Big names kick off practice match series

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A group of kids skipped up the stairs at Margaret Court Arena, and were immediately impressed. “Wow, it’s massive,” one said with great excitement. “It’s nothing like this on TV …”

Fans arriving at Melbourne Park on Wednesday quickly learned that an exciting initiative was underway in 2019, with final player preparations for the first Grand Slam of 2019 on display in open practice matches.

In a commitment to dedicated tennis fans, the Australian Open qualifying days are free to the public, and the additional open practice sessions are an extra treat for those onsite.

For fans who have never seen a Grand Slam champion in action, or never witnessed tennis sat on a show court, this is a real opportunity to watch world-class sport for free.

On Wednesday, defending Australian Open women’s singles champion Caroline Wozniacki headed onto MCA to take on world No.6 Elina Svitolina.

The duo shared a joke as Svitolina, who welcomed the 360-strong ballkids squad to Melbourne Park earlier this week, spun her racquet to decide on ‘up or down’ for the opening server.

You might think this was just a simple warm-up set, but there was an umpire and ballkids, and even Hawkeye had a thorough test.

Svitolina clattered a backhand winner down the line on the opening point to set the tone. However, it was Wozniacki, back at the site of her maiden major title last January, who raced 4-1 ahead with some piercing shots.

The world No.3 caused a chorus of giggles in the stands after challenging a call on her own serve, which was clearly well long. The high-quality set was played in high spirits, with the Dane taking it 6-3.

WTA Finals winner Svitolina raised her level in the second set as the crowds flocked into MCA to catch a glimpse of the world-class talent.

Eventually the Ukrainian levelled the match, clinching the second set tiebreak to leave honours even.

Practice over, the pair made way for American Madison Keys and junior world No.1 Clara Burel to take to the court.

Keys, a semifinalist in Melbourne back in 2015, proved her ranking prowess against the French teenager with a scoreline of 6-2 5-3 before the open session came to a close.

Without spending a dollar, it’s an amazing chance to see top-drawer tennis at Melbourne Park. More open practice sessions will follow this week, so keep across the AO channels to find out who will take to court.