Australian Open opens new stadium to new crowds

Novak Djokovic is welcome at Australian Open, says tournament director; Russian and Belarusian players can compete in their respective region’s event

The Australian Open is to open its new $33m stadium on Sunday, but the first major of 2018 for the Melbourne tournament will be an opportunity for the first time for the men’s tennis calendar to open its doors to a new group of visitors.

The ATP World Tour has long been criticised over the number of its top players playing at the Grand Slam event in August, a time when the men’s field is most likely to be comprised mostly of foreign players. The new stadium has been described as a step to help solve this dilemma.

But Australian open boss Mark Philippoussis admitted he would have liked to have seen some of the old guard playing.

“Now they have got a place here which is unique and a real home ground, so that is a real plus,” he said. “But we would have liked to see a few of the old boys here, whether it’s McEnroe or Federer or Agassi or whoever but we’ve got to make some concessions.”

The last time the Australian Open hosted a top 40 men’s field was in 1990, when it had three former world No1s on the men’s circuit. The new stadium will be home to 18 ATP Tour players (only 24 will play their home matches in the first week of the event), three of whom are making their first ATP Tour appearance in the men’s event.

Two of those three are of course the tournament’s current world No1, Novak Djokovic, and his partner Vera Zvonareva. They will play their first two singles matches on the new stadium on Friday night. Two more of the top 20 ATP Tour players are also playing their first singles matches on the new stadium: world No13 Ernests Gulbis and fourth-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut. The rest are on the circuit but have not earned wildcards into the event.

The big-name players have a chance to do well at a different kind of venue. The event is expected to become the first of the majors to open its gates in two different countries, in this case, Serbia and Australia,

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