Australian Open: Game, set, Melbourne

Grant Bradley and Estelle Sarney reach centre court at the Australian Open.

At the Australian Open we got up close to admire the professionalism of Caroline Wozniacki, and were eternally grateful for the kindness of a stranger called Olga.

As part of a recently introduced walk-on experience we were within metres of Wozniacki as she warmed up at Rod Laver Arena.

The Danish star was emerging from the Walk of Champions as we were led by friendly guide Fil through another entrance on to the Plexicushion court (hand-painted True Blue
every year by a local firm) and into the heart of the cauldron, surrounded by more than 15,500 tennis fans. There’s clearly nowhere to hide on centre court, and our admiration of the players (and umpires, and other officials) rises with this fleeting sense of how intense the scrutiny is. The music’s pumping, spider cam buzzes around the players and dozens of other lenses are focused on them.

Nobody wants to blow it, including us, and all we had to do was make notes and take pictures.

We were at Wozniacki’s end — out of her line of sight as instructed by Fil — as she warmed up ahead of her clash with Magdalena Rybarikova. There was little chance of her noticing much around her. She was laser-focused, calm and clearly not giving her opponent any sign of weakness. Why would she? There’s
A$4 million at stake. We made our way up to our seats as “Time” was called. As part of the walk-on experience — which starts at $150 a person — you also get a good look at parts of the arena, usually seen only by the players and officials.

The seats had a surreal quality too. The Sky Boxes at the top of the arena — with their own private lifts — are hospitality meccas aimed at groups and corporates. Our hosts left us to it in this enormous space, with lounge comforts and a server who was generous with food and other refreshments. We had a bird’s eye view of Wozniacki dispatching her opponent in just over an hour, then saw one of the muscular greats of the men’s game, Rafael Nadal. He had to draw on deep reserves to sweat and grunt his way past Argentine Diego Schwartzman in four sets in close to four hours. We were in air-conditioned comfort, but, as is often the case at the Australian Open, it was a furnace on court. It was not quite as hot as two days earlier when the mercury hit 40C. Play can be halted when ambient heat hits that mark, but today the “wet bulb” that measures humidity was just short of the 32.5C cut-off temperature.




Checklist

GETTING THERE

Melbourne is well-served by Virgin Australia, Qantas, Air New Zealand and, now, Singapore Airlines from Wellington.

DETAILS
The Australian Open is on January 13-29, and helloworld has packages with three nights accommodation ranging from first round ($485pp), quarter-finals ($549pp) and finals ($1469pp). helloworld.co.nz
ONLINE
ausopen.com

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