A Very Pleasant Time At The Tennis

A throwback to the “old” Australian Open
by David Rosenberg

If you arrive in Melbourne in January, even if you don’t follow tennis, you’d be hard-pressed not to figure out something big was happening a short walk from the center of town. As you enter Melbourne Park, the blue courts and blue-lined public areas give one the feeling of being enveloped by a concrete ocean, filled with fans crowding matches, catching up with friends, listening to live music, and drinking a few beers.

It’s not intimate, but it is relaxed. Still, it hardly compares to where the tournament was held before it moved in 1988, at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, in a suburb of Melbourne. Roger Gould first photographed the Australian Open in the mid-’70s. At the time, he was shooting mostly record covers and music promotion. Toyota, one of his advertising clients—and eventually a major sponsor of the Women’s Tennis Association—asked Gould to take a few photographs for them.

“The event had a wonderful ambience and warm, very hot days, people with shirts off getting a suntan in the stands, areas for schoolchildren down the grass at the edge of center court,” he said. “In all, the feeling of a very pleasant time at the tennis.”

Truth be told, that doesn’t sound too different from the Australian Open of today. But when you look at some of Gould’s images, many taken before the money got big, before security became necessary, and before the internet, it’s hard to imagine an usher yelling at a fan for sitting in the wrong seat or a photographer having trouble scouting out a better place to take a shot than what was designated for them.

Which is not to say things were easier back then.

“Kooyong was a great atmosphere to work in but had severe limitations as far as a Grand Slam tournament was concerned,” he said. “To watch matches on some of the outside courts you had to sit up on a mound at the edge of the railway and look over the top of the court wire enclosure.”

In 2015, there were more than 650 journalists and photographers credentialed to cover the Australian Open. When Gould was covering the Australian Open, things were quite a bit different. “There were a number of overseas photographers, mainly from Japan and France and occasionally from England and the United States,” he said. “But we are talking about 10 or 12 overseas photographers.”

And why would they come? Many top players in the 1970s rarely made the trip down since it was too far, offered too little money, and didn’t have much prestige. But as tennis grew bigger, so too did the Australian Open, eventually luring players and fans from around the world.
Gould became a regular fixture on the tennis circuit, working as Tennis Australia’s photographer for the Australian Open, as well as the Davis and Federation Cups. In total he covered the Australian Open for 27 years.

“It is amazing now to see how big the event has become,” he said. “All the Grand Slams seem to have a very competitive attitude; [they want] to be the best and a lot of money has been spent on constant improvements. The little event that was at Kooyong is a thing of the past.”