The day Melbourne Park experienced some wet Wimbledon weather

Alexandra Willis

The  ‘Happy Slam’ is known for many things. Its ‘we can do anything’ atmosphere, the genteel patter of play, the thrilling late-night finishes, the sumptuous player’s lounge, the well-stocked media cafe, not to mention the oft-extraordinary tennis.

There’s also the various packages of nationalities who flock to the country’s second-most populous city – beer-swilling Aussies in facepaints, sunburnt Brits, bickering Croats and Serbs. The Australian Open is a tournament universally adored.

But there’s one thing that’s practically unheard of at Melbourne Park. Rain.

They’re quite used to warmth. It is, after all, the only major to have an extreme heat rule. It’s also the only one to have bottles of sun cream sitting on every available surface, and more water fountains than you could use to fill a dam with. They’ve even experienced hail. But never, not since the Australian Open moved from Kooyong to its new roofed venue at Melbourne Park in 1988, has it rained all day long.

Aus Open 004 300x200 The day Melbourne Park experienced some wet Wimbledon weather

Ball kids hiding from the rain in Melbourne

As the devastating floods that have swept Australia’s East Coast continue to wreak havoc throughout Queensland, Melbourne experienced a little sympathy gesture. In short, Melbourne Park became Wimbledon. Not a ball was hit in competitive anger, not a match was started, not a thing happened. And all because of continuous, torrential, tropical, rain.

On the hallowed turf of SW19, pre-roof days of course, officials would have been tapping their toes impatiently, the voice on high broadcasting regular updates about the ‘inclement weather,’ advising the public to frequent the nearest strawberries and cream stall, and the media scratching their heads what they could possibly write about as they sat around watching not a lot happen.

But, as is the Australian way, there was no fuss, no haranguing, no frayed tempers and certainly no Cliff Richard. At least not in the media centre anyway. Britain’s Anne Keothavong and Katie O’Brien were perfectly happy. They had Graeme Swann’s Ashes diaries to watch.

One security guard, seated unwaveringly at his post, spent the entire day staring out of the window as the rain poured relentlessly from the heavens. He’d probably never seen it before.

But while the players milled, mooched and occasionally practiced (indoors of course)  praising the glory of iPads and Steve Jobs, the bods behind this Asia-Pacific Slam announced they’d be pulling off another coup for charity, the Rally for Relief.

Announced by Pat Rafter and Sam Stosur from sunny Sydney, no doubt just to rub it in to all Melburnians, the Australian Open is once again doing its bit to raise funds in aid of a natural disaster. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Kim Clijsters, Lleyton Hewitt, and Slammin’ Sam herself will be forfeiting their final afternoon’s practice ahead of Monday’s main draw kick off, instead choosing to hit and giggle, goof and guffaw their way around Rod Laver Arena.

The precedent, last year’s Hit for Haiti, was a master stroke. Organised the day before it happened at the behest of a certain R-Fed, the powers-that-be in Melbourne pulled in thousands of people and thousands of pennies. This year’s Rally for Relief is sure to be no different. After all, it sold out in under a day.

Back to the rain though. ‘No play before 12.30, no play before 1.30, no play before 2.30, no play before 3.30 and so on,’ went the announcements, as players began to wonder how the sunny Slam found itself in this position. Perhaps even more perturbed were the poor court-towellers, whose job it is to wipe dry every scrap of court using Australia’s equivalent of a flannel.

As Andy Murray once pointed out, they might want to re-think that strategy.

The rain did stop, eventually – albeit 28 hours later – and the sun assumed its regular position atop the Melbourne skyline. The sunglasses came out, the sun cream re-appeared, even the flip flops as temperatures reached those of a jalapeno chilli.

But the umbrellas stayed put. Just like at Wimbledon, no one’s willing to take the risk that the rain won’t return.

Donate to the Queensland flood relief appeal

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  • Melinda Samson

    Yeah I’ve always found the method of getting hundreds of kids with little towels to dry the courts quite funny too! If nothing else it seems quite open to human area missing an important spot.

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