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Craig Tiley at the National Tennis Centre

A full four months ahead of schedule, Melbourne Park’s new Eastern Plaza will be accessible and operational to both players and fans at Australian Open 2013.

And today, tournament director Craig Tiley was taking the first tours of the glittering new precinct, which he will unveil for the world’s best players when they begin arriving in Melbourne for the year’s first Grand Slam.

There’s much on offer to get the players excited. The Eastern Plaza is comprised of 13 Plexicushion and eight Italian clay courts, the former being of particular interest to competitors as they groove their strokes for the major tournament on the same surface. Eight of those “True Blue” courts are located indoors at the National Tennis Centre (NTC), an architecturally-innovative space featuring video playback and analysis technology, treatment rooms, a comprehensive gymnasium with running track and player lounge and restaurant facilities.  

While the players are going about their business, there’s plenty to attract fans to the precinct, located to the east of Hisense Arena and stretching almost as far as Richmond train station.

The Edwin Flack Bridge, soaring over Olympic Boulevard and adorned with two sets of Olympic rings from the 1956 Games in Melbourne, connects the Eastern Plaza with AAMI Park to the south and the Melbourne Cricket Ground to the north. These pedestrian walkways converge on a magnificent communal space next to the NTC affording vistas over Melbourne’s sporting precinct, dotted with towering palm trees and ideally located for accessing the tennis action via the upgraded entry into Hisense Arena next door.

The addition of the Eastern Plaza to Melbourne Park now means that the Australian Open boasts over 40 tennis courts and more indoor courts (12) than any other Grand Slam event. Another Grand Slam first will be achieved when upgrades to Margaret Court Arena are complete – works that include a new roof and 1,500 additional seats – which will give Melbourne Park three show courts with retractable roofs.

“It’s a site that’s 20 years ahead of its time,” Tiley said.

“The Eastern Plaza was originally intended to be available in April 2013, but we now have it for Australian Open 2013 which is a great result for us. We have been updating players on the progress of these works throughout the year and they’ve very much looking forward to seeing the finished product when they arrive for the tournament.

“We will use golf carts and cars to transport players from Rod Laver Arena to the National Tennis Centre when it rains."

The Eastern Plaza will act as a major hub for player development and training in Australia, with half the country’s Australian Institute of Sport athletes, as well as head sports scientists and travelling coaches, being based there throughout the year. The clay courts will also serve as an excellent training facility for players preparing for European clay events and Davis and Fed Cup ties on foreign soil.

And the facilities will only get better into the future, with phase two and three redevelopment works set to continue at Melbourne Park. As well as the completion of Margaret Court Arena – scheduled for Australian Open 2015 – there will be a pedestrian concourse around the northern end of Hisense Arena, a new entrance to Melbourne Park beyond the clay courts near Richmond station, new offices for Tennis Australia staff, and, most impressively, a translucently-covered piazza area between Rod Laver and Hisense Arena.

Tiley said this impressive structure was still several years away, but that the face of Melbourne Park would continue to change regardless.

“Margaret Court Arena will really start to look different from February 2013 when they (the construction team) get back in there following the tournament,” he said.

Yet while many of these grand designs are yet to be realised, the sparkling new Eastern Plaza will be an exciting new addition to Melbourne Park for the 2013 event, attracting the attention of both fans and players and maintaining the Australian Open’s position as the most innovative of the four Grand Slam tournaments.

You can see the precinct for yourself at Australian Open 2013 from 14-27 January.

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