The Australian Open Melbourne: From Zero to Hero

To really appreciate the success of any high profile sporting event it’s important to take a look back on some of it’s history and key milestones that have made it what we see today.

The Australian Open had to fight hard for the prestigious Grand Slam status during the 1980’s. The world’s top tennis players at that time were not well represented at the Australian tournament. The Men’s and Women’s tournaments were separate events and the prize money was lagging compared to the larger tournaments being held in Europe and the United States.

1983 was a pivotal year for Australian Open organisers in their quest to become a major event on the world tennis calendar. A huge commercial strategy saw the prize money lift to a level that enticed a large contingent of the world’s top players, this strategy worked. At the same time a decision was made to amalgamate both the Mens and Womens competition into one tournament, immediately increasing the size of event. As a result, the Australian Open had a problem. The Open’s traditional home of Kooyong lacked the tennis facilities and seating to manage the increased influx of competitors and spectators. So a bold move was made to re-locate the event to the more expansive venue of Melbourne Park (then Flinders Park).

The event enjoyed immediate success at its new home on the fringe of Melbourne’s CBD and in the 1986 the Victorian State Government, in conjunction with Tennis’s governing body, invested some $60 million to further improve Melbourne Park’s facilities. Fans came in their droves to experience the new look venue (including the world’s first retractable roof) and by 1988 the tournament’s crowd numbers had doubled Kooyong’s tally from the pervious year. The new venue also saw the tournament change from the traditional lawn surface to a new green rubberised hard court (later to become the True Blue surface we see today).

The status of the Australian Open continued to rise over the next decade and the 90’s showcased some historic matches and memorable moments for the game of tennis Down Under. John Mc Enroe made history in 1990 by being disqualified from centre court due to one of his signature rants. Spectator’s emotions ran high as Ivan Lendl played his final Grand Slam at the Open in 91. The Woodies pleased the local crowds with their doubles victories and names like Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras all displayed brilliant on court performances that have gone down in the tournament’s history books. As the memorable moments started to pile up year on year so did the fans who started to converge on Melbourne from around the globe. The blue painted faces of the Swedes, the homegrown Fanatics, the cowbell wielding Swiss to name but a few.

A sense of deja vu eventuated in the mid 90’s as the administrators started to realise that the tournament was now again outgrowing its venue. A further $23 million was invested during this period to double its capacity. This saw the addition of two new show courts, eight outside courts and the very popular Garden Square viewing area with its huge outdoor screen catering to the masses outside the main arena.

Make no mistake, the rise of the Australian Open to Grand Slam status has not been and easy one and should be recognized as great sporting achievements both on and off the court. The Australian Open is one of this country’s greatest global sporting events and should be on every sporting enthusiasts ‘must see’ list.

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