes is a few successful tournaments to turn it around.
De Minaur, along with the likes of Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios are expected to carry Australia in the Davis Cup and on the ATP Tour for many years to come.
It would be a delight if some of the aforementioned names could join them and usher in a new golden era in Australian men’s tennis.