The Australian Tennis Open
The Australian Open is the first Grand Slam of the year, held over the last fortnight of every January in Melbourne. The tournament is managed by Tennis Australia and features men’s and women’s singles and doubles games, as well as mixed doubles matches, junior championships, wheelchair games and legend and exhibition events. Before 1988 the games were played on grass, but the use of hardcourt surfaces in this Open has left Wimbledon as the only Grand Slam still held on grass. The Australian games have very high attendance numbers, second only to the US Open.
The Australian Open was first known as the Australasian Championships, with the inaugural games held in Melbourne in 1905. Before this, New Zealand and all Australian States held independent championships of their own. The contest was officially recognised as a major championship by the International Lawn Tennis Federation, or ILTF, in 1924 and the competition structure was changed to include seeding at this time. In 1927 its name was changed to the Australian Championships, and the Open era ushered in its current name in 1969. For the first time, the tournament was open to professional players as well as top-seeded amateurs.
Since its inception the tournament has been staged across 5 cities in Australia, namely Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth, as well as the New Zealand cities of Christchurch and Hastings. Because Australia is quite geographically remote, travelling to the country was challenging during the early part of the 20th century and not many players made the journey. The first international tennis competitors arrived by boat in November 1946 to play the Davis Cup. Travel inside the country was difficult as well and many of the world’s best players simply did not bother to make the arduous trip that was scheduled at an inconvenient time (originally around Christmas and New Year’s Day) and awarded relatively low prize money. The dates of the Australian Open were changed in 1983, which made it much more popular.
The Open has been held in Melbourne each year since 1972, as this seemed to be the city that attracted the most patronage. The Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club was the Australian Open’s backdrop until 1988, when it was moved to its current location in the Melbourne Park Complex. With a much bigger audience capacity, the first Melbourne Park games saw a 90% increase in spectator attendance. The dates of the games have been much more set since moving to the Melbourne Park Stadium as well. Many punters watch the tournament results online as well with many of them checking Australian tennis betting sites for odds and results of the Open.
The Australian Open of Today and Tomorrow
The games were played on a Rebound Ace hardcourt surface for 20 years, which was replaced by a blue, cushioned, medium-paced acrylic surface called Plexicushion Prestige in 2008. With a thinner top layer this surface offers less heat retention and better consistency than its predecessor, and is used in all lead-up games to the Open as well. The tournament was also the first Grand Slam to introduce the innovation of retractable roofs over its courts, so that play could continue during extreme heat or wet weather conditions. Improvements in the playing and spectator facilities and the quality of the overall games seem set to continue, with a massive commitment to upgrading Melbourne Park already announced. If the year-on-year growth of the attendance figures is anything to go by, the Australian Open should keep gathering strength.