It was around this time last year that I was berating myself for having forgotten to bring two essential items on my trip to Melbourne; my sunglasses and a warm coat. You see, this was my first visit to this beautiful city, and I had little idea what the elements would throw at me.
But a quick tour of the nearest shopping center along Swanston Street did the trick. With new sunnies and several warm clothes in tow, I was ready for my first Australian Open assignment with ESPN STAR Sports.
My fortnight in Melbourne was a wonderful working experience. While it left us no time to explore the city, we got to know Melbourne Park like the back of our hands. So if you are heading to Melbourne to catch the Australian Open, here are my top 5 tips to maximize your experience.
Buy a ground pass ticket
This is the most economical way to enjoy the Melbourne Park experience. A ground pass allows you access to all the outside court action including the Margaret Court Arena. It does not allow you into the Rod Laver Arena or the Hisense Arena where most of the top seeds play, but there’s still plenty of quality tennis and players to watch everywhere else. And for just A$34 at most, that is value for money. Look out for the group/multiple day pass offers as well, which give even more attractive rates.
Get your souvenirs early
The souvenir shop is stacked with wonderful gifts, but be warned; the most popular items do run out by the end of the second week and you might not be able to find the sizes you want if you wait to long. Get your shopping done early to avoid disappointment.
Kick back at Garden Square
This is the hub of Melbourne Park, its center, the nucleus. If you can’t get a ticket into one of the main stadiums, then you will be able to watch the match on the big screen at Garden Square. It’s the perfect place to lay a picnic mat, kick back and people-watch, while at the same time keeping an eye on the tennis.
Hunt for autographs
If you have the time and patience, securing an autograph or two is very possible. There are several ways you can do this. The first is to catch the players as they walk on or off the practice courts (show courts). These are open to anyone with at least a ground pass, and allows you to get up close and observe the players outside of competition.
But you will have to compete with the masses to land an autograph. The other option is to wait at the exit from which the players emerge on their way to practice. But this might require a lot of time. Keep an eye on the daily programme guide as well. Players occasionally make appearances at sponsors’ booths or hold autograph sessions during the day.
Visit the MCG
Adjacent to Melbourne Park is the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground, the largest stadium in Australia and the 10th largest in the world. I would highly recommend a visit to the ground, preferably to watch a cricket match. The fast and exciting Big Bash T20 League will coincide with the Australian Open, and the Melbourne Stars could potentially host up to four 4 matches during the Aussie Open fortnight.
Catch Colette Wong on SportsCenter on ESPN every weekday at 7.30 p.m. for highlights and news from the Australian Open. Catch the high-definition telecast on ESPN HD and more than 260 live matches exclusively online on ESPN Player from Jan. 16.