Rod Laver Arena is a multipurpose arena located within Melbourne Park, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. The arena is the main venue for the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tennis of the calendar year.
Replacing the aging Kooyong Stadium, construction on the arena began in 1985 and was completed in 1987 at a cost of AU$94 million. It opened on 11 January 1988 for the 1988 Australian Open.
Originally known in 1988 as the National Tennis Centre at Flinders Park, the arena has officially changed its name twice. First in 1996, when it was known as the Centre Court, and again on 16 January 2000 to honour Rod Laver, a three-time winner of the Australian Open and one of the world's greatest tennis players.
Rod Laver Arena has a seating capacity of 14,820, with a capacity of 15,400 for sports such as basketball, when extra seats are added around the court, and up to 16,200 for concerts with floor seating. The arena currently attracts over 1.5 million visitors per year.
The arena was the first in Australia to have a retractable roof installed, and it is the largest indoor arena in Australia without a permanent roof (not counting the 56,347 seat Docklands Stadium, also in Melbourne, which is classed as a stadium rather than an arena). It is also the second largest indoor arena in Australia behind the 21,032 capacity Sydney Super Dome. The arena's retractable roof allows competitors to continue play during rain or extreme heat.
Rod Laver Arena is equipped with the Hawk-Eye electronic system which allows tennis players to challenge the umpire's decision on calls made throughout championships.
Sports and events
Rod Laver Arena is the centrepiece of the National Tennis Centre at Melbourne Park, and besides tennis, the arena has hosted basketball, motorbike super-crosses, music concerts, conferences, World Wrestling Entertainment events and ballet. Other than for tennis, during sporting events or concerts, a section of the southern lower seating bowl is retracted to allow space for a stage or special floor level seating.
Rod Laver Arena acts as the centre court for the Australian Open tennis championships every year. The player after whom the arena is named, Rod Laver, is a frequent guest of honor at Championships and has presented the trophy to the men's singles champion on several occasions. Laver is widely considered the best player of his generation and amongst the consideration in the best players of all time.
Rod Laver Arena was the scene for Australia's famous Davis Cup victories in 2003. The arena hosted the semi-final and Final, at which Australia was successful in recording their 28th Davis Cup title.
Aside from tennis, the sport most often held at Rod Laver Arena in the past was basketball. The arena's first basketball game was in 1991 when the Australian Boomers played host to a touring All-Star team headlined by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with over 15,000 in attendance.
On 3 April 1992, the arena became the home of Melbourne basketball when the Melbourne Tigers (now known as Melbourne United) defeated the Canberra Cannons 112-104. The venue was actually criticised in its early days as a basketball venue due to the poor quality of the backboards and rings used. However, these concerns were quickly addressed and the arena became known as one of the best in the country, especially with anywhere near a full house in attendance. The arena was also home to the South East Melbourne Magic (later renamed the Victoria Titans in 1998 after merging with the North Melbourne Giants) with both teams attracting some of the largest crowds in the history of the NBL. Rod Laver Arena was also the site of the first ever "outdoor" pro basketball game in Australia when the Magic hosted the Adelaide 36ers on 31 December 1997 with the roof open.
The largest basketball crowd at Rod Laver Arena was set in 1996 when 15,366 attended a local derby game between the Magic and Tigers. This remains the second largest basketball attendance ever in Australia behind the 17,803 who attended an NBL game between the Sydney Kings and West Sydney Razorbacks at the Sydney Super Dome in 1999. Game two of the 1996 NBL Grand Final series, also between the Magic and Tigers, saw the NBL's largest ever single game Grand Final crowd when 15,064 watched the Magic defeat the Tigers 88-84.
1992 saw the first time two teams from the one city had reached the NBL Grand Final series when the Magic faced fellow Melbourne Park tenants the Tigers. With all games being played at the leagues largest venue a record aggregate of 43,605 (average 14,535) fans saw the Magic win their first championship two games to one, coming back to win games two and three 115-93 and 95-88 after losing game one 98-116.
In all, Rod Laver Arena hosted 287 NBL games including NBL Championship deciders in 1992, 1996, 1997 and 1999, and played host to its last game in April 2000 before Hisense Arena opened in 2000 and became the new home of basketball in Melbourne. The arena hosted the Australian Boomers on numerous occasions, including playing against the Magic Johnson All-Stars in 1995, as well as hosting the 1997 FIBA Under-22 World Championship, which Australia won for the first time. The arena also played host to the 1993 NBL All-Star Game with the NBL Stars defeating the Boomers 124–119.
On 15 August 2015, Rod Laver Arena played host to the opening game of the 2015 FIBA Men's Oceania Basketball Championship between the Australian Boomers and the New Zealand Tall Blacks. In front of 15,062 fans Australia ran out 71–59 winners.
Rod Laver Arena was the centrepiece of the 12th FINA World Aquatics Championships, which were held from 17 March-1 April 2007. A temporary swimming pool, named the Susie O'Neill Pool after Australian swimming champion Susie O'Neill, was built at significant cost.
Rod Laver was the host venue for the gymnastics competition at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
The venue has hosted professional wrestling events such as the WWE, World Championship Wrestling event in October 2000, World Wrestling All-Stars and World Cup skateboarding. In July 2012, the venue hosted its first netball match, when the Melbourne Vixens were forced to move a home semi-final to the arena after their usual home venue was booked for a concert. On February 10, 2019, the venue hosted UFC 234.
Rod Laver Arena consistently hosts Melbourne's highest-profile musical and entertainment concerts. In 2009, the arena polled 9th out of 50 worldwide top arenas for first-quarter ticket sales, making it the second highest ticket selling venue in Australia, second to Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena, which placed third. In 2012, the arena became Australia's highest selling venue and 4th in the world, based on 2011 ticket sales.
Rod Laver Arena's record attendance of 16,183 was set on 18 November 2007 for a Justin Timberlake concert during his FutureSex/LoveShow tour.
American singer P!nk performed a record breaking 18 concerts at the venue in the winter of 2013 with her Truth About Love Tour, beating her own record of 17 shows from the Funhouse Tour in 2009. She is currently the artist who holds the record for most shows at the venue.
From 1988 until 2007, the surface of the court at the Australian Open and on Rod Laver Arena was Rebound Ace, which was coloured green and played slowly. The surface was also blamed for many injuries in the Australian Open, with many players claiming that the surface became sticky in hot weather, making it difficult to play on.
In 2008, the surface was changed to Plexicushion, which is coloured blue. The surface is similar in properties to DecoTurf, the surface used in the US Open. This has more cushioning and more "give" than Rebound Ace. The change of surfaces gained a mostly positive reaction from players, as the surface is said to be easier to play on than Rebound Ace.
It has also had a temporary grass court in use, during the 1993 Davis Cup quarterfinals, 2001 Davis Cup final and the 2003 Davis Cup final.
In June 2015, it was announced that the arena would undergo a redevelopment of its exterior facade and interior customer features, such as bars and other facilities. The refurbishment constituted the main aspect of the $338 million second stage of redevelopments that occurred at the Melbourne Park precinct, which included a new pedestrian bridge linking Melbourne Park and Birrarung Marr and a new media and administration centre. Construction began in April 2016. The refurbishment included a new eastern-facing primary entrance, an expanded public concourse space and other amenities designed to "open up" the arena and provide enhanced facilities and entry points for spectators. A new four-level Player Pod was constructed which increased the space for training, treatment, recovery, dining and lounging for athletes at major tournaments such as the Australian Open. In addition, the venue's roof was upgraded to allow for it to be closed for inclement weather in five minutes, dropping from the 30 minutes it took beforehand. The refurbishment was completed in late December 2018.
- National Tennis Centre at Flinders Park (11 January 1988—28 January 1996)
- Centre Court (29 January 1996—15 January 2000)
- Rod Laver Arena (16 January 2000—Present)
- 16,183 – Justin Timberlake, 18 November 2007
- National Basketball League 15,366 – South East Melbourne Magic vs Melbourne Tigers, 22 June 1996
- International 15,062 – Australia vs New Zealand, 15 August 2015
- 14,820 – Australian Open / Davis Cup (various)