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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Emma Kemp at Melbourne Park

Nine Network feels absence of stars as big numbers come through Australian Open gates

Andy Murray takes on Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday evening at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Andy Murray takes on Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday evening at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Photograph: Kelly Defina/Getty Images

The Australian Open’s loss of Nick Kyrgios and Ash Barty has not stopped crowds coming through the gates, but fewer are tuning in from home for a grand slam marked by a plethora of high-profile absences.

Questions around how the lack of two of the tournament’s biggest draw cards would affect local interest were partially answered in the first two days of action, though a full picture will not be clear until the end of next week.

Attendances, at least, do not appear to have suffered. The opening day brought record crowds through the gates at Melbourne Park, with 49,274 turning out for the day session and 28,670 for the evening.

On Tuesday, 37,149 braved the extreme heat during the day session and 29,875 were not turned off by the night session’s downpours.

But host broadcaster, the Nine Network, is feeling the absence of big names also including retirees Serena Williams and Roger Federer, pregnant Naomi Osaka and injured world No 1 Carlos Alcaraz, veteran Venus Williams and Australian Ajla Tomljanović.

That was highlighted on Monday night, when its Australian Open coverage recorded an average metropolitan audience of 357,000 – a 44% slide on the Barty-headlining opening night of 2022 (635,000).

Less people watched Polish first seed Iga Swiatek defeat German Jule Niemeier and Daniil Medvedev see off Marcos Giron than Home and Away, with the long-running soap bringing in 463,000 and another Network Seven show, The Chase Australia, tallying 477,000.

The cricket was another diverting presence, with the Big Bash League bringing 267,000 to Seven for Brisbane Heat’s win over the Melbourne Stars and Fox bumping that number up further.

On Tuesday night an average of 462,000 viewers watched the evening session of the tennis, placing second for the day behind only news programs as nine-time champion Novak Djokovic made his much-anticipated return to Melbourne Park and Andy Murray dug deep to oust Matteo Berrettini.

Nine will be watching the numbers closely over the next fortnight, having signed a new broadcast deal in November worth a reported $500m following 2022’s ratings smash hit.

Nine’s coverage of the Australian Open 2022 has reached a national audience of 12.5 million viewers (metro: 8.977 million/regional: 3.523 million) for its linear broadcast on Channel 9 and 9Gem.

Last year’s final between the victorious Barty and Danielle Collins was the highest-rating Australian Open women’s final of all time, delivering a national average metro audience of 2.581 million viewers.

The all-Australian men’s doubles final, when Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis beat Matt Ebden and Max Purcell, grabbed a national average metro audience of 1.7 million, making that the tournament’s most-watched men’s doubles match of all time.

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