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Their story starts here: Tennis stars share early AO moments


Given the global reach and crossover appeal of the Australian Open, countless people have a special connection to the tournament.

That includes the players who compete at Melbourne Park each summer.

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For some, especially Australian players, it is the first tournament they watched on television, attended in person, or dreamed of winning.

For others, it was their first taste of Grand Slam tennis via the junior event – inspiring them to push even harder towards a pro career.

And for many, the AO set the stage for a career breakthrough, cementing their unique relationship with the season’s first major.

It’s a place of beginnings, and such moments and stories have contributed to the creation of the AO 2023 marketing campaign: “The Story Starts Here”.

Ahead of this week’s tournament launch, spoke to several players about where their own Australian Open story starts.

Alex de Minaur

"My AO story started when I got my wildcard in 2017. It actually started with a win, saving match points, playing five sets against Gerald Melzer on Show Court 3. One of the best atmospheres I've ever felt and of course a dream come true. That's what it was for me to be able to play my home Slam for the first time, main draw, and actually get a win was just a surreal experience. That's where it all started for me.

READ MORE: Aussies shining on Grand Slam stage

"Obviously, over the years, it's kind of been different storylines, different tag lines, but ultimately I wanna get to every year getting deeper and hopefully making myself a contender."

Lorenzo Musetti

"I played I think three Australian Open juniors, or two. At the last one, of course, I won it. It was my first Grand Slam (title); before I did the US Open final. So was kind of motivation for me to step up and to try to confront myself in the pro (ranks). And that's what I did. And I think I made the right choice, because I was good enough to beat and to have the level to compete at this kind of level. So I have only good memories from Australia."

Bianca Andreescu

"I remember when I was 16, I think it was. That was my first Australian Open, during the junior days. And I absolutely fell in love with the city, fell in love with tournament. After US Open – just because I won it – Australian Open is definitely right behind it. I absolutely love the atmosphere, even as a junior; they really treat you like a pro, even at the junior level.

"And then in 2017 I won the doubles title, juniors again, with Carson Branstine. And that what my first ever Grand Slam title. So I have a lot of memories there, for sure."

Bianca Andreescu (far right) and Carson Branstine (2nd from right) won the Australian Open 2017 girls' doubles title after beating Polish duo Iga Swiatek (second from left) and Maja Chwalinska in the final. (Getty Images)
Nick Kyrgios

"I remember just going on some camps when we were about 12 years old; if you won nationals, you got a free ticket to kind of go watch the pros play, and be around it and get to learn. I remember soaking it up when I was a little kid; I went to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's practices every day and just seeing that those days off, when they practice, how they went about it, that was just something I never forgot. And then I ended up sharing locker rooms with them and playing them and beating them.

"AO, it's just home. I lived in Melbourne for two years as well. And the energy, it's just unmatched. I think me and Thanasi (Kokkinakis) obviously shared a beautiful moment there this year, so I think now, I automatically think of that."

READ MORE: Kokkinakis, Kyrgios finish wild ride with AO 2022 men's doubles title

Nick Kyrgios (R) beat idol Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (L) in the third round of Australian Open 2018. (Getty Images)
Thanasi Kokkinakis

"My AO started as a junior; I got a wildcard into the qualifying. I actually qualified I think for Australian Open juniors when I was 14. So started really young there, that's an early journey. And then, yeah, playing Nick in the final of junior Australian Open at 16 was pretty cool, on Rod Laver (Arena)."

Thanasi Kokkinakis (R) finished runner-up to NIck Kyrgios (L) in the Australian Open 2013 boys' singles final. (Getty Images)
Ajla Tomljanovic

"My favourite Australian Open story was winning my junior doubles title when I was maybe 15, 16. And it was the first time where I stayed all through the end and I saw some amazing matches; I think (Dinara) Safina was playing; it's also when Jelena (Dokic) did so well that year (in 2009).

"I remember just being on Rod Laver Arena and just thinking 'if I ever make it here, that would be amazing'. Because you're in the juniors, but you know it's still a long way to make it into the pros. And I remember that was my first moment where I was like 'I really, really want to make it to the big stage'.

"And funny enough, kind of my first bigger breakthrough was when I played... well not breakthrough, more like heartbreak, was on Margaret Court Arena when I played Sloane Stephens in the second round and I was up 5-3 in the third, and lost 7-5. And it was heartbreaking, but at the same time it made me realise how amazing it is to play in Australia, and that I just wanted to chase that feeling and moment again and again."

Holger Rune

"I played it when I was a junior also, so I've played it now two times and I played it this year; unfortunately I lost first round. But it was a really great tournament. I really enjoyed being there, and I think the crowd is so energetic also... they're so pumped, and it's really great as a player, you really feel very welcome. Of course all the organisation is amazing."

Alexei Popyrin

"I think I always go back to the match that I watched when I was a kid – Hewitt-Baghdatis. I was sitting there until 3am, so I was there. And from that match on I think I dreamt of playing the Aussie Open.

"And then I remember stories like Fernando Gonzalez making it to the finals, Tsonga making it to the finals, and for me that was just always like, I wanted to be there and wanted to play there. When I finally got the chance in 2018, to play my first Aussie Open, that was a big deal for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

"For me to be able to sit here and say that I've played, I think, five Aussie Opens now, at 23 years old, is honestly something that I dreamt of, but didn't know that it was actually a possibility."

Amanda Anisimova

"I never played in the juniors, so the first time I played Australian Open I did get to the fourth round. So that was the first time I think I made it very far in a major, so it is very special for me, and I do love coming back. I've played very well there, especially this year too.

READ MORE: Anisimova comes back from the brink to stun Osaka at AO 2022

"And I didn't even practice before that Australian Open because I was so injured, so it was kind of a surprise that I made it that far. I absolutely love that Slam; the only thing I don't like is just travelling that far, but it makes it worth it."

Jason Kubler

"It's kind of been a weird one for me, because I obviously played Australian Open when I was very young, I played it when I was 16, I played (Ivan) Ljubicic, that was a very one-sided affair, that one. So I guess that's when it started, but I went through a long period where I actually didn't play the Australian Open (because of injuries). So I started very early, but then I almost didn't start competing again until I was a bit older.

"It's kind of been like a resurgence, if that's maybe the correct word? And then just with the mixed doubles and even the doubles this year, it sort of just felt like, alright, I'm happy to be back here, I'm playing, I'm healthy. Even though I did play it when I was very young, I feel like I'm back stronger and better than I was."

Jaimee Fourlis

"I would say my Aussie Open story started at the start of this year, mixed doubles. I think both Jason (Kubler) and I have shown how well we have done from then, by just playing a lot of matches and just building throughout the year ... and (now) we're both in main draw (of the US Open). I think that's where my story started, and it will continue."

Jason Kubler (L) and Jaimee Fourlis in action during the Australian Open 2022 mixed doubles final at Rod Laver Arena. (Getty Images)
Rinky Hijikata

"Probably (it started) in the backyard when I was a little kid, with a little plastic racquet hitting against the garage – that's probably where it all started for me. So a long, long time ago. Obviously watching the Aussie Open every year during the summer was also a highlight every year when I was younger."

James Duckworth

"I guess the very first Aussie Open I played was in the juniors in about 2007 or 2008. I think the courts were green then... I'm not 100 per cent sure. I think they were green. And then my first main draw was 2012; I remember winning my first match there on Show Court 3, it was a pretty cool moment. Then second round playing on a packed Margaret Court Arena against Janko Tipsarevic, who was Top 10 at the time, and having the whole crowd quacking – that was pretty cool.

"I've had lots of great memories there, and it's my favourite event, for sure, being Australian as well. They do an unbelievable job of looking after the players also, so I think it's a great time of year and something that I'm looking forward to again."