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Australian Open Organizers Hope the Drama Stays on the Court

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Craig Tiley doesn’t sleep much. It’s a habit he picked up during three years of army training in his native South Africa.

But as chief executive of Tennis Australia and tournament director for the Australian Open, which begins Sunday at Melbourne Park, since 2006, Tiley finds that slumber is overrated and inconvenient.

“Perhaps I get that sense of fear of missing out,” said Tiley, who was the tennis coach for the University of Illinois team that went 32-0 in 2003. “I at all times need to be up and around, especially while you’re under pressure.”

There was no shortage of adverse situations for Tiley and the Australian Open during the last several years. Often lauded because the completely satisfied slam by players and spectators, the open, which has had memorable tennis over time, as when Serena Williams won a three-set battle along with her sister Venus in 2003, has taken hits which have threatened the relaxed atmosphere and the tournament itself.

“Unfortunately, the tournament’s been affected by some very bad luck the previous couple of years, said Rennae Stubbs, a Sydney native and former world No. 1 doubles player who’s now a television commentator. “It’s been a little bit of a disaster, and all of it completely out of the tournament’s control.”

Three years ago, wildfires filled the skies over Melbourne with smoke so thick that play was hindered and the tournament almost postponed. A yr later, Covid-19 restrictions were so stringent that players were forced to quarantine in hotels, many unable to practice until days before the beginning of play. And last yr an unvaccinated Novak Djokovic was deported before he ever got to hit a ball.

The acute heat of the Australian summer is nothing latest and has disrupted play up to now, as within the 110-degree temperatures that had players wilting in 2014. That yr, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Caroline Wozniacki complained that their sneakers and water bottles were melting into the hard court. One player, Peng Shuai, vomited on court and one other, Frank Dancevic, fainted.

In 2018, Simona Halep spent 4 hours receiving intravenous fluids at a Melbourne hospital after she lost an almost three-hour, three-set final to Wozniacki within the sweltering heat.

Djokovic accused the game of not caring enough concerning the health of players. The tournament then updated its excessive heat policy that takes into consideration on-court temperatures, the strength of the sun, air temperature within the shade, relative humidity and wind speed. If certain thresholds are met, matches may be suspended and the roofs closed on the foremost show courts.

The extreme heat helped spawn the 2020 fires. Some were so near Melbourne that tournament officials considered postponing play due to thick smoke and poor air quality.

Also that yr, there have been protests on the tournament, including by the tennis greats Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe over Margaret Court, the previous Australian player, after she accepted an invite to return to Melbourne Park to have fun the fiftieth anniversary of her winning all 4 majors, called the Grand Slam, in 1970. The park’s secondary stadium was named after her in 2003.

Court, who holds the record for winning probably the most major singles titles with 24, is now a Pentecostal pastor in Perth and created a divide in her homeland due to her opposition to gay marriage. The tournament went ahead with its celebration of Court, but didn’t give her a microphone to talk to the group.

“Whenever you get a stadium named after you, you have got to know that people who find themselves walking through those doors could also be gay, and insulting those people is completely unacceptable,” Stubbs said. “You’re essentially an envoy for our sport and for our country. You’ll be able to think what you want but just don’t say it.”

The open signals the official start of a latest season, which is certainly one of the explanations players adore it. Players are wanting to exhibit latest strokes, latest coaches, altered bodies from hours spent within the gym through the tours’ transient off-season and latest sponsored tennis clothing.

“Everyone’s coming from cold climates to the sun of the Southern Hemisphere,” said Mark Woodforde, who captured 12 doubles major titles, 11 of them with fellow Australian Todd Woodbridge. “They’ve had their holidays, are well rested physically and mentally, they usually’re eager and excited to be back.”

That modified in 2021 due to pandemic. Determined to carry the tournament regardless of heavy governmental restrictions, Tiley pushed back the beginning date to permit time to place players on chartered planes and have them quarantine for 2 weeks in hotels before they were allowed to compete.

Despite his efforts at making a bubble to maintain everyone protected, several people tested positive, prompting lockdowns with no break day to practice for a lot of players. Some players even improvised their exercise routines by hitting tennis balls against shuttered windows and turning beds on their sides to function backboards.

Then last yr, Djokovic created a global incident when he arrived in Melbourne unvaccinated — a breach of Australian protocols — and was deported before he was ever allowed to step foot on the court. The tournament was saved by some extraordinary on-court motion, including championships by Rafael Nadal and the hometown hero Ashleigh Barty.

“It’s an actual testament to Craig and his staff that, despite all of the obstacles with Covid, they were in a position to placed on the event the last two years while still playing by the foundations,” said Rajeev Ram, who won the 2020 Australian Open doubles tournament along with his partner, Joe Salisbury, and played for Tiley at Illinois. “It might have been easy to simply say, ‘No tournament,’ but they got creative, and the players really benefited from that.”

Another excuse the players seek advice from the open because the completely satisfied slam is due to the best way they’re treated.

“We design this event around having fun,” Tiley said. “Our whole mission and position is ‘playful premium.’”

For fans, there’s an on-site beach, dozens of restaurants and bars, a field stuffed with family activities and a water park.

Players are lured by grants to pay for his or her travel, even for junior competitors for the primary time this yr. Also they are treated to quite a lot of medical services, including a latest foot treatment area; latest performance spaces, including three gyms, a preparation/recovery center and ice baths; and an area that gives a nutrition bar and mindfulness activities. There’s also a beauty salon and on-site tax advisers.

“The environment they create is akin to the best way Aussies treat people,” Woodforde said. “The tournament doesn’t ever say no to a request. They work hard to create a stress-free environment for everybody. They need people to say, ‘Do we now have to go home?’”

Tiley said that Australians love their sport and entertainment.

“They’d select to take a position in that before the rest,” he said. “That’s a terrific attribute to have out of your fans while you’re on this business.”

In any case the tumult of the previous couple of years, Tiley is optimistic a couple of turnaround. By mid-December, he said, ticket sales for ground passes were up by greater than 30 percent compared with last yr. “We’re seeing this absolute pent-up demand for every thing.”

“Our ultimate responsibility is to deliver a world tennis championship,” Tiley added. “These tournaments in London, Paris, Recent York and, in fact, Melbourne, are massive entertainment events with multimillions in global audiences. At the top of the day, my job is to run the most effective event possible under the circumstances.”

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