THE 2018 Australian Open started with a loud, divisive bang as Novak Djokovic reportedly made a dramatic move to demand higher prize money for male professional tennis players.
It ended with the racquets of Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep doing the same for the women’s WTA Tour.
Reports on day one of the Open linked a growing number of faceless stars on the men’s ATP Tour with the controversial view that men’s and women’s prize money should not be identical.
Those faceless players were shamed by the incredible events that unfolded on Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night as Wozniacki and Halep produced an unforgettable final of drama, thrills and class.
Much more than that, the entire 2018 tournament has been dependent on a series of outrageous, awe-inspiring results across the women’s draw.
One look back at the results across the 14 days of the Open and it is embarrassingly clear this year’s tournament will be remembered for the rollercoaster wars the women’s singles draw produced and the constant disappointments from the men’s singles.
The 2018 Australian Open is the smoking gun which should kill off any push from the men’s game to distance itself from the women’s tour in an attempt to shake more money from the different tours, grand slams and events that make up tennis’ complex officialdom.
This was a case of the women’s game carrying the men’s.
It’s not the first and it won’t be the last.
In truth, the gulf between the standard of intrigue and entertainment between the women’s singles and men’s singles at this year’s Open was staggering.
If you were to form a list of the best and most memorable and significant matches this tournament it would come almost exclusively from the women’s side.
There was Wozniacki’s two-hours and 50-minutes triumph over Halep in the final — a game that decided the No. 1 ranking played amid the incredible drama of their haunting history of grand slam final failure.
There was Halep’s ridiculous semi-final win over Angelique Kerber 9-7 in the third set.
There was Halep’s third round three-hour 44-minute marathon over Lauren Davis — where the American slugger set a freak benchmark with the highest average speed backhand at the Australian Open this year (between the men’s and women’s fields.
Of course the men’s field produced some epic’s too, but we won’t be talking about them in six months.
The same can’t be said of the incredible way the women’s singles draw unfolded this year.
This isn’t some overzealous hot take either.
It could very reasonably be said that the US Open was held together by the incredible rides of Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. Wimbledon and the French Open in 2017 were also dominated by storylines generated by the women’s singles.
This year’s Aussie Open doesn’t have to be treated like a game-changer in the ongoing, complex and turbulent gender politics of tennis.
But it does have to be remembered the next time the equal pay discussion re-emerges or the five-set argument returns.
And it will be remembered.
Tennis commentators certainly appeared to think so on Saturday night.
At the end of the day, the men’s tour still reportedly has data up its sleeve which shows it is responsible for generating the majority of tennis’ revenue.
If that is the argument used to define the pay-claims of men’s and women’s tennis then it doesn’t stack up.
The 2018 Australian Open has shown that interest in the men’s game won’t always be superior to women’s tennis. It’s fluid.
The 2018 Australian Open has also shown you also don’t have to play five sets to be defined as a warrior — so the out-dated argument trying to link the number of sets played with prize-money doesn’t stack up either.
It’s about the spectacle — which the 2018 Australian Open women’s singles draw has made irrefutably clear.
Even if the incredible performances from the women at the Aussie Open hasn’t had a direct link to revenue generated for the tournament, its sponsors and its TV partners — it has made an unmistakeable boost to the sport’s reputation and prestige.
You don’t have to agree that women deserve equal pay in professional tennis — but you do have to acknowledge the women’s singles draw put on one helluva show at Melbourne Park this year.
Remember that the next time tennis’ gender equality debate rages.