Editorial: Pure sporting theatre
It's late January, and in the sporting world that means only one thing - the Australian Open in Melbourne.
An ever-increasing stream of Kiwis, many from this province, wend their way across the Tasman at this time of year to savour the delights of Victoria's capital and watch the world's best tennis players do battle.
The first Grand Slam event of the year - the others being the French Open in Paris, Wimbledon in London and the US Open in New York - has a long history.
First held in 1905, when it was called the Australasian Championships, the tournament has been staged in five Australian and, interestingly, two New Zealand cities. In 1906 it took place in Christchurch, where it was won by New Zealander Anthony Wilding from a small field of 10 players - only two Australians being in attendance - and then in Hastings in 1912. It was also staged in Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and, of course, Melbourne.
In 1927 it became the Australian championships. Then, in 1969, it was renamed the Australian Open, with professionals finally allowed to compete.
In 1972 it was decided to hold the event at the same venue each year, the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club in Melbourne, but soon demand for tickets outgrew capacity, and in 1988 the Open was moved to its current venue, Melbourne Park (formerly Flinders Park). For the first time, the players battled it out on an artificial surface, after playing on grass since 1905.
The required travel, inconvenient dates and lower prizemoney initially deterred some of the world's premier players from attending, but not for long.
The women's singles was first contested in 1922 and, like the men, became an open championship in 1969.
Now, in the modern era, a string of millionaire gladiators brings this ultimate reality show to life. The athleticism and skill of such superb tennis players as Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Ferrer, Tsonga, the Williams sisters, Azarenka, Wozniacki and Sharapova - to name just a few - are astonishing.
Tennis might not be everyone's game of choice - some matches last longer than a Twenty20 cricket match, the grunting can become very tedious, and there are rarely any Kiwis at the business end of proceedings - but if you are looking for sporting theatre to stimulate the senses, tune in to the Open.
The Marlborough Express