We couldn’t resist another trip to one of the best sporting shows on earth – the Australian Open Tennis Championships in Melbourne. We had planned this trip about a year ago so sorted our flights and accommodation early and then waited with baited breath for the tickets to go on sale in October. We traveled over with some friends – formally known as Sheree and Matthew and Heidi and Matt. Informally known as Jeffo and Harty and Mr & Mrs Shoe or their latest name The Soles : ) To explain the latter a little further – Heidi is trained in Feng Shui or Feng Shoe if you’re Steve Thomas, hence his naming them the Shoes. In yet another senior moment he started referring to them as the Soles – soles are related to shoes so lets just leave it at that : )
We met at Auckland International Airport and indulged in a pre tour champagne before our flight to Melbourne. We were all pretty excited about the possibility of watching Roger Federer play so named ourselves Team Federer. Matt had presented us with our very own head sweatbands so we looked the part.
I had been following the games and the upcoming draw daily in anticipation of Roger making it through and then working out when we would be able to see him play. We had day session tickets for the Tuesday and Wednesday and day and night session tickets for the Thursday. Roger made it through his fourth round match on the Sunday night against the fifth seeded Kei Nishikori in five sets. Next up he was to play the unseeded Mischa Zverev who had knocked the first seed, Andy Murray, out in the fourth round. Unfortunately this match was played on the Tuesday night so we missed it but we had everything crossed that he would make it through which he did in three sets. We had worked out that if he made it to the semi finals he would play on the Thursday night so we were very excited.
Tuesday 24th January
First up on the Tuesday was the women’s quarter final between Venus Williams and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia. It was a good game but Venus was too good and won in two sets. We have seen Venus play a few times now and she always looks lethargic on the court but can produce the power hits when required. At age 36 and after some medical setbacks she is quite inspirational.
She was born in the USA and is aged 36 years old. She is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 73kgs and plays right handed. She has played in 16 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2001, 2003, 2009 and 2010. She turned pro in 1994 and has earnt USD34 million in prize money to date.
She was born in Russia and is aged 25 years old. She is 5 foot 10 inches tall, weighs 72kgs and plays right handed. She has played in 8 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round. She turned pro in 2005 and has earnt USD6.6 million in prize money to date.
Next up was the second women’s quarter final between Coco Vandeweghe and Garbine Murguruza. Muguruza was the fifth seed and hence the favorite but Coco came out swinging and beat her easily 6-4, 6-0. Muguruza got pretty frustrated which didn’t help matters.
She was born in the USA and is aged 25 years old. She is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 71kgs and plays right handed. She has played in 5 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round. She turned pro in 2008 and has earnt USD3.1 million in prize money to date.
She was born in Venezuela but plays under the Spanish flag and is aged 23 years old. She is 6 foot tall, weighs 73kgs and plays right handed. She has played in 4 Australian Opens with her best performance being the forth round. She turned pro in 2011 and has earnt USD10 million in prize money to date.
They saved the best until last in the day session with the first of the men’s quarter finals which was between Stan the Man Warwinka and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. As with all things Swiss we love Stan so were very excited to be watching him live. Jo-Wilfred appeared massive on the court and I thought it would be a tough match for Stan but he played so well and beat him in three sets. Part one of our dream semi final match up between Stan and Roger was coming to fruition.
He was born in Switzerland and is aged 31 years old. He is 6 foot tall, weighs 81kgs and plays right handed. He has played in 11 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2014. He turned pro in 2002 and has earnt USD27 million in prize money to date.
He was born in France and is aged 31 years old. He is 6 foot 2 inches tall, weighs 91kgs and plays right handed. He has played in 9 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2008 when he was a finalist. He turned pro in 2004 and has earnt USD19 million in prize money to date.
That night we went to The Press Club for dinner. The Press Club is owned by George Calombaris who is a judge on Masterchef Australia. The restaurant had come highly recommended by some friends so we were very much looking forward to our evening. We planned to catch the tram but a lack of patience saw the girls jump into a cab. We told the boys to do the same but when we arrived at the restaurant and rang them they told us that they had decided to walk – they didn’t realise that the restaurant was at the other end of Flinders Street! They then found a cab and arrived after we had been served the most delicious aperitifs ever. I didn’t quite catch everything that was in mine but I know it had cherry liquor in it and was served over a cherry infused block of ice.
We had signed up to do the chef’s surprise degustation and every course was delicious including the chocolate forest desert that came with it’s own liquid nitrogen forest allowing the smells of the forest to waft around the table as we enjoyed the dish. After dinner we were allowed to go down into the kitchen to have a sneak peak at the culinary powerhouse. Unfortunately George wasn’t there that evening but we did meet a couple of Kiwi’s in the kitchen who were helping to create the culinary masterpieces.
Of course we had to keep tabs on Roger versus Mischa game during dinner and to our delight Roger came out on top in three sets. The dream semi was on – Stan versus Roger, Switzerland v Switzerland.
Wednesday 25th January
We all walked to the tennis in dribs and drabs with Heidi and I getting there reasonably early so we could have a bit of fun with all the activities on offer on the way into the stadium. This included being photo bombed by Rafa and scoring some more great headbands.
First up today on Rod Laver Arena was the women’s quarter final from the other side of the draw between Mirjana Lucia-Baroni and the fifth seed Karolina Pliskova. We had seen Karolina play in the US Open where she had made it to the final and I had picked her to win this tournament. Mirjana, at 34 years of age and after a hiatus from tennis due to personal issues including an abusive father, was making a comeback. She is a powerful hitter of the ball and beat Karolina in three sets. She was so overwhelmed with joy at getting through to her first semi final at a grand slam in eighteen years – her previous best performance at a grand slam was at Wimbledon in 1999 where she also made the semi finals. It sounds like she has had a lot to deal with in her life and being able to make a comeback was extremely special for her.
She was born in Germany but plays under the Croatian flag and is aged 34 years old. She is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 66kgs and plays right handed. She has played in 8 Australian Opens with her best performance being the second round. She turned pro in 1997 and has earnt USD3 million in prize money to date.
She was born in the Czech Republic and is aged 24 years old. She is 6 foot 1 inches tall, weighs 72kgs and plays right handed. She has played in 4 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round. She turned pro in 2009 and has earnt USD7 million in prize money to date.
The last women’s quarter final was between Serena Williams and Johanna Konta. As we all know Serena started her 2017 season in Auckland and bombed out in the second round complaining about the wind and cold in Auckland. She didn’t exactly endear herself the NZ public. Johanna on the other hand won her first tournament for the year in Sydney – the Apia International. Serena proved too strong though beating Johanna 6-2, 6-3. I don’t think the score line was representative of the game – Johanna played well and is a strong player.
She was born in the USA and is aged 35 years old. She is 5 foot 9 inches tall, weighs 70kgs and plays right handed. She has played in 16 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, 2010 and 2015. She turned pro in 1995 and has earnt USD82 million in prize money to date.
She was born in the Australia but plays under the English flag and is aged 25 years old. She is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 70kgs and plays right handed. She has played in 1 Australian Open with her best performance being a semi finalist. She turned pro in 2016 and has earnt USD3.3 million in prize money to date.
Next up was a men’s quarter final match between Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin. Dimitrov was actually the lower ranked player at 15 but was playing well. He had won the Brisbane International in early January beating Kei Nishikori so his confidence levels were high. Dimitrov beat Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
He was born in Bulgaria and is aged 25 years old. He is 6 foot 3 inches tall, weighs 80kgs and plays right handed. He has played in 6 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2014 when he was a quarter finalist. He turned pro in 2009 and has earnt USD7.5 million in prize money to date.
He was born in Belgium and is aged 26 years old. He is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 68kgs and plays right handed. He has played in 3 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2016 when he made it to the fourth round. He turned pro in 2008 and has earnt USD5 million in prize money to date.
We had a bit of fun on the way out of the stadium on the way back to the apartment. The boys got picked to be part of this street performance – they were part of the ‘six rich white guys’. Unfortunately they took a bit long with the act so we had to go but they were quite funny.
The quarter final that was featured on Rod Laver Arena on the Wednesday night was between Rafa Nadal and Milos Raonic. It was such a shame that we didn’t have tickets to this session – we still haven’t managed to see Rafa play live and he has been on fire. Heidi was also very disappointed not to see Milos play too as she hails from Canada.
Instead we had a booking at Flower Drum which is a Chinese restaurant in Market Lane. The restaurant opened in Little Bourke St 1975 and a decade later shifted to it’s current premises. About this time. Anthony Liu was appointed Executive Chef, a position which he still holds today along with an ownership stake in the restaurant.
We decided to have the four course degustation meal – again the courses are decided by the chef although a couple of us more fussy ones requested some minor amendments. The food was lovely and the service was very respectful and polite. We had discussed changing our booking from 6.45pm to a later time but we’re pleased we didn’t as we still didn’t finish up until after 10.30pm.
Thursday 25th January
Today we had tickets to both the day and night sessions. The day featured both women’s semi finals and the night was the big one – Roger versus Stan the Man.
We did a bit of retail therapy in the morning and headed for the tennis for the first semi final which started at 2pm. First up was Venus Williams versus Coco Vanderweghe. Coco played well in the first set and won in a tie break but couldn’t keep the momentum going and Venus easily won the next two sets. Venus was very happy to have made it to the final. When asked to relate what it means to be a role model athlete she said “I think why people love sport so much, is because you see everything in a line. In that moment there is no do-over, there’s no retake, there is no voice over. It’s triumph and disaster witnessed in real time. This is why people live and die for sport, because you can’t fake it… People relate to the champion. They also relate to the person also who didn’t win because we all have those moments in our life.”
Next up was Serena Williams versus Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. We were so hoping for an upset in this game but Serena reigned supreme winning 6-2, 6-1. This set up an all Williams final and at age 35 and 36 the most senior grand slam final in the World Tennis Association (WTA) history.
They have contested 27 matches in their professional careers with Serena holding a 16-11 advantage. The first of those contests was in the second round of the Australian Open 1998, when Venus was a the victor in two sets. They have faced off in Grand Slam events on 14 occasions, with eight of those matches being finals. There most recent meeting was in the final at Wimbledon in 2009.
In between the day and night sessions we spent a little time out in the international themed village – they certainly do it well with a Paris themed area, and English themed area and an American area paying homage to the other grand slams. Champagne in the sun was the perfect lead up to the match we had hoped to see right from the start – Roger v Stan.
We had different seats for the evening session and they turned out to be the best seats of the three days – we were right behind the court. I had never sat behind the court before and it was a treat – it was amazing to see how much spin and swing they put on the ball. At times I thought the ball was going out but it curved back in.
Prior to the game they had a light show to celebrate Australia Day. Rod Laver was also made a Companion of the Order of Australia at a ceremony prior to the light show.
Roger won the first two sets 7 – 5, 6-1 so we thought he had it in the bag but Stan came back and won the next two 6-1, 6-4 so it went to the fifth set decider. The crowd were on the edge of their seats – loving both players but secretly hoping for a Federer victory. Roger won 6-3 beating the number four ranked Stan – the crowd went wild but gave Stan a thunderous applause as he left the court too. It had been a dream for us as Roger and Stan fans but there was more to come with Roger making his first grand slam final in eighteen months and after a six month injury break.
He was born in Switzerland and is aged 35 years old. He is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 85kgs and plays right handed. He has played in 17 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010. He turned pro in 1998 and has earnt USD99 million in prize money to date.
We had planned to have a celebratory drink back at the apartment but by the time we had all wandered back it was quite late and we couldn’t quite manage it.
Sadly it was time to head home on Friday. We had an awesome few days watching the tennis and exploring Melbourne which is a great city. The tennis viewing will have to be continued from our living rooms…..
On the Friday night Rafa Nadal beat Grigor Dimitrov in five sets. John McEnroe described it as one of the best matches he had ever seen, while two time Australian Open finalist Pat Cash described it as a rollercoaster. We stayed with some friends in Auckland on Friday night and despite having one of the best wine cellars they don’t have Sky so we had to keep tabs on the score via the internet.
Rafa v Roger – the dream final for so many people. They haven’t met in a grand slam final since the French Open in 2011. The pair dominated the men’s game between 2004 and 2010, before Novak Djokovic’s emergence. They have met 34 times with Rafa having the majority of the success with 23 wins. He has won 9 out of 11 grand slam matches against Roger and 6 of 8 grand slam finals.
First up on the Saturday was the women’s final, an all Williams affair. Younger sister Serena proved too strong for Venus beating her 6-4, 6-4 in their ninth grand slam final meeting. This win was Serena’s 23rd grand slam victory and she surpassed Steffi Graf’s record in the modern era. She is one slam shy of Margaret Court’s long standing record of 24. The victory also sees her regain the number one ranking which she lost to Angelique Kerber after Angelique won the US Open in September 2016.
The trophy the women play for is the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy. Daphne Akhurst (22 April 1903 to 9 January 1933) was an Australian tennis player. She won the women’s singles title at the Australian Championships five times between 1925 and 1930. She was also known by her married name, Daphne Cozens. She died in 1933, aged 29, from an ectopic pregnancy. Since 1934 the trophy presented each year to the winner of the women’s singles at the Australian Open is named the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in her honour. She was inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame on Australia Day (26 January), 2006. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.
The men’s final is held on the Sunday night – we were back home in the Hawke’s Bay by then and were very excited to be watching Roger v Rafa at 9.30pm NZ time. But no, our Sky decoder decided not to work so we had to resort to the iPad! We decided to watch it in bed and Steve fell asleep after two sets – how could he do that! I was glued to the tiny screen right to the end. I thought Rafa was probably going to win in the fifth but things went Roger’s way and he ended up winning the last set 6-3. The overall score was 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. Steve did wake up for the last game and we were very excited by the result.
Federer has won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, the most in history for a male tennis player (not including the Professional Grand Slam events), and held the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for a total of 302 weeks. In majors, Federer has won five Australian Open titles, seven Wimbledon titles, five US Open titles and one French Open title. He is among the eight men to capture a career Grand Slam. Federer shares an Open Era record for most titles at Wimbledon with Pete Sampras and at the US Open with Jimmy Connors and Sampras. He has reached a record 28 men’s singles Grand Slam finals, including 10 in a row from the 2005 Wimbledon Championships to the 2007 US Open.
The men play for the Norman Brooke’s Challenge Cup – Sir Norman Everard Brookes (14 November 1877 – 28 September 1968) was an Australian tennis player. Brookes was a world No. 1 ranked player and later president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia. During his career he won three Grand Slam singles titles, Wimbledon in 1907 and 1914 and the Australasian Championships in 1911. Brookes was part of the Australasian Davis Cup team that won the title on six occasions. The Australian Open men’s singles trophy, the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, is named in his honour.
He was born in Spain and is aged 30 years old. He is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 86kgs and plays left handed. He has played in 11 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2009. He turned pro in 2001 and has earnt USD79 million in prize money to date.
History of the Australian Open
The Australian Open is a major tennis tournament held annually over the last fortnight of January in Melbourne, Australia. First held in 1905, the tournament is chronologically the first of the four Grand Slam tennis events of the year – the other three being the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. It features men’s and women’s singles; men’s, women’s and mixed doubles and junior’s championships; as well as wheelchair, legends and exhibition events. Prior to 1988 the tournament had been played on grass. Since 1988 two types of hardcourt surfaces have been used at Melbourne Park – green Rebound Ace to 2007 and blue Plexicushion from 2008.
The Australian Open typically has high attendances, rivalling and occasionally exceeding the US Open. The tournament holds the record for the highest attendance at a Grand Slam event. It was the first Grand Slam tournament to feature indoor play during wet weather or extreme heat with its three primary courts, the Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and the refurbished Margaret Court Arena equipped with retractable roofs.
The Australian Open is managed by Tennis Australia, formerly the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia (LTAA), and was first played at the Warehouseman’s Cricket Ground in Melbourne in November 1905. This facility is now known as the Albert Reserve Tennis Centre.
The tournament was first known as the Australasian Championships and then became the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969. Since 1905, the Australian Open has been staged in five Australian and two New Zealand cities: Melbourne (55 times), Sydney (17 times), Adelaide (14 times), Brisbane (7 times), Perth (3 times), Christchurch (1906) and Hastings (1912). Though started in 1905, the tournament was not designated as being a major championship until 1924, by the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) at a 1923 meeting. The tournament committee changed the structure of the tournament to include seeding at that time. In 1972, it was decided to stage the tournament in Melbourne each year because it attracted the biggest patronage of any Australian city. The tournament was played at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club from 1972 until the move to the new Melbourne Park complex in 1988.
In 2017, 728,763 people attended the tournament.