Australian Open 1995: centre court floods

Australian Open 1995: Centre Court floods

Extract from Tennis’s strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

‘It was hard to tell whether Andre Agassi looked more like the Pirate King, Sinbad the Sailor or Popeye,’ wrote Alan Tengrove in Australian Tennis Magazine in 1995 after he had seen the Las Vegas-born 24-year-old bludgeon his way through the field to win the Australian Open at his first attempt.

Maybe Agassi knew something nobody else did because in his semifinal against fellow American Aaron Krickstein, his newly adopted seafaring style certainly ended up looking more appropriate than anyone could possibly have predicted.

Turning up at Melbourne’s magnificent Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park) wearing gold earrings in both ears, a bandana and sporting a goatee-stye beard certainly made Double ‘A’ look like something that had wandered in from the set of a Peter Pan movie, but the high-seas look hardly seemed appropriate for an antipodean summer at a stadium where play had been known to have been suspended on the grounds of it being too hot.

That’s not to say that the Australian Open hadn’t known rain before. Indeed when the pressure built up, heavy tropical storms were apt to erupt, but that sort of natural phenomenon couldn’t scupper the organizers at Flinders Park because they had a major secret weapon of their own up their sleeve.

Their famous retractable roof over the stunning centre court meant not even the heaviest rain could damper their spirits.

As the crowd settled for the start of the Agassi-Krickstein semi on Friday 27 January 1995 they had every reason to believe they’d see a full-length match with no unforeseen weather problems. In the event they were wrong on both counts.

Some rain had already been forecast so the roof was closed prior to the start of play. Agassi captured the first set 6-4, a set in which Krickstein tweaked a groin to add to the hamstring injury he was already carrying. Obviously affected but hanging in there, Krickstein again limited Agassi to 6-4 in the second as rain began drumming down relentlessly on the roof above.

As the crowd willed Krickstein to keep going as he trailed 3-0 in the third, the fact that they had been denied a classic was at least balanced by the knowledge they’d cheated nature, so often the tennis killjoy. If the Agassi game finished quickly there would surely be another match scheduled.

Five minutes later hopes were shattered on both fronts. As the sky was lit an almighty lightning flash and the faintest trickle of water had begun to creep into one corner of the court, Krickstein decided he could no longer carry on because of the injury. Maybe he foresaw the deluge that followed.

As the crowd applause rippled and the players began to leave court, ripples of a more watery kind seemed to be getting larger. Had the unbreachable roof failed? No. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The elements decided to attack from below and seep up from underneath the court. Within five minutes of the players’ departure the entire court was under water and play was abandoned fir the day.

‘It soon rose to knee-height,’ stated The Times under the masterful headline ‘AGASSI TIDE ROLLS ON AS KRICKSTEIN REACHES LOWEST EBB’.

‘Dozens of people, including Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez, went paddling in the instantly created pool,’ added the Guardian.

There have been tennis floods but never one quite so unexpected or impossible as this one. All was revealed to the equally soggy press shortly afterwards as many reporters perched atop desks marooned in the state-of-the-art pressroom which had also meekly succumbed.

The lighting had caused a partial power failure which shut down the pumping equipment that usually conveyed surplus stem water into the River Yarra adjacent to the grounds. As pressure in the drains intensified a number of them simply blew and opted to disgorge themselves on Centre Court.

‘You would think that with a roof over the stadium, you’ve got all the angles covered,’ mused Agassi, ‘but I hope the court is dray for Sunday and it’s going to be fun.’
It was and it was. Pistol Pete Sampras was made to walk the plank as Agassi triumphed in four sets.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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