With the 2016 season less than a week old, the early season’s WTA headlines have been dominated by those not playing matches. In the span of 24 hours, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova were forced out of the Brisbane International due to injuries; Petra Kvitova succumbed to an illness and was forced to retire from her first match at the Shenzhen Open; and Serena Williams has been plagued by a knee issue at the Hopman Cup.
With the tour’s biggest names struggling to get healthy, the first fireworks came from an unexpected place: the International-level event in Auckland, New Zealand — which lost its top two seeds (Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic) to surprise defeats on Wednesday as injuries plagued their counterparts — and from two unexpected names.
Qualifier Naomi Broady scored her first Top 20 win by defeating No. 2 seed Ivanovic in the opening round at the ASB Classic, and few would’ve expected her to make a bigger splash less than 24 hours later against 18-year-old wildcard Jelena Ostapenko on Thursday. A native of Stockport, Broady is no stranger to controversy off the court, infamously having her LTA funding cut in 2007 due to some supposedly provocative photos posted on social media.
In Auckland, however, Broady found herself embroiled in controversy on the court — lighting up social media for different reasons in the process.
The match began innocuously enough, with the teenaged Ostapenko exploiting Broady’s movement around the court and finding some fine angled winners to open up a 6-4, 5-2* lead in the match.
It was then that Broady’s first escape began. After saving a match point on her own serve in the eighth game, she broke the wildcard in the ensuing game and held easily to knot the second set at 5-5. Despite all that transpired, Ostapenko played a composed 11th game to move back in front, before the big-serving Broady held at love to force the second set into a tiebreak.
After the first four points went with serve, Broady fired a forehand — the winner heard ’round the tennis world — at 2-2 in the tiebreak to secure the mini-break. Ostapenko’s racket then fell from her hand, in either frustration, desperation or mistake — depending on whose version of events you believe — and hit a ball boy.
Firmly believing that Ostapenko should be defaulted from the match for deliberately tossing her racket and hitting the ball boy — even if she didn’t intend to actually hit him — Broady became quite emotional and heated as chair umpire Blaze Trifunovski agreed with Ostapenko’s assertion that the racket slipped from her hand by mistake.
“You’ll see on the replay,” she argued. “No way was it accidental!”
Ostapenko later received a code violation from Trifunovski, and it was her turn to take exception to the series of events. As the discussion went on, Broady also pled her case to WTA Supervisor Tony Cho — to no avail.
With the dust settled, the qualifier kept her nerve — and held her serve — when it mattered the most, cracking an ace and delivering an icy stare towards Ostapenko as play resumed, before eventually winning the second set tiebreak, 7-6(4).
With Broady having exhausted herself both physically and mentally in the events of the preceding set, it seemed as though Ostapenko had restored order in the final set. She took advantage of a weary Broady in more ways than one, running off 14 points in a row to take a double break lead at *4-1.
With the teenager again just one game from victory at 5-1*, it seemed as though Broady’s time for yet another comeback was running out. After holding serve at love, the Brit broke a nervy Ostapenko to close the gap to *3-5, before saving a second match point with a forehand winner that kissed the line en route to holding serve for 4-5*.
Ostapenko stepped to the line to serve for the match a third time, and after she saved a break point to bring the game to deuce, was duly passed at the net as Broady got the match back on serve. Facing break point, Broady slammed down her 20th ace — her penultimate of the match — and held again to force the teenager to stay in the match.
At the match reached its crescendo, word spread ’round the Internet.
Soon, more began to tune in. #hereforthehandshake
With Broady’s run of games in the final set at five, Ostapenko began looking for answers….well, elsewhere.
By that point, the tide was firmly with the Brit, and although Ostapenko had a game point on her serve to give us all the tiebreak we deserved, Broady wrapped up the match with another break and completed the comeback, 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-5.
We were just there for the handshake — and got so much more.
Boy, did it deliver.
Even after shaking hands, both had words for each other, and Broady wasn’t about to let Ostapenko off the hook for her perceived lucky break in the second set.
The back-and-forth between the two continued even as they prepared to leave the court.
With Broady safely through to the quarterfinals to face American Sloane Stephens, only one question remains: will these two ever practice together again?
UPDATE: After the match, Broady took to Twitter herself to air her thoughts on what transpired.
She was supported by several WTA players (and Andy Murray, because, well, duh.)
Do you think Broady was justified? Should Ostapenko have been defaulted? Sound off in the comments!