I’ve been fortunate to have attended the Hopman Cup for almost all of the past thirty years. During that time I’ve watched it grow from toddler to adult and so it was with excitement and yes pride that I was looking forward to this year. While it was terrific to watch Federer and the young guns coming through, the enjoyment of the game was marred by one decision. Regular readers will know that The Ponder Room is not a space for negativity. That said there are some occasions so baffling that something just has to be said.
This year saw a new record crowd of nearly 14,000 people on one night. The draw of Roger Federer was definitely a success. Far less successful was the free seating arrangement for day sessions.
In years gone by I watched as patrons who either hadn’t read the seating map correctly (or had and were trying to dupe the system) regretted their decision to sit close to the action once the roof was opened. The morning or afternoon sun would soon take its toll and they would ask to be moved to a shaded seat. One can only imagine that it is for this reason that the organisers decided all daytime seating would be ‘free seating’, that is sit where you like. This one decision had the following repercussions:
- Patrons arrived earlier than usual to make sure they could secure a good seat. Once inside the venue they lined up outside the internal Arena doors. They began in an orderly queue based on the time honoured etiquette of who arrived first. The public was behaving well, something to be really proud off. However it wasn’t long before an official walked past and told everyone to bunch up as the orderly queue was spilling out in the access way where people where trying to get past. Perhaps you an imagine what happened. The instruction, coming from an official as it did, evaporated any remaining manners. At first people were hesitant to break the line but as the official became more and more insistent eventually people sheepishly moved forward. This movement signalled an opportunity for the less charitable, more self centered among the crowd to push their way forward. Human nature followed.
- A delay in opening the doors added to the resentment as without a set seat you had to fight to maintain your position in the queue, or should I say mass?
- When the doors eventually opened it was a free for all. 80 year old women and people on sticks were pushed aside.
- People with disabilities who do not require a wheelchair bay, are usually able to call up and reserve seating in the first row down from the wheelchair bay. This was not the case, they were expected to take pot luck like everyone else. But with no railing access to the lower seating their options were limited. When they eventually did made it through the doors (having hung back to avoid the crush) there were very few easily accessible seats left. What to do?
- Finally with everyone seated you would think the worst would be over but no. When patrons entered the Arena and chose their seat the roof was closed so as to create more atmosphere as the players were introduced. However once the match started the roof was opened. Enter sunshine. Consequently after 15 minutes of tossing up how long they could endure the sun, the crowd was on the move looking for better seating.
- Furthermore because people weren’t tied to one seat they decided to move about the venue throughout the day. Consequently having acquired a reasonable seat, our day was spent answering query after query about whether a seat was taken. How would we know whether the seat had been vacated for a toilet break or left for the day? Question answered it was then a constant movement of standing up to let the person with three bags and two children move passed. Inevitably they would sit down, only to realize their original seat was better so would pack up to move back.
The day began as a battle, continued as a test of wills, and somewhere along the way you got to watch a little bit of tennis. The ‘let’s have a nice day out at the tennis’ was destroyed.
The absurdity of this decision is only surpassed by the lack of railings in the Perth Arena. As usual I spent a good part of the day watching elderly patrons (of which there are a lot at the tennis) trying to navigate their way down stairs to their seats. On at least a dozen occasions I was called upon to provide arm support for a panicked looking patron.
As I ponder the future of the tournament I am reminded of what the girl on the ice cream stand said ‘I’m not sure how it would go if Federer hadn’t come.’ That could well be true however with the likes of young Zverev coming up through the ranks I think we might be okay. The far greater problem is the free seating debacle. I can only hope that the person or persons who made this decision get to spend next year out of the corporate boxes and down among the masses.
Sadly for us it will mean the end of our Hopman Cup special outings together as, like many patrons who have grown up with the tournament, my ‘birthday girl’ guest no longer goes out at night.
Footnote: In contrast the night sessions where you could buy set seats was a breeze.