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Australian Open organisers are GIVING away tickets for tonight’s centre court opener

Australian Open organisers hope to fill Rod Laver Arena by handing out free tickets following a dismal showing at the tournament opener in Melbourne.  

Tennis fans who paid to attend Monday’s day session on centre court received a text message at 4pm asking them to return to the venue for tonight’s matches. 

Tickets for the opening night remain on sale for anywhere up to $363 each. 

Ticketmaster sent out the alert at 4pm on Monday advising patrons to leave the arena and come back in with new seats for tonight’s session

Novak Djokovic will be hoping for a better crowd than Serena Williams received on Monday

Novak Djokovic will be hoping for a better crowd than Serena Williams received on Monday

Plenty of seats to choose from: Rod Laver Arena saw just a handful of fans watching the action on Monday

Plenty of seats to choose from: Rod Laver Arena saw just a handful of fans watching the action on Monday 

Fans fail to show up for the first day of the Australian Open, which is usually packed

Fans fail to show up for the first day of the Australian Open, which is usually packed

Patrons who forked out up to $105 for a single ticket today were sent messages informing them they could come back with a mate tonight free of charge. 

Social media lit up with offers to offload the tickets, but an hour later, many remained unclaimed. 

Pathetic scenes greeted tennis fans at Rod Laver Arena on Monday, with a near empty stadium watching former world champ Serena Williams take the stage on centre court. 

The 23-Grand Slam winner hit centre court at Rod Laver Arena just before 1pm wearing a one-legged cat suit before a crowd numbering in the hundreds. 

Barely anyone joined the arena after watching Naomi Osaka beat Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2 in the opening match on centre stage this morning.

Crowds had not got any better by the time Williams dispatched her opponent an hour later. 

With crowds capped at 30,000 and masked spectators forced to segregate in isolated areas across Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Caine Arena, players will have little issue with crowd distractions this year.

Day one of the Australian Open is traditionally held during January to festive scenes. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic saw the event pushed back into February. 

Large corporate marques remained desolate late into the afternoon as people spewed out of the venue. 

Gone was the atmosphere that sports fans have long taken for granted at Melbourne sports events. 

Off to a slow start: Serena Williams played to a near empty stadium on Monday in Melbourne

Off to a slow start: Serena Williams played to a near empty stadium on Monday in Melbourne 

No need to queue: The main bar on entry to Rod Laver Arena was empty just before Serena Williams was preparing to hot the court

No need to queue: The main bar on entry to Rod Laver Arena was empty just before Serena Williams was preparing to hot the court

Spectators sanitise their hands as they arrive one day one of the Australian Open on Monday

Spectators sanitise their hands as they arrive one day one of the Australian Open on Monday

Event organisers will be hoping for more bums on seats tonight as Novak Djokovic takes on France’s Jeremy Chardy in the men’s opening match and Aussie Lizette Cabrera takes on Romanian Simona Halep in the women’s. 

The lack of patrons attending Monday’s tournament has not gone unnoticed, with many Melburnians questioning why the event ever went ahead.  

Preparations hit another hurdle on Wednesday when a COVID-19 case at a hotel hosting quarantining tennis stars forced a suspension of play in the Melbourne Summer Series and ATP Cup. 

Ticket boxes outside the arena were notably vacant just half-an-hour before the first scheduled matches at 11am. 

Trains headed into Melbourne were also hassle free, with people able to sit comfortably by themselves in most instances. 

The usual sea of colour from flag waving fans headed into Rod Laver Arena was nowhere to be seen. 

On entry, photographers and reporters covering the event almost outnumbered fans.   

Food outlets, merchandising stands and bars were devoid of customers as the event got underway. 

At lunch time just off centre court, patrons were able to walk directly up to the bar and purchase themselves a beer – albeit it $13 for a 425ml plastic cup of Peroni. 

Trains heading to the venue were just as empty as the stadiums

Trains heading to the venue were just as empty as the stadiums

Tickets were readily available as weeks of bad publicity kept spectators away

Tickets were readily available as weeks of bad publicity kept spectators away

Rod Laver Arena on Monday was a sight for sore eyes

Rod Laver Arena on Monday was a sight for sore eyes 

Grabbing a coffee posed more of a challenge, with waits still up to 15 minutes despite the lack of customers. 

Bar staff told Daily Mail Australia that crowd attendance was well down on traditional opening days. 

Outside center court, in what is usually a hive of activity, lonely security guards and bar staff paced about quietly. 

Bands playing on the large stage outside centre court have only a hand full of people watching them. 

A couple of students told Daily Mail Australia they had skipped school to come to the event. 

But they were clearly among the minority on Monday, with barely a youth spotted by centre court on Monday. 

Solitary fan enjoys the green space sitting within a socially-distant circle

Solitary fan enjoys the green space sitting within a socially-distant circle

Not even Serena Williams' one-legged cat suit could draw an audience into Rod Laver Arena on Monday

Not even Serena Williams’ one-legged cat suit could draw an audience into Rod Laver Arena on Monday 

Grabbing a beer at Rod Laver Arena on Monday was easy. Grabbing a coffee was still a hassle despite the lack of customers

Grabbing a beer at Rod Laver Arena on Monday was easy. Grabbing a coffee was still a hassle despite the lack of customers 

Ball boys and girls arrive for the first day with their masks on

Ball boys and girls arrive for the first day with their masks on

The event, which is known in world tennis circles as the ‘Happy Slam’ for its up-beat atmosphere, has this year been compared to a corpse.

‘Clearly the television audience is where it’s all at,’ one punter said this morning. ‘Cos it’s dead as in here.’

Organisers will be hoping for more people to enter the gates this evening when the likes of Aussie Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic hit centre court. 

But as COVID-19 fears continue to grow in Victoria, they are in for a nervous wait. 

Victoria currently has 20 active cases of COVID-19, along with one new case in a hotel quarantine worker. 

Earlier, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said he was ‘confident’ going ahead with the tournament was the right call, despite the latest outbreak in Victoria.

‘We’ve been preparing this for over a year, it will be one of the safest places to be through the health screening that we are doing,” he told the Today Show on Monday morning. 

‘The way the site is set up, everyone will be safe, protected and on top of that, getting back to seeing some great tennis.’

Sanitising stations have been set up in numerous places across the event, with security staff asking patrons to wear their masks when they leave centre court into the undercover eating areas. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk