The Australian Open, in Melbourne, sizzles in January…literally and metaphorically. It is often called the People’s Open because the grounds passes are affordable, its outer courts have a fun family atmosphere and loads of people from the Northern Hemisphere come Down Under to escape the northern winter and bask in the sunshine.
To get you in the swing of things, here is the lowdown on the sort of atmosphere you are likely to experience.
* Many fans dress up to support their favorite players. There’ll be lots of people draped in the Australian flag with large Mexican-style Australian flag or yellow and green hats. Canadians might have their red maple leaf flag painted across their faces. The Dutch dress in bright orange. There is no limit to the creativity. Fans of rising Thai tennis star Luksika Kumkhum wear home-made We Love Luksika. A couple of French fans wear Napoleon hats.
* Crowd Pleasers: There are often group organizers at popular matches that start crowd waves that can range from very slow to extremely fast. Or they might launch into songs like ‘If you’re an Aussie and you love it clap your hands.” What is particularly refreshing is that Aussie fans love an underdog and will fiercely support up and coming players from any part of the world who are up against some of the world’s greats.
* Every player gets a nickname on court, which helps with cheering. USA’s Madison Keys becomes Mads, Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is GGL, Czech Tomas Berdych becomes Berdie. And the prize for the most inventive cheer is an adaption of the Aussie chant, C’mon Aussie C’mon…to C’mon Kumkhum C’mon for that gutsy Thai player.
* The outer courts offer a remarkable opportunity to get up close and personal with some of your favorite players. There is also a terrific viewing area above the practice courts so you can watch the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams go through their paces.
* There are loads of fun activities off the court when you need a break from the tennis. Of course they are tied to Australian Open sponsors. Pick up an ANZ fan to keep you cool court-side. Get your face painted to support your favourite star or country and collect a cooling neck wrap at Kia Motors. Sample the Mount Franklin lightly sparkling water flavours. Put yourself on court to return real 3D serves at IBM’s Return Serve. Kids can have fun joining in the MLC Tennis Hot Shots activities while parents can relax in the air conditioning in the Parent Zone. Measure how fast your serve is compared to some of the world’s best at Hisense Ultra Serve. Play on the dedicated MLC Tennis Hot Shots mini courts in Garden Square
* Cool off at the large standing fans attached to water tanks that offer a cooling spritz when the temperature soars. They are located all over Melbourne Park. Melbourne Park is also blessed with numerous trees dotted around the facility, especially in the Garden Square area and around the outer courts 5-15. Water stations can be found throughout the facility
* Food outlets range from the predictable nachos, sausages and chips to fresh fruit stands with wheatgrass shots and whole coconuts
* Chill with a drink. Enjoy a cold Heineken and watch some of Australia’s hottest bands on the Heineken Live Stage and sample an Australian Open cocktail at Jacob’s Creek Cool Harvest Hill.
* Take a moment to look at the bronze statues of a host of Australian tennis stars who have helped make the game what it is today. You’ll get a laugh seeing a pony-tailed Pat Rafter and can take a trip down memory lane with the likes of Rod Laver himself, Fred Stolle, Roy Emerson, and Australia’s first indigenous Grand Slam player, Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
* Unlike all the other Grand Slam events in London, New York and Paris, The Australian Open’s location at Melbourne Park, is right in the heart of the city. It is just a five-minute walk from Melbourne’s thriving CBD. It is also just a five minute walk across the Yarra River to the Royal Botanic Gardens, which offer a great place to relax and cool down under mature tree and grab a snack at one of their cafes. You can even have a hit and watch exhibition matches on the TAC People’s Court while the Woolworths Kids Zone and the ANZ Tennis Hot Shots mini-courts offer plenty of action as well.
* Don’t forget to check out the Australian Open Festival at the nearby Birrarung Marr park along the Yarra River. Some of Melbourne’s favorite foodie hotspots including Mamasita, Gazi, Uncle, Gelato Messina, Huxtaburger, Huxtable and Estelle Mistress have food stalls and there are plenty of places to get wine, beer, juices and great coffee to help wash down your fine food.
* When you are here, be sure and make time to check out Melbourne’s thriving arts, dining and bar scene. It is also just a short tram ride to go for a swim at St. Kilda’s Port Phillip Bay.
See my blog post Melbourne’s Coolest Bars to enjoy more action off the courts.
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