Players Get Aussie Open Upgrades

Latest Rod Laver Arena renovations include something for everyone

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: January 9, 2019

Dining areas in the new eastern annex will serve players during the Australian Open and fans attending concerts. (Courtesy Melbourne & Olympic Parks)

The "Player Pod," underground buggy rides and a new loading dock and rigging system are among the latest changes at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, built in 1988 to host tennis’ Australian Open.

A multiyear $975 million Australian dollar series of renovations at the stadium — which holds 14,800 for tennis and 16,000 for concerts — have not only enhanced the stadium’s tennis pedigree but also provided ample upgrades for Rod Laver Arena’s other emerging specialty: concerts. The stadium is part of Melbourne Park, which plays host to more than 300 events annually.

The latest improvements will make their Australian Open debut when the 2019 edition begins Monday and continues through Jan. 27. Fans will find additional restrooms, increased accessibility and fresh dining and beverage options.

But the tennis players and performing artists were really the center of this year’s phased upgrades. The retractable-roof venue has a new stage setup for larger standing general admission capacity, a larger and more efficient loading dock to hold up to 25 semi-trailers at once for a quicker turnaround of events, an improved rigging system with a 112-ton capacity — the top rigging capacity in Australia and roughly three times stronger than what was previously in place — and a complete renovation of the space under the arena for year-round services for artists and production crews (think: salon).

Andy Murray, formerly the world No. 1 in men’s tennis and still the face of British tennis, called the updates to the player facilities — dubbed the Player Pod — “really, really significant.”

“Players will really appreciate the change and the difference the Aussie Open and the government makes to make this tournament even better for the players,” he said Saturday at a publicity event for the tournament.  “Pretty much every year when we come back here there’s changes and improvements that are made, but this is really, really significant. Huge locker rooms, better recovery facilities, the dining facilities are really, really good and it will be much more comfortable for the players.”

The new four-level eastern annex debuts as the Player Pod for the tournament, increasing player space up to 30 percent with areas for training and recovery in the form of individual treatment rooms, a gym, purpose-built ice baths and massage areas.

Laver_2.JPGThe new four-level eastern annex at Rod Laver Arena. (Courtesy Melbourne & Olympic Parks)

Players also have an expanded Player Café, able to serve 420, full of destination themed-restaurants. The new space includes a cafe with specialized coffee, an Italian eatery, Japanese-style restaurant, ice cream bar and outdoor terrace overlooking the grounds with increased indoor and outdoor lounge areas.

With a focus on privacy and comfort, says a spokesperson for stadium owner Melbourne & Olympic Parks, players have new lounging options and even an “underground tunnel for buggies to transport players from one end of the precinct to the other.”

“We welcome 550 players over the course of the next three weeks, many of which are here already,” said Craig Tiley, tournament director, in a statement. “The comments that we’ve heard from them directly and indirectly make us particularly proud. Creating a five-star service for our players is a priority for the Australian Open, and is a point of difference that makes us the favorite event for so many.”

While the changes to Rod Laver Arena have come in stages — 2018 included the opening of a new bridge to connect fans to the park, updated restroom capacity and new food and beverage options on the floor level of the arena to make it easier for patrons to reach concessions during concerts — the 2019 additions really struck a chord for the players. The Eastern Annex, set for the players during the tournament, opens to fans — including the dining options — after tennis, starting with a Keith Urban performance Feb. 5.

The construction isn’t done, though. Leading into the 2020 Australian Open next January, expect to see a new piazza and grand steps that includes a range of bars and restaurants.

The expansion — Development Victoria oversees the project, designed by Cox Architecture and built by Lendlease — introduces additional corporate entertainment space designed to host a variety of conferences and smaller functions.

The coming annex on the northern side offers additional fan amenities, including fresh food and beverage options. The interior seats will be refreshed with new blue cushions and drink holders in time for the 2020 event.

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: January 9, 2019