‘You can feel the buzz’: the magic of Middle Saturday

  • Reem Abulleil

Denis Shapovalov was in the middle of a rally against Novak Djokovic. He leapt and hit a signature jumping backhand, and the Rod Laver Arena crowd ‘oohed’. Djokovic fired the ball back before Shapovalov hit another aggressive shot. The crowd ‘aahed’.

Neither player seemed to mind any of the fans’ vocal reaction, even though it was mid-rally. They were playing in front of a full house on a perfect Saturday afternoon and were happy to put on a show.

“It was a great atmosphere. It's great to see a packed house in the first week of a Slam. I think the middle weekend is quite popular within the crowds here in Australia,” said Djokovic after his third-round victory over the young Canadian.  

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“You get to see a lot of matches, singles, doubles, mixed doubles, men's, women's. You got a very rich schedule with matches from 11am till late night.

“The crowd is excited, and we are, too. Australia definitely loves their tennis. They've been some of the most loyal tennis fans in the world, for sure.”

All roads lead to Melbourne Park on the middle Saturday of the Open

The Australian Open experience is unlike any other in the world of tennis but especially on middle Saturday, Melbourne Park feels like one gigantic party.

Saturday saw 68,883 people walk through the tournament gates, which is the highest day-session attendance in Australian Open history. By the end of the day, a record 93,178 fans had come to the event.

Besides an incredible schedule that featured both world No. 1s, Djokovic and Simona Halep, as well as the Williams sisters, ‘Middle Saturday’ at Melbourne Park offered fans a wide range of options, from live music, to delicious food, to video game stations and everything in between.

Every corner of the venue felt like a meticulously constructed production, accompanied by a spot-on soundtrack. Music is a vital part of the Australian Open experience whether you’re in a stadium or just around the grounds.

‘Heeeeey, hey baby. Oooh. Aaah. I wanna know, if you’ll be my girl’, sang the crowd between sets during the Djokovic-Shapovalov match, as the DJ blasted the tune and dipped the volume at times for the fans to scream out the words.

Over on Grand Slam Oval, people were dancing as local musician Luke Joseph was playing a rock version of Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’. If you keep walking past the food trucks there, you get to a relatively quaint area with a Tuscan vibe. ‘The Vineyard’ has a big screen showing the tennis, a Barilla pasta restaurant that looks like a cute cottage, and a wine bar called ‘Vantage Vino’. People lay on the grass with their picnic baskets, watching the matches, with instrumental Italian music playing in the background.

That’s just a fraction of what’s going on at Grand Slam Oval, which was of course buzzing on Cooper’s Saturday.

Move closer to Melbourne Arena and you find people playing ping pong on bright red tables just outside Beijing Betty. Nearby, hundreds are watching Stefanos Tsitsipas practice ahead of his highly-anticipated fourth round against Roger Federer on Sunday.

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Opposite side of the venue, youngsters queued up to play a free round of ‘Fortnite’, as their parents lounged at Garden Square watching the tennis. American Hall-of-Famer Stan Smith paid a visit to the adidas pop-up store and surprised fans by signing some shoes.

The bright graffiti-covered Court 3 was taken over by doubles on Saturday, as the Australian Open introduced its new ‘Doubles Down Under’ initiative. Five doubles matches were scheduled on that court to promote tennis’ team game and highlight the personalities, talent and tactics of the game’s doubles stars.

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“Proud to be a part of the first-ever Doubles Court at the Australian Open,” tweeted Jamie Murray, who won his second round with Bruno Soares. “Brilliant atmosphere and energy from the crowd from start to finish. Great initiative!”

Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares enjoyed Saturday's atmosphere

Each Grand Slam has its own charm and its own traditions. Wimbledon has its strawberries and cream, and its Pimms-sipping fans relaxing on Henman Hill. Roland Garros has its chocolate crepes and cosy atmosphere. The US Open has its Philly cheesesteaks, loud music, and rowdy fans drinking beer on Arthur Ashe stadium’s nosebleed seats, having a blast each night session. The Australian Open feels like an all-encompassing festival of tennis.

Croatia’s No. 11 seed Borna Coric had lost in the first round in all of his four previous visits to the Australian Open. This week, he’s won three matches to make the last 16, and he finally got to get a proper sense of the place, buoyed by some very strong and vocal Croatian support.

“You can feel the buzz here, absolutely, and it’s great,” said Coric after his four-set victory over Filip Krajinovic on Saturday.

“It was crazy today. It felt like I was playing Davis Cup to be honest. It was awesome.”