There was precious little money in tennis in Daphne Akhurst‘s day, or else she might have become an early version of a whizkid, an Antipodean Graf or Hingis.
In 1917, when Akhurst was 14, she won the New South Wales schoolgirls’ singles title against older girls. She defended it over the next three years. She subsequently won the Australian women’s title in 1925-1926 and again from 1928-30. She was equally successful in doubles.

Arkhurst, a music teacher, never received tennis coaching. She taught herself to play because she thought tennis fun, and had natural flair. Elegantly attired, and often sporting a red headband, she had a free-hitting style and a strong will to win. The crowds loved her, making her the first Australian woman to achieve top drawcard status.

In 1930, after marrying Royston Cozens, she decided she’d no longer play competitive singles. Her fans were devastated, but much worse news followed, in Januray 1933, Daphne died aged 29 of an ectopic pregnancy, leaving her husband to care for their six-month old son. Two years later, Roysten married Louie Bickerton, one of Daphne’s best friends and frequent doubles partner.

The trophy presented each year to the winner of the women’s singles at the Australian Open is named the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in her honour.

Show Court 3 - Nalbandian v Smeets

– The tournament was held for the first time in 1905 and was contested on grass from 1905 through 1987.

– The tournament was first known as the Australasian Championships, became the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969.

– The tournament has been staged twice in New Zealand: in Christchurch in 1906 and Hastings in 1912.

– Five australian cities have hosted the tournament: Melbourne (54 times), Sydney(17), Adelaide(14), Brisbane(7), Perth(3). The 1971 Open was the last time the tournament would be played outside Melbourne.

– Last Aussie players to win the Australian Open are Mark Edmondson in 1976 and Chris O’Neil in 1978.

– In 1982, for the first time in tennis history, a player wins two Grand Slam titles in the same calendar year, at the same tournament and against the same opponent: on December 13, 1982 Johan Kriek repeats as Australian Open champion, defeating number 2 seed Steve Denton 6-3 6-3 6-2. The two players played in the 1981 Australian Open final that is played on January 3, 1982, Kriek winning 6-2 7-6 6-7 6-4.

– In 1988, the tournament moved from Kooyong to Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park) and became a hard court event. The move to Flinders Park was an immediate success, with a 90 percent increase in attendance in 1988 (266 436) on the previous year at Kooyong (140 000).
Mats Wilander is the only male player to have won the Australian Open on both grass (1983 and 1984) and hard courts (1988).

– On January 21, 1990, at the Australian Open, John McEnroe becomes the first player since 1963 to be disqualified from a Grand Slam tournament for misconduct. Leading Mikael Pernfors 6-1 4-6 7-5 2-4, McEnroe is disqualified by chair umpire Gerry Armstrong after breaking a racquet and insulting the supervisor.
The last player to be disqualified from a Grand Slam for misconduct had been Willie Alvarez of Spain, in the 1963 French Open, 17 years earlier.

– The Extreme Heat Policy was introduced in 1998 after consultation with players. It comes into play when daytime temperatures hit 35 degrees and the heat stress level reaches 28.
Officials considered closing the roof for the final in 1993 due to a temperature of 104 degrees (40 °C), but Jim Courier threatened to boycott the match unless the roof remained open.

– Prior to the 2000 tournament, the Centre Court was named Rod Laver Arena to honour tennis legend Rod Laver, the only player in tennis history to have captured two Grand Slams (in 1962 and 1969).
Besides tennis, Rod Laver Arena hosts motorbike super cross, conferences, concerts and ballets.

– In the first round of the Australian Open 2000, Marat Safin became the first player ever fined for lack of effort at a Grand Slam. Under the Grand Slam “best effort” rule, the 19-year-old Muscovite was fined $2,000 for failing to make an appropriate effort in his 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-1 loss to South African qualifier Grant Stafford.

– In 2003, the Show Court One was renamed Margaret Court Arena to honour Australian great Margaret Court.
With a capacity of 6 000 seats, it is the largest capacity fully outdoor court used at the Australian Open. Future improvements to the Arena include a capacity expansion of 1500 seats, to total 7500, as well as the installation of an retractable roof for the 2015 Australian Open.

– The highest ever day/night attendance in Grand Slam history was recorded during the first week of Oz Open 2010, with 77 043 fans attending on Saturday 23th January.

– The women’s singles winner is presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. The men’s singles winner is presented with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.

The Australian Open is already just around the corner! Australian Open 2012 was launched last week at Melbourne Park by the Premier of Victoria, Ted Baillieu, and Aussie legend Roy Emerson.

Australian Open 2012 is set to offer the highest prize money in the history of Grand Slam tennis. The total prize pool will be $26 million, with the men’s and women’s champions taking home a record $2.3 million each.

A few other initiatives have been announced:
– the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup and the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, will head to China for the first ever international leg of the Australian Open Trophy Tour this week.
Hawk-Eye to be introduced on Margaret Court Arena
– bigger and better Grand Slam Oval following redevelopment work, with improved access and additional space
– expanded merchandise range to include prestige memorabilia collection
– Australian Open Kids Day returns with more activities and opportunities for kids to play on the Australian Open courts
– improved player facilities, with a new player lounge, gym and entertainment options including a shark aquarium and live music performances.

The Australian Open is my second favorite Grand Slam (the first being Wimbledon, of course), and I am always amazed by their innovations and how they take care of the spectators.

Stay tune for more coverage of Australian Open 2012!