From strike threats to bushfires: How Australia’s “Happy Slam” has lost its enthusiasm | Tennis

IIt was Roger Federer who coined the term “Happy Slam” to describe the Australian Open – a phrase that perfectly sums up the first Grand Slam of the year, a time when players feel fresh and just happy to be playing. be there. For those coming in from the European winter, the hot sun offers rejuvenation, mentally and physically, while the players have also been treated well by Tennis Australia, especially in the past 15 years since Craig Tiley took over as manager. of the tournament.

It was Tiley who introduced a global payout of $ 1,000 to each player in the main draw, singles and doubles, which was greatly appreciated by those lower in the rankings who made the long trip to Australia knowing that their first-round loser’s check would probably barely cover expenses.

In 2018, Tiley pledged to increase the prize amount from his A $ 55 million figure to A $ 100 million, which would put the Australian Open above the other three Grand Slam tournaments. (This year it’s A $ 75 million.) Gamers love Melbourne’s restaurants, they love the climate and all that goes with it. The facilities, vastly improved over the past decade, are second to none, including three indoor courts as well as exceptional gym and recovery rooms.

But as Novak Djokovic sits in his quarantine hotel in Melbourne, awaiting Monday’s appeal against his visa rejection – for failing to provide sufficient evidence he deserved an exemption from the country’s vaccine mandate Covid-19 – Things don’t look quite so happy anymore.

‘If it were me …’: tennis players respond to Novak Djokovic visa saga – vidéo

While Happy Slam has been fun to play for gamers and for journalists, broadcasters and fans, things have changed. Rose-tinted bezels may be at play here, but many who covered the event in the 1980s and 1990s will tell you how more informal the officials have been, how flexibility has been replaced by stiffness. . The rules are the rules.

It has hardly been without its share of controversy. Over the past 16 years, the Australian Open has suffered at least two strike threats (with Djokovic as a key figure) as well as failed drug tests, natural disasters, homophobia and match-fixing .

In 2005, the build-up was dominated by a drug scandal, sparked by Belgian Sports Minister Claude Eerdekens, who announced that then US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova had tested positive for ephedrine at an exhibition in Belgium.

Svetlana Kuznetsova was at the center of a drug furore in 2005 unleashed by the Belgian Sports Minister. Photograph: Tim Wimborne / Reuters

Reporters disembarking in Melbourne joined local reporters to continue the story for three days and although the Russian, who said she was prescribed a cold remedy that could have caused the test to fail, escaped to a sanction because ephedrine was only banned in competition, that put things in place. on a dark note.

The Australian Open’s place in the calendar, which was held in the second half of January, may be one of the reasons it has sparked controversy. By the time the players arrive, it has been over four months since the end of the US Open, the last time they were all in one place. The ATP and WTA hold player meetings the day before the event and this timing can often lead to explosive moments.

Australian Open: crowds of Novak Djokovic supporters gather in front of the Park hotel - video
Australian Open: crowds of Novak Djokovic supporters gather in front of the Park hotel – video

In 2012, tensions were high at the US Open over prize money, especially the percentage of revenue that went to players. A strike threat – targeting the 2013 Australian Open – was averted after Federer and Djokovic led the negotiations with the grand slam tournaments.

In 2018, the threat of a strike re-emerged, this time in Australia, when Djokovic called for a vast increase in cash prizes. The Serb said he wanted to distribute the wealth lower in the rankings, while threatening to form a separatist union to have an independent body that represents only the players.

The threat was averted when Tiley promised to raise the prize money. Djokovic then continued the formation of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) in September 2020, although it remains in its infancy.

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Even Australian heroes haven’t always helped. Margaret Court, an Australian tennis legend on the court and record holder of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, has long been a polarizing figure thanks to her vocal stance against gay rights. Her name still graces the Margaret Court Arena, but in 2018 there was an embarrassing moment for Tennis Australia when Billie Jean King invited to Melbourne to receive the inaugural Australian Open Woman of the Year award. , said Court’s name should be deleted.

Billie Jean King is seen on center court during the Women of the Year award following the women's semi-final match on day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on 25 January 2018.
Billie Jean King challenged Margaret Court’s stance on gay rights in 2018. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy / EPA-EFE

“It’s really important if you want to have a name on everything you’re hospitable, you’re inclusive, that you open your arms to everyone who comes to a public facility,” she said, as the tennis started slowly. Australian officials which could be about to drop.

“I was fine until recently when she said so many derogatory things about my community, about LBGTs. It really went deep into my heart and soul. I don’t think she should have [her name on it] more.”

In 2016, a match-fixing scandal broke out the day before the event. In 2020 devastating bushfires threatened the Australian Open before clearing up just in time and last year the event unfolded during a pandemic thanks to the incredible efforts of all parties concerned.

As Djokovic awaits his fate, he may be wondering what happened to the Happy Slam.

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