Frank Hurley, Tennis court panorama, Yallourn, Victoria, December 1947, negative. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia: 1640983.
Tennis has been popular with people of all ages in Australia since the beginning of the nineteenth century, both for fun and as an elite sport.
With a climate suited to outdoor activities many Australians are keen tennis players, making year-round use of public tennis courts, private clubs and backyard courts to refine and practice their game.
Tennis is taught to children from an early age, in schools and at private clubs and clinics. Many Australian children spend school holidays at tennis camps where professional coaches encourage and develop their skills.
In Australia the sport was originally called 'lawn tennis' and the courts were surfaced with grass. Through the 1900s, sand, clay and concrete surfaces became more common, and in the twenty-first century synthetic grass and other synthetic products such as rebound ace are the most popular. These surfaces are easier to maintain and are longer wearing.
The first recorded tennis tournament played in Australia was held in January 1880 on the courts of the Melbourne Cricket Club.
The Australasian Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA) was Australia's first national tennis body. It was formed in September 1904 and at that time was responsible for both Australia and New Zealand. The ALTA was formed with three main functions:
- to organise the Davis Cup
- to control interstate matches; and
- to run annual Australasian Tennis Championships.
With the establishment of the ALTA came the Davis Cup and the Australian Open.
Australia has a long and successful tradition of Davis Cup competition, with the first Australasian Davis Cup crown won in 1907. Between 1907 and 2003 Australia won 28 Davis Cup titles, most recently defeating Spain in the 2003 final in Melbourne.
While the men's international team competition is known as the Davis Cup, the women's equivalent is called the Federation Cup. Australia has won the Federation Cup seven times, the last time being in 1974.
Television and live coverage gave tennis a boost as a spectator sport. Viewers can now follow the men's professional tour - the ATP Tour - and the women's professional tour - the WTA Tour - as the season unfolds around the world.
Unknown, Evonne Goolagong (Australia) bends to reach a ball during the final singles against Miss Virginia Wade (Britain), 1970, photograph: B&W. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia: 3050374.
In Australia tennis champions are household names and their successes are celebrated by the nation. In January 2003 Lleyton Hewitt, the then number one player in the world, was named the Young Australian of the Year, while Pat Rafter (2002) and Evonne Goolagong Cawley (1971) are past winners of the Australian of the Year award.
In the twenty-first century tennis in Australia is administered by Tennis Australia, which runs several programs and initiatives to encourage the development of tennis in all segments of the community, including people with disabilities.
Beginning in the twentieth century, many Australian men and women tennis players have risen to the pinnacle of their sport. Australian professionals have consistently stood out at the four Grand Slam tennis events held each year: the Australian Open, French Open, US Open and Wimbledon.
The ultimate in the career of a tennis professional is to win 'The Grand Slam' which is all four Grand Slam events in a calendar year. To date both the men's and women's singles Grand Slam titles have only been achieved three times
Australia's Rod Laver is the only professional to have achieved a Grand Slam twice, in 1962 and 1969. Margaret Smith Court won a singles Grand Slam in 1970 and also achieved a mixed doubles Grand Slam in 1963. With a record 62 Grand Slam titles she is one of the most successful tennis players ever, and one of only three to have achieved a 'boxed set' of Grand Slam titles - that is, she won every possible title (singles, same-sex doubles, and mixed doubles) from each Grand Slam event.
Each of the four Grand Slam events is contested on a different surface, which challenges professional players to broaden their skill base. Rather than specialising on one surface, they play on rebound ace at the Australian Open, clay at The French Open, grass at Wimbledon, and hard court at the US Open.
Peter Luczak (Australia) on his way to winning his second round match at the 2006 Australian Open. File photograph. Copyright Commonwealth of Australia.
Of all the Grand Slam events Australians have been most successful in their home tournament, the Australian Open. This event began as the Australasian Open in 1905. It became the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969. Up to and including 2005, Australian men had won 51 singles titles and Australian women 43 of the women's titles.
On the clay at Roland Garros Australians have claimed victory on several occasions. Former champions include:
- Ken Rosewall (1953, 1968);
- Rod Laver (1962, 1969);
- Fred Stolle (1965);
- Tony Roche (1966, 1969);
- Margaret Smith-Court (1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1973); and,
- Evonne Goolagong Cawley (1971).
Norman Brookes was the first Australian to win the men's singles crown at Wimbledon, winning his first title there in 1907. In doing so he became the first male outside of Britain to win the Championships. He was the first of 12 Australian men to take the Wimbledon singles title.
Lleyton Hewitt's victory in 2002 made him the most recent Australian Wimbledon champion. Other great Australian Wimbledon champions include:
- Rod Laver (1961, 1962, 1968, 1969)
- John Newcombe (1967, 1970, 1971)
- Pat Cash (1987)
- Margaret Smith Court (1963, 1965, 1970)
- Evonne Goolagong Cawley (1971, 1980).
Margaret Smith Court was Australia's first woman to win at Wimbledon. Evonne Goolagong Cawley is the only other Australian woman to have won the coveted title.
Australian players have also excelled on the hard court at the US Open with past champions including:
- Ken Rosewall (1956)
- Rod Laver (1962, 1969)
- Margaret Smith Court (1962, 1969, 1970, 1973)
- John Newcombe (1967)
- Pat Rafter (1997, 1998)
- Lleyton Hewitt (2001).
Commonly doubles partnerships are made up of players from different countries, however an Australian tennis article would not be complete without a mention of the Australian doubles champions known as 'The Woodies' - Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.
In singles titles they both made it to grand slam semi-finals. As The Woodies they won 61 doubles titles from 80 finals which is an Open-era record. These included 11 major titles. In 2000 they won the French Open, the only Grand Slam title they had not already won. The partnership came to an end with Mark Woodford's retirement at the end of 2000. Todd Woodbridge, who retired in mid 2005, was the most successful doubles player ever.
Grand Slam events
- Tennis Australian - Tournaments
- Hopman Cup
- World Tennis Challenge
- Sydney International
- Brisbane International
- Hobart International
Davis Cup and Federation Cup
- Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP)
- Australian Tennis Professional Coaches Association (ATPCA)
- Deaf Tennis Australia
- International Tennis Federation
- Tennis Australia
- Tennis Coaches Australia
Last updated: 12th August 2008
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