Melbourne: The Australian Open 2014

As a pretty big tennis fan, its long been on my bucket list to attend a major Grand Slam tournament.
Arranging our dates in Melbourne around the ‘Happy Slam’, I was keen to get to a big game- with the real intention to watch Federer.
The problem with tennis slams is that it is pretty hard to specifically arrange to watch someone or a game in particular, as the exact scheduling isn’t released until the night before- by then of course, all tickets are already sold out.
However, following the tennis scene can give you a few advantages and some early knowledge into the fixture list and likely draws.
For example, I knew Djokovic and his half of the draw would always be on the first days of each round; As the defending champion, he always has priority over other challengers. Therefore when it was announced the Nadal, Federer, Murray, Tsonga and Del Potro were on the opposing half to Djokovic, I knew that they would always play on the second day of each round. With so many big names on this half, they would have to clash at the quarters and semis, so we therefore bought tickets to the day session of the second round of quarter finals for $125;  We would have ideally bought tickets for the night session (as this is when the biggest clash would be) but they were already sold out a month before the event started!

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Day Pass

We also bought a day pass ticket from the stalls in Federation Square for the opening day for $34- it was surprisingly easy and stress-free to purchase tickets for the Open!
Day passes are brilliant and the best option, in my opinion, for the opening days; This is when big names, who can’t all play in the arenas, are shuffled around some of the outer courts, giving a real good opportunity to see some high profile names.
Tickets in hand, we headed down to Melbourne Park at 10am in 30° sunshine- balmy conditions for the heatwave that would melt the tournament in the coming week.
It was simple and straightforward to get in and we were immediately subject to the thrill and anticipation of the slam!

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After walking around the park for a while, we walked straight in to Court no 2 and even managed to steal some of the much desired shaded seats to watch the opening match of the slam. Fellow Brit Laura Robson faced a match up against Flipkens. It was our first ever taste of live tennis and we were shocked at the standard, particularly as I wasn’t expect these smaller women to be able to hit so hard! Unfortunately though, Robson, much like the rest of the English sport contingency, was hammered on Australian soil in straight sets.

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Following that we queued (the only time we had to all day) to get into Margaret Court Arena. We caught the end of the towering Venus Williams as she too was surprisingly defeated in the opening round.
Already amazed by the women, we now had front row seats in Margaret Court to watch one of the most powerful servers and hitters of the game- 6’7 giant and no. 7 seed, Tomas Berdych. Again, we sat stunned at the speed and power that not only Berdych, but both players were able to produce.
To our surprise his opponent, ranked 100 something in the world, was more than capable of keeping up with Berdych and forced a really tough game out of him. Both players peaked a first serve over 210km, smashing the ball relentlessly to one another with apparent ease.
Berdych went on to win the game in straight sets- a far more convincing result on paper than the game suggested. He would go on to reach the semi-finals, only losing to the eventual champion of the tournament, Wawrinka.

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After the Berdych game we went for a walk around the entire complex- heading to the practice courts, before making our way to the Heineken Park for lunch. My image of a tennis tournament, (crafted by the traditional and upper-class scene of Wimbledon, complete with strawberries and cream) was blown out of the water as the Park staged bands and created a boozy, party atmosphere that the Ozzies were lapping up. We joined in for a short while as we took a break from the tennis to have some lunch.

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After lunching at the park, we scoured the schedule and made our way to Court 11, to watch what I had predicted would be a close game between Lucas Rosol- who once knocked Nadal out of Wimbledon, and Tommy Robredo- a dogged Spaniard and ranked 16 in the world. The great thing about the day pass is that you can literally touch some of the top players, if not on court, then as they walk through the crowds to make their way back to the locker rooms. We watched, almost as a ball boy as the game went in to 5 sets. With match-point, Rosol thought he had won the game, screamed and smashed a ball into the crowd. His euphoria was quickly extinguished, as the umpire over-ruled the decision, calling it out. He eventually lost the game, and the match!

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We were then enticed by a large following of loud, drunk and colourful Croats, as they blurted out some Eastern European chants in support of their native who was playing once upon a time world champion Davydenko. By now it was almost 5pm and the majority of the all-dayer groups were pretty tipsy. This only added to the spectacle and enjoyment of the outer courts as all kinds of comments and expletives were cried out towards the umpires and in support of the tennis players.
With the sun fading, we watched from a vantage point as young hot-shot Dolgopolov eased his way into the second round and brought the day session so a close.

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We completed our opening day back in the main central circle- finding a patch on the grass to watch the large screens as Djokovic kick-started his campaign. An easy win, brought the day come to a close. For $34 the Opening Day pass is without doubt the best value, entertainment and excitement I’ve ever invested in!

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Quater Final Day

We were back a week later to watch the men’s and women’s quarter finals.
After stocking up on a cool bag of sandwiches, crisps and goon- which we smuggled in by pretending the plastic satchel of alcohol was an ice cool bag- we headed into Rod Laver Arena for the first time. Our seats were awesome- front row on the upper tier and providing us with the most ideal angle to watch the matches unfold.

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As we tucked into the sandwiches and opened up the goon, we watched women’s number 2 seed Azarenka squeal to a 3-set defeat to Radwinska. Again, the level of tennis was just unreal- producing some incredible rallies.

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Next up, the show game- world no. 1 Rafael Nadal vs no.18 seed Dimitrov. I had only a vague idea of the young Bulgarian’s ability, but, having never made it this far in any major tournament neither of us were optimistic. Nonetheless, wanting a good game we cheered him on. With a blistering average first serve of around 215kmh, Dimitrov, to everyone’s surprise, won the first set. Backed by a small, rowdy Bulgarian army Dimitrov pushed Nadal to his limits and out rallied him more often that not;  He actually outplayed Nadal for the first 3 sets, before eventually losing his way.

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As ever, Nadal will always find a way to win; He is a 13-time Grandslam champion and needed to be at his best as at 1-1 Nadal faced 3 set points; Yet somehow, as ever, he pulled it from the brink to win the set and ease through the tailend of the game.
Upon winning the match, Nadal fist-pumped and screamed at the crowd- before declaring himself lucky in his on-court interview. It was indeed a very tight and pulsating game, that hinged on a knife-edge. It was awesome to watch such a legend and powerhouse of the game and incredible to observe the power and fitness of both players.

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As the crowds were cleared for the night-game, we took a quick tour around the stadium, before making our way with the other thousands of spectators to claim a patch of grass for the Murray vs Federer game- one of the most eagerly anticipated matches of the tournament.

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Supporting Fed for as long as I can remember, I couldn’t switch allegiances to the fellow Brit and was only to happy to see him storm to a 3-1 victory. It was a fantastic end to an incredible experience- another thing that I can tick off the list! Although I would still love to see Federer play a game first hand before his days come to a close. Ozzy Open done!

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