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Opinion

What the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry has cost Australian tennis fans and players

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Roar Guru
15th January, 2020
20

There is only one Australian Open tennis tournament: it’s in Melbourne and starts on Monday, 20 January, with qualifying already underway.

It has not always been staged in Melbourne. The tournament rotated around the states and even New Zealand when it was known as the Australasian Championships.

The Open was last held in Sydney at White City in January 1971.

Since then it has been held in Melbourne, its success and popularity ebbing and flowing until it nearly withered on the vine in the early 1980s after being rescheduled in 1977 to be the last grand slam of the year instead of the first.

After becoming the victim of Melbourne’s indifferent weather in November and December during that time, with several tournaments severely disrupted by rain, it warranted a move back to the January date in 1987.

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Along with the huge undertaking of the Flinders/Melbourne Park stadium development, opened in 1988, the new date and venue set in motion the avalanche of momentum that has created the hugely successful and internationally envious event that it is today. The event is consistently voted the players’ favourite.

This international spotlight must have never sat well with the powers in Sydney, especially after the ‘best Olympics ever’ started to become a fading memory, as did the shine of the venues that housed them.

Although Sydney jumped at the chance to stage its Sydney International tournament in the week prior to the Australian Open at an Olympic venue, the tournament was fading in crowd numbers, prestige and the ability to attract any of the big four to put bums on seats.

The likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, along with many other players, preferred to use the week prior to the Australian Open to just freshen up and practice if they had already played their Australian summer ‘warm-up’ either in Brisbane, Perth or even the Middle East.

Roger Federer prepares to serve

(Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Sydney obviously desired its time back in the spotlight with a tennis event to rival the final of the Australian Open in prestige and world attention. Enter the ATP Cup.

Last Sunday’s ATP Cup final from a fan perspective was all of that – and maybe even more if you were a Serbian supporter. Even the Australian and Great Britain quarter-final will take some beating for edge-of-your-seat experiences this summer.

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But at what cost has this quasi-Australian Open rival tournament in Sydney come?

Well, the first in line will be the WTA players telling you of the second-fiddle scheduling they received at the Brisbane tournament. Unless the format changes there those players will be lost to Auckland in 2021.

The second group of losers was the mid-ranked ATP players missing the opportunity to gain ranking points and match practice ahead of the Australian Open that they previously did in Brisbane and Sydney. It is not fair on an upcoming Australian player to be bumped out of the Canberra/Bendigo Challenger by pros ranked as high as 53. They had nowhere else to play.

The biggest losers from all this are probably the West Australian fans. They had their protest of losing their beloved and hugely successful Hopman Cup, hushed by the teaser of having the world No. 1 Rafael Nadal as a replacement.

While on paper that may have seemed like an acceptable trade, without solid competition for him to make it a close match it is like expecting fans to pay $150 to watch the West Coast Eagles play a local Auskick team. While Perth may have had some quality players to attract fans, quality matches to create atmosphere were scarce.

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Much has already been written regarding the players lamenting the ATP Cup and that two world cups should not be staged so close together on the calendar.

The Davis Cup has existed amongst great tradition and prestige since 1900, so why was it tampered with?

The Australian summer tennis calendar was not broken in 2019. So who and why did someone try to fix it? Because it’s certainly broken now.