Tennis: The Australian Open
The first of tennis's 4 Grand Slams and Melbourne starts it all every tennis calendar year in January downunder.
The tournament was first played in 1905 as The Australasian Championships, becoming the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969. Melbourne Park (formerly Flinders Park) was constructed in time for the 1988 Open to meet the demands of the evolving tournament that had outgrown the previous site, Kooyong's capacity.
Till the 80s, many of tennis's big names refuse to make their way downunder, always citing distance as a deterrence. Odd names littered the champion's roll on both the women's and the men's side for decades. All this changed with the arrival of the 90s, and suddenly, this tournament bloomed to become the true Grand Slam that it is. All the modern day No.1s have won or at least reached the finals, bringing new meaning to the tournament's new tagging as "The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific".
On the women side, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo & Maria Sharapova all made their way onto the victory podium while 2 other No.1s Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters made the finals. On the men side, the see-saw dominance of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi gave way to the rise of Roger Federer in the new millennium. In between, 2 other No.1s, Yevgeny Kafelnikov & Marat Safin won here and another 3, Carlos Moya, Marcelo Rios and Australia's very own Lleyton Hewitt, made the finals.
Watch tennis big names slug it all out under the hot Aussie summer sun and see who survives the 2 weeks struggle to emerge queen and king.
Equipment: You can actually take a tour of Rod Laver Arena for A$13 per pax, circa 2008, via a guide.
You will get to check out the player's locker room (I know which one Andy Roddick prefers, knowledge courtesy of my guide, a big fan of his), take a shine to the trophies, walk down the path of champions and pretend you are answering journalist questions at the players conference room.
And then after, you can spend even more money at the shop selling memorabilia.
And oh for about A$20...you can book and play on the baby blue courts, the outside ones though...just to ham it up even more.
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AFL Grand Final @ the "G"
If you come to Melbourne between late March & late September you really have to come see a "footy" game at the "G" - the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Yeah I know it says "Cricket" Ground not "Footy" Ground, but cricket is for Summer & footy is for Autumn through Winter.
And, "footy" in this case refers to Australian Rules football not Soccer (what many refer to as the only football) or Rugby League or Rugby Union in the northern states.
I've been to 3 AFL footy games at the "G" this year & frankly the first one was pretty ordinary for two reasons.
Firstly my team, the Sydney Swans lost to the Richmond Tigers & secondly the atmosphere at the ground was pretty ordinary with a smallish crowd not even half filling what is an 80 000 (plus) capacity ground. That was at the start of July.
Late August I attended the Swans v Hawthorn Hawks match which we not only one, but had a bigger crowd with a lot better atmosphere.
BUT!!!! The biggie was the last weekend in September when my team the Sydney Swans played the West Coast Eagles (from Perth) in the AFL Grand Final & after a dour, but incredibly exciting struggle over the 4 quarters, the Swannies got up by a mere 4 points! All this as part of a crowd of a bit over 90 000 people, many of whom were wearing the Red & White of the Sydney/South Melbourne Swans!
Equipment: Now, if you find that you'll be in Melbourne for the last weekend in September then you will have to get yourself some tickets organised WELL IN ADVANCE! And the master of understatement is striking once again. Yes I mean months in advance & there are packages available from travel agents. I would suggest having a look at www.afl.com.au & having a look at their AFL Travel link.
Now if you are going to be here at another time of the footy season I suggest you check with the locals & see what games are worthwhile going to see at either the MCG or the Telstra Dome. The Swans play the Essondon Bombers in the opening round of the 2006 season at the Telstra Dome on the Saturday night of April 1.
So get some colours to support a team. If it's cool a scarf or if it's hot & sunny a cap & get out and do some cheering!
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MCG - Melbourne Cricket Ground
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, or MCG for short, is one of the most famous sporting venues in the world. It has been around since 1853, and is currently being upgraded. When it is finally complete, the capacity will be over 100,000 (presently 73,000).
The MCG has held cricket, international soccer, Aussie Rules Football (AFL), Rubgy League, Rugby Union, baseball, concerts, and even Pope John Paul II's mass in 1986.
It currently hosts cricket and AFL events. The AFL season is from late March to late August, with the finals being held into late September.
Tours are available each Wednesday at 11 AM. It is AU$10 for adults and $6 for children/students. It lasts just over an hour and commences from the Great Southern Stand.
Check the website for more history and details and for a schedule of events.
Telstra Dome, once known as Colonial Stadium, is the home of Australian Football from late March to late August, and has also held cricket, Rugby League, Rugby Union, soccer, concerts, and exhibitions. The retractable dome will be open or closed depending on the weather.
You can get a tour of the stadium on Monday - Friday at 11 AM, 1 PM, and on non-event days you can also go at 3 PM. Tours cost AU$13 for adults, $10 for students/concession, and $5 for children.
Check the website for more information and a schedule of events.
Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix
The Australian F1 Grand Prix is held at Melbourne's Albert Park at the beginning of every March. The city is completely packed at this time, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators from around the world. This could either be bad or good, depending on who you talk to. It seems like every hotel room is booked for the week of the race, and prices are jacked up at many places.
The best drivers in the world compete in the first race of the F1 season, and the track at Albert Park is one of the most beautiful on the circuit. If you will be in Melbourne in during race time, I would highly recommend you attend the race or one of the practice/qualifying events. The atmosphere of a Grand Prix is amazing.
General admission prices are AU$65 for race day and cheaper for qualification days. If you want to go to only one day of the race, general admission is the cheapest way.
Grandstand tickets start at over $350, but include all event days.
If you can get a seat in a grandstand, it would be better (but a bit more expensive) than general admission where you are not guaranteed a decent view of the track.
On race day, get there early, especially if you have general admission, because the good spots will be taken quickly. I would say get there no later than 8 AM to guarantee a good spot. If you have grandstand tickets, you do not have to be in a hurry to get there unless you want to watch the support races. Either way, be prepared for a long and exhausting day.
Equipment: Bring or buy earplugs when you get there - trust me on this. If you are buying general admission, bring a blanket because you will be sitting in the grass. I would recommend everyone brings some food and drinks with them.
If you are not familiar with the F1 drivers or teams, buy a program to identify who is who on the track.
That one day in September....
AFL Grand Final - Australian Football League GF betweeen Essendon Bombers and Brisbane Lions. This was in 2001 and my beloved Bombers were beaten! Not a good day to be at the footy I tell you. But we stayed to the end, give us that.
Equipment: Bring your binoculars, beer, meat pie and hat and suncream. Also your fave team's jumper or scarf, and yell your lungs out!
The sports capital of Australia
The sports mad Aussies have often debated about which among Sydney and Melbourne is the sporting capital of the country. The city of Melbourne I have to say has the advantage as it hosts some of the most important sporting events including the Australian Open tennis, Melbourne Cup as well as a selection cricket and rugby matches. The city has some of the best sporting venues such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Ettihad Stadium which holds big events.
Melbourne is a mecca for spectator sports. The skyline appears crowded with various stadiums. Our son took us to an Australian Rules Football match. When we've told friends this, the most common answer is that it's a funny name as there appear to be no rules! Actually there are so many rules that it just appears there are no rules. Here is a quick guide to what happens.
There are up to about 47 players, officials and runners on the pitch (which is a cricket oval). A player can run with the ball but has to bounce it every so many yards. He can pass the ball by punching it. If he kicks the ball and one of his team mates directly catches it, he can run with it, or he can kick it (given time by the officials to so). If he kicks it between the inner goal posts they get 5 points and one point for getting it between the inner and outer goalposts. On occasion there are runners who go on to the field to take messages to the players from the coaches. If you are a fan and find that this is a load of rubbish, don't tell me I'm wrong, because nobody will be able to tell anyway!
All in all a vey enjoyable way to spend an afternon among a mainly civilized crowd in a comfortable modern stadium. Tickets can be purchased online. You may notice one of the categories I included this under was "Romantic Holidays and Honeymoons". We once talked with a man from Malta who had just come back from his honeymoon in the UK. He and his wife had been to London, Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool - doing a tour of football grounds. So there may be another couple doing the same in Australia!
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AAMI Kooyong Classic (Tennis)
The former home to the Australian Open, Kooyong developed the Kooyong Classic as a result of losing the star-studded big event to the tennis centre a couple of miles away.
It makes sense - it's a round robin event tournament featuring 8 top male players, seen as the perfect warm-up to the Open. Taking place in 2010, 13-16 January are the dates, and signed-up players to date include Djokovic, Tsonga and Verdasco.
It's an exhibition tournament, and winning doesn't gain ranking points, so the competitive edge may be missing, but nevertheless, with a great atmosphere and supportive crowd, the relaxed environment is a perfect warm-up for the players for the Open.
Two games per session also ensure that you're likely to get two great games - particularly on the finals day. In 2009, we were lucky enough to see Federer beat Wawrinka in the final and Verdasco vs Gonzalez play-off for 3rd and 4th. Year before that - Roddick beat Baghdatis in the final, Safin beat Gonzalez.
And 2010 - Verdasco beat Tsonga in the final, with Australian kid Tomic defeating Djokovic for 3rd/4th play off
Other than Federer (X2), Roddick (X3), past winners include Agassi (X3), Sampras, Chang (X3) and Nalbandian - giving an indication of the level the tournament attracts constantly.
And a big attraction with Kooyong - way cheaper than the Open to ensure seeing top seeded players play each other. $A55 for uncovered seats, $A85 for covered seats on finals day ($A45 or $A75 on non-final days).
Australian Open Tennis
Its one of the 4 Tennis Grand Slams - that should be enough to recommend it! Consequently it attracts all the top players from around the world. Its also the first of the year, taking place at the Rod Laver Arena in January every year (tickets go on sale in October).
Like most major tennis tournaments around the world, tickets are purchased by sessions - afternoon or evening.
Afternoon tickets are for access for outside courts throughout the day and night. Evening tickets are for the two main arenas (reserved seating) and are for 2 games, but also provide access to any outside court after 5pm.
In real terms, evening tickets result in less matches (fewer matches on the outside courts as the day progresses) , but will have guaranteed seeded players.
Atmosphere is electric, whether inside the main arenas at night, daytime outside courts or watching the centre court match on the huge video screen in the beer gardens.
Ticket prices vary - from $A49 (first couple of days) - $A300 for men's final.
Equipment: Its pretty exposed, so be careful of sun stroke! take public transport - its on the edge of the CBD and so VERY easy to get to.
Public Golf Course Close to the City
18 hole public golf course close to the city, only 4km, but is situated in bushland as the course winds its way along the river, you even get a look at the fruit bats sleeping in the trees. . Can be a bit slow at times due to its popularity but it's one of the best public courses in Melbourne so dont forget to book. Course is kept in good condition, check out following website for futher reviews.
Equipment: You can hire all gear here including motorised carts if you dont feel like walking the distance.
Green Fees: Weekend $25, midweek $24, $18 nine holes and twilight, $17 concession midweek, $11 juniors.
Hire: Clubs $25, $15 half set, Buggies $4.50, Carts $35, $20 nine holes
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Rock climbing in the city
Itching to climb your way up?
Look no further.
Place yourself into Hard Rock.
Hard Rock Indoor Rock Climbing that is.
I have yet to try it - came close though. The open concept of the place meant that you can't possibly walk past it without glancing up and thinking "What the..."
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Although a major event took place at the time, you are spoilt for choice. AFL, tennis, motorsports etc. Melbourne has many world class facilities and hosts world class events.
Places one can visit include: MCG, Telstra Dome and other
Windsurfing on Port Phillip Bay
It's always fun watching the windsurfers scudding across the waves on the bay as I walk along the pedestrial/bike path near Point Ormond to Elwood Beach. But why not try it out yourself?
Amongst many others, RPS The Board Store at Elwood runs lessons and hires out equipment.
See also Elwood Sailboarders (www.elwoodsc.com/Windsurf.html)
Equipment: You can check out many supply stores for equipment. Most of them even run lessons for beginnners up to advanced.
Approx Costs - $75 for 1.5hrs or 3hrs for $129 beginner courses.
Boxing Day Test
Another Melbourne institution, the Boxing Day test is a leisurely day, watching the flannelled fools and resting up after the eating and drinking and socialising that is Xmas Day.
many folk go along every year, the cricket itself often secondary to catching up on old mates and ejoying the traditional passtimes of teasing the security goonsquads, tossing beachballs around at dull spots and baiting the poms when they have come to lose yet again
Equipment: Bring along an esky full of sandwiches made from yesterday's leftover Xmas turkey, the remainders of auntie Maude's wonderful christmas sponge, a thermos flask of tea in case it is cold.
Sadly, you have to shell out vast sums of money for warm beer in plastic cups if you'd like some alcoholic beverages - not allowed to BYO.
Beach ball tossers should be aware that they should come with a large supply. Security personnel are a bit on the dim side, and have the sence of humour of your old high school maths teacher, but eventually they WILL succeed in arresting the offending item, and it's definitely capital punishment for said beach ball - administered with a sharp implement!
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