Pages: Australian Open

John Z. Pages

MELBOURNE ranks as one of my favorite cities in the world. (It was voted “the world’s most liveable city” for seven years until it was toppled by Vienna in 2018.)

If you love the outdoors and you bike, you can pedal endlessly around Port Phillip Bay. If you’re a runner, this city of five million people has thousands of kilometers of jogging paths. If you enjoy the water and rowing is your passion, you can exercise those upper-body muscles along the Yarra River, which snakes through the city. Melbourne is an exercise haven that’s heaven for fitness aficionados.

Which brings me to the city’s grandest sporting event, the Australian Open. For two lung-busting weeks, over 800,000 spectators will visit Melbourne Park, a massive complex housing 35 courts, including the main stadium named after their best ever, Rod Laver.

Back in June 2016, my daughter Jana (who’s the team captain of the Ateneo de Manila women’s tennis squad) and I got the opportunity to rent the Show Court 3 for a full hour; we swatted forehands and smashed volleys, the sound of the yellow ball reverberating throughout the empty 3,000-seater Court No. 3. It was an experience that we’ll forever cherish.

Tomorrow’s start of 2020’s first grand slam tournament has been controversial. No, Nick Kyrgios did not slam his racket to destroy the Plexicushion surface; the controversy surrounds the recent national calamity called the bushfires — which have burned 18.6 million hectares and killed over a billion animals. The bushfires and the smoke they’ve generated have threatened the event.

“There is a lot of speculation about the Australian Open not happening, or starting later,” said tournament director Craig Tiley. “The Australian Open is happening.”

Mr. Tiley had to make that statement after receiving complaints from players related to the air quality. Earlier this week in qualifying, Dalila Jakupovic was forced to stop after succumbing to nonstop coughing brought about by the smoke. But the show will go on.

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are the defending champions and favorites. The world No.1s — Ashleigh Barty and Rafa Nadal — will also be strong contenders.

Ash Barty is popular in Australia. Only 23 years old and standing 5-foot-5, the Queensland-born star won the French Open last year. Her fellow Aussies hope she wins on home soil on Feb. 1.

Among the men, the biggest question is this: Will the “Big Three” finally be toppled in the majors? Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won the last 11 (and 54 of the last 65) majors.

My answer: Yes, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem or Andrey Rublev will triumph in Melbourne, Paris, London or New York this 2020.

One name that we should all watch is Alexandra Eala. She grew up in Manila but now studies and trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain. Alex, who’s playing her first Australian Open (girls juniors category), is only 14 years old. In juniors, she’s world No. 9.