Melbourne Park, Melbourne VIC 3001, Australia, 13 October 2015 | Tennis Australia

Two of the greatest left-handers in the history of tennis and a fast-rising Aussie star officially kicked off Australian Open 2016 on two continents today.

The legendary Rod Laver and Rafael Nadal, both ‘Friends of the Australian Open’ posed with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup against the spectacular Shanghai skyline at an Australian Open business breakfast.

Meanwhile in Melbourne, Thanasi Kokkinakis led a parade of 101 ballkids through Birrarung Marr, home of the first ever Australian Open Festival, a free fan and family-friendly initiative designed to bring the city even closer to the event.

Speaking at the official launch event in Shanghai, 2009 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal – in fine form after reaching the final of the China Open in Beijing – is excited about the first Grand Slam of 2016.

“Every year I look forward to play in Melbourne, I have great memories of not only winning the title but each year is a great experience for me as a player,” Nadal said.

“It’s fantastic to play at the ‘Happy Slam’ and for us, it’s true – we love to play the Australian Open and we’re always happy to be there. It’s exciting to launch the event here in Shanghai. Tennis has become so popular in Asia and it’s great to share our sport of tennis with all our fans.”

Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley announced a range of initiatives guaranteed to make the 2016 event bigger and better than ever for both fans and players.

“Continual innovation and always pushing the boundaries to present the best possible experience for our players and our fans is what the Australian Open is all about,” Tiley said in Melbourne today.

“We also look forward to honouring Lleyton Hewitt as he prepares for his 20th and final Australian Open appearance, and I’m delighted to announce today he will be awarded a wildcard for 2016.”

Initiatives for Australian Open 2016 include:

  • The world’s biggest Grand Slam footprint, as the Australian Open Festival stretches towards the city and includes Birrarung Marr
  • A 10 per cent increase in prize money, increasing the total pool to AU$44 million
  • Expanded social media presence, including a new WeChat platform in China with a potential audience of more than 600 million; new Snapchat channel –; Periscope people’s press conferences and a special hashtag to celebrate Lleyton Hewitt’s final Australian Open
  • Restructured hospitality offerings open to both the general public and corporate clients, including the opportunity to dine on-court at Margaret Court Arena during the finals
  • Seven new restaurants and 12 private dining rooms on-site
  • A host of new activations at Grand Slam Oval as well as the return of the popular Heineken Stage and Jacob’s Creek Wine Bar and an exciting line-up of live bands and entertainment
  • New Jurlique Spa Lounge, where fans can book a revitalising treatment
  • Kid’s Tennis Day now on sale – featuring some of the world’s best players and favourite Nickelodeon characters including SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Increased customer service for both players and fans, with staff training augmented through a new AccorHotels partnership
  • Special access to a players’ arrival viewing area for fans
  • Free mobile phone charging stations around the grounds
  • Yonex announced as the official stringer and expected to string more than 4000 racquets during the tournament
  • Most comprehensive host broadcast coverage of any Grand Slam event. Produced by Tennis Australia to include all matches across all draws and all 17 match courts – singles, doubles, mixed doubles, juniors, legends and wheelchair (more than 600 matches) plus some qualifying matches, and coverage across eight practice courts, a Grand Slam first
  • An exclusive men’s final viewing party to be held in Shanghai
  • Evonne Goolagong Cawley to be honoured at the annual Legends Lunch to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her third Australian Open win
  • Rex Hartwig, six-time Grand Slam champion (men’s doubles at the US Open in 1953, Australian Open in 1954, Wimbledon in 1954-55, and mixed doubles at the Australian Open in 1953-54) and Davis Cup stalwart to be inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame on Australia Day.

In Melbourne today, rising Aussie star Thanasi Kokkinakis, Tennis Australia president Steve Healy, CEO and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, Victorian Treasurer the Honourable Tim Pallas MP and the Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle led a parade of 101 ballkids and a brass band through Birrarung Marr to highlight the new fan and family-friendly path to the Australian Open.

“The city and the Australian Open are coming even closer together, with the new bridge linking Birrarung Marr with Melbourne Park now under construction as part of the Victorian Government’s continued redevelopment of Melbourne Park,” Healy explained.