Putting on a grand slam
Craig Tiley, Australian Open Tournament director, takes his eye off the ball to describe what goes into the planning, preparation and hosting of Australia’s biggest sporting event.
Come January, the Australian Open Tennis Championships is the biggest sporting event in the world. Over 500 players descend on Melbourne Park and thrash it out in typically sizzling temperatures before huge crowds. Craig Tiley, Director of Tennis Australia and the Australian Open is tasked with making sure this annual event goes off without a hitch and players keep coming back. We quiz Craig on what goes on off centre court, and why the ‘happy slam’ is such a success.
What is the planning process like for the 2013 Australian Open?
We have a staff of 100 people that work on the event year round and 4,500 seasonal staff that we bring in. We’re in the process of planning 2014 and 2015 and we have one group that’s constantly planning the event and one group that works operationally on the event. Since July 2012, our focus has shifted primarily to the delivery of 2013 but up until July we’re working on 2014 and even 2015 events.
Australian Open attendance continues to grow, why do you think that is?
We’ve got two major initiatives that we focus on, our fans and our players. We have about 500 players that come out and we have what we call a ‘ten point player experience’ and that’s the ten touch points at which we engage players. We make sure those touch points have five star service, a welcoming environment and ensuring our players feel very comfortable during their visit to Melbourne. Three years ago Rodger Federer referred to us as the ‘Happy Slam’, and we certainly are that.
Can you let us in on some of the things that happen behind the scenes?
There are a few things. We have a scheduling room and it’s like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. It’s a highly secure room with only certain people allowed in it - the referees, supervisors, representatives from each of the stakeholders and myself, and we lock ourselves in that room and make some decisions regarding who’s playing where, on what court and at what time. It would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall and witness the sorts of arguments that take place around what player should play where.
From the players’ point of view, we have a beauty bar, we have a crèche, we have a player lounge and cafeteria where we entertain them. The zoo helps us and we bring in animals that are indigenous to Australia.
We also have a medical facility that’s really phenomenal. Anything could happen at any moment and we have a world-class medical staff to address it. A lot of things happen that are generally not public about someone’s injury and how they’re treating it and how prepared they’re going to be for their match, so we have to protect the flow of information.
You also get the antics in the locker rooms. One of the fun moments I had was when Novak Djokovic won for the first time and he had a huge party in the locker room. We brought in a Serbian band that was in the grandstand and they played music all night until about 4am. After Novak played I think he danced straight for about three hours.
What has been your favourite match at the open?
It would have to be the Nadal and Djokovic final last year. A 6-hour final with phenomenal tennis, I don’t know if I’ll get to see that level of tennis for that long and with that much strength again.
To someone who has never been to the Australian Open, what are the main reasons to go for the first time?
Value for ticket. You spend thirty bucks and you get 12 hours of entertainment, whether it’s a band at grandstand oval, sitting in café, having a beer, going to the practice courts, watching a match, I’d like to see any other sport compete with that.
We’re one big festival. We have 25 sessions and 14 days of pure entertainment.
Bucket list. It’s really something that should be on everyone’s bucket list.