unlike other Grand Slam tournaments, the Australian Open cultivates relaxation

In the bon chic bon genre family of tennis, each of the four tricks of the Grand Slam skillfully cultivates its difference. There’s Wimbledon, the elegant dean, a tad antiquated. The romantic weakling, Roland-Garros. The rambunctious teenager, the US Open. And then there’s the Australian Open, the latest casual one. The first meeting of the season isn’t the most prestigious, but the neon-decorated event is known as the “happy slam” (“happy slam”). The legend says that the paternity of this nickname goes to Roger Federer to describe the atmosphere that reigns each year in the antipodes.

“Everything is practical here, it’s well organized. I’m not saying the others aren’t, but this one is really nice and laid back, that helps a lot,” still rented the Swiss a few years ago.

It has not always been so. Between the 1970s and the early 1980s, the event was snubbed by the best. Björn Borg and Ilie Nastase only played it once, Jimmy Connors only two. The trip to the end of the world was considered too tiring by players from the northern hemisphere, especially since the fortnight fell in the middle of Christmas.

In the middle of the 1980s, the Australian Open decided to make its revolution: the tournament was postponed to January, it left the suburbs of Melbourne to move closer to the city center and acquired roofs and a new surface, moving from hard grass. First to take the train of modernity, the ex-dunce becomes the first of the class.

In the middle of the austral summer, Melbourne Park, only a twenty-minute walk from the skyscrapers of the business district, is transformed for a fortnight into a joyful fair for young and (very) big children who vibrate in unison for the little felt ball. Of the four major tournaments, the Australian Grand Slam is undoubtedly the most intergenerational, symbol of a sports culture that is transmitted from the cradle.

In Melbourne, the thermometer plays yoyo

In Garden Square, the large garden in the shadow of the Rod Laver Arena, named after the local legend and his two calendar Grand Slams (winning all four Majors in a calendar year), families picnic on lawns that smell of lemongrass while watching the matches on a giant screen. They can also share games of table tennis, padel and other entertainment installed on the 20 hectares of the site, to the edge of the Yarra river – next door, Roland-Garros does not exceed 12.5 hectares after its recent extension, even if for some, this is precisely what gives it its charm. Children under 10 even have their own amusement park, to play Lego or test their agility on a tree climbing course.

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