If the Australian Open is now the favourite Grand Slam of many tennis fans, it is also the one we know the less since the tournament remained quite confidential until the 1980s. As the Australian Open started this week, let's review the records.
1 / A 70 million dollars makeover in 1988
That year, the rustic Kooyong stadium was abandoned for the state of the art Flinders Park and its amazing retractable roof on the Rod Laver Arena, where Pat Cash became the first man to win a competitive match after defeating Thomas Muster in three sets. Australia was beginning to catch up with its big brothers...
2 / Only 5 players from the top 30 in the table
A Grand Slam, this? In 1982, less than 20% of the "top players" made the trip to Melbourne: it was the "worst" edition of the recent history of the tournament, long remained the poor relation of major tournaments with its titchy prize money and its location sometimes implausible in the calendar. Do you know many players willing to play on the 25th of December, seriously?
3 / A first edition a little bit... inbred
100% local. In 1905, the 16 participants of the inaugural edition were all Australians. Not surprising, foreigners weren't yet invited. And anyway, it was taking several weeks on a boat to reach the Australian port. Who knows, if without the progress of aeronautics, Lleyton Hewitt would have won the tournament 10 times, eh?
4 / Formerly a traveling event
The Australian Open was always on the move until 1972 before settling permanently in Melbourne; six cities hosted the event alternately, Hastings, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Christchurch in New Zealand.
6 / The table changed format seven times between 1969 and 1988
Difficult to understand when there are sometimes 48 players, sometimes 64, sometimes 96, with knockouts rounds played in two winning sets (or not). The present format (128 players) wasn't adopted until 1988, the year of the move to Flinders Park.
7/ Connors' 100%
Thanks to or because of some awkward tournament dates in the seventies, Rod Laver isn't the last player who remained undefeated in Grand Slam throughout a calendar year. Jimmy Connors has indeed won the 1974 edition the Australian Open on a 1st of January, only to lost the 1975 final on a 1st of January. Meanwhile, the American won Wimbledon and Forest Hills (he didn’t participate to Roland Garros). Results in Grand Slam in 1974: 20 matches, 20 victories.
8 / No tournament in 1986 and two in 1977!
Those schizophrenic movements of the tournament in the calendar resulted in some curiosities. There were two Australian Opens in 1986 (one in January and one in December), when in 1986, there was actually none (going from December 1985 to January 1987). "Who won the Australian Open in 1986?" is the trick question par excellence.
9 / They saved one or more match points before winning the tournament
John Newcombe (1975), Johan Kriek (1981), Stefan Edberg (1985) or Marat Safin (2005) are amongst the miracle winners. But nobody has ever done "better" than the Australian Gerald Patterson, who won in 1927 after dismissing seven (!) Match points in the fourth set of the final against John Hawkes.
10 / What if we owed the greatest feat in the Open era to an arbitration mistake?
"With this heat, no one can blame a linesman for making a mistake," said Rod Laver after his semi-final against Tony Roche, marked by the "gift" on a crucial point of the official, exhausted of roasting in the hot summer. Roche finished the day by emptying the beer barrel of the stadium bar. Rod Laver, on his part, would go on and win the French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open a few months later, completing his second Grand Slam...
11 / A « commoner » in the prize list
Mark Edmondson, then almost unknown, was ranked 212th in the ATP when he raised the cup in 1976. Raised? The Australian Attila accidentally dropped it during the ceremony, a mishap that also happened to Johan Kriek in 1982 (really!). The record is still in the air, even though Goran Ivanisevic did very well in 2001 by winning Wimbledon while being 125th in the world.
11 / The police at the exit of the court for Cash
The insults to the public remained punishable by fines in the state of Victoria until the mid 80s. Thus early in his career, the fiery Pat Cash was greeted at the exit of the Central by police officers alerted by horrified television viewers. In 1981, a lineman even left his position in the middle of Chris Lewis’ doubles match arguing that the New Zealander was boorish.
12 / Could it be in Melbourne that artists are the fittest?
It is in any case where Martina Hingis played a match with no service fault (against Barbara Rittner in 2002, winning 6-1 6-0). In 2007, not bad either, Fernando Gonzalez actually did only 3 against Tommy Haas in the semi-finals. Finally, in 2009, Federer probably played the most perfect game of his career against Juan Martin Del Potro 6-3 6-0 6-0. The Swiss even asked for forgiveness during the handshake!
13 / Hitting over 50 aces in a match: a first in Australia!
It is not at Wimbledon but in Melbourne that this feat has been achieved for the first time. In 2005, the Swede Joachim Johansson has indeed hit 51 aces against Andre Agassi, who still dominated in 4 sets. Isner, Mahut and Karlovic have done better elsewhere since, but in Australia it is still the record.
14 / The "thrill" of Boris Becker
"I just wanted one thing: to go back to the hotel and take a step back." In 1991, Boris Becker offered a scene of incredible poetry after his victory against Ivan Lendl in the final. Between the handshake and the award ceremony, the German disappeared a few minutes to go for a swim alone in the Yarra River.
15 / The 1972 final almost didn't take place
Stuck in traffic on the way to the stadium, Ken Rosewall finally arrived right on time with the help of a motorcyclist who initially mistook him for a spectator who just wanted to attend the match.