Just how many fans can fit inside Melbourne Park? It’s a reasonable query as the Australian Open continues to attract record crowds, with just shy of 685,000 spectators flocking to the two-week tournament last year. And the return of reigning world number one men’s player Rafael Nadal means the all-time attendance record could be set to fall, as Melbourne gears up for another bumper summer as host of one of the world’s most popular tennis tournaments.
The first Grand Slam of the year is arguably the most anticipated, as the world’s top tennis players shake off the festive season cobwebs in a bid to claim the Australian Open crown and a share of the $33,000,000 prize purse. This year’s tournament will even boast a new look, with the show court Margaret Court Arena having undergone major renovations, including the addition of a much-needed retractable roof.
Return Of The Big Guns
The big story of this year’s tournament is the return of 2009 men’s singles champion Rafa Nadal. The Spaniard skipped last year’s event citing a stomach virus, however he went on to enjoy a blistering campaign, putting behind him a shock first round exit at Wimbledon to claim the French and US Open titles. Two-time defending women’s champion Victoria Azarenka is back as well, ensuring the 2014 Australian Open field is as strong as ever.
It’s this high-quality field which keeps tennis fans coming back for more, with the tournament doubling as a tourism bonanza for the city of Melbourne. Little wonder tennis officials work hard to make the Australian Open one of the most fan-friendly events in world sport, with spacious open-air lawns, high-quality restaurants and nightly musical performances helping to keep fans entertained away from the courts.
An International Affair
With thousands of international visitors making the pilgrimage from all corners of the globe, the Australian Open is more than just a tennis tournament, it’s also great place to meet people from around the world. Four-time champion Novak Djokovic has called it his favourite Grand Slam, and given the fiercely partisan support he enjoys from the stands, it’s not hard to see why.
Djokovic is chasing an unprecedented fourth consecutive Australian Open title, but with Swiss master Roger Federer joining Nadal and Britain’s Andy Murray in the race for the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup – not to mention local stalwart Lleyton Hewitt – there’ll be flags of all colours flying high in the packed Melbourne Park stands.
More Than Just Tennis
While players like Serbian fan-favourite Ana Ivanovic enjoy the tournament because they have relatives in the city, others simply enjoy Melbourne’s cosmopolitan atmosphere. Why wouldn’t they, in a city renowned as the cultural capital of Australia and which boasts a sophisticated café scene, trendy laneway bars and some of the most fashionable shopping streets in the country.
The days of players like two-time Australian Open champion Jim Courier jumping into the murky Yarra River to celebrate winning the tournament may be long gone, but there’s no less enthusiasm for one of Australia’s most popular sporting events. The 2014 Australian Open starts on January 13, with the men’s singles final scheduled to take place as the sun sets on Australia Day.