Australia hosts the first major of the tennis season, and the world’s best players arrive Down South to compete for both history and some of the sport’s most prized trophies.

State of Event

One of four, prestigious slam major tournaments, and the first of the tennis season. From each tour — the men’s and the women’s — about 120 players schedule their off-season rest, rehab, training, and match preparation to peak during two weeks variously scheduled during the Australian summer. The result has been a number of epic battles through to final sets, played during the heat of the day, the cooling night, and into the early hours. With the enthusiastic and knowledgable crowds staying right through it all.

This status for the tournament has been hard-won over the past fifty years. Prior to the modern professionalization of the sport in 1968 — and for some fifteen years after that — the tournament’s geographic and calendar location afforded it a decidedly “fourth-slam” status. A good number of the best non-Australian players would simply decide not to make the trip, especially when the tournament was held in December, at the end of a continuous, year-long season of matches.

The 1980s saw two important developments: continued attempts at rescheduling the tournament to more attractive parts of the Australian summer, and a shift in how the greatness of tennis players were to be measured and compared across eras, with the number of slams won becoming a deciding statistic.

These developments had their gradual but decisive impacts. By the 1990s the Australian Open had secured its own pre-eminent space in both the calendar year and the training schedules of top players. And its repeat winners began to set themselves apart in new ways — Graf, Seles, Lendl, Becker, Edberg, Courier, Sampras, Agassi, Hingis, world number #1s that got ahead of the competition via their off-season preparation (for the heat of Australian summers) and their successful accumulation of points as well as trophies in January.

By the 2000s, the commitment was unequivocally field-wide and the roll call of repeat winners would include Capriati, Serena Williams, Clijsters, Azarenka, Federer, Nadal, now Djokovic — four of whom are now being discussed by most coaches and journalists as among the greatest to ever lift a racquet and ball, in large part because of their haul of wins on the stadium courts of Melbourne, Australia.

“The 1980s saw two important developments: successful attempts at rescheduling the tournament and a decisive shift in assessing and comparing the greatness of tennis players via the number of slams won. By the 1990s the Australian Open had secured its own pre-eminent space in both the calendar year and the training schedules of top players. And its repeat winners began to set themselves apart in new ways — Graf, Seles, Lendl, Becker, Edberg, Courier, Sampras, Agassi, Hingis.”
“By the 2000s, the commitment was unequivocally field-wide and the roll call of repeat winners would include Capriati, Serena Williams, Clijsters, Azarenka, Federer, Nadal, now Djokovic — four of whom are now being discussed by all as among the greatest to ever lift tennis racquets and balls, in large part because of their haul of wins on the stadium courts of Melbourne, Australia.”

And those stadium courts have gone through their own significant transformations — with the tournament’s organizers set on further distinguishing the event via its facilities (players vote it the happiest, best organized and most hospitable), through its accessibility to fans (with Australians known for their sports-enthusiasm, more so during their summer holidays), and even by its playing surface.

The latter set of changes — regarding the playing surface of the courts — are still a point of constant discussion among organizers, players and aficionados. The Australian Open has, since its inauguration on grass surfaces, become a hardcourt tournament and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But its current choice of Plexicushion surface, laid over the hard courts, often produces a medium-speed rebound of tennis balls and shoes that players notice enough to comment on, adjust to, and strategize around.

There are certainly players, with specific tennis technique and playing styles, who have found the adjustments easier or more natural to make. And a select few — yes, the repeat winners — are known to consider the surface choice, bounce and speed of the ball to provide them a distinct advantage over their opponents.

It is worth noting, too, that other prominent hardcourt tournaments (including the US Open slam held later, in September) select alternative overlays for their surfaces, producing different rebound effects, and an overlapping though slightly different roster of repeat winners. There is so much awareness of and focus on adapting to slight differences in surfaces that many of the late-December and early-January tournaments now played as part of the Australian hardcourt mini-season select surface overlays to match the Australian Open. The goal being to better attract participation by players seeking consistent preparation for the conditions, bounce, reaction, timing, and movement that will be required of them during matches in Melbourne.

“Such intense competition and its often historically important drama are always conducted with the people and environment of Melbourne and Australia as welcoming host and distinctive backdrop. This year, both are no less notable, especially for the serious concerns all within and beyond the sport have for the loss and continuing effects of unprecedented bushfires on the mainland.

This year, the Australian Open sees most of the top players on both tours arriving haven taken full advantage of that preparatory mini-season. A significant number (four and counting) of official tournaments have been held and won, featuring players known to do damage in big matches and reach the second weeks of slams. Meanwhile, several of the favorites for the singles trophies competed in an inaugural team-and-country event, the ATP Cup, that ended with the season’s first match between Nadal and Djokovic, the #1 and #2 players of the men’s tour respectively.

Federer — that other Swiss perennial favorite — did decide to prepare out of competition. But Serena Williams, rarely known to play warmups right before her slam arrivals, did make the trip to New Zealand. She won that trophy there, with an eye to lifting her twenty-fourth singles slam trophy in a fortnight’s time. A feat that, whether it occurs in Melbourne or in Paris, London, New York, would match the record held by Australian great Margaret Court.

Such intense competition and its often historically important drama are always conducted with the people and environment of Melbourne and Australia as welcoming host and distinctive backdrop. This year, both are no less notable, especially for the serious concerns all within and beyond the sport have for the loss and continuing effects of unprecedented bushfires on the mainland. Relief, in the form of rain, has only just come at the onset of this week — but not before extensive damage in farmland, forests and areas both sparsely and well-populated, as well as heart-breaking losses that include an estimated half a billion animal deaths, with new, possible risks of extinction still being assessed.

There are concerns that the fires might worsen the already intense conditions of tennis competition during the Australian summer. Players competing in the early pre-tournament qualifying rounds, for a spot in the main draw of the Australian Open, have complained of adverse effects, including difficulty with respiration and continued exertion. The situation is being monitored by organizers, physicians and umpires, who have expressed understanding and a commitment to responding promptly, perhaps even proactively, to any indications of effects on the health of players.

“Relief, in the form of rain, has only just come at the onset of this week — but not before extensive damage in farmland, forests and areas both sparsely and well-populated, as well as heart-breaking losses that include an estimated half a billion animal deaths, with new, possible risks of extinction still being assessed.
“The 2020 edition of the Australian Open presents fans of the sport, as well as more casual observers, with opportunities to watch matches between all-time greats and to bear witness to a city and country recovering from severe environmental damage with, we hope, strength, efficacy, and characteristic good nature.”

The 2020 edition of the Australian Open will therefore present fans of the sport, as well as more casual observers, with many opportunities to watch matches between all-time greats and to bear witness to a city and country recovering from severe environmental damage with, we hope, strength, efficacy, and characteristic good nature. We shall provide updates and further details on both matters, here at Publiks Newsfeed. Meanwhile, information ongoing tournament preparations and logistics for attending can be accessed via the event’s official site.

Sources & Further

For this article’s sources, and further reading on the Australian Open, its sponsoring organizations, and issues raised by the current iteration of the tournament, we encourage you to visit not only the official sites of the Australian Open itself, but also the International Tennis FederationAssociation of Tennis Professionals (ATP), and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

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