Unlike the traditionalist culture of Wimbledon where change is almost near impossible, the Australian Open is known for the complete opposite and has fully embraced transformation in a bid to remain modern.
Whether it be a design alternation for the ‘serving man’ logo or redevelopments around Melbourne Park, the first Grand Slam of the year is the ‘Happy Slam’ for a reason.
Love him or loathe him, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley continues to work exceptionally hard to create an engaging and vibrant environment for fans to enjoy the full experience at a world-class precinct.
2024 has witnessed multiple new changes that haven’t been overly fundamental, but enough to cause an evolution to the point where it ultimately divided opinion amongst the tennis public.
Melbournians are familiar with the weather’s unpredictability to the point where four seasons can be experienced in one day. Last January, massive rain delays in the early rounds provided tournament organisers a headache to reschedule matches.
Tennis Australia announced at the beginning of October that the event would commence on a Sunday in a historic first, accommodating an extra day of play.
Following in the French Open’s footsteps, this change was arguably the most successful and well-received to provide fans an opportunity to attend first round matches on a weekend.
However, it was also adopted to ease the order of play and scheduling conundrums.
In a bid to lower the load on night matches running into ridiculous times in the early hours of the morning, it still hasn’t quite fixed that particular dilemma. Daniil Medvedev’s match against Emil Ruusuvvuori ended at 3:39am as well as Jannik Sinner-Andrey Rublev and Carlos Alcaraz-Alexander Zverev finishing up at almost 1:30am.
Instead of three matches scheduled during the day session on the main courts, there were two matches in each session - the first commencing at 12pm as opposed to 11am on Rod Laver Arena.
We’ve learnt that no matter the changes made to scheduling, organisers will never get it right.
In a bizarre decision, a legends doubles match was the opening match on Centre Court at 11am before the first women’s quarter-final started after 1pm.
Fast forward eight hours later, and the night session would finally begin after a two-hour delay.
Crazy scenes were captured during the Novak Djokovic and Taylor Fritz encounter as thousands of people were forced to wait outside the doors of Rod Laver Arena to gain access for the night session.
Tennis is a sport that can produce uncontrollable circumstances, but too often, it’s scheduling organisers who always find a way to mess up the controllable.
Controversy erupted around the new rule introduced whereby fans are now allowed entry after each game rather than every change of ends.
Australian world No.44 Jordan Thompson found this out the hard way, as he was left completely unaware of the change when fans walked in at the start of his service game against Aleksandar Vukic.
A frustrated Thompson told the chair umpire that “this is the wokest tournament ever!” and during his post-match press conference said, “We don’t come in and storm into an office while someone is in a meeting.”
Tiley defended the move in an interview with Today.
“I think it’s really important to note there have been no rule change,” he told Nine’s Today.
“What we have done is we have tried to get fans into their seats quicker because the worst situation you can have as a fan is when you’re waiting outside the stadium for three games or five games, you could be waiting up to 30 minutes before you get in, and we don’t want that for the fans either.”
Speaking of controversy, the introduction of the new Courtside Bar located on Court 6 has divided opinion like never before.
Arthur Rinderknech, who lost in five sets in the first round on the same court, was far from impressed having to play in front of a few drunken fans and a rowdy crowd, describing it as “playing in a nightclub.”
Perhaps convincing the older generation to understand these decisions may be a stretch too far. Having been so used to a certain routine for a large portion of their careers, you can understand their perspective.
However, the old saying rings true that the customer is always right. The Australian Open has done remarkably well to adhere to the needs and wants of the fans who are pivotal to the sport’s success.
As long as fans remain respectful (which can never be fully policed) and understand the context of certain situations, they pay for their tickets to enjoy a spectacle.
So, have these changes resulted in a success or a failure?
If crowd numbers streaming through the gates are anything to go by, tournament organisers will be beaming with a big smile and counting the money in their thousands.
The goal before this month’s Grand Slam kicked off was to eclipse the crowd attendance record set last year of 839,192.
Day 1 was an indication of what was to come, with 87,705 fans attending on the first Sunday start - almost a 10,000 increase compared to the Monday commencement in 2023.
Including the first week of qualifying, 929,995 people have made their presence felt at Melbourne Park to break the record by over 27,000.
As new generations sweep the sport, the Australian Open’s main priority has always ensured to keep up with the modern times and adapt accordingly.
To satisfy everyone’s demands is impracticable, but in terms of the record numbers and the quality of tennis that has been produced over the course of the three weeks suggest that the tournament is doing something right.