A highlight of the emotion-charged 2017 Australian Open final between Serena and Venus Williams was the ceremonial participation of a very special guest: Czech icon Hana Mandlikova was invited by tournament director Craig Tiley to present the trophies, marking 30 years since she won the fourth of her four Grand Slam singles titles at Kooyong in 1987.
Ahead of the final, Mandlikova - making her first trip Down Under since she coached fellow Czech Jana Novotna in the 1990s - met the press for a trip down memory lane.
"I just always loved Australia, loved the people," said the former world No.3, who earned the moniker 'Aussie Hana' after she attained Australian citizenship in 1988. "I first came here as a 15-year-old girl and I was always very successful here. So when Craig called me and said he would love me to give the trophy, I was excited and honored to be back."
Among a career haul of 27 singles titles, Mandlikova won the first of her majors at the Australian Open in 1980, defeating Australia's own Wendy Turnbull in the final. For her second Australian crown, in 1987, she edged Martina Navratilova in two tight sets. In between, she defeated Sylvia Hanika in the final at Roland Garros in 1981 and captured the 1985 US Open in a three-set thriller against Navratilova, having dispatched Chris Evert in the semis. She was also a four-time runner-up in singles - including at Wimbledon in 1981 and 1986 - and won four doubles majors.
Sublimely talented and remembered as one of the most fluid, elegant players to grace the game, Mandlikova played her last competitive match at Wimbledon in 1990. But it was only when her coaching commitments with Novotna came to an end nearly a decade later that she really took a break from the sport. Now she has a renewed, very special interest in tennis as her 14-year-old twins, Mark and Elisabeth (Elli), set their sights on professional careers on their own.
"When I stopped coaching Jana, I basically didn't watch tennis for 10 years," Mandlikova said. "I was just overwhelmed, very tired from the traveling and tennis and everything. Then I had my kids. I'm back in it again. They've started playing ITF events and everything. I just try not to travel as much? they have their own coach, so I don't have to!"
Mandlikova, who spearheaded Czechoslovakia to three successive Fed Cup wins from 1983-85 and later captained the national side, also reflected on her homeland's phenomenal tennis heritage - from Navratilova, Helena Sukova and Novotna to Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova and new standout Karolina Pliskova.
"It's a big, long dynasty," the Hall of Famer said. "What I see, it's a national pride. Czech people love sports and they really support their players. It must be unbelievable for the girls playing today - a great feeling to play in front of your crowd. I wish I could have experienced that more often. In my time we didn't have WTA events at home and it was a different set-up for Fed Cup, so we only played in Prague once."
On the recipients of the Australian Open trophies in 2017, Serena - now the Open Era leader with 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name - and her elder sister Venus, Mandlikova observed: "They're both unbelievable players. It's amazing at 35 and 36 they're in a final of Grand Slam. I don't know how that is possible, because I stopped when I was 29 - I had had enough. But look, they still have the passion. They still love to compete. They love the sport. I think it's great for women's tennis."
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.