The Australian Open is a historic tennis championship that will be celebrating its golden jubilee in 2019. The Grand Slam tournament will take place from 14th to 27th January at Melbourne Park, with some of the world’s greatest players lining up to compete for total prize money of $60.5 million.
As the first Grand Slam of the New Year, it will see defending men’s and women’s champions Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki compete to retain their crowns.
However, the bookies’ favourite to win the men’s singles is Federer’s long-time rival, Novak Djokovic, with Rafael Nadal being a definite maybe. Federer and Djokovic have both won the title six times.
Seven-time winner Serena Williams is the bookmakers’ favourite to triumph in the women’s singles, with the reigning champion Wozniacki some way behind her. Another top women’s player, Simona Halep, currently ranked number one in the world, is a little behind Williams in the betting stakes.
The prestigious tournament began in 1969 in the Open Era, although its predecessor, the Australasian Championships, made its debut in 1905 – it became the Australian Championships in 1927.
The first official Australian Open will be remembered for its epic semi-final battle between Tony Roche and Rod Laver, which took place before the rules changed to introduce tie-breaks. This led to a score of 22-20 in the second set! The eventual victor was Laver, who won in five hotly-contested sets.
Laver went on to win the men’s singles title, beating Andrés Gimeno in the final. The women’s singles winner was Margaret Court, who beat Billie Jean King in the final, 6–4, 6–1. Court and her partner Judy Tegart Dalton also defeated King and her partner Rosemary Casals in the ladies’ doubles final.
The 1969 Australian Open was held at Brisbane’s Milton Courts. In the early years, many of the world’s top players missed the tournament because the venue was off the beaten track and it was held around Christmas and New Year, when people preferred being at home with their family.
The championship made its monumental move to its current venue in 1988, when both players and spectators were awestruck by the $94 million courts, which were a huge upgrade from the previous location.
The tournament also changed from grass to hard courts and was the first Grand Slam to be held at a venue with a ground-breaking closing roof, enabling play to continue whatever the weather.
The first men’s singles winner at the new location was Swede, Mats Wilander, who beat Pat Cash, who was famed for his mullet haircut, in the final.
There have been many other notable moments over the past 50 years. The oldest Australian Open champion was Ken Rosewall, who was 38 when he won the men’s singles title in 1972, beating Mal Anderson.
In 1990, John McEnroe’s fiery temper and bad behaviour on court resulted in the American becoming the first player to be disqualified from a Grand Slam in 30 years. There were epic scenes on court when he was ordered back to the dressing room!
Anyone for a swim?
A few years later, the Australian Open’s closeness to the Yarra River led to American winner Jim Courier getting mega-excited and diving into the river after winning the men’s singles title in 1992, when he beat Sweden’s Stefan Edberg! With temperatures of 40°C on the courts, no-one could blame him.
Today, the event is managed by Tennis Australia and consists of men’s and women’s singles, and doubles and mixed doubles. There are also tournaments for junior and wheelchair players in both singles and doubles events.
The tournament is an important part of the Grand Slam circuit, as it’s part of the 2019 WTA Tour and the 2019 ATP Tour. It will be held across 25 hard courts, including the famous main show courts, Melbourne Arena, Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court Arena.
Whether you play tennis professionally, or just for fun, make sure the courts are always properly maintained, to improve safety and enhance your enjoyment of the game.