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The playing conditions provided by the courts at Melbourne Park this year will be under scrutiny during the opening matches. To help players prepare for the Australian Open, tournament organisers prepare the courts at warm-up tournaments in the same fashion as those at the major event. Several players at the Brisbane Open reported the courts were playing significantly faster than expected.
“The courts are extremely fast, and it’s not easy to break,” commented Marin Cilic. “We get used to it quickly. It’s a matter of one or two days. I would say just it’s a bit surprising. I was not expecting it to be this fast.”
The Australian Open moved from being played on grass to hard court in 1988. The original type of hard court used was Rebound Ace, which is generally prepared as a relatively fast surface, but this was superseded by the current Plexicusion surface in 2008. This latter change has been criticised by some as leading to slower courts and the more attritional style of tennis typified by the 2012 men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal that lasted five hours and fifty-three minutes.
Tournament director Craig Tiley attributed the fast conditions in Brisbane to a combination of a heatwave and covered courts.
”We’ve repeated what we did in 2013. We didn’t get that feedback at Hopman Cup, which is also the exact same surface.”
While some have assumed that faster courts would work against world number one Rafael Nadal, it should be remembered that the Spaniard has several titles on faster hard courts at the US Open, Cincinnati and Montreal.
Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years and defeated Roger Federer to win the Brisbane title. The pair, who are both 32-years-old, have one of the more unique head-to-head records in tennis. Hewitt had the better of things during their early years on tour, winning seven of their first nine matches. Federer then turned the tables in comprehensive style by winning 15 consecutively. The players have not played as frequently in recent years but with his win in Brisbane, Hewitt has now won two of the past three encounters – both of which came in finals.
Hewitt has said he is finally unhampered by injuries and, with the support of the home crowd, will be looking to make a good run in Melbourne. The Australian veteran is currently ranked at 43 and therefore will not be seeded; many top players will be hoping Lleyton doesn’t land in their section of the draw.
In the wake of frenzied hiring and firing during the off-season, there will be many camera lenses pointing at the former players now coaching when play begins in Melbourne. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have led the way by hiring high profile tennis legends Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg respectively. Marin Cilic has former Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic in his corner, Richard Gasquet will be advised by Roland Garros great Sergi Bruguera, Kei Nishikori is working with Michael Chang, and Grigor Dimitrov has hooked up with Roger Rasheed. News of Alexandr Dolgopolov appointing Fabrice Santoro as his new coach, prompted Andy Murray to tweet: “Fabrice Santoro doing some work with Dolgopolov … has to be the best coach/player fit out there! #unpredictable”