EXCLUSIVE: An inside Look Into The Australian Open’s Inaugural Pride Day - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: An inside Look Into The Australian Open’s Inaugural Pride Day

Why is there a Pride Day taking place and what is its significance? UbiTennis speaks with Dr Ryan Storr who has been involved in the pre-work for the initiative.

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Monday at Melbourne Park will see the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Aryna Sabalenka battle for a place in the quarter-finals but taking place during the same time will be a brand new initiative overseen by Tennis Australia.

AO Pride Day celebrates LGTBQ+ players and fans within the world of tennis. The Rod Laver Arena will be lit up in rainbow colors at night, activities will be taking place throughout the day and there will be a various forms of entertainment put on. Courtney Act, who is best known for finishing runner-up in season six of Rupaul’s Drag Race, will be one of the MC’s taking part. 

“For many years we’ve hosted special events for the LGBTI community, such as the international Glam Slam and our pre-AO Pride night, so bringing many of our initiatives together on AO Pride Day is the natural next step,” Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said in a statement.  “I’m delighted we can all come together as a community to celebrate together on this special day, which I have no doubt will become a highly anticipated part of the AO every year.”

One of those who have been part of launching the initiative is Dr Ryan Storr. A social scientist with an extensive history of researching LGBTI issues in sport. He is a research fellow at Swinburne University of Technology and is the co-founder of Proud 2 Play which seeks to facilitate young people from the LGBTI community into sport and exercise. Storr also has roots in tennis after previously working as a coach at Northumbria University and Loughborough University.

UbiTennis speaks with Storr ahead of Pride Day to find out why such an initiative is important and what he has discovered about LGBTI-related tennis issues through his own academic work. We also look into the debate surrounding the decision to have one of the Australia’s Open primary stadiums named after Margaret Court who has previously made various anti-LGBTI comments.

UBITENNIS: Ryan, You have been involved in some of the pre-work for the first Australian Open Pride day. What has that entailed?

DR STORR: It’s been an ongoing process for quite a while. But it basically meant working with Tennis Australia and their Diversity and Inclusion team. Thinking about planning, what the events are, what the aim is and things like that.

I think one of the things I think I have been particularly helpful with is using the research. I did a big piece of research around the impact of inclusion on LGBTI communities, what can be done and so on.

There have been planning groups, emails, working groups – so a lot of planning has gone into this. It is not a one-off project, it has been building for years and I think this one is going to be the biggest one since it is now sponsored and presented by Ralph Lauren. There has been a lot of community engagement, stakeholder engagement and speaking with the community about what we want with this event.

UBITENNIS: Why is it important to have days like these at the Australian Open and what is the overall objective?

DR STORR: The importance of Pride Day, in addition to the Glam Slam which is happening next weekend, is using Tennis Australia’s reach and brand to raise awareness and to invite people in. So when people might think why do we have Pride Day’s? In the context of tennis it is to try and attract new fans. From research and my own research LGBTI fans from across the globe don’t always feel welcome. Sometimes there is a hostile environment during live sporting events so some people might not think to attend or they think about their safety.

It’s basically marketing to the LGBTI community saying we want you to come to our event and we are inclusive. Unfortunately, if they are not told, some may feel it is not a place for them. Especially trans and gender diverse people who can have challenges in terms of accessing bathrooms etc.

UBITENNIS: In the press release Tennis Australia says the day ‘promises to be both an uplifting and educational day for AO fans on-site.’ What about players, will they be able to participate in some way if they wish?

DR STORR: I think there is educational information that’s being given to players. I know Felix Auger-Aliassime was at the first Nations Day which celebrates indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. So I think there are opportunities for people to get involved and find out more.

One of the things in particular which I have been involved in is stories and videos around what Pride means and showcasing people’s experiences.

https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen/status/1481877978472906752

UBITENNIS: You are an accomplished social scientist and co-founder of Proud2Play inc. Have you discovered any studies which highlight the impact of events such as these within a sports environment?

DR STORR: One thing that stood out to me when I did research is generally the people who take part in the Glam Slam, GLTA (Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance) tournaments and who they are marketing at is an older demographic. So for example the LGBTI clubs are probably for people aged 30 and above, but mainly around 40-50. In the time when they were younger a lot places it (homosexuality) was illegal, we had the HIV/AIDS crises and discrimination was very common.

I think it’s gone 360 and we really need to show that sport has changed in particular. That it is inviting and welcoming for people because it has a long history of discrimination.

There has been quite a bit of research, especially on pride Games about attitudinal change. One of the things to note is that one-off events don’t do that much. They raise awareness, but they are not going to solve homophobia and transphobia in sport. One thing to know about Tennis Australia and the Glam Slam is that there are also other events going on leading up to this (Australian Open Pride). But I think this event in particular highlights Pride and some of the challenges.

My research found that playing tennis in inclusive and safe environments significantly improved the lives of LGBTI people. That’s why these Pride Games and Pride Day’s show a significant increase in mental and social health, as well as overall wellbeing.

UBITENNIS: One thing I noticed when the Australian Open posted their Pride video on social media, it brought up the debate over the Margaret Court Arena and whether it should be renamed due to her history of anti-LGBTI remarks. I was just wondering what your opinion on the matter is being both Australian and a member of the LGBTI community?

DR STORR: The Margaret Court Arena is an interesting and complex topic still. I think Tennis Australia has suggested that they would potentially change the name but unfortunately Melbourne Park is owned and run by the Olympic Park Trust. So in order to do that (renamed a court) it needs to be the Olympic Park Trust.

Tennis Australia doesn’t have the naming rights. I think it potentially will change. The name of John Cain Arena has changed a number of times but I think having that name (showcased on an arena) doesn’t show that Tennis Australia is not inclusive.

Tennis Australia is doing so much work behind the scene and investing money. They have invested in research through the University I was working at. There are not many sports who are investing in this.

I think there is going to be a significant evidence-base (data) to show the positive impact of these events in terms of tickets sold, brand awareness etc.

There is an absolute commitment from Tennis Australia in terms of time, resources, energy and funding. This is all-year round and not just when the Australian Open is on.

UBITENNIS: So what does the future hold when it comes to promoting LGBTI issues in tennis considering there is no openly gay player on the men’s Tour?

DR STORR: I think in the coming years there will be a few more bits going on. I have a colleague, Lou, from Pride Sports UK who has been commissioned to initially do some research and insight around LGBTI inclusion.

Tennis is probably welcoming and inclusive in this respect. I wouldn’t say it is like a player couldn’t come out because it is an individual sport which makes a difference compared to team sports. But the proof will be in the pudding when somebody comes out. I think there is going to be a lot more work from the ATP and the other Grand Slams.

Tennis hasn’t really engaged in LGBTI inclusion. You got Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King but it is important to engage with LGBTI communities moving on into the future.

You can find out more about Storrs academic work related to LGBTI issues in sport HERE or follow him on twitter.

Grand Slam

Australian Open Considering Switching Women’s Final To Sunday In Future

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The Australian Open could become the first Grand Slam to break away from the tradition of women playing their singles final first. 

According to a report from the Australian Associated Press, tournament chief Craig Tiley is open to making such a move which wouldn’t require any approval from either the WTA or ATP. However, they would likely need to consult with players first and no changes are set to be made in 2025. 

The reasoning for making such a change is due to the women’s final usually being shorter than the men’s best with it being a best-of-three set match. Compared to the men who play the best-of-five. Their thinking is that due to the length of men’s matches increasing in recent years, staging it on a Saturday would enable more people to watch the entire match compred to a Sunday when many are consious about staying up late due to the working week starting on Monday. 

This year’s Australian Open saw Jannik Sinner bounce back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a epic encounter that lasted three hours and 46 minuites. Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka required an hour and 17 mnuites to beat China’s Qinwen Zheng and capture the title. 

Should such a switch take place, it is estimated that the Sunday finale would end at around 10:30pm local time instead of after midnight, which would make it more appealing to fans. Furthermore, it could throw the women’s final more into the spotlight. 

However, there will be obstacles that need to be addressed. The most significant for the Australian Open will be trying to ensure that their 48-hour recovery period between best-of-five-set men’s matches will still be followed. 

This year was the first time in history that the Melbourne major took place over 15 days with play starting on a Sunday. Organisers claimed that the move was done in order to prevent the number of late-night finishes. However, it has little effect on any matches that took place after the first round. 

It is throught that now the event is held over 15 days, it gives more room for organisers to schedule the men’s final for a Saturday. The proposal was discussed during this year’s Australian Open’s official debrief. 

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Grand Slam

It Wasn’t The Same Old Story On Sunday Down Under

Jannik Sinner won his first Grand Slam title on Sunday.

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(@janniksin - Twitter)

It’s been the same old story at the Australian Open for a long time in the men’s game.

One of the greats almost always would take the top prize Down Under. Either Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or even Stan Wawrinka always prevailed since 2006 at Melbourne.

And then came Jannik Sinner in 2024.

None of the other superstars were still around for Sunday’s final.

A DIFFERENT AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Yes, this time it was a different Australian Open.

But actually Sinner may have written his own story when he upended Djokovic in the semifinals. Without that experience, the slender Italian may not have been able to handle the pressure that Daniil Medvedev sent his way in the final.

Sinner was ready for the finish line after shocking Djokovic in the semifinals. It just took time to get there.

Sinner played within himself most of the last three sets of the final. A first-time Grand Slam finalist, Sinner played as if he belonged there in those three sets.

But, oh, those first two sets when Medvedev dominated play with his backhand from the middle of the court. Backhands usually are reserved for the backhand side of the court, but not with the tall Russian on the court.

SINNER DIDN’T PLAY HIS GAME AT FIRST

In a similar manner as women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka, Sinner followed up a big semifinal win with his own Australian Open title. Only, Sinner had to fight for five sets to accomplish his dream Down Under with a 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Medvedev.

Sinner appeared to play far differently from his victory over Djokovic when he controlled the court with his aggressive play and power.

This time, Sinner started things conservatively with few aggressive winners, repeatedly leaving the corners wide open for Medvedev’s crafty, but hard hit strokes. Medvedev made Sinner  pay a price with a style of play that was just the opposite.

Medvedev played close to the baseline and aggressively hopped on balls with his backhand in whip-lash fashion. He hardly had to move as he conserved energy.

THE STRATEGY ALMOST WORKED TO PERFECTION

Medvedev’s strategy worked like a charm until Sinner served the ninth game of the third set as Medvedev once needed only six points for a possible Grand Slam title. Sinner managed to overcome a deuce score to win that game.

Medvedev fell behind 30-0 serving the 10th game of the set and then Sinner got his first set point. Sinner made it stand up and it was a new game after that.

Sinner didn’t appear to be ready for Medvedev’s game the first two sets, but the Italian then came alive. He became prepared for Medvedev, even after losing the first two sets.

Of course, Sabalenka got her boost from a surprising, but solid win over talented Coco Graff in the women’s semifinals. Sabalenka then was never really challenged by Qinwen Zheng in the final.

Sinner’s final was much different.  He was somewhat lucky to escape with  a win.

Medvedev almost wrapped up the title in the ninth game, but it didn’t happen. As a result, Sinner may have started his own success story in Grand Slam finals.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Daniil Medvedev Plays Jannik Sinner for the Men’s Singles Championship

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Daniil Medvedev during Friday’s semifinals (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

The men’s singles and women’s doubles championship matches are on Sunday in Melbourne.

Across the last 10 hard court Majors, Daniil Medvedev has now advanced to six championship matches, half of which have come in Melbourne.  In those finals, Medvedev is a meek 1-4.  However, this is the first time Medvedev is looking across the net at a man not named Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, the two winningest male singles players of all-time at Grand Slam events.

And Medvedev can thank Jannik Sinner for that, who for the third time in their last four meetings, defeated Djokovic in Friday’s semifinals to reach his first Major final.  Since adding Darren Cahill to his team 18 months ago, one of tennis’s best coaches of all-time, Sinner’s game has continually and significantly improved, most evident in his three victories over Djokovic since November.  On Sunday, the most dominant male player of this fortnight looks to break more new ground in his young career.

Earlier on Sunday, in the women’s doubles championship match, it’s Lyudmyla Kichenok and Jelena Ostapenko (11) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2).  This is a first Major final for Kichenok, and a first in doubles for Ostapenko.  Su-Wei has won seven Majors in doubles, including her first mixed title earlier this week, and is 7-1 at this stage of Majors.  Mertens has won three Majors in women’s doubles, including Wimbledon in 2021 alongside Su-Wei.


Jannik Sinner (4) vs. Daniil Medvedev (3) – Not Before 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Through six rounds, Sinner has dropped just one of 19 sets, which came against Djokovic in the semis.  But even that match was a rather comfortable win for the Italian, who lost only six games in the three sets he claimed.  Jannik has not just been the best ATP player this fortnight: he’s been the best ATP player since the last Major, with a record of 26-2.  The 22-year-old is 10-4 in ATP finals, with this of course being by far the biggest of his career to date.

Medvedev endured a much more complicated path to this final, completing 25 out of a possible 30 sets, which included three five-setters.  Two of those came in the last two rounds, against Hubert Hurkacz and Sascha Zverev.  Daniil has spent six more hours on court than Jannik, and has played for over 11 hours during the second week alone.  He is 20-16 in ATP Finals, with all 20 titles coming at different events.  But Medvedev can be rather streaky in finals: after losing five in a row, he won seven of eight, yet has now lost his last three.

And those last two losses came at the hands of Sinner, who beat him in both Beijing and Vienna.  Jannik also defeated Daniil in the semifinals of the ATP Finals in November, though all three of those recent matches were tight.  Prior to that, Medvedev had dominated their head-to-head 6-0, which includes two finals earlier in 2023.  All ten of their meetings have taken place on hard courts, and this is their first at a Major.

Based on their recent history, as well as their individual form this fortnight, I favor Sinner to win his first Major on Sunday.  While he’ll surely be nervous in the biggest match of his life, and could experience an emotional letdown coming off ending Novak’s undefeated record of 20-0 in Australian Open semis and finals, Jannik will be the much fresher player on this day.  Plus, he will feel confident after those three recent wins over Daniil, who has a lot of scar tissue to overcome in Major finals.  And after facing Medvedev so much within the past year, Sinner is well-versed on how to take advantage of Daniil’s deep return position.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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