Tennis: Australian Open sets Grand Slam attendance record

Spectators celebrating after Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open, in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan 29, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE – The Australian Open set a Grand Slam attendance record with more than 900,000 spectators visiting over three weeks, organisers said on Tuesday, despite the absence of some big-name players and schedule disruptions due to rain.

A record 839,192 fans flocked to Melbourne Park from Jan 16-29 for the first tournament in two years free of Covid-19 restrictions, beating the previous mark of 812,174 set in 2020.

The figures eclipse the 2022 attendance numbers at other Grand Slam main draws – 515,164 visited Wimbledon, 613,586 were at the French Open and 776,120 went to the US Open.

Over 60,000 also watched the qualifying events in Melbourne, bringing the total up to 902,312.

The tournament, missing the retired American star Serena Williams, Swiss great Roger Federer and 2022 homegrown champion Ashleigh Barty, broke its single-day attendance mark with 94,854 fans visiting on Jan 21. The previous record was 93,709 set in 2020.

“It was reported that we didn’t have the greats any more, that it was going to be terrible. But people just want to be entertained,” Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley told the Melbourne Age.

“They want to have some fun, and tennis is a great option for them. It’s become a summer thing to do for Melburnians and for Australians and also for our guests from around the world.”

Television ratings, on the other hand, were hit by the absence of the big names.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), a spokesman for Channel Nine said that 10 million people tuned in for the tournament, down from the 12.5 million in 2022.

“Coming off a year where Ash Barty and the Special Ks (Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis) won, it was always going to be a tough act to follow, but this year we have seen a huge 9Now viewership, as viewers continue to migrate from linear to streaming,” he said, as quoted by SMH.

Tiley has set his sights on breaching the one million attendance mark in 2024 and plans to do it by extending the Open festivities.

“This year was the start of it. It’s going to be a three-week extravaganza, so it’s three weeks of tennis, three weeks of music, three weeks of other events, three weeks of food, three weeks of kids’ ballpark,” he said.

Serbian veteran Novak Djokovic beat Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas on Sunday to win his 10th Australian Open crown, drawing level with Rafael Nadal of Spain on 22 Grand Slam titles, and reclaim the world No. 1 ranking.

Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka won her first Grand Slam title with victory over Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina in the women’s final a day earlier. REUTERS

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