We all know what happens on the court but what about the people who bring the tournament together and help make it what it is? What is the tournament like for them? From operating the court doors and gates to basically hanging out with tennis elite, Justin Visser shares his story.
My initiation began in Rod Laver Arena. I worked Doors 9 and 12 and helped patrons to their seats, checked their tickets and watched parts of all matches when up top: Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic and Rafa.
During my lunch break in the staff cafe, I bumped into my favourite chair umpire and one of the most famous on tour, Mohamed Lahyani. We had a chat for a few minutes and I showed him my photo with Federer. Lahyani presided over his 1000th career match win in Brisbane.
On my way back to the arena, I walked right passed Nick Kyrgios who was on his way to practice and gave him a nod of the head. Finally, as we ushered everyone out of RLA and began cleaning, who should appear for a private practice session than the king himself, Roger Federer! Seeing him have a hit with his coach Stefan Edberg in an empty stadium made cleaning much easier. Bring on day two and the rest of the week.
I witnessed greatness on Day Two at the Aus Open. Had the chance to operate Door 9 of the newly developed Margaret Court Arena and finally saw Serena Williams play live. Gael Monfils was up next in a thrilling 5-setter, coming back from two sets to love down and producing some crowd-pleasing shots. Got home at 1:30am and woke early the next morning for Day Three, stationed at the southern end of Rod Laver Arena.
Day 3 was full of surprises. My morning started with the usual briefing but more noteworthy was what followed – came face-to-face with television reporter and model, Rachael Finch. My head turn as she walked passed was not so subtle.
I then saw all the drama unfold on Rod Laver Arena as Sharapova saved two match points to win her match, and the tensions seeing Federer down a set for the first time live but making a firm comeback.
After the match, much to my surprise, a couple of teenage girls asked my supervisor if it would be ok to take a photo with me. For a few seconds it made me feel like a tennis pro. Tomorrow I’m rostered on as a warden with a radio in RLA, should be interesting!
Day Four was behind the scenes. I experienced a different side of the Aus Open while stationed at the Media Work Room, which is one big hive of activity with journalists, reporters, photographers and crew constantly moving back and forth.
This area is located right near the player cafe and accreditation. I literally brushed shoulders with many pros…Fernando Verdasco, Simona Halep, Casey Dellacqua, Sam Groth (twice, he even acknowledged me as he left the building at night), Jim Courier, Daniela Hantuchova, the entire Hewitt family (including Bec, parents, kids and Tony Roche), Andy Murray’s mother, and John Isner.
I’m stationed there again for Day Five, I wonder who I’ll see!
The celebrity sightings continued in full flow. I spent the afternoon and night again checking accreditation passes of media representatives, hooked up with a radio and keeping an eye on who accessed the area below RLA. In my break I watched the tennis in a TV room. Federer was unfortunately losing against Seppi and I was so absorbed in the match that it took a while to realise who was standing beside me…Pat Rafter. Many years ago, I remember waking up early for primary school to see Rafter win the US Open in 1997. Now, the Aussie legend was standing right beside me. Grigor Dimitrov then walked into the room after his thrilling 5-setter against Marcos Baghdatis. Soon afterwards, I heard someone call out from behind me and so I turned around, it was Bernard Tomic. For a moment I was surrounded by some of the world’s tennis elite!
Break was over and I returned to duty to see a few other stars walk by: the big man Kevin Anderson, Jarmila Gajdosova, Sania Mirza, Feliciano Lopez, a few umpires I recognised and Federer’s coaching staff, including Stefan Edberg and Severin Lüthi. It was such a shame that Federer lost but I’m thankful to see him play whenever I can, win or lose, so long as he’s enjoying himself out there and playing well. There are still more triumphs to be added to his legacy.
Gate 6 of Show Court 3 was my position for my final shift of the week. It was a beautiful 30 degree day, perfect conditions for my first experience on an outdoor court and general admission seating. I saw a compelling doubles match that stretched to three sets, won by a young Aussie duo. My personal favourite was seeing Sam Groth and his doubles partner face off against Dustin Brown and his world-famous dreadlocks. Great entertainment and the crowd lapped it up. The evening match was a tight three-set match that mostly went to serve between John Isner and Gilles Muller.
On this same day my parents attended the Aus Open and came to see me at work, snapped a few photos and sat near my gate. It was a special moment to share the experience with them and the amazing bunch of people I had the privilege of working with at Melbourne Park. Throughout the week I met some really nice and genuine people. Couldn’t have asked for better co-workers in what is hopefully a first of many grand slam experiences to come!
DAY 8 (Australia Day)
What’s a better way to celebrate Australia Day than working at one of the most internationally recognised sporting events in the world, right here on home soil?
Aussie flags and fanfare filled the entire day during my shift at Door 10 of Margaret Court Arena. First up was the legends doubles featuring the Woodies (Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde) against the Swedish duo, Jonas Björkman and Thomas Johansson. Perfect mix of entertainment, comedic moments and great shot-making.
I’m honoured to have witnessed what followed: the official opening ceremony of Margaret Court Arena featuring the great champion herself, Margaret Court! She was accompanied by her entire family, past champions (including Rod Laver) and said a few words about her journey, highlights of which include an unprecedented 11 Australian Open titles, five French Opens, five US Opens and three Wimbledons, including a complete Grand Slam of all four titles in 1970. She is arguably the best tennis player there is and ever will be, and there I was to see her unveil this impressive arena in her name.
Stan “the man” Wawrinka then took to the court against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. I’m a big fan of the Swiss superstar and defending champion with his brilliant one-handed backhand shots. The match went to four sets and the deciding tiebreak was exhilarating to watch, with multiple set points saved and ultimately going 10-8 in Stan’s favour. The women’s match concluded the day with a compelling win by US rising star, Madison Keys. It was great to see her play at this stage in her promising career.
All in all, it was an immensely enjoyable and rewarding experience at the 2015 Australian Open and I’d love to do it again.