Normally, I am not a big sports fan. Even though I am German and come from a soccer fanatic city (Dortmund) I always hated the crowds and their noisy cheers and their mad passion for people chasing a ball. As a child, the cheering and screaming scared me. I remember endless nights enduring matches on the screen of our only TV set.
However, this changed, slightly, when we moved to Australia.
You know, they say travel changes you. Since you are in a new environment, away from routines and everything that would otherwise mould you into what you are, you tend to be more open to new things. I tried tennis. In the summer of 2004/2005 we watched the Australian Open for the first time. We watched Australian’s very own tennis hero at the time, Lleyton Hewitt.
I became hooked.
Mind you, this is where my passion for spectator sports ends. I still don’t watch soccer, rugby or cricket unless I really, really have to. You won’t find me in stadiums or pubs, experiencing the excitement together with the crowd. I don’t even watch other tennis tournaments or Grand Slams other than the Australian Open. It is just not me.
But when my dear husband proposed to travel to Melbourne this year to see the Australian Open first-hand, I just couldn’t resist. In the end, I loved the experience so much, I wanted to share it with you. Maybe one day you would like to try it too.
For this once-in-a-lifetime experience we made it count
My husband was able to secure pre-sale tickets through his employer who is one of the sponsors of the Australian Open.
We figured that if we were to travel to the Australian Open we definitely would want to have great seats to make it count. And so we did.
Our seats were in the mid-section of Rod Laver Arena (this is where the champions are scheduled to play), just below the cameras that provide the overview shot of the court, slightly to the left. So when you look at the court, we were seated close to the M in “MELBOURNE” as it is written on the court floor. From this position we could see all the action on the court almost as if we were watching it on TV. Plus we could see the player’s boxes where the family members, friends and trainers were seated.
There are different ticket types that you can buy. If you want to save money but still have access to some of the action you can just purchase the Grounds Pass which doesn’t give you access to the arenas but to everything else.
Everything else means all the open-air screens, the open-air courts where the juniors play, the food stalls, the live music and the kids’ theme park. This is already a pretty good deal.
What you should know about the tickets
Then there are tickets to the arenas. At the time when we bought our tickets online (many months ago) we didn’t really know who we were going to see with our tickets. Obviously, this is something that is only clear the day or two days before the actual match day, because it depends on who progresses in the tournament.
We had a choice of two time slots. The 11am time slot gave us three matches, played back to back. First two women’s singles and then a men’s singles. The first match took around three hours, the second only one hour and the last one more than four hours. That’s already a lot of tennis. Of course, again, all of this depends on the matches and how fierce the players have to battle it out.
The next time slot started at 7pm and gave us another two matches. However, since the daytime matches took such a long time, we were nowhere near finished by 7pm. While the crowds for the evening session had to wait outside, the players still needed to finish their afternoon match. Any delays were carried on throughout the day.
In the end we decided to leave Rod Laver after the third match. We had watched tennis all day and were tired. Of course, this meant that we had to give up our pricey seats. But we just couldn’t enjoy another match without feeling the pain.
As we found out the hard way, there is no need to purchase two session tickets for the same day, you will see plenty of tennis in just one session.
Some tips to prepare yourself for a day of tennis
Another thing you should consider when selecting your tickets – the Melbourne sun is extremely harsh. If you end up with a ticket that gets most of the sun throughout the day, make sure you prepare yourself for high temperatures and strong UV light. Sun hat, sunnies, sunscreen, light coloured clothes and a soft esky with cool drinks will help you get through the stifling heat.
To put it into perspective: even though we were seated in the deepest shade throughout the day the sun that reflected from the court surface was enough to burn us both to a crisp. When we left the grounds we both had faces red as tomatoes.
Talking about eskies – there are a number of restrictions on what you can and cannot bring to the Australian Open. We just packed some water and coke, fruit and snacks to get us through the day. Hard shell eskies are not allowed but our soft one was accepted. There were quite a few freebies handed out at the entrance which we added to our stash – energy and musli bars. We even secured two branded pillows which was an unexpected bonus and much appreciated.
I was also not allowed to take my 300mm camera with me but the 55mm lens was fine (you need to stay under 200mm). No tripods, no video recorders etc. were allowed.
Rules for the audience
Some time during the day we got up and bought some hot food from the food stalls outside. What I didn’t realise until then is that you can only return to your seats every couple of games or so. There are people at the door stopping you from entering the arena mid-play. Only when playing stops for 2 or 3 minutes (while the players have a short break) the audience is allowed to get up and move around. You can imagine the big commotion as soon as such a short break occurred. It’s a great strategy to keep the arena quiet so that the players can focus.
Silence was another concept that I never realised was part of tennis. I had always assumed that on TV the noise would be tuned down for the benefit of the TV viewer. But as it turns out everyone in the arena does indeed get whisper quiet while the players are playing. Unlike team sports where there is a lot of shouting and stomping and clapping throughout the game, tennis is indeed a very quiet and focused sport.
Being part of the raw emotion of the tennis crowd
Which brings me to the audience. Sitting among so many other people who have all come together to enjoy the matches, was probably the biggest treat of all. As the day progressed the excitement grew. Players were cheered on and received encouraging yells. Jokes were cracked, killer shots received acknowledgment, no matter which player prevailed. The enthusiasm was infectious, the great vibes addictive.
Human beings are social creatures. To go through the ups and downs of a match together in a crowd amplifies the emotion. To be so close to the players, without a screen and thousands of miles between you and them, adds reality to the game.
I came as an Australian Open fan, I left an Australian Open addict. Travelling to Melbourne to see the game was a costly affair – the flights, the hotel, the food, the tickets. But it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget.