As a young boy growing up, watching the Australian Open with a keen eye and a passionate interest grew larger since idolising the likes of Roger Federer. The Rafael Nadal v Fernando Verdasco five-set semi-final classic back in 2009 made me appreciate and admire the game to this day.
That’s why when an opportunity arose to gain media accreditation to cover the Australian Open for The First Serve, I didn’t have to think twice.
Previously I have attended many day and night sessions at Melbourne Park, but walking through the gates this time, it had a different feeling about it.
The first week of qualifying was my chance to explore the grounds and behind-the-scenes access at the Tennis Headquarters which I was fortunate enough to have the privilege of discovering.
Walking into the media rooms and listening to commentary from outlets such as Channel Nine and overseas pundits was the first time I had to pinch myself and ask if it was all a dream.
As far as highlights go for the qualifying rounds, John Millman’s last professional win can’t be overlooked. An incredible servant to Australian tennis, the former US Open quarter-finalist was generous enough to stay back at least 20 minutes to take photos with fans and sign autographs just outside Show Court 3.
Two days prior to the tournament commencing, the top players made their way into the main room of the press conference one by one throughout the day. I knew there were going to be nerves attached, but that expectation didn’t stop me from becoming star-struck.
From Ajla Tomljanovic to Alex De Minaur to Jannik Sinner - those nerves began to settle as I started to become more relaxed with experience and begin to realise that I belonged.
The tennis produced over the next fortnight was entertaining at its finest, but what struck me most was the vibrant and colourful atmosphere from locals and tourists. “CHI-CHI-CHI LE-LE-LE” and “OLE OLE OLE OLE SINNER…SINNER” are just a couple of chants that echoed right around the grounds that gave me goosebumps.
How can the topic of atmosphere be brought up without any mention of John Cain Arena? Known as ‘the people’s court,’ Thanasi Kokkinakis’ thrilling five-set victory in the first round against Sebastian Ofner was up there with some of the epic atmospheres involving Australia’s own Nick Kyrgios performed in the same stadium. The place was absolutely rocking beyond belief.
Blessed with the benefit of watching every single game of my choosing for free and ‘flexing’ my media pass to sit in the media box to replace a spectator, I had a sense of guilt attached. But at the same time, I knew that I had rightfully earned that position and was there to do a job.
A few text messages from the Media Centre informed me of one-on-one interview opportunities with the likes of James Duckworth, Kimberly Birrell, and Sebastian Korda. Walking up to the complex felt like a five-star experience from the interview rooms to the interview terrace where the flashy cameras were set up on the balcony with the major networks broadcasting from around the world.
Whilst on the couch waiting to conduct my interviews, world No.5 Andrey Rublev strutted out of the elevator wearing a puffy tracksuit and vintage shades - fulfilling a rockstar vibe. I could do nothing at that moment but shake my head in disbelief that a player of his calibre was inches away from me.
Asking a question to Novak Djokovic, Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz, Coco Gauff, and Aryna Sabalenka felt incredibly surreal and took me some time to let it sink in that some of the best tennis players in the world were directly talking to me and making eye contact.
Then there are the memorable matches at the famous Rod Laver Arena with some of the best seats in the house that I will never forget. Whether it be Sinner dethroning Djokovic, Medvedev coming back from the brink twice from two sets down, Rybakina and Blinkova’s insane 22-20 tiebreak, Sabalenka going back-to-back at the AO, or Sinner dropping to the floor after this first major title - it’s those moments that make tennis such a unique sport.
Writing reports and features flat out in the middle of watching games made me appreciate the brilliant work of countless top journalists who have very little (if not any) time to relax. To rub shoulders with some of the best and most renowned journalists that I have been following for years only fuelled me with further motivation to one day reach their level.
These past three weeks, I’ve learned first-hand behind the scenes that journalism is incredibly tough and tiring, but I also learned that it’s a role that is made for me.
Officially run down with nothing more left to give, I can honestly say that I soaked it all in and grasped the opportunity with both hands in a tournament that will live with me forever.
Thank you to Brett Phillips, Sports Entertainment Network, The First Serve, and our dedicated readers for making January truly unforgettable.