Blue skies and record crowds

Blue skies and record crowds The Melbourne grand slam launches with a bang thanks to glorious weather, a Sunday first and Aussies on every court

ussie-Aussie-Aussie, oi-oi-oi,” squealed the young fan in John Cain Arena on Monday. “Shut up,” came the retort from another. Giggles and murmurs from the rest. After all, the match was Australian Alexei Popyrin against Australian Marc Polmans, in the first round of Australia’s grand slam tournament, on the day the event broke its day session attendance record. The oi-oi-oi went without saying.

Storm Hunter pumps her fist on court and celebrates her win
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Monday presented nine matches involving local players, building towards the evening clash pitting Canadian Milos Raonic against the world No 10 – Australia’s top dog Alex de Minaur. There were banks of green and gold watching Popyrin and Polmans, Australian flags doubling as fans as the temperature climbed towards 30C.

After Popyrin won the day’s first all-Australian duel in straight sets, a group of eight grinning supporters wearing identical yellow admitted they would have been happy with any result. They have made a tradition of coming to the tennis in recent years, but this year thought they would try something different: the matching Australia t-shirts, available for $15 online. That’s about the same price as a can of beer from the bar nearby, filled to the brim with shade-chasers. Even more popular were the misting fans and free sunscreen.

But most popular of all was the tennis. The crowds snaked around the precinct and into the show courts. Some fans were waiting more than an hour ahead of the clash between Andy Murray and 30th seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry at Kia Arena.

Spectators sit on chairs on the lawn at Melbourne Park
The 2024 tournament has already broken crowd records. Photograph: James D Morgan/Getty Images

Even more attention is on the turnout at the tournament this year, after revelations of tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from Victorian taxpayers. The government maintains the event is a good investment, bringing in tourists and showcasing Melbourne. And after Sunday’s crowd eclipsed last year’s opening by almost 10,000 fans, and Monday set a day session record of more than 51,000 fans, there’s hope the total number of visitors for the tournament will pass 1m in 2024, if the weather holds out.

Alexei Popyrin and Marc Polmans each have a hand on the other’s chest as they speak after their match
Alexei Popyrin and Marc Polmans meet at the net after their first round match. Photograph: James Ross/EPA

By the early afternoon the Australians in the Melbourne Park crowds had already been rewarded. Rockhampton-born, Perth-bred, Melbourne-based Storm Hunter started the day by winning her first main draw singles match at the tournament, defeating Italian Sara Errani in straight sets. The doubles world No 1 was taken aback by the level of support. There, just for her.

After he booked his second-round match-up against Novak Djokovic with victory over Polmans, Popyrin said he felt the support inside John Cain Arena, “but it’s never easy playing a fellow Aussie, a friend, but I was happy that I managed to get through it straight sets”.

But it was a mixed day for the other Australians. Local wildcard Taylah Preston was unable to reward her supporters on the court named after a Chinese alcoholic drink brand, going down to 19th-seed Elina Svitolina in straight sets. Wildcard James Duckworth went down in five to France’s Luca Van Assche, after losing the final two sets.

In the evening, Daria Saville went down in three sets to Poland’s Magdalena Fręch in a compelling struggle. The match finally ended 6-7, 6-3, 7-5 after more than three hours.

As the singles draw progresses, the attendance count typically drops off in the second week. That means this week’s forecast – the Bureau of Meteorology is noting a medium chance of showers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – is likely to be decisive.

Well, 2023 didn’t exactly go to plan, did it?

Here in the UK, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, had promised us a government of stability and competence – not forgetting professionalism, integrity and accountability – after the rollercoaster ride of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Remember Liz? These days she seems like a long forgotten comedy act. Instead, Sunak took us even further through the looking-glass into the Conservative psychodrama.

Elsewhere, the picture has been no better. In the US, Donald Trump is now many people’s favourite to become president again. In Ukraine, the war has dragged on with no end in sight. The danger of the rest of the world getting battle fatigue and losing interest all too apparent. Then there is the war in the Middle East and not forgetting the climate crisis …

But a new year brings new hope. There are elections in many countries, including the UK and the US. We have to believe in change. That something better is possible. The Guardian will continue to cover events from all over the world and our reporting now feels especially important. But running a news gathering organisation doesn’t come cheap.

So this year, I am asking you – if you can afford it – to give money. Well, not to me personally – though you can if you like – but to the Guardian. By supporting the Guardian from just $2 per month, we will be able to continue our mission to pursue the truth in all corners of the world.

With your help, we can make our journalism free to everyone. You won’t ever find any of our news reports or comment pieces tucked away behind a paywall. We couldn’t do this without you. Unlike our politicians, when we say we are in this together we mean it.

Happy new year!

Well, 2023 didn’t exactly go to plan, did it?

Here in the UK, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, had promised us a government of stability and competence – not forgetting professionalism, integrity and accountability – after the rollercoaster ride of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Remember Liz? These days she seems like a long forgotten comedy act. Instead, Sunak took us even further through the looking-glass into the Conservative psychodrama.

Elsewhere, the picture has been no better. In the US, Donald Trump is now many people’s favourite to become president again. In Ukraine, the war has dragged on with no end in sight. The danger of the rest of the world getting battle fatigue and losing interest all too apparent. Then there is the war in the Middle East and not forgetting the climate crisis …

But a new year brings new hope. There are elections in many countries, including the UK and the US. We have to believe in change. That something better is possible. The Guardian will continue to cover events from all over the world and our reporting now feels especially important. But running a news gathering organisation doesn’t come cheap.

So this year, I am asking you – if you can afford it – to give money. Well, not to me personally – though you can if you like – but to the Guardian. By supporting the Guardian from just $2 per month, we will be able to continue our mission to pursue the truth in all corners of the world.

With your help, we can make our journalism free to everyone. You won’t ever find any of our news reports or comment pieces tucked away behind a paywall. We couldn’t do this without you. Unlike our politicians, when we say we are in this together we mean it.

Happy new year!

Blue skies and record crowds

Here in the UK, the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, had promised us a government of stability and competence – not forgetting professionalism, integrity and accountability – after the rollercoaster ride of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Remember Liz? These days she seems like a long forgotten comedy act. Instead, Sunak took us even further through the looking-glass into the Conservative psychodrama.

Elsewhere, the picture has been no better. In the US, Donald Trump is now many people’s favourite to become president again. In Ukraine, the war has dragged on with no end in sight. The danger of the rest of the world getting battle fatigue and losing interest all too apparent. Then there is the war in the Middle East and not forgetting the climate crisis …

But a new year brings new hope. There are elections in many countries, including the UK and the US. We have to believe in change. That something better is possible. The Guardian will continue to cover events from all over the world and our reporting now feels especially important. But running a news gathering organisation doesn’t come cheap.

So this year, I am asking you – if you can afford it – to give money. Well, not to me personally – though you can if you like – but to the Guardian. By supporting the Guardian from just $2 per month, we will be able to continue our mission to pursue the truth in all corners of the world.

With your help, we can make our journalism free to everyone. You won’t ever find any of our news reports or comment pieces tucked away behind a paywall. We couldn’t do this without you. Unlike our politicians, when we say we are in this together we mean it.

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