Australian Open History
To begin our Australian Open history tour, we go back to 1905 at the Warehouseman’s Cricket Ground. At the beginning the event was called the Australasian Championships. It would continue on for a further nineteen years before the International Lawn Tennis Federation (or, ILTF if that’s too much of a mouthful for you) officially recognised it as a major championship. Soon after that—in 1927 to be precise—the tournament changed its name to the Australian Championship.
Initially the tournament struggled with player attendance due to competition from other Australasian tournaments. Add to that the lack of international competitors due to the fact that Australia is a million miles from anywhere. You start to get a pretty grim picture of what those early tournaments might have been like. Not surprising given that a ship from Europe to Australia in the early 1900s would take forty five days!
And we all saw what happened to the Titanic.
Poor attendance wasn’t helped by the two best Australasian players of the time. Australian Norman Brookes and New Zealander Anthony Wilding barely made an appearance. Between the two of them they competed in the Australasian Championship three times, once for Brookes and twice for Wilding. They won, by the way. At the time, the region’s elite players tended to prefer a tournament called the Championship of the Colony of Victoria. The rival tournament had been going a good fifteen years longer than the Australasian Championships.
The tournament persevered, however, and in 1969 it changed its name once more to the now-familiar Australian Open. This change was accompanied by the allowance of professional players into the draw.
Up to now the tournament had moved around, playing a number of locations in both Australia and New Zealand. In 1972 tournament organisers decided to keep the event in Melbourne because that location that to get the best crowds. Initially this location was Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club. In 1988, however the tournament moved to its current home at Melbourne Park.
The move to Melbourne Park also came with a change in playing surface. Like every other ye olde lawn tennis tournament, the Australian Open was a grass court tournament. With the new venue came shiny new “Rebound Ace” hard courts. Mats Wilander is the only player to have won the Australian Open on both grass and hard court playing surfaces. The event would stick with Rebound Ace for two decades before replacing it. The next—and current—surface was an acrylic hard court known as Plexicushion Prestige. Roger Federer is the only man in Australian Open history to have won the tournament on both surfaces. Serena Williams has equalled this achievement on the women’s side.
The dates of the Australian Open have been a tad inconsistent throughout the tournament’s history. One example was the 1919 edition of the tournament, which was actually held in January of 1920. The 1920 tournament was subsequently held just two months later in March. In an effort to avoid some particularly bad weather, the 1923 tournament was held in August. For a while the tournament stabilised around December—though the dates in December still fluctuated. In 1986 it was decided that the Australian Open would be held in January. They couldn’t have the tournament in that January, however, because it was already gone. And they couldn’t have one last December tournament in 1986 and then switch to the new January date in 1987 just one month later. Not to worry, though; they resolved this dilemma by scrapping the 1986 tournament altogether.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Since then the date hasn’t changed. Some of the game’s top players have expressed a desire to shuffle it a bit further away from Christmas, however. They believe a bit more time to work off the New Year celebrations would be better.
In 2008 New South Wales made an attempt to steal the Australian Open away from Melbourne. It didn’t sit well with many on the Melbourne side of things, but the attempted coup failed. A new deal was signed so that Melbourne would keep the tournament until at least 2036.
That more or less brings us up to date. Australian Open history is always being written though, and so too will this post be. As more significant events (or past inaccuracies) come to light, I’ll update the post. Drop a comment below if there’s something you think should be in here.