Well, if the Boxing Day cricket test marks the end of the sporting calendar you can say that the Australian Open tennis championship marks the beginning of another sporting year. In many respects it is THE sporting event that puts us on the international stage. Sure, locals may be more interested in the AFL grand final and the second Tuesday in November when over a hundred thousand flock to Flemington for the Cup but in regards to international interest there is no comparison.
What’s more we do it better than anyone else. Did you know for instance it is the largest sporting event held in the southern hemisphere. I am putting it on my bucket list to attend one year. I’m going to ask our editor to explore press passes as an option. Fat chance. It is the best attended of all the tennis opens including Wimbledon, with nearly three quarters of a million turning up. Not only are there the singles and doubles, but mixed doubles, wheelchair matches, legends games and exhibition matches (former greats usually). No wonder they need over twenty courts in action all the time during that first week. I spoke to a German backpacker through the week and she told me she attended (for free admission) qualifying matches in the lead up to the Open.
Why does Melbourne get all the kudos you may well ask? Put simply, it deserves to. It used to be held in Sydney or Brisbane and it was often rotated between these grass court venues, but the Victorians built Melbourne Park to such a standard it will stay that way and is the envy of cities all over the world. Sydney put in bid as recently as 2016 but could never expect to match the attendance records. Melbourne is the only venue for instance that has three courts with covered roofs and a fourth one on the way. Only recently I saw on TV where they opened a new facility for players and their families to relax in. It was really classy and helps to make our open the ‘happy slam’ as players themselves have christened it. More next week on why it is a ‘slam’ in the first place.
Mind you it wasn’t always like this. Top players would give it a miss (too close to Christmas and New Year and just too far for some). Not anymore. It is called the Open because it is now ‘open’ to all players whether they be amateur or professional not that any of the former exist anymore. I did hear that the minimum a player can earn (as in he loses his first round match) is $75,000. No wonder the budget is over fifty million to put the show on.
The only thing missing is an Australian champion. Who was our last? I had to go looking and discovered it was Mark Edmondson (he always wore a cap I remember) in 1976 and Chris O’Neil in 1978.