Day 1 Melbourne Park
“No zoom cameras inside the stadiums.”
I tried arguing with the security official. I had travelled a long distance lugging the heavy piece of equipment despite my aversion to carrying cabin baggage. Politely but firmly he declined to make any exceptions. The upper limit he said was 200 mm and mine was 300. I had to deposit the lens in the lockers before the entry gates but promised myself that I would find a way to get it inside before my AO experience was over.
I purchased an AO hat at the souvenir shop, applied a liberal layer of sunscreen and tried to get a feel of the charged atmosphere. Our Day Pass tickets allowed us free entry to all courts except the reserved ones. It was a tennis carnival – the best place to be on a Sunday for the sports-crazy Aussies. Without stars like Federer, Nadal, Alcaraz or the Williams sisters my expectations were low and the previously disliked Djokovic had suddenly become the star attraction in the men’s draw. But the fans did not care; they were just looking for a good time. They cheered vociferously for their home players and we knew instantaneously when a local team was winning though physically we were outside that stadium.
Boasting the world’s largest network spanning 245 km, trams form a major part of the public transport system of Melbourne. Our daily journey from the hotel to Melbourne Park was by tram, surrounded by hordes of excited fans discussing players and the day’s matches. But the journey to reach Melbourne itself had not been easy! https://umanathnayak.in/ao-2023-series-part-i-mh129/
Ever since travel restrictions were lifted post-COVID we were looking at an opportunity for a foreign vacation. Combining a grand slam tennis tournament with a visit Down Under seemed to make good sense. But Fanatic Sports, the official sports travel agency responsible for booking our match tickets did not confirm till the last minute, over-charged us and ultimately I had to purchase our semi-final tickets on ticketmaster.com.au.
Despite sound advice to the contrary, in a spirit of bravado, I also had this epiphany to combine our AO experience with a visit to Kiwi land. From then on it was a mad scramble for flight tickets, visas, hotel bookings etc etc and with limited options, we landed up flying with Malaysia Airlines. The travails of international travel!!!
Day 2-4 Rod Laver Arena
Rod Laver Arena, the largest stadium in Melbourne Park is where most of the prestigious matches get played. With a seating capacity of 15,000 and a retractable roof, this and the Margaret Court Arena requires reserved tickets for entry. We had seats for evening sessions at the Rod Laver Arena for the men’s/ladies’ quarter-finals and the ladies’ semi-finals. A few matches in earlier rounds had gone on until early morning and some players had raised objections about the scheduling, but none of the matches we watched went past midnight.
Some AO experience snippets…
Tsitsipas, the crowd favourite, after he won his quarter-final match against Ledecka in straight sets spoke about his childhood upbringing, how Australia felt like home and about funding a school for underprivileged children in Victoria. Could have been his way of apology for almost hitting a ball-kid when he smashed a ball in frustration after losing an important point during the match.
In the initial stages of his Q-F match against Rublev, Djokovic did not appear too comfortable. There had been news of a hamstring injury sustained in his earlier round and we were aghast at the thought of him having to forfeit the match. But as the match progressed, like a well-oiled machine he came into his element and then there just was no stopping him, winning comfortably in straight sets. For pure physical fitness and stamina, he has no equal on the tennis courts.
Sabalenka (the ultimate champion) game was full-on power and Rybakina’s full-on grace. Both won their semi-final matches with ease and I managed to get some great close-up action pictures with my zoom lens from our vantage corner seats.
Pat Cash checked into the same hotel we were staying at but cash was not accepted in AO… only card!
Next….Down Under – Melbourne
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