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Donna Demaio’s top 10 Australian Open tips

MML

As we head into the first weekend of the Australian Open, here’s a guide to where to watch, where to eat, where to drink and where to spot a tennis superstar.

1 – If you’re fine with not entering Rod Laver Arena itself, snaffling a Ground Pass to Melbourne Park will have you meandering through the pretty Garden Square and a selection of outside courts.

If the generously scattered plastic seats and benches are full, a patch of lawn could have your name on it. The big screen, by the way, is really big.

2 – Grand Slam Oval, a few steps from Rod Laver Arena, warrants a mention for its interactive activities and assortment of entertainment and participatory things for the kids and grown-ups. It’s easy to get swept up in the zone and forget to actually go watch a game! Slip on a headband and grunt your way through a mini-match on the bite-size tennis court.

3 – This year’s new offering – the Australian Open Festival at Birrarung Marr – is free. It’s a replica of sorts of Grand Slam Oval where there are heaps of family activities and fun things to see and do. And did I mention it’s free? There’s yet another giant screen and bright-coloured, enormous and rather regal looking plastic thrones/chairs to relax into . And you could encounter the ever stunning Silvana Philipoussis, the Festival host.

4 – So what if you don’t want to go anywhere near Melbourne Park but are interested in the tennis? There are heaps of local bars generating a sport-loving atmosphere. The General Assembly at South Wharf Promenade is a sprawling space with flat screens, themed drinks (did someone order a jug of Pimms?) and a cool crowd taking in the tennis buzz. Other tennis loving haunts include the St Hotel in St Kilda while Richmond’s The Sporting Globe is laying on the classic parmas and modern sliders on a rooftop that boasts a mega screen (of course showing all the tennis action) if you want to avoid the crowds and packed trams!

5 – Where have the players been hanging out? Maria Sharapova added some spice to her life with a meal at Chin Chin in the city. Jim Courier enjoyed eating at chef Adam D’sylva’s Coda. And there are whispers of tennis stars requesting a ‘private screening’ of the new Tarantino epic ‘The Hateful Eight.’ Naturally, Melbourne Zoo remains a favourite place for the newbies on the circuit. As an interesting aside, did you know Novak Djokovic is a gluten-free, vegetarian?

6 – I noticed a massive queue at the burger stand at Melbourne Park while the crispy fish and chips also appear to have crowd appeal.  Perhaps the take-away food prices are a little steep so if you want to save a few bucks, bring a packed lunch. (Remember no glass is allowed and security is tight so leave glass bottles and bowls at home or you face having them confiscated.) Oh and you don’t have to travel to Northcote for a taste of the impeccable food created by Scott Pickett who has Estelle at Melbourne Park this year. Delish.

7 – Stay hydrated. And since it is Melbourne, thankfully, caffeine lovers don’t have to hunt very far for a superb coffee. There are coffee carts and teeny cafes EVERYWHERE but my favourite place to kick back with a double espresso is the two storey Lavazza site with a view of the Rod Laver Arena entrance. A perfect people-watching perch.

8 – The Crown Live Site along the Yarra River has our picturesque skyline as a backdrop, with yet another massive screen projecting the tennis action. The general public are wholeheartedly welcome to  indulge in bites such as the best pizza in the world from Gradi and sip on Chandon or a fine beer.

9 – A plethora of celebrities adore the tennis, with their experience enhanced when hosted in the fancy hospitality suites run by the likes of Rolex and Jacob’s Creek. Each year the suites raise the bar. The Emirates suite has welcomed numerous famous peeps enjoying the swish environs include champion jockey Michelle Payne,  actor Stephen Curry and tennis legend Henri Leconte. There’s the fancy bar, generous catering (oysters in abundance) and the quirky custom-made ceiling fan ? made from tennis racquets!

10 – And if all of the above is just too much. There’s insightful, comprehensive and colourful coverage across 3AW new and programs and Channel Seven to ‘take’ you to the tennis.

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