Goodness me, it’s a bit of a way isn’t it? My odyssey to the other side of the world (literally, in my case) began a day after New Year’s day. Come on, it can’t be that bad – splendid weather, vegemite, kangaroos…
Let’s set aside squalling children from the hour we were sat on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi before wheels-up to the moment wheels touched down, and concentrate on the business at hand – first covering the Brisbane International, and then after some shameless touristing, covering the Australian Open.
First up I LOVE tournaments like Brisbane – site is nice and compact, you get everywhere easily, plus the fans are knowledgeable about their tennis, and they respect the players wandering about their midst. And from a journo perspective, we were fed and watered too!
But lord the jetlag and hitting the ground running from Day One was brutal – but the reward was huge – two great finals and perhaps a premonition of what was to come? Brisbane finalist Angelique Kerber went on to defeat Serena Williams and win her first Grand Slam Final, and Brisbane title winner Milos Raonic made his second Grand Slam semi-final before injury ruled him out of a breakthrough final.
After Brisbane I hit Melbourne, and more shameless touristing (oh how GOOD is the Supper Club and The Wine Shop), but nothing prepares you for the first look at a Slam venue, either as a fan or as media. In a cab from my initial digs in the back of beyond near family with an acerbic taxi driver, I saw we were on Batman Avenue and got him to let me out so that I could do the tasks necessary to pick up a temporary badge to go collect my credentials.
Things got a whole lot easier for me when I met up with a friend who actually works for the Melbourne Tourist Board who had his people in the visitor’s centre sort me out the best MyKi (think Oyster for Melbournians) for the few days I would need it for the train, and helped me sort out my bearings and thus off I trotted as a native!
But when it comes down to the job in hand it is very different. I was so lucky the first couple of days – the weather was beautiful and it was great to walk the 20 or so minutes down Swanson Street and then the same along the river – and as for the first real look at Rod Laver Arena and all the courts from over the bridge. Great.
In terms of facilities – there is one main media work room where almost everyone is… makes for an interesting international hotchpotch of people and after doing some quintessentially English grovelling, I got a desk near to a German colleague I have seen around the tours.
The set up is great, although maybe little wrinkles like the transportation made the first couple of days a little bumpy until I discovered another international colleague in my hotel, but also it does take you a few days to get into the groove of a day and night session Slam. You really have to pace yourself, and with Europe wide eyed and bushy-tailed by the time I often got to the hotel past midnight, 2 am bed-times were not uncommon. But everywhere is so easy to get to centrally, I feel far more comfortable in getting somewhere on AirBnB next time (if there is a next time!)
I can’t believe it took me a whole week to work out what the media feed was. Beverages, hot snacks and rolls/sandwiches which certainly help the media meal money last a little longer. And a special mention for the girls in the café who knew my morning toast order, and you know it’s great to be addressed by name when you walk in.
In comparison to other Grand Slams the strangest thing is the small main media interview room where the players look up at the journalists (makes a change from looking down at us from a raised desk and platform).
This all adds to the sense of uniqueness that each Slam has. Wimbledon, although the media facilities have been updated, still has that marvellously English feel to everything – wooden handrails, flowers in the Wimbledon colours all around.
Roland Garros involves the sprint from one media room to the other on occasion with nifty little backroutes from Suzanne Lenglen (where the photographers lived, and occasional waif-and-stray journalists like me) to Philippe Chatrier, and I sneakily used to sneak in there in the evenings when other journalists had left.
I have yet to cover the US Open as a journalist, but I did go there as a fan once, admittedly at a time when security awareness might have been at its highest, and in comparison the Australian Open really does feel very fan friendly. The phone charge points all around the place, the mist-fans to keep people cool in the soaring temperatures (not that there were many days like that) and the transport for people. That being said – as cute as the trams are, and the great service to keep them running even when matches are running late, they are often the teeny tiny ones (which do look cute), but can be a bit of a crush.
Slams accreditations can be a bit of a Holy Grail but this experience has made me even more determined to get my own fledging sports site off the ground to come here in its own right to report on the Happy Slam.
And the sheer cosmopolitan nature of Melbourne made me fall in love with Australia all over again. The first time I came here, back-packing with old friends from school, I loved the city vibe of Sydney. The second time was just a helter-skelter dash around the country with not enough time to take in anything much. But this time – Melbourne won my heart.