The Australian Open is off to an unusually quiet start, with drab weather, no school holidays and few international fans dragging down the day-one crowd at Melbourne Park.
On a cloudy summer day in which the mercury didn’t rise above 20C, the grand slam opened on Monday to largely empty stands.
Tennis Australia confirmed a day one attendance figure of 17,922, well short of the 30,000 daily cap set by Victorian health authorities over the first eight days of the tournament.
Last year’s opening day attendance across both sessions at Melbourne Park was 64,387.
Typically a major drawcard, American 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams was watched by fewer than 1000 spectators on Rod Laver Arena as she made short work of unseeded German Laura Siegemund.
Garden Square was almost deserted and some outside courts, normally teeming with ground-pass ticketed fans, had crowds in the tens rather than hundreds.
Those on-site remarked about the extra room, with the precinct divided into three separate zones around Rod Laver, Margaret Court and John Cain arenas
“It’s much more quiet,” said Melbourne-based Swede Joachim Berg, who has been coming to the Open since 2004.
“It’s kind of nice.”
His friend Patrick Rehm, also dressed head to toe in Sweden’s unmistakable yellow and blue, said it was a blast from the past.
“It’s like you’re back in the 90s,” he said near the ringed grass area outside Margaret Court Arena ahead of watching compatriot Rebecca Peterson’s first-round clash.
“Back in the day, you could actually move around. Lately, it’s been too much. It felt like they were cramming in people to make profits. It wasn’t the same.
“Now for once, you feel relaxed. You can line up, grab some food, grab a beer, just not panic. I love it.”
Only a handful of spectators were at court 12 during the first set of Hungarian Timea Babos’ victory over Belgium’s Ysaline Bonaventure.
Further along, a crowd of roughly 50 people tried to socially distance while watching world No.2 Rafael Nadal practise before his opening match on Tuesday.
Leongatha’s Suzanne Suzette comes to the Open most years and has “never seen it so quiet”.
“I’m so glad it’s on because I think Melbourne needs this,” she told AAP.
“I just wish there were more people here.”
Ms Suzette said she had found it difficult to buy tickets this year as Ticketmaster’s physical stores were closed.
“This is probably a reason why a lot of people haven’t come,” she said.
“I wasn’t the only one that’s had trouble getting my tickets online.”
Another potential reason for the sluggish start is the tournament has been pushed back three weeks this year, no longer falling in school holidays. Restricted travel to Australia has also kept international tennis fans away.
Earlier, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley had been urging people to come along, noting a reserved seat at the main courts was the price of last year’s ground pass.
Outside court three, where QR codes adorned entrances along with hand-sanitiser stations, a woman wearing an Australian flag face mask said fans were still attempting to create an atmosphere.
“They are trying to start the Mexican Wave and things in there to get it going,” she said.