A rich tennis tradition in Australia
Really, it’s not just us asking the question. Christopher Clarey, from the venerable New York Times, explained at the start of the 2015 season that the ascension of a few Aussie youngsters hints at “signs of Austalian tennis revival.” The current crop of Aussie men has regressed a little bit in the months following Clarey’s article, but the point remains.
Bernard Tomic, Nick Kyrgios, Sam Groth, Thanasi Kokkinakis and the likes have stepped up and followed in the footsteps of Lleyton Hewitt, Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis. This is now but we ask, again: is Australian tennis back?
Could the country see a homegrown champion lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in Melbourne this upcoming January?
Well okay, that won’t happen because Novak Djokovic is healthy and all-powerful, and because if it’s somehow not the Djoker who emerges victorious, there are about a dozen other players on the ATP World Tour with likely better odds than the Aussie players.
But still, Australian tennis could be back without necessarily winning the Australian Open on home soil. The answer to that question lies in finding out where Australian tennis once was. Let’s run through a bit of the country’s history.
The Australian Open, compared to the other three majors, was created “only” in 1905 and stands as the youngest of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Australia, therefore, waited a little bit longer for its golden age of tennis, which arrived in the 1960s on the men’s side. Here, we suppose, is where we should say something about the fact that the Open era didn’t start until 1968, at which point professional players could at long last compete against amateurs at the Grand Slam events.
But whatever. In the years prior to 1968, everyone played by the same set of rules on their way to major titles—including John Newcombe (7), Ken Rosewall (8), Roy Emerson (12). Rod Laver, meanwhile, stands out as one of tennis’s very best because he managed to win five of his 11 majors after 1968 and in the Open era.
On the women’s side, meanwhile, Margaret Court amassed 24 majors between 1960 and 1973. (We can’t say for sure that a tennis court is called that in honour of Court, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it was. HA!)
The golden age of Australian tennis begat a much more modest era: following Newcombe’s final win in Australia in 1975, the country had to wait until 1987 to see another man emerge as a major champion, when Pat Cash won in Wimbledon. Australian women, for their part, haven’t won a Grand Slam event of any kind since Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s seventh and final win in 1980, this one in Wimbledon.
It’s not a coincidence that the slim pickings forced Australia into moving the Open from the end of the season in December to its very start in January; players like John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg had skipped the event and by 1980, there was talk that maybe tennis should only have three Grand Slams.
The tournament has been held then and there ever since. And you could go see it on your own if you’d like.
Tennis & Travels is a new column that applauds the readers who do decide to combine business with pleasure. Because life is short, and you should travel and play tennis—maybe even do both at once.
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