Column: The first slam of 2018, the Australian Open

'My Point'

The game of tennis is pretty much a year-round sport here in Arizona and professionally. The season kicks off shortly with a warm up of tournaments and players readying for the first of four majors, the Australian Open played in Melbourne - Jan. 15 through Jan. 28 - of the new year.

It was 1905 when the first Australian Open was held 112 years ago, now known as the “Happy Slam” a fan favorite that shows in last year’s attendance record of 728,763 paying customers. 2018 being the 30th year the tournament now held at the newly renovated Melbourne Park with $975 million dollars currently being spent to make it stand out in all avenues of pleasure for fan’s, players, media and viewers of this special tennis event.

Seems all the key players will make up the draws to begin the season, from Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, and Kei Nishikori - while on the women’s side, Serena and Venus Williams, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, many of whom were on the injured list or unable to play for various reasons part of last season.

Roger Federer surprised even himself in last year’s Australian, making it to the finals against rival Rafa Nadal and winning an exciting 5 setter, and sisters Serena and Venus met once again with Serena taking her 7th title there and 23rd singles major, while 8-weeks pregnant.

Another highlight will be Aussie Lleyton Hewitt (36) coming out of retirement to play doubles with former Davis Cup partner Sam Groth who is going into retirement after this event says, I’m playing for fun and to give it a good shot.”

Who knows if one of the younger players might have a break-through with rising stars like Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem or David Goffin who played great tennis in 2017.

The Australian Open was the first slam to have a retractable roof for the Rod Laver Arena (14,820) and now boasts a total of 3 with the Hisense (10,500) and Margaret Court (7,500) Arenas having added this expensive amenity for inclement weather.

Prize money of $50 million dollars will be doled out for each singles draw of 128, 64 draw of doubles and 48 for their mixed event. If you qualify for a first round draw in singles you make a cool $50,000 - even as a loser.

You wonder what it costs to get a grounds pass for the day - $49.00 for an adult and $5.00 for a junior. Seats in the arenas range from approximately $100 to $300 per session in the early rounds to $500 to $800 for the men’s and women’s final.

From what once was the least-attended Slam 30 years ago to now what you might call the “reborn major” and most modernized, the Australian is the leader with innovative ideas and money spent taking care of the players, media, fan’s and viewers.

It’s a bit of a journey from the U.S. to get there in person, but for sure worth the effort. Another tennis season about to begin, YES!

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 45 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@gmail.com.