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Tennis, Southern Style, That’s Waaaaay South

December 16, 2011

For  those die-hard tennis aficionados who love to play and watch all year long – especially those living in Canada, the Midwest or Northeast USA during the winter months and are frozen out of their local outdoor courts, craving, a “summer break” in January,  I have a 40-love option for you.

Now, you all know that I’m a beach and sun nut, but I’m also  a died-in-the-wool tennis freak –  player, fan and groupie.

Coupled with the fact that I worked at a major international airline, I had the unique opportunity to play  tennis on many different courts with many different surfaces all around the world.    On top of that,  I was lucky enough to see, on many occasions,  the two major European grand slams, Wimbledon and Roland Garros.

And living in the New York area over the past four decades permitted me to to attend scores of grand slam matches at New York’s Flushing Meadows (and previously Forest Hills).

However for years, I dreamt about going to Australia to see the grand slam at Melbourne, but it was always bad timing and it’s such a long journey from the USA.  Work-wise, it was never a good time to go –  I never did make it to the previous site – the grass courts of Kooyong Park.

But in 2009, my dream came true and I finally made it to  the Australian Open at the new Melbourne Park.

It’s tennis  – not the Caribbean, Florida or the Gulf Coast, but in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.  That’s real south – Southern Hemisphere style.

No, the ball doesn’t spin in the opposite direction or take weird bounces because it’s down-under on the other side of the world.  And the balls don’t fly off  the racquet in some opposite fashion or up-side down, if there is such a thing with a round ball.  Melbourne is at sea level so you don’t require special, slightly heavier balls like if you play in Denver, Mexico City, Bogota or other high altitude tennis locales.

(Yes Virginia, there really are tennis balls made for high altitude locations, but that’s another story.)

The two-week Australian Open, also known as “The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific” and coming up in a month’s time (last two weeks of January), is played at Melbourne Park (formerly Flinder’s Park),  just a stone’s throw from downtown.

The facility boasts three show courts – the Rod Laver Arena (#1 court), the Hisense Arena (#2 court) – both have retractable roofs – and the Margaret Court Arena (#3 court).  A retractable roof is slated to be built in the near future over the Margaret Court arena.  The surface on all courts is a cushioned, medium-paced, acrylic surface called Plexicushion Prestige.

The Rod Laver Arena, the main show court with 14,820 seats and moveable roof to spite the rain, is also used,  would you believe – in case of extreme heat.  To avoid southern-fried tennis, they close the roof and turn on the air conditioning.  Then it’s totally cool!  They do the same with the #2 Hisense Arena.

This year’s – rather the 2012 tournament – starts on Monday, January 16, and if all goes to schedule, the woman’s single final is on Saturday, January 28th, and the men’s singles final is Sunday, January 29th.

There is television coverage here in the USA on the Tennis Channel, but since there’s a 16 to 19 hour  time difference between Melbourne and wherever you’re watching in the Continental USA, it’s often quite inconvenient to wake at odd hours of the morning and flip on the TV.

But for us die-hard tennis fans, the best way to enjoy and take in the fullness of this marvelous tennis event is to “be there!”

Now I know a lot of people can’t get away in January – just after taking time off from the variety of December and New Year’s holidays.  And they traditionally save their time for their summer or year-end holidays, but for the serious tennis fan, I urge you to once and for all,  go down-under for some great tennis and good fun.

Planning is a must, since Australia is no quick jump “across the pond.”  It’s a good 15 hours non-stop from Los Angeles, and even 16 plus hours from the USA west coast if you stop and connect through Honolulu.

Los Angeles has the most daily flights from the USA with at least half a dozen departures each day.   Most flights from Los Angeles go to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, depending on the airline of choice.

Once you have your flights booked and ticketed, you’ll need a place to bed down (under).  All the major global hotel chains have great properties in downtown Melbourne, very close to the tennis center.  By visiting Australia.com, a variety of hotel properties and accommodations will become obvious, all ranging from bed and breakfast to magnificent five-star properties.

Of course the next most important decision, once you’ve decided to go, is timing and when and how to obtain tickets for the matches.

Like the other grand slams, the early rounds during the first week week are pretty much a snap for ground passes.  Just go to the park, queue up on the day, and you’ll get in for the day, and probably see some top-notch matches featuring some of the world’s class players.

The second week is always more difficult, and to help secure tickets in advance for anytime during the fortnight, there is Steve Furgal’s International Tennis Tours.  Based in San Diego, Steve Furgal is the official tour operator in North America for the Australian Open.  He offers complete all inclusive tours to the Open, and has match tickets all throughout the two weeks.  He’s been in the business of selling tours to tennis events for 36 years years, and all his information is obtainable by visiting his site, Tours4Tennis, or by calling toll-free at 1 800 258-3664.

Now while you’re enjoying the ambiance of Melbourne Park, and especially during the breaks or down times,  there is plenty to to see, eat and tour throughout the tennis complex.  Even walking around or waiting in queues, you’re liable to run into the most unlikely sights – like people dressed in giant kangaroo or koala costumes posing for the cameras, groupies wearing really strange costumes and wigs, musicians playing the didgeridoo in concert – and, of course, the usual multitude of concessions and shops selling souvenirs of the tennis tournament.  I don’t have to tell you about the gaggle of people hawking stuff at the grand slams; it’s just everywhere!

But it is fun, and there’s some pride, about wearing a  Australian Open T-shirt at the any of the big tournaments in the USA or Europe – you’re a true grand slam fan!

Then there’s the excitement of Melbourne, Australia’s number two city.   Melbourne is an ultra-modern metropolis where most every major global company has a base or regional office.

It has nearby a significant wine growing region and exports many world famous vintages to restaurants, markets and wine-purveyors all over the world.

There  also are wonderful vestiges of Melbourne’s past – the tram cars, the Queen Victoria Market, Flinders Street Station, the Old Melbourne Gaol and numerous museums.  Luna Park, an old-fashion amusement park, St. Kilda’s Beach and walks or bicycling  aside the Yarra River also are great diversions when not at the tennis.

Modern Melbourne has wonderful department stores and boutiques and a variety of fabulous restaurants offering every imaginable cuisine from Australia, Southeast Asia, Japan, China and the rest of the world.  World famous chefs such as Neil Perry, Bill Grainger, Luke Mangan,  Christine Mansfield, and Jamie Oliver have established culinary beach heads in Melbourne.

For night life, there is an array of night clubs, concerts and theater, and in fact, a huge Chinese New Year’s Festival starts Jan. 23.  The Australian national holiday -Australia Day – is Jan. 26th, so there is plenty happening around that activity.

So there is a lot to experience in Melbourne once you’ve seen the matches.  And if you have more time to spend down under, your next stop should most assuredly be Sydney.

Sydney is one of the most spectacular cities in the world, nestled on to a series of inlets and coves, with one of the most beautiful harbors anywhere.  The city, founded in January 1788,  is the major gateway city of  Australia.  But I’ll save Sydney for another day – for you that have been to Sydney, you know its charm and beauty.

Anyway focusing on Melbourne’s  accessibility, you can get there by air from all major Australian  cities.   Trains aren’t as plentiful as  in Europe, but highways and motorways connect up and down the Aussie East Coast.  The country is almost as big as the USA so driving east-west from coast to coast takes several days;  save time and fly.  Time is extremely valuable when visiting from the USA ; you’ll probably use up at least  three days in total roundtrip travel time just getting there and back.  Remember going to Australia over the Pacific, you cross the International Date Line.

Also you (USA passport holders) need a leisure/tourist or business visa to visit Australia;  it can be done electronically via your computer in about 24 hours, so keep this in mind and don’t forget this simple, but necessary step.  Obtaining the visa is quite easy – just visit http://www.eta.immi.gov.au. and comply with the simple instructions.  The cost of a tourist visa is about US$20.

Now you ultra-loyal tennis fans – better get moving and plan your tennis down-under adventure.  The Australian Open runs from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29th, and 2012 is literally right around the  corner.  It’s a proverbial hike to Australia, but I guarantee, you’ll love every second.  And the Australian people are all terrific – real mates!

GETTING TO AUSTRALIA
From the USA over the Pacific, the major carrier is Qantas, and they operate daily departures from Los Angeles,  JFK, New York (change of aircraft at LAX) and six per week non-stop between Dallas-Fort Worth and Sydney.

Qantas operates the newest jumbo, the Airbus A380 between LAX and Melbourne, as well as between LAX and Sydney.  Their A380 is by far the roomiest and most comfortable aircraft of all.

Other airlines operating daily non-stop flights between Los Angeles and Australia are United, Delta and Virgin Australia.  Hawaiian operates daily via connecting flights at Honolulu.  Australia also is reachable via Air New Zealand via Auckland, Air Pacific through Fiji and Air Tahiti Nui, through Papeete.

If you’re flying eastbound to Australia, but first have to stop in London, British Airways is the best bet via their glamourous Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.  Most other major European and Mid-East carriers connect through their main hubs to Sydney as well.

FOR A WIDE RIDE, TRY THE A380
A grand thrill is awaiting road warriors or airplane techies who rarely travel on anything bigger than a B757 or A320, Qantas offers the giant A380 on many of the flights to Melbourne or Sydney from Los Angeles.  The A380 is the behemoth of the skies – a double deck  stretching the entire length of this flying machine.

With a grand staircase at the front, and a spiral staircase at the rear,  it carries 450 passengers in a four-class configuration: 14 First, 72 Business, 32 premium economy and 332 economy.

If you’re seated on the upper deck, it’s incredibly quiet as you’re very high above the engines.  The First and Business sections have wide seats that convert to fully flat beds, while the new premium economy has a 38 to 42 inch pitch (depending on location in the plane).  And the premium economy is priced closer to the economy price point rather than the more costly business level.

All of Qantas’ information including schedules, aircraft types, pricing and tours, is available at Qantas.com.

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4 Comments
  1. If you want a bit of Australia and you’re in New York City between now and Jan. 1st, I urge to see Hugh Jackman’s one-man show on Broadway. He is positively brilliant and the show is stunning – he is so incredibly talented! Tickets are probably scarce so act quickly – you won’t regret it!

  2. Alice Marshall permalink

    I second that. You will want to go to Australia immediately.
    I was able to get a ticket the other day … for a matinee. Worth playing hooky for.

  3. I savor, cause I found exactly what I used to be looking for.
    You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

  4. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this web site before but after going through many of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m certainly pleased I stumbled upon it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!

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