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Rod Laver to Serena Williams: Laced with nostalgia, the story of Australian Open champions

Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka are the reigning men’s and women’s Australian Open singles champions. Here’s the full list of winners from the Open Era.
By Utathya Nag

As the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open holds a special place in the tennis calendar.

Started by the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia (LTAA) – now called Tennis Australia – in 1905, the tournament was known as the Australasian Championships during its initial years.

Though the first edition saw only a small field of 17, it grew and was designated as one of the four majors (Grand Slams) from 1924 by the International Tennis Federation. Three years later, it was renamed as the Australian Championships.

However, it was not until 1969 (almost a year after the start of the Open Era) that the tennis tournament came to be known as the Australian Open, officially.

Over the years, the tournament has also been the stage for some of the most iconic moments in tennis history, with legendary names like Rod Laver, Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and others leaving their mark on the event.

Here we turn the clock back and look at the Australian Open men’s singles and women’s singles champions of the Open Era.

1969-1980 – Rod Laver and Margaret Court script history

In 1968, there was a tectonic shift in the tennis world. For the first time, professional players were allowed to play at majors alongside amateurs, marking the beginning of the Open Era, also known as the modern era of tennis.

However, with the changes formally coming into effect in April that year, the Australian Open missed out on being the first Grand Slam of the Open Era, with the honours going to the French Open instead.

But as the first Australian Open was held in 1969, there was history to be made.

Australia’s very own Rod Laver won the men’s singles title that year, taking the first step towards completing a calendar Grand Slam (winning all four Grand Slam titles in a single year) that year.

Till date, Rod Laver is the only men’s singles player to achieve a calendar Grand Slam in the Open Era. He had also won all four majors in 1962, but it was in the pre-Open Era.

Rod Laver and Margaret Court were the first Australian Open men’s and women’s singles champions.
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In women’s singles, the legendary Margaret Court – another Australian – won the title in 1969 and proceeded to defend it in the next two editions. In 1970, Court also built on her Australian Open win to become the first-ever women’s singles winner of the coveted calendar Grand Slam.

Steffi Graf, in 1988, became the only other tennis player in history to claim a calendar Slam in the Open Era.

At the 1970 Australian Open men’s singles, another piece of history was scripted. USA’s Arthur Ashe – after whom the current US Open venue is named - became the first black tennis player to win a Grand Slam event. It was the first of Ashe’s three Slams.

Overall, the period was largely dominated by Australian and American players in men’s singles. Only Argentina’s Guillermo Vilas (1978 and 1979) broke the trend.

Interestingly two Australian Opens were held in 1977 – one in January and another in December - because of scheduling changes.

Australian Open winners from 1969 to 1980

1969 – Men’s: Rod Laver (Australia), Women’s: Margaret Court (Australia)

1970 – Men’s: Arthur Ashe (USA), Women’s: Margaret Court (Australia)

1971 – Men’s: Kane Rosewell (Australia), Women’s: Margaret Court (Australia)

1972 – Men’s: Kane Rosewell (Australia), Women’s singles: Virginia Wade (Britain)

1973 – Men’s: John Newcombe (Australia), Women’s: Margaret Court (Australia)

1974 – Men’s: Jimmy Connors (USA), Women’s: Evonne Cawley (Australia)

1975 – Men’s: John Newcombe (Australia), Women’s: Evonne Cawley (Australia)

1976 – Men’s: Mark Edmondson (Australia), Women’s: Evonne Cawley (Australia)

1977 (Jan) – Men’s: Roscoe Tanner (USA), Women’s: Kerry Reid (Australia)

1977 (Dec) – Men’s: Vitas Gerulaitis (USA), Women’s: Evonne Cawley (Australia)

1978 – Men’s: Guillermo Vilas (Argentina), Women’s: Christine O'Neil (Australia)

1979 – Men’s: Guillermo Vilas (Argentina), Women’s: Barbara Jordan (USA)

1980 – Men’s: Brian Teacher (USA), Women’s: Hana Mandlíková (Czechoslovakia)

1981-1990 – Swede dominance in men’s, Steffi Graf’s Golden Slam

This period saw the Australian Open undergo some major changes. Dates of the tournament used to fluctuate between December to January till 1985. But starting 1987, January was fixed as the window for the event.

The rescheduling also meant that the Australian Open was not held in 1986 to facilitate the adjustment. Also, starting 1988, the tournament was shifted to hard courts. Before this, the Australian Open was always played on grass courts.

Coming back to the champions, the 1980s to 90s was dominated by Swedish players in men’s singles. 

South Africa’s Johan Kriek won the 1981 and 1982 editions while Czech Republic’s Ivan Lendl won in 1989 and 1990. All five editions in between were shared between Swedes Mats Wilander (1983, 1984 and 1988) and Stefan Edberg (1985 and 1987).

In women’s singles, US players made a clean sweep from 1981 to 1985 with Martina Navratilova winning three (1981, 1983 and 1985) and Chris Evert two (1982 and 1984).

Hana Mandlikova broke the American grip in 1987 after the break year, before leaving the stage for Germany’s Steffi Graf to clinch a hat-trick of titles (1988, 1989 and 1990).

Graf’s first Australian Open in 1988 was followed by an ultra-rare Golden Slam which consists of a calendar Grand Slam and a gold medal at the Summer Olympics the same year.

Australian Open winners from 1981 to 1990

1981 – Men’s: Johan Kriek (SA), Women’s: Martina Navratilova (USA)

1982 – Men’s: Johan Kriek (SA), Women’s: Chris Evert (USA)

1983 – Men’s: Mats Wilander (Sweden), Women’s: Martina Navratilova (USA)

1984 – Men’s: Stefan Edberg (Sweden), Women’s singles: Chris Evert (USA)

1985 – Men’s: Mats Wilander (Sweden), Women’s: Martina Navratilova (USA)

1987 – Men’s: Stefan Edberg (Sweden), Women’s: Hana Mandlíková (Czechoslovakia)

1988 – Men’s: Mats Wilander (Sweden), Women’s: Steffi Graf (Germany)

1989 – Men’s: Ivan Lendl (Czech Republic), Women’s: Steffi Graf (Germany)

1990 – Men’s: Ivan Lendl (Czech Republic), Women’s: Steffi Graf (Germany)

1991-2003 – Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi rivalry takes centre stage

While the 1991 and 1996 Australian Open men’s titles were won by German ace Boris Becker, the highlight of this period was the rivalry between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

The two US players, with their contrasting styles, dominated world tennis from the 90s to the turn of the millennium and the Australian Open was one of the major stages where the epic rivalry played out.

Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras shared one of the most iconic rivalries in tennis and it spilled over to the Australian Open as well.
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Until 2000, the two were neck and neck at the event, winning the Australian Open twice each – Sampras in 1994 and 1997, Agassi in 1995 and 2000.

However, with Sampras approaching the end of his career, Agassi clinched two more Australian Opens in 2001 and 2003 to usurp his arch-rival’s numbers at the tournament.

The era also saw multiple eventful rivalries in women’s singles.

Monica Seles – then a youngster from Yugoslavia - threw down the gauntlet and challenged Graf’s dominance at the 1991 Australian Open. Seles won three Australian Opens on the trot, first breaking Steffi Graf’s streak and then creating one of her own.

At the 1993 Australian Open, Monica Seles defeated Graf in the final to win the women’s singles. Unfortunately, just a few months later, Seles was stabbed while playing at a tournament. With Seles critically injured, the Seles-Graf rivalry was brought to a halt temporarily when it was at its peak.

Graf regained her Australian Open crown in 1994 but Seles marked a comeback and won the title once more in 1996 – this time as a US player (Seles took up American citizenship in 1994).

It was Monica Seles’ last major title but brought her Australian Open numbers level with rival Steffi Graf at four wins each.

The next three years, though, belonged to another women’s great – Swiss player Martina Hingis. In 2003, a young American named Serena Williams claimed her first Australian Open women’s singles title.

Australian Open winners from 1991 to 2013

1991 – Men’s: Boris Becker (Germany), Women’s: Monica Seles (Yugoslavia)

1992 – Men’s: Jim Courier (USA), Women’s: Monica Seles (Yugoslavia)

1993 – Men’s: Jim Courier (USA), Women’s: Monica Seles (Yugoslavia)

1994 – Men’s: Pete Sampras (USA), Women’s singles: Steffi Graf (Germany)

1995 – Men’s: Andre Agassi (USA), Women’s: Mary Pierce (France)

1996 – Men’s: Boris Becker (Germany), Women’s: Monica Seles (USA)

1997 – Men’s: Pete Sampras (USA), Women’s: Martina Hingis (Switzerland)

1998 – Men’s: Petr Korda (Czech Republic), Women’s: Martina Hingis (Switzerland)

1999 – Men’s: Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Russia), Women’s: Martina Hingis (Switzerland)

2000 – Men’s: Andre Agassi (USA), Women’s: Lindsay Davenport (USA)

2001 – Men’s: Andre Agassi (USA), Women’s: Jennifer Capriati (USA)

2002 – Men’s: Thomas Johansson (Sweden), Women’s: Jennifer Capriati (USA)

2003 – Men’s: Andre Agassi (USA), Women’s: Serena Williams (USA)

2004-2020 – A Federer-Djoko show, Serena Williams dominates

Since 2004, the Australian Open men’s singles event has been thoroughly dominated by two players – Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic.

Federer was up by three before Djokovic won his first Australian Open in 2008 but since then the Serb has had the upper hand.

Currently, Novak Djokovic is the most successful Australian Open player in history with nine titles (2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021) followed by Roger Federer with six (2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2017 and 2018).

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have dominated the Australian Open like few others before them have done.
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Rafael Nadal, the other member of modern tennis’ ‘big three’ besides Federer and Djoko, has just one Australian Open win to his name. The Spaniard won in 2009.

Serena Williams, meanwhile, cemented her position as the most successful women’s player of all-time at the event, with seven titles.

Australian Open winners from 2004 to 2020

2004 – Men’s: Roger Federer (Switzerland), Women’s: Justine Henin (Belgium)

2005 – Men’s: Marat Safin (Russia), Women’s: Serena Williams (USA)

2006 – Men’s: Roger Federer (Switzerland), Women’s: Amélie Mauresmo (France)

2007 – Men’s: Roger Federer (Switzerland), Women’s singles: Serena Williams (USA)

2008 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Maria Sharapova (Russia)

2009 – Men’s: Rafael Nadal (Spain), Women’s: Serena Williams (USA)

2010 – Men’s: Roger Federer (Switzerland), Women’s: Serena Williams (USA)

2011 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Kim Clijsters (Belgium)

2012 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Victoria Azarenka (Belarus)

2013 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Victoria Azarenka (Belarus)

2014 – Men’s: Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland), Women’s: Li Na (China)

2015 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Serena Williams (USA)

2016 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Angelique Kerber (Germany)

2017 – Men’s: Roger Federer (Switzerland), Women’s: Serena Williams (USA)

2018 – Men’s: Roger Federer (Switzerland), Women’s: Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

2019 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Naomi Osaka (Japan)

2020 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Sofia Kenin (USA)

2021 – Men’s: Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Women’s: Naomi Osaka (USA)