Australian Open 2013 loomed another step closer on Monday, with the court lines being painted onto the freshly re-surfaced centre court at Rod Laver Arena.
The tournament is now just a fortnight away, and the top players will soon start arriving to test out the surface and groove their games on the Plexicushion ahead of their assault on the year’s first Grand Slam event.
Tournament director Craig Tiley cast a watchful eye over the line-marking process at Melbourne Park’s premier court, and said this part of the tournament preparation was a reminder of how close it was actually getting.
“We know that traditionally there are some players that come in early. Maria Sharapova always comes in early but she’s playing Brisbane this week. Andy Murray also likes to come in early. We will know in the next couple of days because we will get calls (from players) saying that this is their flight time and they’ll need cars to come and pick them up,” he explained.
“We will play it (Rod Laver Arena) in with some of the younger players first before some of the pros get here to hit on it.”
Tiley anticipates that Australian Open 2013 will be the biggest and best yet. And there’s little reason to debate that, given the record prize money, stellar field and brand new facilities that will be a feature of the upcoming tournament.
The redevelopment of Melbourne Park will see the new Eastern Plaza unveiled ahead of schedule, with pedestrian walkways between Melbourne’s major sporting venues, public gathering spaces, a multitude of indoor and outdoor practice courts and car-parking for up to 1000 vehicles.
“(Our facility is) second to none … It’s great for us to showcase this beautiful new facility, being so close to the city. It’s an iconic venue and there’s nothing like it in the world,” Tiley said.
“How we’re tracking compared to last year with our tickets sales, we’re ahead. We’ve got 25 sessions over 14 days, and it’s important to have some great weather, which we’re expecting … with some of the potential match-ups on the men’s and women’s sides and the parity now in the game, we’re going to see some exciting tennis, so we expect it to be a bigger year than in 2012.”
The excitement will continue to build as the tournament approaches, with further wildcard announcements expected to be made within the next 48 hours.
A Tennis Australia panel will determine which players will be allocated the four discretionary wildcards remaining for entry into both the men’s and women’s main draws – Tiley says the focus is generally on youth, but that good results on the Australian summer circuit could also bode well for players.
Whoever receives the prized wildcards will take their place among an impressive field of competitors, which Tiley says is the strongest of any event in the world.
“(We have the) top 100 men (sans Nadal) and the top 100 women. We go into the tournament again this year as we’ve done the last four years as having the strongest draw of any of the events. We’re fortunate that we start at the beginning of the year, so a lot of the players have had an off-season and they’re able to get themselves healthy and fit,” he said.
“We’re disappointed for Rafa – I know personally speaking to him in the last few days and the last month, he wanted nothing more that for the Australian Open to be his event to come back.
“But we’re very excited about the line-up we have. Roger Federer is coming in fit. He’d like to knock off Djokovic. Andy Murray is the most recent Grand Slam champion. Tsonga will be wanting to make a run at it. Lleyton Hewitt – will this be his last year? Does he have more legs in him? On the women’s side, Sam Stosur is waiting to make a great run, and Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, our defending champion Victoria Azarenka, any one of them (is a title candidate).
“I think we’re in for some unbelievable matches, and we’ll see it from Day 1.”