It's a hot day in Melbourne, Australia. The sun is beating down on the grass at the Albert Cricket Ground tennis courts, bothering the two players engaged in a close battle but not enough to deter them from doing their best. It’s the fourth set and the match is tight; whoever makes a mistake will put their chances of winning in jeopardy.
Rodney Heath, the player currently in the lead, walks up to the service line and prepares to serve. The audience holds their breath in anticipation, wondering if this could be the winning point. They look towards Albert Curtis, trying to see what he could possibly be thinking during such a stressful situation. If Heath won the point, he wouldn’t win just the match but he’d be the first to win the Australasian Championships.
However, Curtis betrays no emotion. He crouches down into a ready position, keeping his eyes glued on his opponent. Tennis is a game of the mind, and he wasn’t ready to be defeated just yet.
Heath throws the ball up with the audience taking a deep breath in unison as they watch him get ready to swing his racket. A loud pop fills the quiet court, followed by another, and the game is off. A long rally ensues, with Heath trying to end the match and Curtis returning the ball easily, not willing to give up. He manages to hit a powerful shot into the corner of the court, and for a brief moment everyone is at the edge of their seat, thinking “will he make a comeback?”
A minute later, Heath returns the shot with a long lob, sending Curtis back to a defensive position. He works his way up to the net, matching Curtis swing for swing and then…
A clean, quick slice to the left. Everyone is silent. Curtis lunges for the ball but it’s too late.
A beat later, applause fills the court, and Rodney Heath, the first winner of the Australasian Championships, raises his racket victoriously into the air. Little did he know that his victory would be the start of what was to become one of the most popular Grand Slam tournaments.
Today, the Australasian Championships is known as the Australian Open. It’s one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, which are the biggest tennis tournaments in the world that every tennis player aspires to win. Started by the Lawn Tennis Association of Australasia (later known as Australia) way back in 1905, it was at first meant to be a joint venture between Australia and New Zealand and only men could participate. It wasn’t until 1922 that women's singles, doubles, mixed doubles, and junior events were put in play, and it was only recognized as a major tournament in 1923.
However, back then the Australian Open wasn’t as popular as one may think. In fact, it was far from becoming the Happy Slam, a nickname often used for it nowadays. Since traveling to Australia was much more difficult, not many spectators would come and great players wouldn’t even bother participating since the prize money and ranking points were low. The Australian Open started being named the Dying Slam or Suffering Slam. Only in 1993, along with some improvements, did the tournament start to shape into the one we see today on TV. The changes made to the tournament were very influential, because now the Australian Open is the Grand Slam that draws the most spectators; in 2020 alone, there were well over 800,000 people present! It’s fascinating to see how much the Australian Open evolved and gained popularity over the course of 114 years.
This year, the finals are being played on January 29 and 30. If you have the time, tune in, watch the matches! For the men’s singles, Rafael Nadal is playing against Daniil Medvedev, and for the women’s singles we have Ashleigh Barty versus Danielle Collins. The current favorites are Medvedev and Barty, who has the chance to win a Grand Slam title on her native soil. However, anything can happen in tennis, which is what makes it such a thrilling sport to view. The players not only have to battle on the court but they must battle themselves mentally. One thing’s for certain though; like Heath and Curtis, they’re all going to fight until the end and keep you at the edge of your seat.
The Australian Open is the tournament to win. Great tennis players like Roy Emerson, Novak Djokovich, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Roger Federar have all won and set records at Melbourne, Australia. Audiences come to see tennis all-stars battle one another but also to see newcomers try their shot at having their name written down in history. It’s two weeks full of suspense and excitement, and a great start to the new year. But hopefully the next time you watch the tournament, you consider its rich and interesting history. The Australian Open has been around for so long, went through so many changes, and had its ups and downs. It has come such a long way from when Rodney Heath won it for the first time. Its history is definitely something to look into and admire.
This year, the Australian Open finals were held on January 29th and 30th, with Rafael Nadal playing against Daniil Medvedev in the men’s singles finals and Ashleigh Barty versus Danielle Collins for the women’s singles finals. Nasal and Barty emerged victorious.
“Australian Open 2020 - By the Numbers.” Tennis TourTalk, 2 February 2020, https://www.tennis-tourtalk.com/53923/australian-open-2020-by-the-numbers. Accessed 30 January 2022.
Bodo, Peter, and Simon Cambers. “How the Australian Open evolved from the Struggling Slam into the Super Slam.” ESPN, 21 January 2019, https://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/25813889/how-australian-open-evolved-struggling-slam-super-slam. Accessed 30 January 2022.
CBS Sports Staff. “2022 Australian Open women's odds, picks, predictions: International tennis expert fading Ashleigh Barty.” CBS Sports, 16 January 2022, https://www.cbssports.com/tennis/news/2022-australian-open-womens-odds-picks-predictions-international-tennis-expert-fading-ashleigh-barty/.Accessed 30 January 2022.
“The Happy Slam: A History of the Australian Open - Tennis Australia — Google Arts & Culture.” Google Arts & Culture, https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/the-happy-slam-a-history-of-the-australian-open-tennis-australia/-QKiuFJOkd3ELA?hl=en. Accessed 30 January 2022.
Tikkanen, Amy, and The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Australian Open | tennis tournament.” Britannica, 3 February 2020, https://www.britannica.com/sports/Australian-Open. Accessed 30 January 2022.
Rodney Heath: https://www.db4tennis.com/players/male/rodney-heath