Melbourne set for biggest Open yet

Whilst the best players from around the world are in the final stages of preparation for Australian Open 2013, there is still plenty to do around Melbourne Park. Not only are crews working non-stop to prepare the grounds for the 675,000 people expected throughout the tournament, but there is redevelopment work being undertaken to upgrade the area to again be at the forefront of the tennis and sporting world in terms of state of the art facilities.

Although not expected to be completed until 2015, the area is starting to show signs of change, namely, the extension of Margaret Court Arena, currently Melbourne Park’s third largest court. The plan is to upgrade the seating plan from 5,000 patrons up to 7,500, as well as make it available for a greater array of uses, including basketball and netball. The extra patrons expected to walk through the gates at MCA will also be sheltered from the elements, with a new retractable roof to be built.

Margaret Court is undergoing substantial changes, as with most of Melbourne Park. (Photo: Matt Walsh)

Margaret Court is undergoing substantial changes, as with most of Melbourne Park. (Photo: Matt Walsh)

Also on the agenda are new plazas and viewing locations for the general public, as well as 8 new indoor and 13 new outdoor courts. Partially open already is a new 1,000 space parking complex which is set to relieve pressure from the grass-laden MCG car park.

This work is almost a necessity in Melbourne, as crowd numbers have increased dramatically. 518,248 patrons attended the Australian Open in 2002, whereas 2012 saw a record 686,006 people walk through the gates.

It seems that ‘bigger is better’ is the theme of the Grand Slam, with the confirmation of yet another prize money increase for competitors. This comes on the back of recent talks between the players association, which the idea of more money for early-round exits was discussed. The result is a 33% and 37% increase in prize money for first and second round losses respectively.

Not that number one seed Novak Djokovic is too worried about an early exit. Bear in mind he plays Paul-Henri Mathieu, no slouch in tennis circles, and Djokovic knows that complacency as a number one seed could be dangerous.

“I’m playing first round against Mathieu. Maybe he’s lower ranked at this moment but he was a top-20 player. He knows how it feels to play on a big stage,” Djokovic explained.

“There is no underestimating him, that’s for sure. I’m going to try to focus from the start.”

Li Na is also looking to impress at her “home” Grand Slam. She told the media yesterday that she was feeling good after arriving in Melbourne a couple of days ago.

“I’ve had two days totally off, now I’m feeling fresh again. The [physio] team is working so hard, like two days ago I was feeling really, really tired about my body,” she said.

“Now I’m feeling fresh, so I think I’m ready [for her first round match].”

Women’s second seed Maria Sharapova will be first on centre court; she will battle with compatriot Olga Puchkova, whilst local hope Lleyton Hewitt kicks off the night session with a cracking first round match against 8th seed Janko Tipsarevic.

Matt Walsh is at Melbourne Park,.

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