Why the world’s best love the Australian Open
Why the world’s best love the Australian Open
Beautiful beaches. Alluring laneways emblazoned with eye-catching street art. The best coffee in the world. The happy slam, where fans recognise good tennis when they see it.
There are a bunch of reasons the world’s best enjoy making the trip Down Under each January. And once they get here, Melbourne Park seems to bring out the best in certain players.
For some of them, it’s the ability to draw on memories that’ll last a lifetime. Take for instance Novak Djokovic, who has won a record seven Australian Open titles and counts Rod Laver Arena among his favourite courts around the globe. The Serb’s record here is a stunning 72-8 and on Sunday, he booked his 11th quarterfinal appearance to equal Roy Emerson.
“I’ve had an amazing 10 [plus] years in Australia going back to the first grand slam I won in Melbourne in 2008. Ever since then it has been a love affair,” he said earlier this month.
The second seed, who has acknowledged Melbourne’s reputation for being a city of four seasons, isn’t the only one of his peers to regularly kick-start their years with strong performances on the bright blue hard courts.
Djokovic’s quarterfinal opponent Milos Raonic – who has posted some of his best Grand Slam results here, reaching the 2016 semifinals and four other quarterfinals including his 2020 run – credits his hot start to being recently rejuvenated during the off-season.
“It's always been very positive for me here, and I always found a way to play well,” observed the 32nd seed. “[Being] fresh physically and mentally at the start of the year and having some time to train in the off-season, it does me a lot of good.”
Frenchman and 10th seed Gael Monfils – who confirmed his relationship with women’s star Elina Svitolina here last year – has also flourished in Melbourne, where he’s contesting the men’s singles for a 15th time.
“I like it here … summer, people, always a great spirit,” said the 33-year-old, adding that he has spent perhaps more time than his rivals here in previous off-seasons during the years he worked with Australian coach Roger Rasheed.
Several women’s players have also found their finest form in Melbourne.
Belgian Elise Mertens, who said she’s drawn inspiration from countrywoman and 2011 champion Kim Clijsters, reached the 2018 semifinals in her Australian debut and is into the round of 16 this year.
Champion in 2016, Angelique Kerber reached the semifinals in 2018 and remains in the title hunt this year. The German is aware of her relative success in Australia’s second-most populated city.
“I have great memories, I'm always trying to taking the memories with me on court,” said Kerber, who is seeded 17th this year.
“The support of the fans, it's always great, so I think maybe that's the reason why I'm always playing good here.”
Similarly, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, seeded 30th, declared her love for Australia on Saturday. The Russian said winning the junior girls’ singles title here twice in 2006 and 2007 brings back affirming memories that encourage her to remind herself “You can do it! You can win it!” every time she returns.
The Australian Open, in part because it’s the first Grand Slam of the year, has also been a fruitful tournament for players seeking a breakthrough win. They’ve earned the respect of fans, many of whom love an underdog to cheer on.
Ons Jabeur, for instance, on Sunday became the first Arab woman to advance to the final eight of a Grand Slam. “Thank you for the support, I really thought I was going to be alone today,” she told the court on Margaret Court Arena.
Maria Sakkari advanced to a career-best fourth round this tournament, making her the first Greek woman to reach the final 16 since Eleni Daniilidou at 2004 Wimbledon.
Just last year, her compatriot Stefanos Tsitsipas became the first Greek man to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open. “I really enjoy the crowd, the people's energy here,” he said before the tournament.
The city will also remain a fixture in the memories of past champions including the recently-retired Caroline Wozniacki.
“I love Melbourne, it [has] such a special place in my heart, I got my Grand Slam here, I have amazing fans, it's known as the Happy Slam,” she reminisced in her final press conference. “I've gotten through some extremely hot days, some windy and cold days, a little bit of everything.”
As for the future, Australia’s home-grown talent have also delivered huge results in the past and have the potential to build on that success in the second week.
Nick Kyrgios is aiming to become the first Australian man to win the Australian Open since Mark Edmonson’s title in 1976. The 24-year-old’s record here has been helped immensely by crowd support on Melbourne Arena, a court that he holds close to his heart.
“I’ve had such good memories in there,” he said after Saturday night’s electric five-set win over Karen Khachanov.
“I just feel at home.”
A quarterfinal run in Melbourne in 2019 set up current world No. 1 Ash Barty for her best-ever season. Twelve months on, she has a chance to become the first Australian woman to win in Melbourne since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Playing in front of adoring crowds in Melbourne gives the 23-year-old a boost.
“I think it's a bit of a feeling when you walk out on the court, it's almost electric that the crowd's involved, that I've got so much love and support,” said the Queenslander. “I think when they really get invested in the match, it's really special.”
Australian Open fans sure know how to show their appreciation for spectacular tennis. Long may that – and the magic of Melbourne Park – encourage players to rise to the occasion.