Hope Barty will break Australian Open drought
Great Aussie hope Ash Barty will on Monday night kickstart a campaign to end one of the nation's longest sporting droughts as the Australian Open starts in style.
Victoria's magnificent annual Grand Slam kicks off this morning with 256 of the world's best tennis stars taking over Melbourne Park for a tilt at a combined $71 million in prize money.
Some of the game's all-time greats will be on show on the opening day with Roger Federer, Serena Williams and defending champ Novak Djokovic to thrill fans on centre court.
But it is world number one Barty who will have home fans cheering loudest under the bright lights of Rod Laver Arena.
Fresh from winning her maiden singles title on home soil at the Adelaide International, Barty is primed for a shot at becoming the first Aussie woman to win her home Slam since Christine O'Neil in 1978.
Rather than feel the pressure of performing before a success-starved home crowd she said she would "enjoy and embrace" being the poster girl for an adoring Aussie public.
"My face is everywhere a little bit isn't it? I'm a bit sick of it to be honest," she said with a smile.
"But there is no extra pressure ... I don't look into it any more than I need to.
"I'm here with my team, trying to do the best that we can and it's amazing to have so much support and so much love from the Australian public."
No Aussie man has won the Australian Open since Mark Edmondson in 1976 but with 18 Australians in the singles draw - 11 men and seven women - there is plenty for a parochial crowd to cheer for.
Barty, who takes on Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, is one of nine Aussies in singles action today with the likes of Samantha Stosur, John Millman and Jordan Thompson also flying the flag.
But - off the back of a stunning season that saw her conquer the French Open, seize the world's top seeding and pocket more than $16 million - Barty is star of the show.
Even official Australia Open advertising greeting visitors as they stroll into Melbourne Park suggests they "Come for the Barty, stay for the Party."
"I'm happy, I'm healthy, I'm coming into the first Grand Slam of the year with a smile on my face and I think that's all I can ask for myself," she said.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said Barty's humble attitude and sublime skills made her a clear fan favourite.
"She is just brilliant...she is number one in the world, she is an icon of Australian sport," he said.
"She has got the right attitude and if she wins nothing or wins everything, for me it's still a win."
More than 700,000 fans are expected to pour through the gates to a major event staged in Melbourne every year since 1972 and millions more will tune in to watch the action on TV around the world.
Male and female players will compete for a winner's cheque of $4.12 million and a slice of history.
Even first round losers will be paid $90,000.
While tennis aces are the main attraction, fans will be treated to more off court action than ever at this year's Open with music, kids zones and restaurants packed into an expanded site.
Thirsty fans can expect to pay at least $11 for a beer, $10.50 for a glass of Shiraz, $4.80 for a bottle of water, $5.90 for a bottle of soft drink and $5 for a coffee on site.
Hot chips will set you back $5.80, hot dogs cost $6.60, and a packet of chips are $6.
Former Aus Open champions Lindsay Davenport and Marat Safin will present the winners trophies at a Melbourne Park ceremony this morning.
Monitors have been set up on site to test air quality every four minutes after bushfire smoke last week blanketed the city and play will be suspended if it reaches dangerous levels.