MELBOURNE, Australia -- Wearing a dark blue T-shirt bearing Roger Federer's first name and pushing a gray stroller carrying her 1-year-old daughter, Martina (as in Hingis), at the Australian Open, Angelica Ibarra spoke for many a tennis fan when she described her mood on the first day of Grand Slam action since two of the sport's most significant athletes ended their careers.
"I've grown up seeing Roger play, so for me, tennis IS Roger and Roger IS tennis," said Ibarra, who said she is from Colombia and now lives in Melbourne. "Not to see Roger back at the tennis is a bit emotional. I also like women's tennis, and the Williams sisters aren't here, as well. But I'm really excited to see the up-and-coming talent of the new generation. This will be my first time watching some new players."
The 2023 edition of the Australian Open, which began on a cloudy Monday morning, is not the first Grand Slam tournament to be contested without Roger Federer or Serena Williams, of course.
That was the case at the 2022 edition of the Australian Open, too, to name just one example.
What is different now is that this marks the first major tournament since Federer and Williams -- two larger-than-the-game, larger-than-life figures, both 41 and with a combined 43 Slam singles championships and years' worth of weeks at No. 1 in the rankings -- announced they would be retiring (or, to use her preferred term, "evolving").
"They were amazing for the sport. They still are. You think these people will never retire, in a way. And to see them actually stop kind of puts things in perspective," said Bianca Andreescu, the 21-year-old Canadian who beat Williams in the 2019 U.S. Open final and eliminated 25th-seeded Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 6-4 on Monday. "Roger wasn't playing for a long time prior to his retirement, and even that time felt a bit weird. Serena was kind of up and down, too."
So while in years past, one absence or another was met with shrugs of "Don't worry, she'll be at the next one" or "Hey, he's definitely going to come back, right?" there is a concreteness about it all now, a finite knowing that they are, indeed, done. (No matter how much folks might keep looking for signs that Williams is not really and truly done.)
"Look, Serena Williams is irreplaceable. I mean, she's an icon, both on and off the court," said Steve Simon, the head of the women's tennis tour. "The way that I look at it is: I don't see us as losing Serena; we just will celebrate her and all of her accomplishments for many, many years to come and reflect back on what she's brought to the game."
Similar sentiments can be, and have been, expressed about Federer.
"Obviously," eight-time major champion John McEnroe said about Federer, "there is a void that will never be filled."