Remembering Colin Stubs…and the Revival of the Australian Open

By Russell Boxshall

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Colin Stubs, the former Australian Open Tournament Director, is being widely remembered in the tennis world after passing away this month in Melbourne, aged 81.

Stubs, known by many for his integrity and devotion to the sport, was an influential figure during a critical time in Australian tennis during the 1980s.

He played tennis at the top level predominantly during the 1960s making appearances at all four Grand Slam tournaments. After retiring, he worked as a pharmacist before entering the field of sports management in the mid 1970s.

From 1978 to 1994, from Stubs was Tournament Director of the Australian Open. During this time, he oversaw the tournament’s move from the grass of Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to the Rebound Ace surface of the newly created facility at Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park) in 1988.

The inaugural Australian Open at Flinders Park culminated in arguably still the greatest men’s final played at the venue, a contest between Mats Wilander of Sweden and local hope Pat Cash. Wilander won the final 6-3 6-7 3-6 6-1 8-6 before approximately 15,000 rapturous fans (including a vocal contingent of yellow and blue face painted Swedish visitors).

Pat Cash and Mats Wilander before the first Men’s Singles final at Flinders Park. Photo: Popperfoto/Getty

Stubs took over directorship of the Australian Open at a time when many of the top ranked players from overseas were bypassing the event largely due to the Christmas/New Year timeslot.

He was instrumental in moving the women’s event to a timeslot in early December in 1980 and did the same with the men’s event in 1982.

Stubs gradually succeeded in his aim of restoring the status of the event to its rightful position.

Martina Navratilova, who had won Wimbledon in 1978 and 1979, made her return to the Australian Open in 1980 after a five year break. (She had been a finalist in her first visit as an 18-year old in 1975, losing to Evonne Goolagong Cawley.) Navratilova and reigning Wimbledon champion Goolagong Cawley were the top two seeds in 1980.

Navratilova would make the semi-finals in her return before being defeated by Wendy Turnbull. The final was contested by Turnbull and Hana Mandlíková, who was just 18. Mandlíková claimed the championship 6-0 7-5, the first major step in her illustrious career.

World No. 1 Chris Evert then returned to Kooyong in 1981 (she had been absent from the tournament since losing the 1974 final as a 19-year old, also to Goolagong). Reigning US Open champion Tracy Austin was also a notable addition to the draw. Navratilova and Evert would fight out an epic final in 1981 with Navratilova winning 6-7 6-4 7-5.

Martina Navratilova won her third and final Australian Open Singles crown at Kooyong in 1985. Photo: Horizon

On the men’s side, World No. 1 John McEnroe, No. 2 Ivan Lendl and 1982 Roland Garros champion Mats Wilander all made their first trips to the tournament for the 1983 edition. A 19 year old Wilander would upset McEnroe in the semifinals and defeat Lendl in the final.

Stubs created the long running Kooyong Classic in 1988 – an invitational event that ensured Kooyong retained a regular place in the tennis world. It eventually became a key lead in event for the Australian Open regularly attracting the likes of Roger Federer and Andre Agassi among others.

Perhaps nothing said more about Stubs’ character and devotion to the game than his decision in 2005 to run the Kooyong Classic without a major sponsor. Rather than cancel the event, Stubs went ahead with it knowing he would suffer a significant financial loss.  

Stubs also spent time as Tournament Director of the Dubai Tennis Championships and the Australian Hardcourt Championships in Adelaide.

He died on 13 July after a serious illness.

Title photo of Colin Stubs at the 2011 AAMI Classic by Sydney Low

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