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A Brief History of the Australian Open

Steve Shoup

Held annually in the last fortnight of January, the Australian Open is one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world. It is one of the four Grand Slam tournaments of the tennis calendar and is the only major tournament which has changed the type of surface it is played on.

 

The Australian Open odds suggest the six-time champion Novak Djokovic is the favourite to win the tournament yet again. Along with Roger Federer, the Serbian is the most successful player in the Open Era to compete in the competition and will be determined to pull ahead.

 

The 2019 tournament will be the 107th edition of the competition, and the 51st of the Open Era.  With so many editions of the tournament, it should come as no surprise the tournament has a rich and interesting history.

 

Origins

The first Australian Open was played in 1905 and was originally called the Australasian Championships. Although it is one of the biggest tournaments in tennis, the first edition of the Australian Open was hosted at the Warehouseman’s Cricket Ground in Melbourne. The winner of the tournament was Rodney Heath who defeated Arthur Curtis 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the final in front of around 5,000 spectators.

 

The success of the inaugural tournament led to the competition becoming an annual event. However, the lack of intercontinental passenger travel and constantly changing schedules meant the player pool was fairly limited. Professional players were unable to accommodate the tournament into their schedules and as a result they never had the opportunity to compete.

 

Unsurprisingly, the small player pool and travel routes meant that the majority of the winners came from either Australia or New Zealand. From the inaugural tournament in 1905 until the formation of the ‘Australian Open’ in 1969, there were only 10 winners that weren’t from Australia or New Zealand.

 

Australian Open

After being named the Australian Championships since 1927, the tournament name was officially to the ‘Australian Open’ in 1969. The ‘Open’ name was adapted as it was the first time that both professional and amateur players were able to compete at the tournament.

 

Although more players were invited to the tournament, many of the best tennis players ended up missing tournament due to the location, inconvenient dates (around New Year’s Day), and the low prize money

 

Even though the location made it an undesirable tournament for players, the fact that professional players were now allowed to compete meant that the quality of the competition drastically improved, with Jimmy Connors being one of the major players to win it 1974.

 

Court Change

The biggest change in the tournament’s history came in 1988 when the decision was made to switch from grass-court surfaces to hard courts. The change to a different surface type also came at the same time where the new venue was opened. The new Melbourne Park venue became the home of the Australian Open and was a great success. The attendance rose 90% to 266,436 as more people were able to watch their favourite players live.

 

Big Four

The 1990s saw the Australian Open title change hands multiple times, but the tournament has been dominated by the ‘Big Four’ since their emergence in 2004. Apart from the 2005 and 2014 tournament, one player of the Big Four (Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray) has walked away with the title. Although Andy Murray has failed to win the Australian Open, he has competed in five finals but lost them all.

 

Although all of the Big Four are all in their thirties and suffered from injuries in the past few years, there have still been dominant and it looks likely that one of them will win the tournament again in January.

 

 



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