Clive James, the formidable—and recently departed—critic traced the fundamental differences between the United States and Australia, his native land. “Superficially, Australia is like America; and yet profoundly different….the differences reside precisely in the discrepancy of scale, which finally dictates that Australia, short of physical power, must rely on influence instead. In times of trouble, the United States can send the Screaming Eagles. Australia must send Cate Blanchett.”
These same sensibilities express themselves at the Australian Open. This event lacks the scope and sweep of the U.S. Open, the tradition and elegance of Wimbledon, the style and Paris-in-the-spring magic of Roland Garros. But it has a great deal of cultural charm. This is not a champagne event but a beer event; long on fun and short on inhibition. It can sometimes feel like a music festival—in the middle of one of the Great Cities of the World—with some tennis tacked on. And sometimes, Cate Blanchett even shows up.
A few months ago, one of you suggested we do a “tips” column for the other three majors, the same we do each year for the U.S. Open. That in mind, herewith our first Guide to Attending the Australian Open. With any luck we’ll add to it wiki-style in years to come.
• We’ll get the dutiful promotion out of the way….. Tennis Channel have its usual pregame show 10 a.m. local, which is 8 p.m. ET. We’ll stick around for the first match and then hand the wheel over to ESPN.
• Your intrepid Sports Illustrated correspondent will try and file daily dispatches.
On the grounds….
• Wear sunscreen. No, really. The sun is intense. Nadal-in-competition intense.
• I would contend that, among the four majors, the Australian Open has the least charming main venue; and perhaps the most lively and spirited grounds. This is a rule at every major, but at this especially. If you have tickets for Rod Laver, you are all but duty-bound to venture to outside courts.
• As always, note the practice schedule. (Which this event does an excellent job of publicizing.) Most of the practice courts are between the two main venues, Laver and Hisense.
• The Aussie Open is a beer event, rather a champagne event. But there’s plenty of both at the Grand Slam oval.
• Pay close attention to the bands performing on-site. Guarantee that within a few years you’ll have heard of some. Tame Impala and Cooking on Three Burners are among the recent veterans.
• If you’re looking for relief from the heat…. A) there are, of course, three indoor venues B) Court four features a shaded paddock. C) there are beanbags and nap chair scattered around the grounds. Don’t be afraid to use them.
• Melbourne is a city of immigrants and ethnic enclaves. Bear this in mind when considering the match schedule. Any match is involving a Greek player is good theater. Same for Serbs.
• In my experience, Aussies say “G’Day mate” the way New Yorkers call their city the Big Apple or Chicagoans warm to “the Windy City.” It other words, it marks you as a visitor. “How are you going?” is the more common greeting.
• You can stick with your pronunciation and give full faith to the “r.” We won’t tell. But do know that Aussies, inexplicably, call the city: MEL-bun. It was the comedian Michael Kosta who, quite rightly asks: Maybe in the course of that 16-hour flight, they could spare time to tell us the name of the city where we’ll be landing?
• The Yarra ain’t exactly the regal Danube wending its ways through Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade. But it’s a pleasant river and worth walking/running/biking alongside. During the event there’s often a stage set up on the bank. And….
• ….Especially if your hotel is nearby, water taxis are a unique way to get to the venue. Otherwise, take the excellent (and free) public transportation which will let you off near the back entrance. Or just walk. The venue is no more than 10 minutes by foot from most CBD hotels.
• Two detours: 1) cross the river and walk through the botanical gardens and then cross back over. 2) walk by the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, at one point the largest sports venue in the world. (Bonus, the street is lined with eucalyptus so it smells like a perfumery.)
• Do not take a taxi or an Uber. The area around the tennis is a snarl of one-way streets and closed streets.
• Whatever you do, don’t go to Chin Chin on Flinders. You’ll really want to stay away from that place. (Otherwise the line gets intolerably long for those waiting at this all-time great restaurant.)
• Re-apply sunblock. And hydrate.
• Contemplate how a country less population than Texas put on a national event.
• Reader Pete H. writes: “If you like hoops, make it a doubleheader. On the second Wednesday, Melbourne Arena gives way to its usual tenant, Melbourne United of the NBL. It's a separate ticket, but the basketball ticket gets you a grounds pass to the tennis. If the weather permits, they'll take the roof off and play it as an outdoor game.”
• Reader Damian T. writes: “There is an LGBTIQ festival called Midsumma which is happening around Melbourne over the two weeks of the Australian Open. It commences with a carnival at Alexandra Gardens on Sunday, Jan. 19 and runs for a little over two weeks, with all different events and talks around the city. Many of them are free. It is basically Melbourne’s pride event.”
• Australia Day is January 26.
• The Aperol spritz elicits strong opinions. But it is omnipresent on the grounds.
• Speaking of spritz….know in advance where the sprayers are located. (Some are behind Court Five.)
• Get your star spot on: Probably because there is no context whatsoever, I have seen these folks have attend the event in recent years…and walk around in anonymity: Jimmy Rollins, Phil Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, Ricky Williams, and Ben Stiller.
To the non-Aussies
• Put this event on your bucket list. If you’re coming from the U.S. or Europe, there’s no sugar-coating the flight. But when you arrive and kick the lag o’ jet, it’s a great country, great city, great event.
• We mentioned the sunblock and the hydrating?