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AO memories: 30 years of Melbourne Park


What’s your favourite Melbourne Park memory?

Australian Open 2018 marks 30 years since the Australian Open moved from the grass courts of Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to the state-of-the-art sporting precinct at Melbourne Park. Rewinding to 1988, a crowd of 266,436 flocked to the new home of Australian tennis, which was known as Flinders Park until the name changed in 1996. Three decades on, a record 728,763 fans poured through the gates at Australian Open 2017, which was broadcast live in 220 territories on more than 65 different TV channels and reached more than 900 million homes worldwide, with crowds and audiences on track to make AO 2018 bigger than ever before.

As the grounds have grown, facilities improved, and the courts have gone from green to blue, the one constant has been the tennis itself – each year delivering countless stories that astound and inspire. 

We asked the AO.com writers to give us their favourite memories of the past 30 years, the stories that inspired them to tell tomorrow’s tales. Here are their responses:

1996: Philippoussis stuns Sampras
By Dan Imhoff
One of the most gifted players never to win a major, this was the moment a 19-year-old Mark Philippoussis truly announced himself to the world. The 193cm Melburnian, who could easily have been carving up the opposition across the road at the MCG as an Aussie Rules footballer, was considered the best of Australia’s rising prospects, but few saw a straight-sets win over world No.1 ‘Pistol’ Pete Sampras coming. Playing with composure well beyond his years and spurred on by a raucous home crowd, ‘the Scud’ was flawless as he beat the American at his own game, blowing the reigning Wimbledon and the US Open champion off the court. “If Mark can play at the level that he played tonight, he's got the capability to win here, sure,” Sampras said. “But that's a big if.” Unfortunately, the big if remains: Philippoussis reached two major finals, but never hoisted the trophy.

2001: Capriati makes good on teenage promise 
By Nick McCarvel
I was 15 and watching from home in the US when Jennifer Capriati finally won her first major. She had been an idol of mine growing up – along with Agassi and Seles – but I remember wondering in the late 1990s if she would ever win a Grand Slam title. That final against Martina Hingis wasn't as straight-forward as the score might suggest, but Capriati was just so good, so aggressive, so... Jenny. It was the vintage ball-bashing tennis she had played at 13, 14 and 15, and there she was – finally! – a major winner at the age of 24. That last backhand return winner down the line, the piercing scream and her arms lofted overhead teen prodigy turned slam champ.

2003: Roddick, El Aynaoui and the everlasting set
By Michael Beattie
“Strategy was out the door late on in the fifth; It was just pure fighting,” said a 20-year-old Andy Roddick, the winner of what was then, at 40 games and two hours and 23 minutes of tennis played on pure instinct, the longest set in Australian Open history. With that, the future world No.1 defeated Younes El-Aynaoui, 11 years his senior, to reach the semifinals, but the 4-6 7-6(5) 4-6 6-4 21-19 scoreline doesn’t even scratch the surface of one of the most balls-to-the-wall passages of Grand Slam tennis I ever had the privilege to witness – albeit with my breakfast, and later lunch, from half a world away. Match points were ancient history for both men by the time Roddick sealed victory at 12:48am AEDT, prompting a warriors’ embrace at the net. The longest AO set record has since fallen to Ivo Karlovic and Horacio Zeballos, whose 42-game decider lasted 157 minutes in 2017. But the memory of those incredulous, indefatigable faces and the insane rallies that kept the contest alive is something I could – and do – watch over and over again.

2005: Marat Safin stuns Federer, Hewitt, Australia
By Alex Sharp
Growing up in the UK, this was the first AO that I truly followed on TV and what a treat. A full-throttle Marat Safin was always one of my favourite sights on a tennis court and the Russian rocketed to a second Grand Slam title in scintillating style. He swept past Andre Agassi in straight sets in the quarterfinals, before the blockbuster semifinal lived up to the billing. Very few beat Roger Federer in his pomp, but Safin fought back from two sets to one down and saved match to clinch the decider 9-7. It was just an absolute stormer – check out the highlights, you won’t be disappointed. Into the final and Safin played the villain to shock home favourite Lleyton Hewitt in four sets of pure joy. What a player and what a triumvirate of consecutive conquests.

2006: Baghdatis’s semi-charmed surge to the final…
By Vivienne Christie
How to choose just one best memory from the 18 Australian Opens covered at Melbourne Park? So many marathons and milestones stand out, but I’m taken back to Marcos Baghdatis’s run to the final in 2006. Unseeded and arguably unheralded, the first shock was the Cypriot’s win over world No.3 Andy Roddick in the fourth round. Then came a five-set win over Ivan Ljubicic in the quarterfinals and a recovery from two sets down to upset David Nalbandian in the semis. It wasn’t just the unfiltered joy that Baghdatis showcased before his run finally ended against Roger Federer in the final, but the incredible fanfare he created along the way. To me, it represents a huge part of what makes this something-for-everyone Slam unique: the fans help create the unlikely victories and those unlikely victories in turn create more fans.

2006: …and Federer’s tears of joy
By Val Febbo
In 2006 Roger Federer was the heavy favourite to win in Melbourne. He cruised through his opening three matches in straight sets before being pushed to five by Tommy Haas in the fourth round. His next two wins against Nikolay Davydenko and Nicolas Kiefer would be in four sets before he met an unlikely foe in the final, Marcos Baghdatis. The Cypriot would take the opener but run out of momentum, allowing Federer to take his second Australian Open title. When receiving the trophy from one of his idols, Rod Laver, it was all too much, with the Swiss great breaking down in joy. It will be remembered in 50 years as one of the great Australian Open moments.

2009: Federer consoled by conqueror Nadal 
By Linda Pearce
Liking a man who cries is not the same as saying the world loved Roger Federer getting all weepy during the 2009 presentation following his five-set finals loss to Rafael Nadal. Stealing the Spaniard’s thunder, some snorted – except that’s not what this moment was about. Rafa’s only Australian Open title, so far, was his fifth successive win over his great Swiss rival, and we should note that, as hard as it is to believe now, ‘Fedal’ had its niggly moments along the way to joint tennis sainthood. Rod Laver was in the house, HIS house, that night, and the legend’s presence apparently played a large part in RF’s unravelling. This, though, was something quite lovely. After Fed famously blubbered, “God, this is killing me”, Nadal consoled him, tucked that brutal left arm around the vanquished, pulled him close, nestled head against head. So gorgeous. Ooooh or just, well, aaaah