History of the Australian Open – the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific
By Tristan Foenander
To find records of Australia’s first major tennis tournament you have to look back to 1880.
In 1904, six Australian state tennis associations and the governing body of the game in New Zealand amalgamated to form the Lawn Tennis Association of Australasia.
The following year a tournament was created to showcase the sport – the Australasian men’s championships. The tournament was staged at the Albert Reserve in Melbourne, on the lawns of the Warehouseman’s Cricket Club.
A small field of 17 was assembled for the event – which would become the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific - with Dr Arthur Curtis and Rodney Heath the two competitors who fought out the final. Heath prevailed in front of a crowd of around 5,000.
This was the first chapter in a story that has now spanned over a century.
The following year the event was to be held in Christchurch, New Zealand – the first of two occasions that New Zealand would host the event. The other occurred six years later, when the city of Hastings staged the tournament in 1912.
New Zealand split from the tennis association partnership in 1922 – the same year that the first women’s championships were held. In that tournament Margaret Molesworth triumphed over Esna Boyd. Remarkably, Boyd would go on to finish runner-up for the next four years.
The championships have been staged predominantly in Australia. Seven different cities have played host to the tournament, including Melbourne (52 times), Sydney (17 times), Adelaide (14 times), Brisbane (7 times), Perth (3 times), Christchurch (once) and Hastings (once). With the exception of 1916-1918 (during World War I) and 1941-1945 (during World War II) the tournament has been held annually. The 2008 Australian Open will mark the 96th staging of the event.
The tournament’s name has undergone two name changes in its history. The first came in 1927 when it became known as the Australian Championships. Then in 1969, the name we currently know – the Australian Open – became the official title. The name ‘Open’ was adopted as it was the first time both professionals and amateurs could compete at the tournament.
The 1971 Open was the last time that the tournament would be played outside Melbourne. White City, Sydney, played host to the event that saw two Australian tennis legends Ken Rosewall and Margaret Court claim the respective singles’ titles.
The Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club became the adopted home of the Australian Open in 1982.
The eighties marked an era of change for tennis in Australia. In 1986, the game’s governing body began trading as “Tennis Australia” and in that same year there was to be no competition for the Open, as the tournament had been allocated a permanent time slot in January from the following year. The Australian Open would become the first Grand Slam on the annual tennis calendar.
1987 saw the last staging of the Open on grass. In an epic five set encounter, Stefan Edberg defeated Pat Cash in the men’s final in front of a capacity crowd at Kooyong. Hana Mandilkova was the women’s champion.
In 1988, Tennis Australia and the Open established a new home at Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park). The tournament was played on Rebound Ace for the first time. More than 266,000 fans came through the gates that year – a drastic increase in attendance from Kooyong. And this number would continue to grow.
A $25 Million revamp of the Melbourne Park facilities in the mid-nineties saw a party and carnival atmosphere engulf the Australian Open. Fans swarmed to Melbourne Park to experience the first Grand Slam of the year.
Prior to the 2000 tournament, the centre court was christened Rod Laver Arena.
The $65-million development of Vodafone Arena was one of the most significant advancements in the Open’s history. The tournament could now boast claim to a second state-of-the-art facility. The highlight of both stadiums is the presence of a retractable roof. This feature ensures that play can continue irrespective of inclement weather.
The retractable roof has been such a hit in the world of tennis that Wimbledon is now following our lead, with the Centre Court undergoing a radical re-development, including the installation of a similar roof. The tournament, which has so often plagued by poor weather, has taken a leaf out of our book in attempt to array the fears of organisers.
Today, the Australian Open remains one of the greatest events on the Australian sporting calendar. Nicknamed the “Happy Slam” by many of tennis’ elite including Roger Federer, the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific never fails to deliver a highlight. The fact that a record 554,858 fans attended the 2007 Open shows the tournament is continuing to grow.
This is sure to continue in 2008. The introduction of the new “True Blue” Plexicushion surface will offer something new for players and fans alike. And the Hawk-Eye Video Line Calling, which so often leaves fans on the edge of their seats awaiting a line call, will be used for the first time at Vodafone Arena. Make no mistake Australian Open 2008 has a surprise in store for everyone.
So get set as the “world comes to play.” Steeped with over 100 years of tradition, the Australian Open is one of the world’s greatest sporting events. This year, the players will aim to etch their names in history on the tournament’s honour rolls. And you, too, can be a part of history by simply being there.