Four classic Australian sport stories are playing out at the Australian Open, each providing an insight into the Australian perspective and how the media encourages a sports narrative.
For Ash Barty, Dylan Alcott, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, a mix of personality and commentary turn an athletic contest into a narrative plot worthy of a Netflix show.
Ash Barty: golden girl
Barty’s storyline has been set for a long time. After winning her first grand slam in 2019 at Roland Garros and assuming the world No.1 ranking, it’s been the Australian sport dream that a homegrown champion will return to Melbourne Park after an almost 50-year drought.
This narrative through-line was clear in the coverage of her decisive win over 20-year-old Amanda Anisimova last night. The American was labelled a giant-killer in media coverage after she beat two-time champion Naomi Osaka. The plot point: she’s capable of beating big players, and could be a threat to Barty’s dream run to the championship.
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Commentators throughout the match spoke mostly through the lens of the path Barty needed to take to secure the victory.
Jim Courier quipped there’s “so much to like about Ash Barty”. When Anisimova had break points, the commentary turned to what Barty needed to do to get through the game, and Casey Dellacqua spoke at length about her game strategy.
None of this is surprising, and the emphasis on her game is well earned and deserved. But it also speaks to how commentators and the media frame sports stories to engage an audience, and keep punters along for the ride.
“The Barty Party”, for example, has been coined in the media and adopted by crowds, even though Barty is really not one for crowd engagement. She remains extremely composed and doesn’t seem to rely on crowd hype to push her through matches. And yet this story means that an Aussie crowd is always having a good time.
Dylan Alcott: a dream career
Someone who is also having a good time is seven-time Australia Open champion Dylan Alcott. In the opening set of his game yesterday, he paused before serving to dance to the loud music playing outside the Kia Arena. Alcott said in his post-match interview that when he’s having a good time, he plays his best. And the crowd loves him for it.
Not only is Alcott an inspiration to many, but he’s the kind of bloke any Australian can get behind. He’s a joy to watch, and his good humour and fighting spirit on top of his achievements ensure the country follows his story.
But despite his lofty achievements, he never takes himself too seriously, and the fun he brings to every match is evident in the crowds he draws to the quad wheelchair game. The cherry on top is that this is Alcott’s final Australian Open. After achieving the golden slam last year, he’s hoping to go out on top in the close to a picture-perfect career for the Aussie legend.
Alex de Minaur: a new hope
Embattled by injury and COVID, Alex de Minaur has achieved his best Australian Open result with his run to the fourth round.
Known for refusing to give up a point, de Minaur is the battler who has the Australian spirit of perseverance. Although his chances of going all the way are slimmer than the other Aussies — certainly Alcott and Barty — there’s no doubt he’ll give it his all.
He played the night session at Rod Laver Arena for the first time in the third round, a moment that meant a lot. He’s been open about the pride he feels playing for Australia, so much so that he has his Davis Cup number tattooed on his chest.
And Australia is embracing him too. While he might not be known for huge upsets like Kygrios, de Minaur has the determination and drive to actually progress through slams on a more consistent basis.
Kyrgios and Kokkinakis: the lovable larrikins
Rounding out the Australian stories is the doubles pairing of Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The friends are calling their doubles duo “the special Ks”, and Australian crowds are eating it up.
The atmosphere has been described as “wild”, and that’s in no small part due to them encouraging the crowds. Their opponents haven’t always been too pleased, but they’re convincingly defeating established doubles teams and having heaps of fun along the way.
Although they’re winning for now, that’s not really the point of this narrative. They love the crowds and the crowds love them, and it makes for excellent television. With personalities like Alcott and Kyrgios, these stories write themselves. And the Australian media is more than happy to oblige.
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