Andy Murray is used to playing with a lot of British fans, but never has he had a whole Australian town getting right behind his quest for the Australian Open title.
That is the case this year though, with the Australian town of Alice Springs providing local support for Murray thanks to the AO Blitz competition.
The AO Blitz is a new interactive competition introduced by Tennis Australia in the lead-up to the 2014 Australian Open. It encouraged towns all across the country to get out and play tennis to earn points. The top-ranked towns, based on points earned and the number of people involved, were rewarded by being allocated an Australian Open player to represent them at the tournament.
Murray is representing the Northern Territory town of Alice Springs. The town is located in Australia’s centre, more than 2000 kilometres away from Melbourne Park but this hasn’t stopped Alice Springs locals from showing their support for the world No. 4.
A group of 27 young Alice Springs tennis players are in Melbourne for the Australian Open and got to meet Murray during a practice session at Melbourne Park this week.
Tennis coach Matt Roberts, who is leading the group, said Murray was excited to meet them and find out he had the support of the Alice Springs community during his Australian Open campaign.
“Andy told us we had drawn the short straw to get him and he was a bit concerned about us,” Roberts said. “But we know he has been a three-time finalist here and was close last year to winning. We are hoping he can go all the way this year. We can’t think of anyone better to be representing Alice Springs.”
Roberts said the way the AO Blitz competition had ignited interest in tennis in their town had been amazing.
“It’s been massive in Alice Springs,” he said. “The mayor is behind it as well as local media. It is not just the tennis fans either; everyone in town wants Murray to win. Everyone has suddenly become Andy Murray fans.”
Roberts said the local cinema was already booked for the Australian Open semi-finals and finals, so if Murray progressed that far the community could gather to watch his matches.
The two towns that are being represented by the eventual men’s and women’s singles champions will be treated to a town party.
Roberts is confident Murray can deliver this prize for the Alice Springs community.
“Six more wins to go and then it is party time for us,” he said.
There have countless other examples of Australian towns getting behind their AO Blitz player so far on the first three days of the tournament.
Kendall in New South Wales organised a big screen viewing of Rafael Nadal’s first round match and plan to hold events at their tennis club for each of Nadal’s matches during the tournament and Watervale, a small town in South Australia, is cheering hard for Li Na, who like Murray is a former finalist at the Australian Open.
“We think it will be third time lucky for Li,” said Watervale Tennis Club president David Long. “Everyone is pretty excited and certainly getting behind her. The television is glued to the tennis and everyone is talking about it.”
The new initiative has also caught the interest of the players, with both Novak Djokovic who is representing Parkes in New South Wales and Agnieszka Radwanska, who is playing for York in Western Australia, taking to social media to thank their Australian towns for support after their round one wins yesterday.
Find out more about the AO Blitz and follow the progress of the competition at www.aoblitz.com.au.