The Australian Open is a major tennis tournament held annually over the last fortnight of January in Melbourne, Australia. First held in 1905, the tournament is chronologically the first of the four Grand Slam tennis events of the year – the other three being the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. It features men's and women's singles; men's, women's, and mixed doubles and junior's championships; as well as wheelchair, legends and exhibition events. Since 1988 the tournament has been played on hard courts at Melbourne Park.
The Australian Open typically has very high attendance, second only to the US Open. It was also the first Grand Slam tournament to feature indoor play during wet weather or extreme heat with its two primary courts, Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena, equipped with retractable roofs.
The tournament was first known as the Australasian Championships and then became the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969. Since 1905, the Australian Open has been staged in five Australian and two New Zealand cities as follows: Melbourne (55 times), Sydney (17 times), Adelaide (14 times), Brisbane (7 times), Perth (3 times), Christchurch (in 1906), and Hastings (in 1912). In 1972, when it was decided to stage the tournament in the same city each year, the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club was selected because Melbourne attracted the biggest patronage. Though started in 1905, the tournament was not designated as being a major championship until 1924, by the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) in a 1923 meeting. The tournament committee changed the structure of the tournament to include seeding at that time.
Melbourne Park (formerly Flinders Park) was constructed for the 1988 tournament to meet the demands of a tournament that had outgrown Kooyong's capacity. The move to Melbourne Park was an immediate success, with a 90 percent increase in attendance in 1988 (266,436) on the previous year at Kooyong (140,000).
Because of Australia's geographic remoteness very few foreign players entered this tournament at the beginning. In the 1920s, the trip by boat from Europe to Australia took about 45 days. The first tennis players who came by aircraft were the US Davis Cup players in November 1946. Even inside the country, many players could not travel easily. When the tournament was held in Perth, no one from Victoria or New South Wales crossed by train, a distance of about 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) between the east and west coasts. In Christchurch in 1906, of small field of 10 players, only two Australians attended, and the tournament was won by a New Zealander.
The first tournaments of the Australasian Championships suffered from the competition of the other Australasian tournaments. Before 1905, all Australian States and New Zealand had their own championships, the first organised in 1880 in Melbourne and called the Championship of the Colony of Victoria (later the Championship of Victoria). n those years, the best two players – Australian Norman Brookes (whose name is now written on the men's singles cup) and New Zealander Anthony Wilding – almost did not play this tournament. Brookes came once and won in 1911, and Wilding entered and won the competition twice (1906 and 1909). Their meetings in the Victorian Championships (or at Wimbledon) helped to determine the best Australasian players. Even when the Australasian Championships were held in Hastings, New Zealand, in 1912, Wilding, though three times Wimbledon champion, did not come back to his home country. It was a recurring problem for all players of the era. Brookes went to Europe only three times, where he reached the Wimbledon Challenge Round once and then won Wimbledon twice. Thus, many players had never played the Austral(as)ian amateur or open championships: the Doherty brothers, William Larned, Maurice McLoughlin, Beals Wright, Bill Johnston, Bill Tilden, René Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Bobby Riggs, Jack Kramer, Ted Schroeder, Pancho Gonzales, Budge Patty, Manuel Santana, Jan Kodeš and others, while Brookes, Ellsworth Vines, Jaroslav Drobný, Manuel Orantes, Ilie Năstase at 35 years old, and Björn Borg came just once.
Beginning in 1969, when the first Australian Open was held on the Milton Courts at Brisbane, the tournament was open to all players, including professionals who were not allowed to play the traditional circuit. Nevertheless, except for the 1969 and 1971 tournaments, many of the best players missed this championship until 1982, because of the remoteness, the inconvenient dates (around Christmas and New Year's Day), and the low prize money. In 1970, the National Tennis League, which employed Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Andrés Gimeno, Pancho Gonzales, Roy Emerson, and Fred Stolle, prevented its players from entering the tournament because the guarantees were insufficient, and the tournament was ultimately won by Arthur Ashe.
In 1983, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, and Mats Wilander entered the tournament. Wilander won the singles title and both his Davis Cup singles rubbers in the Swedish loss to Australia at Kooyong shortly after. Following the 1983 Australian Open, the International Tennis Federation prompted the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia to change the site of the tournament, because the Kooyong stadium was then inappropriate to serve such a big event, and in 1988 the tournament was first held at Flinders Park (later renamed Melbourne Park) on Rebound Ace. The change of the venue also lead to a change of the court surface from grass to a hard court surface known as Rebound Ace. Mats Wilander was the only player to win the tournament on both grass and hard courts. In 2008, after being used for 20 years, the Rebound Ace was replaced by a cushioned, medium-paced, acrylic surface known as Plexicushion Prestige. Roger Federer and Serena Williams are the only players to win the Australian Open on both Rebound Ace and Plexicushion Prestige. The main benefits of the new surface are better consistency and less retention of heat because of a thinner top layer. This change was accompanied by changes in the surfaces of all lead-up tournaments to the Australian Open. The change was controversial because of the new surface's similarity to DecoTurf, the surface used by the US Open.
Before the Melbourne Park stadium era, tournament dates fluctuated as well, in particular in the early years because of the climate of each site or exceptional events. For example, the 1919 tournament was held in January 1920 (the 1920 tournament was played in March) and the 1923 tournament in Brisbane took place in August when the weather was not too hot and wet. After a first 1977 tournament was held in December 1976 – January 1977, the organisers chose to move the next tournament forward a few days, then a second 1977 tournament was played (ended on 31 December), but this failed to attract the best players. From 1982 to 1985, the tournament was played in mid-December. Then it was decided to move the next tournament to mid-January (January 1987), which meant there was no tournament in 1986. Since 1987, the Australian Open date has not changed. However, some top players, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, have said that the tournament is held too soon after the Christmas and New Year holidays, thus preventing players from reaching their best form, and expressed a desire to shift it to February. Such a change, however, would move the tournament outside the summer school holiday period, potentially impacting attendance figures.
Another change of venue was proposed in 2008, with New South Wales authorities making clear their desire to bid for hosting rights to the tournament once Melbourne's contract expires in 2016. In response, Wayne Kayler-Thomson, the head of the Victorian Events Industry Council, was adamant that Melbourne should retain the event, and, in a scathing attack of the New South Wales authorities, said, "It is disappointing that NSW cannot be original and seek their own events instead of trying to cannibalise other Australian cities." Since the proposal was made, a major redevelopment of Melbourne Park has been announced, which is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Melbourne Park will include upgraded and increased seating in major venues, a roof over Margaret Court Arena, improved player facilities, a new headquarters for Tennis Australia, and a partly covered "town square" area featuring large televisions showing current tennis play. A year later, these plans were largely approved, with former Premier of Victoria John Brumby confirming the state government's willingness to commit A$363 million to complete the renovations, a move which guaranteed there will be no change of venue until at least beyond 2036.