Australian Open Set to Go

By David Bryceson
David Bryceson
David Bryceson
January 14, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

Centre Court�The sun sets over Melbourne as French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Serbian  opponent Novak Djokovic play their Men�s Singles Final at the 2008 Australian Open tennis tournament at the Rod Laver Arena. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Centre Court�The sun sets over Melbourne as French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Serbian opponent Novak Djokovic play their Men�s Singles Final at the 2008 Australian Open tennis tournament at the Rod Laver Arena. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE–The anticipation is mounting for next week’s start to the first of the world’s four most prestigious tennis tournaments, The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific – the Australian Open (AO).

Touted as “the largest annual sporting event in the southern hemisphere”, players usually arrive in sports-loving Melbourne fresh and eager to start their year on a good note. Some of the best tennis of the season can be seen here when players are in good physical condition after the break from the grind of travelling on the pro circuit.

Held during the height of summer, the 105th Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Victoria will run from January 19 to February 1. While it should be noted that Melbourne hasn’t yet experienced the blistering dry heat that typically scorches at this time of the year, the forecast shows the temperature is on the rise and players could be sweltering on court in 40°C-plus days.

In past tournaments, many players have had concerns adjusting from the climate and time zones in the winter months of the northern hemisphere to the renowned southern summer Down Under. Thankfully, the tournament’s main courts in Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena boast retractable rooves that can be shut in case of rain or extreme heat – an “extreme heat policy” to protect the health of the players is also a feature of the Australian Open.

A hard court surface tournament, the Australian Open is traditionally the first of the world’s grand slams of the season – with the French Open on clay, Wimbledon on grass, and the US Open also played on a hard court starting in late August. Like all grand slams, the men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles titles are up for grabs along with maximum rankings points.

The singles’ winners of the Australian Open will each receive $A2 million and the runners-up $1 million each, with a total prize pool of $A23.14 million for the tournament.

With television broadcasts to more than one billion people in almost 200 countries, Tennis Australia organisers are also aiming break their tournament record attendance of 605,000 and the world record for a single-day attendance in the history of tennis of 62,885, both set last year.

AO preparations

In the run-up to the Australian Open, no less than 11 warm-up tournaments will have been played since the New Year, with 7 held in the southern hemisphere – the Hopman Cup in Perth, Western Australia; the Brisbane International in Queensland; the Adelaide International in South Australia; the Hobart International in Tasmania; the Medibank International in Sydney, New South Wales; the Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand; and the AAMI Classic at Kooyong in Melbourne, all providing players with an opportunity to acclimatise.

Meanwhile, the JB Group Classic in Hong Kong, the Chennai Open in India, the Capitala World Tennis Championship in the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi and the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha have also given players a much needed hit-out before descending on Melbourne.

Of the men’s players, Andy Murray has started 2009 in the hottest form defeating Roger Federer and current world No.1 Rafael Nadal in the pre-season inaugural exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi. While in Doha, Murray defeated Federer again in the semi-finals before easily winning the final against Andy Roddick 6–4, 6–2.

One of the AO tournament fan favourites, Federer arrived in Melbourne on Monday January 12. Regarded as one of the greatest male singles players in the open era, the three-time AO winner needs one more major title to equal the world record of 14 grand slams held by American Pete Sampras. It didn’t take him long to throw down the challenge to Murray while interviewed by reporters at Melbourne airport. “He’s never won a grand slam,” said a relaxed and smiling Federer. “He definitely has to prove himself.”

Federer’s main rival, Nadal, despite the Murray loss and also losing to Gael Monfils in the Qatar quarter-finals last week, says his AO preparations are still on track. The five-time major winner has had an interrupted pre-season while recovering from knee tendonitis that caused him to miss the last two events of 2008.

Australian Open defending champion Novak Djokovic is currently hoping to find form as the top seed of the Medibank International after a first round shock loss in the inaugural Brisbane International last week to young gun Ernests Gulbis.

In probably the most preferred Men’s AO warm-up opportunity – the AAMI Classic – Federer, Marcos Baghdatis, Marin Cilic, Stanislas Wawrinka, Fernando Gonzalez, Fernando Verdasco and Carlos Moya will play-off in a four-day eight-man exhibition tournament beginning Wednesday January 15. Now in doubt for the AO, former world No.1 Marat Safin withdrew from the Kooyong tune-up due to a shoulder injury and was replaced on Monday January 12 by Ivan Ljubicic.

One of the most significant men’s absences from Australia is world No.5 Nikolay Davydenko, who will miss the Open due to a heel injury, while World No.33 Rainer Schuettler is also in doubt with a wrist injury.

In the women’s event, seven-time major title winner Venus Williams – who has never won an AO title – is looking as a likely champion after defeating Vera Zvonareva in her only warm-up event without dropping a set at the JB Group Classic exhibition tournament.

Along the way, Williams also defeated world No.1 Jelena Jankovic in straight sets. But in all fairness, the 2007 Wimbledon mixed doubles champion, who has never won a singles grand slam, withdrew from her next match in Hong Kong with a viral complaint. Jankovic appears to have recovered and was training strongly in Melbourne on Monday.

Meanwhile, Venus’s younger sister Serena Williams is preparing for a tilt at her fourth Australian Open crown after recovering from a hamstring problem – the world No. 2 is a threat in any major.

In a major blow to organisers, defending champion Maria Sharapova has had to withdraw due to a shoulder injury that is keeping her from competing at the highest level. Other notable withdrawals are Lindsay Davenport (pregnant) and Nadia Petrova (viral meningitis).

Top 10 Tennis Rankings at the end of 2008

Men's

 Rank  Name  Country  Points

 1

 Rafael Nadal

 ESP

 6675

 2

 Roger Federer

 SUI

 5305

 3

 Novak Djokovic

 SRB

 5295

 4

 Andy Murray

 GBR

 3720

 5

 Nikolay Davydenko

 RUS

 2715

 6

 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

 FRA

 2050

 7

 Gilles Simon

 FRA

 1980

 8

 Andy Roddick

 USA

 1970

 9

 Juan Martin del Potro

 ARG

 1945

 10

 James Blake

 USA

 1775

 

Women's

Rank  Name  Country  Points

 1

 Jelena Jankovic

 SRB

 4710

 2

 Serena Williams   

 USA

 3866

 3

 Dinara Safina

 RUS

 3817

 4

 Elena Dementieva

 RUS

 3663

 5

 Ana Ivanovic

 SRB

 3457

 6

 Venus Williams

 USA

 3272

 7

 Vera Zvonareva

 RUS

 2952

 8

 Svetlana Kuznetsova

 RUS

 2726

 9

 Maria Sharapova

 RUS

 2515

 10

 Agnieszka Radwanska

 POL

 2286

David Bryceson
David Bryceson