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banner Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 18:26 GMT
A tournament for one and all
The Australian Open aims to be accessible to all
The Australian Open aims to be accessible to all
From Hugh Westbrook in Melbourne

After a year of sporting victories on the field and the huge success of the Sydney Olympics, the start of 2001 puts Australia back in the sporting spotlight.

But how large is the Australian public's appetite for the Australian Open?

After all, Australians are used to winning, but the Open has not been claimed by a home player since Mark Edmonson took the men's title in 1976 and Chris O'Neil took the ladies' event two years later.

Yet the public's interest in the Open is enormous, and growing all the time.

Australia's biggest sporting event

Crowds topped 500,000 last year for the first time, jumping more than 66% over the last five years

And with the opening of the new Vodafone Arena, there are even more seats available this year.

Australian Open Chief Executive Paul McNamee told BBC Sport Online about the tournament's growing stature.

Tournament Chief Exec Paul MacNamee
Tournament Chief Exec Paul MacNamee
"The tournament was perceived to be among the top five events in Australia, but now it is universally regarded as Australia's biggest sporting event," he said.

"It's pretty hard to get a ticket to Rod Laver Arena, but anybody can get a ground pass. For 20 dollars [around eight pounds], we think it's the best value sports ticket in the world."

The 2001 event carries a 'This Is Australia' theme, and McNamee explained that the idea is the culmination of five years of work.

Aussie culture

"At Wimbledon you get the traditional British things such as the strawberries and cream, the lawn courts, the all-white clothing, the royal box, it gives you a taste of British culture. The French Open is very chic, the US Open is very New York.

"We felt the Australian Open five years ago didn't really have a branding which reflected the Aussie way of life. The Olympics really demonstrated what Australia was all about and we have been going down that path for the last five years.

The Sydney Olympics were a huge success
The Sydney Olympics were a huge success
"The most important thing is reflecting our culture - we are quite welcoming and easy-going, and the tournament aims to be affordable and accessible.

"That's part of what Australia is about. We don't try and price things so the average person can't go. What probably reflects what the tournament is all about is the egalitarian ticketing policy.

"After the Olympics, as Australia's biggest sporting event we are in a position to take advantage of the spirit of the Olympics and continue to put Australia on the world map.

"Modern Australia is the synergy of sport, entertainment and technology which was showcased very well in the Olympics, and we can build on that. That's what 'This Is Australia' means to us."

There is no doubt that the Australian Open is important to Australians, and it is developing as a quintessentially Australian Open.

The one thing that would add to its stature would be an Australian singles champion this year.

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