Australian Open organizers are confident they have weather proofed the first tennis major of the season with the unveiling of the third stadium with a retractable roof at Melbourne Park.
The 7,500-seat Margaret Court Arena was officially opened Tuesday on the site of the previous show court next to Rod Laver Arena, which also has a retractable roof. It is the first Grand Slam venue to have three courts that can be covered in the event of rain or extreme heat, which is important in a continent of scorching droughts and flooding rains.
The temperature topped 104 degrees Farenheit for four straight days during last year’s tournament in the longest heat wave in Melbourne for more than a century. Heavy rain in the past has also caused lengthy delays in the match schedule.
”We have an incredible new tennis facility,” Tennis Australia president Steve Healy said of the rebuilt Margaret Court Arena. ”Just like the Australian living legend it is named after, this venue is world class and does Australian tennis proud.”
Court, formerly Margaret Smith, won 24 Grand Slam singles titles — including 11 in the Open Era. In 1970, she became the first woman in the Open Era to win all four majors in the same calendar year. The only other women to complete the Grand Slam by winning all four majors in a calendar year are Maureen Connolly (1953) and Steffi Graf (1988).
Organizers said the retractable roof on the MCA can open in less than five minutes, which is faster than the covers on Rod Laver and Hisense Arena, two other main show courts at Melbourne Park.
The design inspiration for the roof was the pleats of a traditional tennis skirt, and the elevated concourse looks back across the Yarra River and the city.
Organizers also announced a 10 percent increase in total prize money for the players, with the men’s and women’s champions each earning $2.63 million. The 2015 event starts Jan. 19.