Before the Covid pandemic, the Australian Open proudly announced an 812,000 aggregate attendance for the 2020 edition.
Confirmation, as if any were needed, that the days when it was considered very much the poor relation of the four Grand Slams were ancient history.
The players loved it and fans flocked in, not just from around Australia but all over the world, to experience a multi-faceted entertainment extravaganza that extended to booking some high-class music acts for a nightly show.
Novak Djokovic’s visa storm may cause problems for Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley (right)
Tiley was criticised for parading Maria Sharapova (right) at the 2018 event draw shortly after she served a drugs ban
The man who has driven this is Craig Tiley, the South Africa-born head of Tennis Australia, who now finds himself at the eye of the Novak Djokovic storm. Initially a college player in America who turned to coaching when he realised he would not make it in the pros, he is entrepreneurial to his fingertips.
He has become one of the most powerful figures in the game, wielding more power than anyone at Wimbleton, for example.
Besides running a blockbuster Grand Slam, Tennis Australia is also involved in Roger Federer’s Laver Cup and has set up the ATP Cup, a rival to the Davis Cup, albeit one which has struggled to gain traction.
But while the Australian Open earned itself the reputation as the ‚Happy Slam‘, the tournament organisers have made a series of unforced errors in recent years. In 2018 they inexplicably paraded Maria Sharapova at the event draw, not long after she had contentiously returned to the game after serving a drugs ban.
Tiley’s recipe for success has been to forge close relationships with player like Roger Federer (L) and Andy Murray (R)
Two years ago many of the rank-and-file players were upset by being made to play the qualifying rounds amid smoke from raging bushfires, with one player collapsing on court. Less than 12 months ago there were other communication issues over Covid precautions when 72 players were locked up in their rooms for two weeks.
Tiley’s personable nature and record of dynamic leadership has won him plenty of friends of admirers in tennis, but this episode leaves him, at best, a seriously weakened figure.
Among his recipes for success has been to forge close relationships with the superstar players, among them particularly Federer, Andy Murray — and Djokovic. His obvious desire to do everything he could to get the nine-times champion into the event, in a year when plenty of top names are already missing, may prove his undoing.