In a boon for tennis fans, hundreds of complete matches in the Australian Open archive have been digitised and will be rolled out on the AO YouTube channel throughout 2023.
Many matches have not been seen since they were played, as far back as the 1975 men’s final between John Newcombe and Jimmy Connors at Kooyong.
Fans can also re-live major milestone moments, such as Steffi Graf’s win over Chris Evert in the 1988 women’s final – the first AO singles final contested at the tournament’s new home at Melbourne Park, as well as the first leg of Graf’s unprecedented run to a ‘Golden Grand Slam’.
Already there are around 100 full matches on the AO YouTube channel, including from AO 2023; the oldest full match currently available is the infamous 1990 fourth-round clash between John McEnroe and Mikhail Pernfors, during which McEnroe was disqualified.
But that will change later this week with the drop of the 1983 women’s final between Martina Navratilova and Kathy Jordan. Navratilova’s victory over her fellow American saw her claim the third of six consecutive Grand Slam singles titles.
Full matches will be released on the AO YouTube channel each Friday with an initial focus on anniversaries, including the thrilling women’s final between Monica Seles and Graf from 30 years ago in 1993, and the 2013 decider between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, 10 years on.
But it is not only finals which will be made available to fans; among the 250+ matches which have been digitised are several memorable clashes from as early as the third round.
“The Australian Open, one of the world's greatest sporting events, also provides a lens on how our culture and the sport of tennis has evolved,” Tennis Australia supervising producer Kellie Pollock said.
“In these full matches, we not only get to re-live some of the greatest tennis moments and rivalries at the Australian Open, but also get snapshots of the fans at the time.
"You look at some of these old matches and see the different types of branding in the background. You look at the cutaways to fans and what they're wearing, the fashion of the day. How they used to see and enjoy the tennis is so different to the way we do it now.
“It's been such a nostalgic process to go through, and every day we are finding little nuggets of footage that remind us what makes the Australian Open so unique and so different to the other Slams.
“Tape disintegrates, and this digitisation ensures we are preserving a significant part of our sporting cultural identity.”
Digitising the archive
The scope of the project is enormous, with Tennis Australia currently possessing almost 10,000 physical tapes – containing footage dating back to the mid 1970s – which are stored in a secure, environmentally-controlled location.
Adding to the project’s complexity is the fact the tapes exist in a variety of legacy broadcast formats, requiring specific equipment for digitisation.
The curation process involves sorting tapes into tranches, then reviewing and documenting their content, before delivering to an archive partner for digitisation.
The project ensures AO history is preserved for future generations, while also offering opportunities for this digitised content to be used and shared across multiple platforms.
Pollock said the idea for making full matches available stemmed from the production of the AO Classics series, which debuted in 2018 and saw iconic three- and five-set matches condensed into 25-minute videos.
"The other beauty of releasing these matches on YouTube is subtitles; there are closed captions available on this content,” she said.
"This makes these matches more accessible to people who have other abilities, such as hearing impaired, who might not have been able to necessarily enjoy it before."
Subscribing to the Australian Open TV YouTube channel is the best way to ensure you are notified when full matches go live each Friday.
Almost 1 million fans have already subscribed to the channel, which also offers highlights, condensed matches, player interviews and feature content.