Things are looking up Down Under. The Australian Open, once the poor cousin of the four Grand Slams, is now finally flexing its muscles.
Last year over 643,000 fans attended, more than at Wimbledon or the French Open.
And anecdotally, at least, they all seem to have a brilliant time. While Wimbledon may be the tournament that all fans dream about visiting, the Aussie Open is the one they come home from with biggest smiles on their faces.
The year’s first slam is no slouch when it comes to prize money, either. The 2015 Aussie Open is offering A$40 million in all, equating to US$34.42 million.
The other slams haven’t yet officially announced their 2015 prize money funds, but look at last year’s figures:
Wimbledon shelled out £25 million in 2014 (at today’s exchange rate that’s US$37.88 million), the French Open 23,968,900 Euros (US$27.84 million) and The US Open US$32,204,000.
The Australian Open is arguably the most important annual sports event in the southern hemisphere.
Very cannily it now calls itself ‘The Grand Slam of Asia/ Pacific’, in an attempt to attract billions of wealthy fans from across Asia.
Should an Asian player (such as Kei Nishikori) win the singles title there, Melburnians will be drowning in tourism money from the Orient.
The tournament is already a major business venture for Melbourne and for Australia as a whole. Tennis Australia estimate that the tournament earns Victoria (the state in which Melbourne is situated) A$200 million every year.
The organisers have fought hard to reach this position, however. Melbourne Park’s contract was due to expire in 2016 but, thanks to a A$1 billion upgrade (stage 1 is complete; further stages are planned), it’s safe until 2036 at least. There are now three courts with retractable roofs, more than at any other Grand Slam venue.
Crucial to the event’s long-term future are successful Australian players.
The last Australian singles players to win their nation’s Grand Slam were Mark Edmondson and Christine O’Neil in the 1970s – a shockingly long time ago.
But the current outlook for home-grown youngsters is fairly healthy.
In the men’s game, rising stars include Nick Kyrgios (career high of 50 in the world this month), Sam Groth (career high of 75 back in November), and Bernard Tomic (inconsistent but could still make the grade) – all of whom are through to the third round in Melbourne Park.
Then there’s James Duckworth and Thanasi Kokkinakis (both on career highs at the moment). In the women’s game there’s Casey Dellacqua (top 30 in the world).
So what's not to like about the Aussie Open?
Well, the heat for a start. Get ready to sweat. And that’s if you're just a spectator.
Should you have the misfortune to be a player: get ready to pass out.
Unibet are offering odds for several Aussies at their home Grand Slam: Sam Stosur at 81.00 to win overall, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic at 101.0, Sam Groth and Casey Dellacqua at 501.0, and Lleyton Hewitt at 601.0.