The first Grand Slam of 2016 is in the books, and if the Australian Open was a harbinger, we can expect this to be a kaleidoscopic year offering an intriguing combination of the surprising and the familiar. Here are 10 things we learned during the Melbourne fortnight.
10. A British invasion?
The nation that popularized the sport and gave us Wimbledon has had a lot to cheer about of late. It all goes back to Australian Open runner-up and world No. 2 Andy Murray, whose influence is just beginning to be felt. Great Britain also had its first woman Aussie semifinalist since 1983 in No. 47 Johanna Konta, a hard-hitting, rapidly improving 24-year-old of whom Murray said in a news conference, "The rise she's made over the last nine or 10 months has been fantastic."
Andy's older brother, Jamie, partnered with Bruno Soares to win the men's doubles title, and Kyle Edmund is a promising 21-year-old with a big game. Then, there's Heather Watson and former prodigy Laura Robson, who is still dealing with a serious wrist injury.
"It's pretty good for us to have people competing in almost all the competitions," Andy Murray told reporters in Melbourne. "Gordon Reid had a great win over the world No. 1, too."
Reid, in case you're wondering, plays in the wheelchair division and went on to win his event.
9. New dynamic duo in doubles
Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza have brought some serious star power to the doubles draw. By winning their third consecutive Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, they've set themselves up to complete a "Santina Slam" at the French Open.
Powered by Mirza's atomic forehand and returns and Hingis' deft net play and backhand chicanery, they've won 36 straight matches. Speaking for them both after they won in Melbourne, Hingis said, "It's amazing, the fairy tale continues."
8. The attacking game is flourishing
The latest reformed baseliner to see the light? Canadian bombardier Milos Raonic. Seeded No. 13 in Melbourne, Raonic suffered a heartbreaking five-set semifinal loss against Murray. But he's been the second- or third-best player in 2016, largely because of a new commitment to the net game. Before that match, he told the media: "I'm in a much better state than where I was 18 months ago when I was in my first semifinal of a Grand Slam."
On his way to the quarterfinals, Raonic won more points at the net than at the baseline (141-138), then served and volleyed 57 times in his fourth-round upset of No. 4 seed Stan Wawrinka. It's a trend. All the elite players are showing an increased appetite for net play.
7. There is no clear pecking order in the WTA
At the start of the Australian Open, there was much expected from stars such as No. 2 seed Simona Halep, No. 3 Garbine Muguruza, No. 6 Petra Kvitova and perhaps even resurgent No. 14 Victoria Azarenka or Caroline Wozniacki. The only one who made it as far as the quarterfinals was Azarenka, who was beaten by the eventual champion, No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber.
6. What now for Federer and Nadal?
Nadal's much-anticipated comeback took a painful hit when the No. 5 seed was upset in the first round by Fernando Verdasco. Federer, the No. 3 seed, made it to the semifinals; and while he narrowly avoided a humiliating three-set loss after Djokovic's quick 6-1, 6-2 start, Federer still lost in four. The all-time Grand Slam singles champion categorically rejected the theory that, at age 34, he can no longer compete with Djokovic over the course of five sets.
"Best-of-three, best-of-five, I can run for four or five hours. It's not a problem for me," he told reporters after the loss. " I get that you think I'm old and all that, but it's no problem for me."
Whether it's his age or Djokovic, Federer has a problem.
5. Expectations too great?
This was a bummer of a tournament for talented and/or highly hyped prodigies of whom much has been expected for varying periods of time.
On the WTA side, Sloane Stephens was knocked out in the first round by one qualifier and fellow American Madison Keys fell to another (although it was in the fourth round). No. 9 Karolina Pliskova, No. 12 Belinda Bencic, Ana Konjuh and Jelena Ostapenko also all went quietly into the Melbourne night.
4. American players treading water
John Isner, No. 10, and Steve Johnson, No. 31, reached the rounds forecast by their seedings, but that was it. No. 25 Jack Sock, seeded for the first time in Melbourne, was knocked out in Round 2 by Lukas Rosol. Keys was the only countrywoman to join Williams in the fourth round, but she missed a huge opportunity by losing against qualifier Zhang Shuai.
3. A fortnight not without controversy
The match-fixing tennis allegations surfaced many questions, but there is no immediate evidence pointing to any wrongdoing involving players at the level where most fans experience the ATP and WTA game.
Does tennis have a gambling problem? Yes, like boxing and horse racing, it's an individual sport with many corruptible lower tiers. Moreover, tennis is a sport seemingly tailor-made for online, international gambling. The good thing out of the controversy is that tennis officials seem newly committed to defining and addressing the problems that might exist. The betting agencies have to be a part of the solution.
2. No calendar Slam, but perhaps a 'Channel Slam'
Williams did the game a great favor when she lost in the Aussie final against Kerber. She had vowed early in the tournament to avoid drama this year (she called the emotional roller coaster she rode last year "a learning experience"). But when Williams failed to nail down Grand Slam singles title No. 22 to tie Steffi Graf for the Open era record, she ensured this will be an electric summer.
A "Channel Slam" (French Open and Wimbledon) is a tall order, which means Williams could be in position to break Graf's record at the last major of the year, her home Grand Slam event at the US Open.
1. There's just One
We love the concept of a Big Four, but let's not kid ourselves. Djokovic now stands astride the game, a colossus -- and shows no sign of letting up in his drive to catch Nadal and Federer in the Grand Slam title sweeps. This was Djokovic's 11th major title. Should he win the French, people will begin talking calendar Slam. Make that Golden Slam.