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The popular Australian Open tennis tournament began this week, as the world’s top tennis stars arrived in Melbourne for two weeks of one of the most competitive events in the game. Sports news outlets have been speculating about who will win this game, and the competition for 2013 is intense.
Held annually, the Australian Open is the first of the four Grand Slam tournaments, which are considered to be the most significant professional events in tennis. (The other three Grand Slams are Wimbledon, the French Open, and the U.S. Open.)
Founded in 1905, the Australian Open was held in a number of cities throughout Australia and New Zealand, including Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Christchurch and Hastings. In 1972, the event’s organizers decided to find a permanent home for the popular tournament, and it was decided that, since Melbourne consistently had the highest attendance rates, it would be held in there. It has since become one of the city’s most popular events, and draws millions of dollars in tourist revenue each year.
The Australian Open has not always been considered a Grand Slam tournament. In fact, for the first fifty years, the Australian Open was not even particularly popular or well-known. Because of the country’s remote geographic location and enormous size, players from around the world could not easily attend the event. A typical ship voyage to the nation would take approximately 45 days from the United States or Europe, and plane travel was not common until the middle and later parts of the century. Once in Australia, it can be difficult to navigate the empty expanses between major cities. The tournament trophy’s namesake, Norman Brookes, was one of the greatest Australian tennis players of the early twentieth century, but even he only competed in the 1911 Australian Open because he was playing in Europe and could not spare the travel time or expense.
And as the tournament moved from city to city before it finally settled in Melbourne, Australian tennis players were reluctant to travel within the country to compete. A few of the more remote tournaments were noteworthy for how few players actually bothered to show up. Further complicating attendance matters is the fact that the tournament was traditionally scheduled in January, close to Christmas and New Year’s, because the Australian summer is between December and March.
As the event settled into its new, permanent home in Melbourne and international air travel became less expensive, more prominent tennis players began to compete in the Australian Open. The tournament’s popularity really took off in the late eighties as superstar players became more competitive than ever, many of whom were Australian themselves, bringing attention to the traditionally ignored tournament.
In 1988, the Australian Open was moved from Kooyong Stadium to Flinders Park, a nearby stadium, to accommodate the event’s growing crowds. This move also saw the Australian Open switch from grass courts to hard surface courts. (Kooyong field is a cricket field that was temporarily converted into a tennis court during the Australian Open.) Flinders Park has since been renamed Melbourne Park, and the stadium has hosted the Australian Open since.
Owing to what can be incredible heat in Australia’s summer months, the Australian Open installed retractable ceiling tiles for the event’s two major fields. It is the only Grand Slam tournament that currently has the option of indoor play.
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