MELBOURNE, Australia – Fans at the Australian Open flock to the practice courts between Rod Laver Arena and Melbourne Arena – the “star courts” closest to the player areas – to see the big guns practice.
Sometimes, if there’s rain or a change of schedule, you can see hordes of Federer or Serena Williams fans, who got there hours earlier to stake out a spot next to the fence, trudge away disappointed.
The players scheduled for a night session might move into Rod Laver Arena, if the day schedule finishes early. And the fans can’t get in there. So the Serbian and Spanish-bearing fans trudge off, the chance at a a selfie gone.
On Wednesday, new favorite Stefanos Tsitsipas had planned to practice on one of those courts. But, unannounced, he ended up moving to the 1573 Court (the former Show Court 2) at the other end of the site.
That court is right next to Margaret Court Arena. It’s generally open to the public. And Tsitsipas’s fans quickly caught on to the fact that he (and an ever-increasing support team)were in there.
Unfortunately, there was a large band of burly security guys making sure they couldn’t go in and sit in the stands.
(Even a media credential wouldn’t get you in).
There was a cleaning crew in there, as play on that court had concluded for the day. But there were fans at every one of the more than a dozen entrances. And they were crammed at each one trying to get a look.
As well, there’s a handy exit for the players directly to the underground walkways under Rod Laver. So no chance for an autograph.
Not always the players’ fault
From what some of the fans were saying as tennis.life observed the proceedings, some of them felt Tsitsipas was big-leaguing them – that it was at his insistence the practice was “closed” to the public.
Most often, though, the players aren’t the instigators of this sort of thing, as the Australian Open is the most rigid event when it comes to … everything. The tournament often pre-emptively makes calls like this, assuming the player will appreciate it.
Novak Djokovic had to clarify a similar situation during his press conference following the win over Kei Nishikori Wednesday night.
The fact that Djokovic had gone into Margaret Court Arena to practice, rather than on one of the No. 16 – No. 18 practice courts, was taken by some as a sign that he wanted to hide some sort of injury.
Djokovic hastened to clarify that was not the case.
“Regarding the closed practice, I saw that, too, that they’ve published that I insisted on having a closed practice. It’s absolutely not true. I don’t know. I’ve never said anything about closed practice. I just went in to practice on the Margaret Court Arena,” Djokovic said. “There was nobody there. … Maybe somebody from tournament, I don’t know.”
A big crew
On another note, it’s always eye-opening to see how the group around a player gets bigger and bigger, the deeper he (it’s usually a bigger thing with the “he’s) goes into the draw.
The ever-present Patrick Mouratoglou wasn’t spotted at this particular practice. But he had a previous commitment as the practice took place a couple of hours after Mouratoglou’s charge, Serena Williams, lost her shocker of a match against Karolina Pliskova.
Still, there were a LOT of fellas.
(Mouratoglou was back front row for the actual match Thursday night.