Australian Open on the slide – so Wimbledon roof expert is called in

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The architect behind the new roof at Wimbledon's Centre Court has been called in to revamp facilities at the Australian Open, as the tournament's organisers attempt to cling on to grand slam status.

Lacking the lustre of the other slams at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, the Melbourne Park tournament's elite position is under increasing pressure from big-money events such as the end-of-season Masters Cup.

Rod Sheard, senior principal at London-based architect HOK Sport, told The Independent on Sunday: "The Victorian government has recognised that the tennis facilities at Melbourne need to be updated to keep up with the other slams.

"We have been commissioned alongside [Australian architect] Cox to look at the site and prepare a master plan. The authorities are pretty open-minded on what we recommend, and we're looking at things like crowd flows, corporate facilities, relocating the entrance and improving links to other sporting facilities nearby." One of those nearby facilities is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a 19th-century stadium that HOK Sport finished updating in 2005.

The Australian Open masterplan should be completed in time for the next event in January, when men's world No 3 Novak Djokovic and women's champion Maria Sharapova defend their titles.

The master plan could take years to implement, as proposals are likely to include moving roads and railway lines to improve access to the site. It is also possible that the tournament's signature stadium, the Rod Laver Arena, could be torn down and rebuilt.

A tennis source said that the arena's retractable roof will look out of date when Wimbledon's Centre Court roof is completed for next June's event. "Rod Laver's roof is a bit out of date, a bit slow and there are not enough corporate facilities."

The source added that Tennis Australia were "dead worried" about losing their slam, one of the reasons being that it does not have a unique surface. Both the US and Australian Opens are played on hard court, while Wimbledon and Roland Garros are played on grass and clay respectively.

Despite the concern, there are no plans to change the surface – it was only relaid this year – or move the date of the tournament in light of arguments that such a big event is held too early in the season. Authorities want to keep the January fortnight because it coincides with local school holidays and the finals take place on Australia Day weekend. The Australian Open became a slam when the Open era began in 1968. The most successful active players are Roger Federer and Serena Williams, with three titles each.

HOK Sport is based in London and is working on the design for London's 2012 Olympic stadium. It earned praise for its work on Arsenal's Emirates Stadium and also liaised with the acclaimed architect Lord Foster on Wembley Stadium. Its other projects include the OCS stand at The Oval and the redevelopment of Ascot racecourse.