The centenary Australian championships in 2005 staged the first Grand Slam men’s final in prime-time, with Marat Safin defeating local hope Lleyton Hewitt. In 2009, Marat’s little sister Dinara lost the first women’s night final at Melbourne Park, to the all-conquering Serena Williams. Night-time finals have proved another winning move for the Australian Open. The Safin-Hewitt final was watched by 4.1 million Aussies — eyeball numbers more associated with grand finals and royal weddings.
Steffi Graf was the first champion at Flinders Park; her 6-1 7-6 victory over Chris Evert also the first Grand Slam title decided indoors. In typically brisk style, the 18-year-old German didn’t drop a set in securing the first leg of her historic ‘Golden Grand Slam’ — the Majors quadrella accessorised with Olympic gold.
In Hisense Arena last January, Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova battled each other senseless, the Italian braving six match points to get up 16-14 in the third. At four hours 44 minutes it was the longest women’s match in Grand Slam history.
Jim Courier overcame brutal heat and a hot Stefan Edberg to win back-to-back Opens in 1993; the superfit American attracted respect and no little concern for his health by taking a victory plunge in the silty (not to say filthy) Yarra River.
Fire and Rain
Melbourne’s notorious weather has made many a front page during the Open; the great flood of 1995 saw backhands give way to backstroke on centre court. The women’s final in 2003 between sisters Venus and Serena Williams was played indoors not because of rain, but infernal 44-degreee heat.