A lot has happened since 17 men first competed on a Cricket field in Melbourne’s St. Kilda Rd. Since the Australasian championships first started in 1905, it has quickly become one of the biggest sporting events in the Southern Hemisphere. Let’s have a look at some of the most important milestones in the history of the Australian tennis tournament.
A brief history of the Australian Open
In 1904 six Australian state tennis associations and the governing body of New Zealand joined forces in forming the Lawn Tennis Association of Australasia with two goals in mind; to participate in the Davis Cup and to host its own championship.
The first-ever Australian championship, as it was called until 1969, was then held in 1905 on the lawn of the Warehouseman’s Cricket Ground in Melbourne. The final was won by Rodney Heath, who defeated fellow Ozzie Albert Curtis in four sets and in front of a crowd of 5,000 spectators.
Since it first started in 1905, the tournament was hosted by five Australian cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and two New Zealand cities – Christchurch and Hastings. Though the tournament has happened nearly yearly since its inception, there are some exceptions. From 1916 to 1918 and from 1941 to 1945 the tournament was cancelled because of the world wars.
In 1922 New Zealand dissolved the partnership, and from then on, the tournament has only been played on Australian soil. A decision the New Zealanders might have come to regret, even just a year later. As in 1923, the International Lawn Tennis Federation officially recognised the Australian Championship as equal to those of the United States, England, and France.
An Ozzie Golden Age – The Laver and Court Era
In the 1960s, Australia was on every tennis fan’s radar as the world looked eagerly to the Australian players Margaret Court and Rod Laver.
Margaret Court won the women’s singles title eleven times, with eight wins in the doubles and four titles in the mixed. Meanwhile, Rod Laver won the Australian Open three times. Achieving the actual Grand Slam of winning all four major tournaments in 1962 and 1969.
As part of their status as Ozzie tennis legends, both Laver and Court have famous arenas bearing their names. Both of which will be recognisable to fans of the Australian Open.
ROD LAVER AND MARGARET COURT
An end of an era and the road to Melbourne Park
The capital of Victoria was established as the permanent venue in 1972, however, in the 70s, Australia failed to attract big talents. This was not due to a diminishing interest in the sport, or in the Australian tournament however. No, the reason was rest and recuperation.
Since the tournament was normally staged from December to January, it was increasingly hard for players to agree to join. Since this was also when most players preferred to take time off, to recuperate and prepare for the next season.
The lack of international talent meant that in 1972, Ken Rosewell won a tournament where 11 of the 12 seeds were Australian. It was only when the tournament was moved to the end of January that foreign players returned.
In 1988 the AO moved to a custom-built sports centre precinct, which was first called Flinders Park and later re-named Melbourne Park in 1996. The state-of-the-art tennis centre was a massive hit with players and fans alike, generating vast international media coverage year after year.
The new custom-built sport centre also introduced the first retractable roof system, which cost Tennis Australia almost $60 million. Today the retractable roof system is featured on three stadiums at the Australian Open – the Centre Court, the Margaret Court Arena, and the John Cain Arena.
When organisers decided that it is time to close the roof, it begins to move at 1.3 meters per minute. This means that it will only take 20 minutes to cover the stadium and ensures that bad weather won’t interfere with the tournament schedule.
The move to its new home also meant that the AO abandoned the grass surfaces and instead opted for the “true blue” hard courts, which have become something of a signature for the Australian Open.
In 2000 the formerly named Centre Court was christened Rod Laver Arena, bringing in a new era of Australian Open Tennis History. A tournament no player wanted to miss and where attendance would begin to surpass half a million fans in the opening week by 2019.
Women in the history of the Australian Open
Women started participating in the Australian Open in 1922 with the women’s singles, mixed, and doubles being the last three events to be added to the AO schedule.
The first woman to ever win the tournament was Margaret Molesworth, who then went on to become the first female professional tennis coach in Australia.
Molesworth was succeeded by Daphne Akhurst, who won the AO five times until she passed away at the age of 29. The women’s singles trophy is named the “Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup” in her honour.
HAPPY SLAM – always a fun moment in the tennis world
For many years, the Australian Open has been called the “Happy Slam”, to celebrate the relaxed atmosphere of the tournament. There is no dress code like in Wimbledon where players have been sent off for wearing caps that were not white enough.
There is hardly a player who embraces the freedom of fashion at the AO like Serena Williams who regularly stuns with unusual outfits like the famous one-legged catsuit in 2021.
Australian Open – Number of spectators
Since the tournament moved to Melbourne Park in 1988 the number of spectators has tripled until last year, when fans were only allowed to attend the tournament for 9 of the 14 days of play.
Number of spectators
What to expect in 2022
It is of course too early to see if 2022s tournament will go down in history on the court. However, off the court we have already seen the event headlining the newspapers. As both of last year’s champions ability to defend their titles was left in limbo for a while, from a personal hiatus and visa issues.
Whereas Naomi Osaka’s return to the tournament to defend her title has now been confirmed, Novak Djokovic’s fate was left hanging in the balance until just days before the tournament was set to start. But the day before the tournament, Novak had to pack his bags and fly back home, after having been denied his appeal on the deportation case.
Meanwhile, after taking the rest of 2021 off following her US Open loss, Osaka now sits as the 13th seed in the women’s draw, waiting to face Camila Osorio in the opening round.
Here’s hoping that these headlines won’t overshadow the fantastic plays we’ll be seeing on the court when we look back at 2022.