Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open (as well as various other sporting and entertainment events) is a relatively recent addition to Melbourne's sporting facilities repertoire. Originally held at Kooyong Park, the Australian Open fast outgrew the venue's capacity and required a new home. As a result, in 1985, it was decided that the space would be made in Flinders and Yarra parks to build a more sizable tennis venue.
This location, just on the outskirts of Melbourne’s inner CBD, is now somewhat of a stadium extravaganza, currently home to a glut of sports and entertainment arenas, grounds, stadiums, domes and centers – we do love our sport! One of the major benefits of this centralized location is the many and varied public transport options available to visitors, abolishing the hassle and cost involved in trying to drive in and find parking at a sports venue.
Melbourne Park, MCG and Rod Laver Arena — Photo courtesy of the evil monkey, Jeffrey
All of Melbourne's arenas have undergone name changes since their construction, but Melbourne Park currently consists of Rod Laver Arena (formerly Centre Court), Hisense Arena (creatively referred to as simply 'the Multipurpose Arena' during the 2006 Commonwealth games) and Margaret Court Arena. The Park is located right near the famous MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) with bridges over train lines connecting the two venues, as well as Olympic Park Stadium, built for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Melbourne Park's Rod Laver Arena, which was then known as The National Tennis Centre at Flinders Park, was the first stage in a $94 million development and was completed in 1987. One of the most noteworthy features of the centre was the world's first retractable roof.
This design feature was required not just to avoid match delays due to rain, but mostly (at least in the case of the Australian Open) because Australian summers are notoriously hot. With the Open being held in January, temperatures in the mid to high thirties Celsius are to be expected, with low forties not to be ruled out. Melbourne has reached a record temperature of 47°C (116.6°F) in the summer. As you can imagine, those are not the most accommodating temperatures for playing tennis. The ability to close the roof meant that players weren’t subjected to unbearable heat during the tournament, and the design is also responsible for the Arena’s distinctive appearance.
Rod Laver Arena — Photo courtesy of Richard Fisher
With the Australian Open's popularity still growing, an extra $23 million was put into funding a park upgrade in 1996. This addition included two larger ‘show’ courts and eight new ‘Ace’ courts, as well as a large grassy space known as ‘Garden Square’ where the public could relax and watch a large screen broadcasting the Australian Open tournament.
Amidst all the upgrades, State Premier, Jeff Kennett, renamed the venue Melbourne Park for tourism and advertising purposes. The change was met with disdain from the general public, but is now very much accepted. Although, people often refer to the individual arenas by name rather than the generalized park location.
After the successful additions in '96 and with the increasing frequency of other sporting events and concerts being held at Melbourne Park, it was decided that the venue required yet another arena. So, just four years later in 2000, the multipurpose venue known as Hisense Arena was built, complete with an additional 10,000-seat capacity as well as a velodrome.
Come January each year, Melbourne Park is all about the Australian Open, sporting incredible weather and a wonderful atmosphere. Sizeable, centrally located and easily accessible, Melbourne Park has fast become an iconic part of Melbourne and the much-loved home of sports and entertainment. Whether or not you have tickets to an event, take some time to check out the area when visiting the city.