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banner Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 18:26 GMT
Guide to Melbourne Park
Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park
Melbourne Park is a popular venue for players and fans
From Hugh Westbrook in Melbourne

Melbourne Park hosts the first Grand Slam of 2001, and the growth of the venue has coincided with the increased prestige of the tournament.

The Open was traditionally played around Australia until it was given a fixed home at Melbourne's Kooyong club in 1972.

Improvements were needed for a Grand Slam event and the new complex close to the city centre was built.

Attendances at the first Open rose 80% and have continued to climb ever since, with the name of Flinders Park soon replaced by the more globally recognisable Melbourne Park in 1996.

For this year's Open, Melbourne Park has undergone a major change.

A multi-functional arena

The 10,800-capacity Vodafone Arena is open for business, and with the existing Rod Laver Arena means the tournament will now utilise two show courts with retractable roofs.

Lindsay Davenport lifts Woman's trophy
Davenport happy at Melbourne Park

Melbourne Park is active for more than just the two weeks for the tennis.

It is already home of the Melbourne Tigers basketball team, but can also be adapted to host ice skating, concerts and motorsport events.

The removal of some of the lower seats also allows a cycling track forming an Olympic-standard velodrome.

The arena has been built on a grand scale, boasting wide, air-conditioned foyers for the public, while the majority of the seats are available for those that arrive and pay on the day.

Melbourne Park is a great deal more than the new arena.

The Rod Laver Arena, renamed 12 months ago after the legendary Australian player but only now adorned with large blue lettering to confirm its identity, was a pioneering structure in the 1980s.

The retractable roof takes 28 minutes to close, twice as long as the new Vodafone roof, but it is still an impressive venue to watch tennis, with all seats offering an excellent view.

TV screen at Melbourne Park
Viewing facilities available outside the courts

Television has also affected design as the speckled pattern of the seating gives the impression on screen that the arena is full, even when it is not.

The two main arenas fully complement the complex.

Just one kilometre from the heart of Melbourne and with perfect views of the city, the wide open spaces of Melbourne Park offer diversity to the visitor.

Hail a water taxi

The circular Garden Square will be a focal point during the tournament, people will congregate to watch the action on a giant screen, while others can view bronze sculptures of the members of Australia's Tennis Hall of Fame.

It features an interactive zone for children and will also host the entertainment after the men's final; restaurants are also aplenty.

There are over 20 courts featuring action, with three show courts in addition to the two main arenas - the outside courts are also available to the public to play on during the rest of the year.

Easily reached by train, tram and even water taxi, there is one other reason why Melbourne Park makes a grand impression.

While sharing administration with the next-door Olympic Park, which is used for both rugby league and soccer, the complex is adjacent to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

This must be one of the the most concentrated areas of top-class sport in the world.

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