January spells the start of a new year and it ushers in the core part of Australian summer. Most importantly though, it marks one of my favourite times of the year. It’s the month of the Australian Open.
While Wimbledon is my favourite all round tournament. You can’t beat the atmosphere and chance to watch live Grand Slam tennis in your home city. I’ve watched the Aussie Open every year since I’ve arrived in 2015, and each year I’ve learned a few things about how to improve my experience at the Open. If you’re a newcomer or want to know how or where to catch all the action, read on!
Part A: Going to Melbourne Park
1. Grounds Pass
The Australian Open takes place in Melbourne Park over 2 weeks. This year it’s January 15th – 28th. Depending on what/who you’re trying to see, your strategy will be very different. If you’re a casual fan who wants to catch some tennis… any tennis really.. and you don’t care who you watch, you’ll probably want a grounds pass. In the last two years, ticket prices have skyrocketed, but the grounds pass remains the most affordable way to catch some tennis and soak up the atmosphere. It will set you back $59 + booking fees. The grounds pass gives you access to all the outside courts as well as Hisense arena. There is a lot less sun protected areas on the outside courts so bring a hat and lots of sunscreen (yes even on the cloudy days).
Hisense is the biggest show court that doesn’t require a separate ticket (although now you can buy reserved seating outside of ground’s passes). Seating is general admission so you must queue up to grab seats. You can also choose to stay from session to session. The biggest matches should be at night time. Hisense has a wider more box like seating arrangement so some of the seats are not as well placed. Lower section behind the players is my preferred spot (e.g. TV angle).
The reserved seating will buy you direct behind the player seats and in my opinion, is one of the biggest gouges in the past few years. I’m really disappointed in the Aussie Open organizers for pulling this one off.
Recommendation: Buy before the start of the tournament (Jan 15th) to avoid paying $5 more. The first four days tend to be the best days and I don’t consider buying second week ground pass to be worth it. Buy your tickets together with friends/with other tickets to reduce booking fees.
2. Margaret court
Previously show court 2, Margaret court got a makeover several years ago with revamped seats and a covered roof. The result? They charge you a seperate ticket for the arena! But at least you can have a roof….?
During the first week, some of the lesser stars are often pushed onto Margaret court (and Hisense). It’s a cheaper ticket and the stadium is low and intimate. Because of the low seating, most viewing angles are all very good. It’s quite a bit cheaper than Rod Laver but you’ll never see the likes of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal play here. Andy Murray has played in Margaret court though (sorry Andy!). If you’re looking for a better guarantee to catch some bigger names, buy this during first week and you should see some top 10-20 players playing here.
Recommendation: For casual fans, you can buy before the tournament starts. For the bigger tennis fan, watch the schedule the day before and buy a ticket if you see a name you want to see.
3. Rod Laver Arena
Rod Laver Arena (RLA) is the biggest stadium in Melbourne Park and the one where all the biggest matches are played. All the round of 16 onwards matches are played on RLA and it’s the place to watch the biggest tennis stars. As mentioned earlier, ticket prices have gone up a lot recently and I would say RLA is border lining on unaffordable. That being said, if you’re willing to shell out hundreds of dollars, you can catch some eye catching quarter-final or semi-final action.
While it’s the biggest stadium it’s nowhere near as big as Arthur Ashe and because of the lower seating, there isn’t really a bad seat in the house. Even the back of the uppers is still a decent view. I do prefer the TV angle behind the players but as a second option I don’t mind the corner seats. I’ve also sat on the side but I don’t prefer it except to see the players closer. The side viewing angle also receives full on sun for most of the day, so keep that in mind.
If you’re committed to catching the big matches, you can get a multi session for the quarter-finals or semi-finals and that should secure some high end matches. They are pretty expensive and best purchased well before the tournament starts when they first start selling tickets (September/October). If you’re looking to guess when the top players might end up playing, you need to wait for the schedule to be released on the Saturday before the tournament starts. The draw occurs 3-4 days before the tournament starts and the day 1 schedule will be released a day or two before the Monday. From there, you can count the alternating days to figure out when your favourite player might be playing.
Both RLA and Margaret are split into 3 types of category tickets with category 1 tickets being the lower bowl/most expensive. There are still excellent viewing angles within category 2 and 3. I think category 4 is new and is the upper side seats.
Note: this is only useful for predicting the players that ALWAYS play on RLA. For 2018, Nadal is playing on day 1, which means his quarter-final would fall on the Tuesday if he makes it. And subsequently his semi-final could be a Thursday.
Recommendation: You save money by buying ahead but if you are hoping for a specific top 10 player, you’re best to wait to see the schedule and buy tickets the day before. It’s more risky and your player may even play during the day, so my strategy has always been to buy a session or two ahead of time (so I get to watch some good matchups regardless), and then watch the schedule for any additional matchups I might want to catch in the evenings. If you want to watch the player and don’t care about matchups, first week is a good way to go. But if you care about big matchups, buy quarters and semis.
Part B: Watching in the city
If you don’t want to shell out for tickets to the live event, fear not, Melbourne does a fantastic job of setting up pop up screens and venues to catch the action. The two biggest ones are typically at Fed Square and along the Yarra walking towards Melbourne Park. Each year it’s called something a bit different, but they always have screens, comfy chairs/bean bags, food, beer and a good atmosphere. It’s free to attend and did I mention… there’s beer? (not free). If I’m not watching at home and looking for a social environment, these are great places to watch some day or evening matches.
Other places to checkout include the Southbank/Crown side along the Yarra. There’s often pop-up bars/areas to watch some tennis there too.
Recommendations: I prefer the screens closer to the Aus Open along the Yarra but it varies each year. Fed Square is under renos so they’re moving it to a slightly different area this year. During the later stages of the tournament, they’re all packed out so arrive early!
Part C: Watching at a pub
I’m mentioning this but I don’t actually have any recommendations. Most of my time is split between live events, the city outdoor viewing areas and watching the games at home. Pretty much any pub with a TV will be showing the event on at least one of their screens.
Additional Activities and Tips:
As part of your ticket to the open, there’s often a festival/music area where people can drink, dance and enjoy live music. It seems to get bigger each year and if I wasn’t so busy watching tennis I would actually go. If you grab a 3 day grounds pass, I definitely think it’s worth checking out. It should be especially busy during the first Saturday and Sunday weekend session.
You can also bring in outside food if you don’t want to buy food from the concession inside. Queues can get quite long so it’s handy to have a sandwich or snacks to get you through some matches. Food isn’t obscenely priced but it’s still not great. You can also bring in a camera but your lens must be less than 200mm. They’re very strict on this rule.
All ticket holders enjoy free tram from the city (70 tram) to RLA (on the day of your session). It’s pretty busy so I generally prefer walking. It’s a nice touch though by the organizers.
With the tournament just a day away, I’m super excited to see how this tournament develops. Will Roger defend his title? Will one of the youngsters make a lot of noise this tournament? How will Djokovic feel coming back?
We’ll start having answers this Monday… Enjoy the first slam of the year and maybe I’ll see you there!
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