Perhaps, speaking of the Australian Open is to start to remember where it all began. Where tennis originates, as a sport, and who made tennis the way we can see it today.
Tennis: the beginning
Modern tennis, as we can see it today, dates back to the second half of the 19th century. The predecessor of today’s tennis is the so-called real tennis, which was held exclusively on the premises. There was also jeu de paume, which literally translates as “playing with the palm of the hand,” a game that could be played by up to 12 people at a time. Initially, such games did not imply the use of any auxiliary objects, that is, the ball was beating off solely by hand.
Later, changes were made to similar games, and players began to use all sorts of gloves for beating, bits and batons, and finally, closer to the 16th century, the first rackets and nets for the game appeared. At the time of the emergence of rackets and nets for the game, jeu de paume had just reached the apogee of its popularity: all the self-respecting kings of that time, French, Spanish and English, played the game. In the 16th century, every French king played tennis: Francis I equipped a tennis hall on his own royal yacht, Henry II equipped a tennis hall right in the Louvre, and Charles Х said that tennis was one of the most noble, worthy and healthy ways to spend free time, and only true princes, peers, and other noble people can spend time in this way.
Nevertheless, contrary to the words of Charles Х, tennis attracted not only noble people, but also the common people. Thus, some universities began to build tennis halls, and ordinary city dwellers, because of the lack of necessary premises, played simply on the streets of the city. All this led to the fact that by 1600 the fame of tennis spread throughout all the major cities of France, and in every big city it was possible to find at least three halls for playing tennis, and in Paris itself there were more than 250 halls, not counting thousands of open courts . A funny fact: tennis has become so popular that as early as 1604, according to rough estimates, there were twice as many tennis halls as churches throughout France.
But, despite this popularity, tennis remained a game only for the elect for quite a long time, because access to such halls for ordinary people was closed, and the number of participants among the kings was always small, which did not allow this game to become a real entertainment for the people. Therefore, the game gradually began to lose its popularity, and even after a hundred years, the number of halls even in Paris itself could be counted on the fingers. And even the remaining premises were in a neglected and deplorable state. Such premises began to find another use: someone used the hall for tennis as a platform for performances of theater groups, and someone used the room as a room for a meeting of deputies. And even despite the gradual loss of interest in jeu de paume, this game, as a sport, has not ceased to exist. But it was thanks to her that tennis appeared known to us today.
From nobility to everyone
Who decided to carry tennis as a game to the masses – to date, no one can say for sure. The most common version says that this man was Walter Wingfield. According to existing information, Walter was inspired by stories about the game that all kings played, and created his own, but with slightly different rules.
Some say that in this new game it was possible to see the influence of badminton gaining popularity in those days, since the rules and tactics of the game, invented by Walter himself, were similar. This type of entertainment has received the “lawn-tennis” name.
Seeing the success of this game among the people, Wingfield decided to patent it, and begin to make a profit from it. Thus, he was the first to start selling sets of tennis balls and rackets, as well as special training books for those who wanted to learn this game. But he still could not predict and control the spread of the game and less than a year later, “lawn-tennis”began to develop rapidly in the UK and the USA, and a year later, tennis was already played all over Canada, in some regions of India, China and Russia. Therefore, just a couple of years after the patent, Walter Wingfield decided not to renew it, as there were too many competitors in the market, and it became absolutely impossible to control the further spread of the game.
But even the rules developed by Wingfield did not last long. A year later, the Marylebone Cricket Club developed a new set of rules and already in the late 70s in the suburbs under the name Wimbledon, the first tournament in lawn tennis was held, to participate in which it was only necessary to pay one pound and one shilling. The spectators, in turn, paid only one shilling per game bill. The tournament was accessible to everyone: everyone could watch the game and everyone could take part.
At the same time, the first prizes for the winners appeared, which included a cash reward and a Silver Cup. A little later, a lot of women’s tournaments, mixed tournaments and men’s paired tournaments were also held. So, closer to 1890, the so-called Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) appeared, which created a whole set of new rules of the game, some of which are used even today. Thanks to this association, about 80 tournaments were approved over the course of ten years.
Australia also did not stand aside. As in the case of other countries, tennis quickly gained popularity, but the first tournament took place only in 1905. The Australian Open Tennis Championships or Australian open, which is known to everyone today, was originally called just the “Australasian Championship”, the first organized by the Melbourne Club “Melbourne Cricket Club”. 17 tennis players took part in this match, and there were more than five thousand spectators.
After the war, women also joined the championship. The first champion was a woman from Australia – Margaret Molesworth. This was the impetus for holding championships in tennis in all five categories. In 1927, after New Zealand gained independent membership in the ILTF in 1923, the tournament was named the Australian Championship. Since 1930, singles began to be held among boys and girls (up to 19 years old), and double digits (except for mixed) in this category – from 1983. The first winner among girls was Australian Emily Hood, who won the adult doubles in the same year, and in 1939 became the women’s champion in singles.
In 1972, Australian Ken Rosewall became the winner of the championship for the fourth time, after having chosen his first title 19 years earlier (1953). Roswall is both the youngest (18 years 79 days) and the oldest (37 years 76 days) champion in singles. From the same year, the beginning of the championship was postponed to the last days of December and the athletes had to celebrate Christmas and the new year far from home.
This circumstance led to the fact that many leading players, earning enough on tournaments in Europe and the USA, allowed themselves to miss it. So the American Chris Evert at the peak of her career ignored him 6 times in a row, Czech Martina Navratilova – 4 times, Czech Jan Kodesh never ordered a ticket to a remote continent, Swede Bjorn Borg flew in (at 18) only once – in 1974, American Jimmy Connors twice – in the years 1974-1975. As a result, the winners of the Australian Open were players who could not claim victory in any other major event. For example, in 1976, when Australian Mark Edmondson became a champion, his position in the rating was only 212.
Since the prize fund of the Australian Open was and is still small, therefore, due to poor financial incentives, the following years, the players came less and less, and the organizers had to attract many new sponsors to increase the prize fund. The sale of TV rights has also become a serious source of funds for increasing the prize pool. Television national broadcasts began in 1973, and the first international broadcast (in the United States) was conducted by the American sports channel ESPN. In the end, the organizers took into account the wishes of the players regarding the timing, and since 1982 the beginning of the tournament was postponed to the end of November.
However, the holding of the championship at the very end of the season, when the players accumulated considerable fatigue, again did not contribute to its popularity. Therefore, starting from 1987, the Australian Open began to be held in the second half of January: to begin on the second or third Monday at the rate of its completion on the last Sunday of January. However, again, the dates are still not very comfortable, since this period in Australia is the hottest.
Australian open tennis: today
Today in Australia and France, as well as in some other countries, in some North American states, tennis lessons are included in the compulsory school curriculum. Gifted children study at tennis academies, the most famous of which is Nick Bollettieri in Florida. It was this school that opened the way to professional tennis for such world stars as Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and Anna Kournikova.
The season of a professional tennis player continues throughout the year. All competitions are held according to the calendar, which includes competitions of various categories, depending on the size of the prize fund. By participating in tournaments, the athlete receives a cash reward, as well as points that allow him to move up in the world rankings. Depending on the number of points scored per season, tennis players assign seats in the title race, which starts all over again every year. At the end of the year, the top eight, according to the rating of tennis players, play the Masters Cup among themselves.
Most modern tennis players love the Australian Open and, above all, for the friendly atmosphere that prevails on it. Almost everyone lives in the same hotel “AccorHotel”. In most other tournaments, players meet with their rivals only on the courts, but in Melbourne, they see each day at breakfast, and during periods not associated with tennis, they repeatedly intersect and communicate with one another respectively. When there is free time and the participants can take an active holiday, many try themselves as surfers or golfers. In the evenings, most often visit the cinema or restaurant. You can often see photos of tennis stars with exotic animals from Australia’s oldest Melbourne zoo.
Among the winners of the Australian Open over the past nearly a hundred years, of course, there are only the best of the best. These include the famous tennis players Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and Andre Agassi. By the way, it is worth noting that the last mentioned player, Andre Agassi, is perhaps one of the few who has never been to Australia in the early stages of his career. He first visited here only during the Australian Open tournament and immediately won it, becoming a champion. In subsequent years, it was in Australia that Agassi was able to get the most of all his achievements and titles.
Not without women champions. In the 60s, one of the strongest and most prominent tennis players was Margaret Court, who set a record, winning seven Australian championships in a row. And the total amount of victories reached 11.
Today, as before, tennis players show incredible results and a passionate game, which even those who watch the game for the first time in their lives will like to watch. Competitions are held every year and every year there are more and more achievements, which is only one thing: tennis continues to develop and participants of the Australian open tournaments will repeatedly show us excellent results on the court.