This article was written by Nicole Hunt.
There’s a new chapter beginning in Australian tennis, both on and off the court. Melbourne Park, home of the Australian open continues to have the upgrade of all upgrades with amazing new player facilities that make it one of the most advanced tournaments in the world. This week the NSW Government announced an extensive upgrade to the facilities at Sydney Olympic Park, including a roof on Ken Rosewall Arena. That will at least make it feel less like you’re being fried in an enormous concrete wok when you’re trying to sit through an inevitable Alex DeMinaur comeback in the searing western Sydney heat. That kid just doesn’t know when he’s beaten. Not only have I been a spectator out at Homebush, I’ve been on those courts for some very long days myself and believe me, the facilities are in need of a bit of help.
On court the reinvigoration of junior tennis programs over the last few years seems to be bearing fruit at the senior level. In 2019 we’ll have more Australian players in the main draw of the Australian Open than we’ve had for a very long time, with possibly a couple more after qualifying wraps up. Generally one of my rules in life is that I’ll run a mile not to have to do any maths, but I’ll go so far as to say that the more people you have in the contest, the more mathematical probability you have of winning it, right? Well it’s not just that, I mean it’s not a raffle but luck does have to go your way at times for you to win, and win enough times in a row that you’re the one who ends up hoisting up that trophy at the end of the fortnight. That Roger Federer is a really lucky guy.
The off court world’s gone all topsy turvy too with Channel 7 now broadcasting the cricket and the tennis moving to Channel 9. I still can’t pick up the remote without automatically heading to one or the other and then doing my confused face at the remote because I’m not watching the right sport. It remains to be seen how either one will fare, but as far the tennis broadcasting goes my thoughts are that it’s so far, so good. They’re cutting their teeth on the Brisbane and Sydney Internationals and then we’ll see how they go at the big one in Melbourne starting Monday.
A couple of former Aussie players in Sam Groth and Jelena Dokic have joined the commentary team and are both adding some much needed expertise to the narrative. I can’t help but wonder though why we still persist with gendered commentary. We seem to remain tied to the idea that women commentate on women’s matches and men commentate on men’s matches. I would have thought we could break this habit by now and that getting a new broadcaster was a good time to do it. No matter how many new selfies we get with GOATs Roger and Serena finally playing each other on the same court even if it is just in the name of mixed doubles (at a mixed doubles tournament that has now sadly seen its last hurrah by the way) the idea of gendered commentary goes on.
So there’s the obvious Aussie contingent to look out for next week, like Alex and Ash Barty, and John Millman with his long awaited breakthrough win over Federer at the US Open last year, but here are a couple more young players who have made the main draw from the Aussie playing ranks that you might want to keep an eye on.
Eighteen year old Destanee Aiava who was terrific at last year’s AO when she led the top seed Simona Halep in her first round match, before falling agonisingly short. This year she faces American Madison Keys in round one. Still a tough challenge.
Priscilla Hon, a twenty year old from Queensland making her second ever main draw Slam appearance and playing a qualifier, yet to be named – as is Kimberley Birrell, also a twenty year old from Queensland facing a qualifier.
Jason Kubler, also from Queensland (what’s going on up there?) who is 26 years old and a former Number One junior who was beset by knee issues since his teenage years, is back and ready to go. Six knee operations hasn’t been enough to keep him away. When it comes to sheer tenacity and determination he might have a lot to discuss with Alex Johnson of the Sydney Swans.
There’s plenty more to come at AO19 and I’m looking forward to getting into it on Monday. Right now though, spare a thought for James Duckworth, the 26yr old Sydney-ite who is drawn to play Rafa Nadal in the first round. We’re right behind you Duck.