The Australian Open, the only Grand Slam tournament to be played in the Southern Hemisphere, was the last of the 4 Grand Slams to be established. The tournament took roots in 1905 and back then it was called the Australasian Tennis Championships. However, it wasn't until 1924 that the tournament received its billing as one of the Major tournaments.
Until 1987, the tournament was played on grass. Then, from 1988 to 2007, the surface that was used was the green colored Rebound Ace. Then, from 2008, the surface was changed yet again and what is in use since then is the Plexicushion acrylic surface.
The Australian Open was the second Grand Slam after the US open to regularize pay for both Women and Men competitors. It did so in the year 2001. In the men's game, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Australia's very own Roy Emerson have won a record 6 titles each. In the women's game, Margaret Court leads the all-time charts with 11 titles.
As the 2019 Australian Open (50th edition in the Open Era) is set to start next month, we take a look at 5 fun facts about the Australian Open, which is billed as the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific:
#5 First Australian Open was actually played on a cricket field
In 1905, the Australian Open, then referred to as the Australasian Tennis Championships was conducted for the first time under the aegis of the Lawn tennis Association of Australia (presently called Tennis Australia) at the Warehouseman’s Cricket Ground in Melbourne. The place is now called the Albert Reserve Tennis Centre.
The competition was held from 17th November to 26th of the same month. The tournament was won by Rodney Heath who defeated compatriot Albert Curtis in the final in four sets.
#2 Australia's scorching summer heat
The biggest hurdle for players competing in the Australian Open is the scorching Australian summer. The tournament is played in January when summer is at its peak in the Southern Hemisphere. Temperatures soaring above 40-degrees Celsius are quite common.
It poses a challenge for players however fit they are to withstand the heat and humidity. Players are thereby allowed to use braided ice towels to keep cool in between sets. In the year 1988, the Extreme Heat Policy was formulated. As per this policy, the chair umpire can halt the match at any time if the temperature reaches 40 degrees or if the conditions are not conducive for play to be continued.
#3 First Grand Slam to have a retractable roofing system
The fact that temperatures frequently rise over 40 degree Celsius necessitated Tennis Australia to take a call to install retractable roofing systems. The Rod Laver Arena was one of the first sporting arenas in the world to get a retractable roofing system way back in 1987.
The roof was revamped again this year and the closing time has been reduced drastically from 20 minutes to just 5 minutes. In 2010, the Margaret Court Arena too received a facelift with the installation on a retractable roof. In 2015, the Hisense Stadium too got a retractable roof and the Australian Open is the only Grand Slam to have 3 stadiums with such a facility.
#2 Unique instances which took place in 1977 and 1986
The Australian Open was conducted in January from inception in 1905 till 1919. It was moved to March in 1920. Between 1923 to 1976, it was played in August.
What is truly interesting is that due to scheduling issues coupled with climate vagaries, the Australian Open had to be played twice in 1977. It was played first from 3rd January to 9th January. then later that year, the tournament was again held from 19th December to 31st December.
The tournament was scheduled during mid-December until 1985. The authorities again decided to schedule the tournament in mid-January. This meant the tournament couldn't be held at all in the year 1986. From 1987 onward, the dates have been relatively the same with the tournament starting in the 2nd week of January every year.
#1 Only Grand Slam to have been played in 2 countries
The Australian Open is not just the only Grand Slam to have been held twice in the same year (1977), it also holds the unique record of having been held at the most locations - 7 different cities including two different countries (Australia and New Zealand).
Sydney has played host on 14 occasions, Adelaide on 17 occasions, Brisbane in 7 different years, and Perth on 3 occasions. Christchurch and Hastings, both in New Zealand, were the hosts in 1906 and 1912 respectively.
Since 1972, the venue has been Melbourne. From 1972 to 1987, the tournament was played at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club. In 1988, the tournament moved to Melbourne Park and along with that, a change of surface from grass to hard courts were also effected. With extensive renovation activities being carried out by the Government of Victoria, it looks unlikely that the Australian Open will be moved again any time in the near future.