The Australian Open always promises to be an athletic spectacle, and tennis fans around the world eagerly anticipate this first Grand Slam of the season. This year, for the first time in history, the Australian Open will span 15 days (instead of 14); this is to help alleviate late night matches and scheduling pressures for players. The 2024 Australian Open dates are January 13-28. 

Let’s delve into some interesting facts about the structure of this prestigious tournament!

1. Format and Structure:

The Australian Open follows the traditional Grand Slam tennis format, consisting of men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles events; and wheelchair events take place starting on January 23rd. 

Matches are played in a best-of-five sets format for men and best-of-three sets for women. This means male players need to win three sets to secure victory, while female players need two sets.

2. Rules and Regulations:

The tournament adheres to the standard rules of professional tennis. Each set is won by the player or team that first reaches six games with a margin of at least two games. In the case of a 6-6 tie at the fifth or third set, respectively for men or women, a 10-point tiebreak is played for singles and doubles matches. A 10-point tiebreak is played in place of a third set for mixed doubles.

As it is summer in Melbourne, the players contend with the heat. The Australian Open tournament organizers implement the Extreme Heat Policy, which may involve closing roofs on the main courts and allowing for additional breaks to ensure players' well-being. Various climate factors are constantly measured throughout the facility in order to gauge the Heat Stress Scale. 

3. Prize Money and Prestige:

The 2024 Australian Open boasts a significant prize pool (about $58 million USD this year, which is a 13.5% increased from 2023). As of 2001, men and women are awarded equal prize money at the AO.

Here is a break down of prize money amounts for the 2024 Australian Open:

The doubles champions take home $730,000 and the mixed doubles champions take home $165,000, with players earning increased amounts each consecutive round to the championships, similar to the singles scale above.

Clearly, the Australian Open Grand Slam not only offers financial incentives but also contributes significantly to a player's ranking points: the champion earns 2,000 ranking points and the runner-up will earn 1,300 ranking points this year, with other players earning points throughout the draw, as well. Success at Grand Slam tournaments majorly influences a player’s standing in the world of professional tennis.

4. The Road to Melbourne: Wild Cards, Qualifiers and Top Seeds

To be included in the main draw of a Grand Slam like the Australian Open, players are either seeded or accepted as a Wild Card or a Qualifier. 

a. Wild Cards

Wild card players are included in--or invited to--the draw at the sole discretion of the respective tournament. Caroline Wozniacki, for example, is a wild card player this year at the 2024 Australian Open; she won the Australian Open in 2018. There are 8 wild cards granted to the men's singles draw and 8 to the women's singles draw.

b. Qualifiers 

Before the main draw unfolds, aspiring singles players— both rising stars and seasoned campaigners—vie for a coveted spot in the main draw by progressing through 3 rounds of qualifications. Grand Slam tournaments are open to all internationally ranked tennis players with a ranking of 500 or higher.

AO qualifiers took place this week (Monday - Thursday), and out of the 128 entrants (maximum allowed at a Grand Slam), only 16 qualify for a spot in each the men's and women's main draw. 

c. Top Seeds

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the top seeds stand as the players with the highest world rankings. There are 32 top seeded women and 32 top seeded men in a Grand Slam. Seeding is a way of preliminarily ranking a player before a tournament, thus preventing top players from competing against one another in the first rounds. The top seeds receive preferential treatment in the draw, theoretically facing lower-ranked opponents in the early rounds.

Here are the top 10 seeds for both men’s and women’s singles for the 2024 Australian Open.

2024 Australian Open top seeds

d. Other

The remaining players are not privileged as top seeds but are accepted to the main draw based on their singles ranking as it stands 42 days prior to the start of the tournament. 

In total, there are 128 singles players, both on the men's and the women's draw, to start the tournament.

e. Lucky Losers

Lucky Losers are the players who lost in the final round of qualifiers but later get granted a position (based on their ranking) in the main draw when someone has to withdraw (from illness or injury, as an example). There are nuanced stipulations as to when a Lucky Loser is called upon as a replacement; but once the Order of Play has been released for the first day of the tournament, any subsequent vacancies due to player withdrawal default to the list of eligible Lucky Losers. 

5. The Draw Ceremony

The draw ceremony, a much-anticipated event leading up to the Australian Open, determines the matchups for the initial rounds. This event took place yesterday and you can watch how it was done here or go see the resulting match-ups online here.

There are some very competitive first round match-ups: Garcia vs. Osaka; Swiatek vs. Kenin; de Minaur vs. Raonic; Auger-Aliassime vs. Theim; Tsitsipas vs. Berrettini, to name a few.

Get ready to watch some fun tennis from down under, right from the first round!

Do you enjoy learning the nuances of the professional tennis world? Stay tuned for more background information on rankings, tournaments and schedules so you can better watch and appreciate these amazing athletes when they compete at the highest level.

You can also refer to the ITF's Grand Slam Rule Book if you really want to go into the details of it all.