How to Watch the Australian Open in Melbourne
It’s something of an understatement to say that the Australian Open is quite different from Wimbledon. Both celebrate top flight tennis at its best, but where Wimbledon has distinguished charm in abundance, Melbourne offers unbridled joy. Without the constraints of history and tradition, Melbourne has been able to turn its grand slam event into a festival of fun with tennis very much at its heart.
In place of Pimm’s cocktails, strawberries and cream, there are pop-up pubs, hot dogs and doughnuts – not to mention live music performances and dedicated play areas for kids.
But perhaps the biggest difference is the ease at which you can obtain tickets. There is no ballot, no self-addressed envelopes and no “queue”. You simply go online and select the day you want to attend and where you want to sit. For the large part, tickets to the main courts are still available even after the tournament begins – although cheaper seats are fewer and further between – and ground passes are available at the venue on the day. You’ll be in line for just a few minutes, so no tent required.
While you can book ahead – or ask our Travel Butler to make arrangements for you – I am in Melbourne mainly to catch up with friends, so I kept things flexible. The same morning I intended to head to the Open, I booked my tickets online and found that getting tickets to see top flight tennis had never been such a doddle.
I was delighted to discover that the daytime session in the Rod Laver Arena – the equivalent of Wimbledon’s Centre Court – included a men’s singles quarter final match featuring number three seed Grigor Dimitrov and Kyle Edmund, a British player. Our seats in the corner of the court, and a few rows from the front, offered a great view of the action. We were close enough, in fact, to be able to hear Edmund, in typically British style, say “Sorry” after he abandons a ball toss mid serve.
Crucially, we were also in the shade – I recommend picking a seat behind or alongside either base line rather than in the middle alongside the net. Also there to watch our fellow Brit was Tim Henman, sensibly sipping water. Like all the VIPs, he had come dressed for a wedding. Everyone else was dressed for the sun – although only a few people appeared to be actively sun worshipping. With that in mind, one item is essential, just in case you should find yourself in the sun or the shade shifts: a hat! Or, worst case, souvenir towels, which you can quickly open and employ as a defence from the sun.
I’ll leave the technical tennis commentary to someone more qualified, but the three matches I watched – a women’s singles quarter final and a men’s doubles match along with the men’s singles – made for a few hours of fantastic sporting entertainment, culminating in a British win that saw the whole crowd on their feet and Edmund through to his first grand slam semi-final.
Having already done a recce between matches, we ventured back out into the grounds. There are day and evening sessions at the Rod Laver Arena and, while you require separate tickets for both, your morning session includes a ground pass for the evening. In fact, if you don’t want to pay for tickets to the main courts, a ground pass is a really great option in itself, giving you access to a number of show courts – be warned these have a lot less shade – plus a large number of big screens found throughout the grounds.
And then there’s the vast food, drink and entertainment options. For kids, there’s a Disney play area and Lego City Build Zone. Or they can emulate their sporting heroes on mini tennis courts. Somewhat predictably, we headed to The Disputed Call pub to enjoy a pint in front of another familiar but unexpected sight – a red double-decker London bus, which served as one of the smaller live music stages. On the bigger AO Live Stage, we watched headline musical act The Rubens. Other acts this year have included Rudimental and Peking Duk.
There really is lots to do. Everywhere people were enjoying the late evening sun. I even heard a clearly conflicted fan ask his friend: "So shall we watch the tennis at some point?"
We saw out a lovely day on Australia’s answer to Henman’s Hill, watching Nadal in the main evening match, eating ice cream and drinking beer. Yes, maybe a Pimm’s would have gone down well, but Wimbledon, with its stiff upper lip, could certainly learn a thing or two from this relaxed and care-free tennis extravaganza, which extends across the city, with another large screen at Federation Square, Melbourne’s cultural hotspot.
If you find yourself here in mid to late January, you should make the tennis an absolute priority. Better still, consider planning your trip to coincide with the Open – just ask our Travel Experts to make it happen for your January 2019 Australia holiday.