The cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium is more breathtaking, the aura surrounding Centre Court makes it more enchanting, and Court Philippe Chatrier is more atmospheric. But my feeling is that the Rod Laver Arena offers a better viewing experience than any other Grand Slam main court.
I made my debut there today, and admittedly my positive first impression was surely helped by the fact that I was watching Roger Federer vs Dan Evans: for all the emphasis on the physical, pugilistic sides to tennis, this match was tennis as an art form, two players with similar philosophies and strokes, who prefer brushing and slicing to bashing and punching. So, I will have to go back to be sure, but I feel pretty confident in my assertion.
What really struck me was the way it treats the fans who are up in the gods. At the US Open the gods are too high to be able to appreciate the tennis, at Wimbledon the gods are a little dark and stuffy with the low ceiling, and at the French Open the gods expose you a little too much to the elements, be it wind or sun. Here, however, the fans at the back are close enough to feel intimacy with the action, and given room to breathe by the roof.
With the stadium hosting concerts and events throughout the year, there’s perhaps a sense that it lacks a bit of soul. Can you feel the history? I’m not sure. But the upside to this multi-functionality is that it’s a state-of-the-art facility, and generally just a pleasant place to be. The concourse has carpet. The seats have padding. The players’ benches have electronically-operated sun shades which are lowered to fold away neatly during play, before coming up again at the change of ends. And there are two big screens showing the score, two showing replays, and several smaller ones that flash up stats throughout the match.
Despite all this, I still don’t think the Rod Laver Arena is the best stadium at Melbourne Park. That title should go to Court 3. Situated next to Garden Square, its 140-metre exterior was designed by Australian street art legend Sofles last year. It’s a colourful landmark, full of life and unlike anything else on site. I went there today to soak up some of Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Viktor Troicki and Maria Sakkari vs Astra Sharma. My conclusions were three-fold: most tennis stadiums are too big, all tennis stadiums should be round, and more tennis stadiums should be filled with Greek ultras. That final wish is impossible of course, but I stand strongly by the first two.
The connection between players and spectators in sport is absolutely fundamental. Take the players away and there’s nothing to cheer. Take the fans away and you lose all sense of occasion. Small, round stadiums are gladiatorial and theatrical, helping to create an atmosphere in the first place, then magnifying it. The new Grandstand at the US Open is like this, the old bullring at Roland Garros was like this, and Court 3 at the Australian Open is like it too. The sport sounds different in these stadiums – if the acoustics are right, shots are like thunderclaps – and it feels different too. It feels monumental.
Diego Schwartzman seemed to be allergic to the lead today in his match against Denis Kudla. Whenever he had it, poof, it disappeared. His 6-4, 4-0 advantage was cut to 6-4, 5-5. After eventually winning the second set, he promptly lost the third. He then served for the match in the fourth set, only to lose it in a tiebreak. A 0-3 deficit in the deciding set suddenly left him staring defeat in the face. And it was only then, freed from the apparent burden of being in the ascendency, that he had a truly decisive spell, reeling off six of the last seven games to take the match. It was a contest which emphasised the dramatic potential of tennis: with its ebbs and flows, the length of the match was indeterminable, the finish line a mirage.
Shapovalov has been locked out of his Twitter account, which I thought was quite funny:
Q. I noticed you deleted Twitter. I was interested why you made that move.
DENIS SHAPOVALOV: I honestly didn't. I'm just having some issues getting it back up running. There's some issues with my birth date and stuff. I'm actually just trying to figure that out right now. They don't want to let me back in. Please, Twitter, let me back in.
If Aliaksandra Sasnovich is not a player on your radar, I suggest you change that right away. She can flash winners off either wing, she’s on the rise, and she’s always good for a delightful interview. After beating Anett Kontaveit today, she was asked to comment on her potential third round opponent today, and she somehow managed to weave McDonalds, Nutella and shopping into her answer, without actually mentioning tennis once.
This tournament is ready for lift off! Over the next couple of days we will see: Serena vs Bouchard, Tsonga vs Djokovic, Basilashvili vs Tsitsipas, Nadal vs De Minaur, Barty vs Sakkari, Cornet vs Venus, Wawrinka vs Raonic. Strap yourselves in.
* Nadal vs De Minaur dependent on De Minaur winning tonight of course.