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Norman Brookes Challenge Cup

The first of tennis’ four Grand Slams in a calendar year, the Australian Open is akin to a reintroduction to the best players in the world after a long winter off.  At the end of the two-week event, the men’s singles champion lifts the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, the 17-inch-tall prize for surviving a grueling eight-match run to the title.  Modeled after a piece of ancient Roman sculpture known as the Warwick Vase, it is one of the more outlandish designs ever conceived, featuring large figures along its surface as opposed to the delicate scrollwork featured on the Wimbledon Championship Trophy, for example.

 

History

What we now know as the Australian Open was first played Down Under in the summer of 1905.  The bright sunshine and green grass attracted many of the best tennis players from across the country – 17 men took to the Warehouseman’s Cricket Club and Rodney Heath claimed the title, taking home the Slazenger Cup for the next year.  Over the course of almost three decades, another trophy came along (the Sun Cup) before the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup was first lifted by Fred Perry at the Australian Championships in 1934.

Named after Sir Norman Brookes, the first non-British competitor to wrap his hands around the Wimbledon Championship Trophy, it was designed to reflect the ornate style of a Roman vase – the Warwick Vase, in particular – with large figures etched onto the cup.  Unlike the stately trophy presented to Brookes at Wimbeldon, this one almost seemed gaudy.  Standing only 11 inches tall, it was also rather small, yet it has gone on to become one of the most sought-after in the game.  For generations, men from all over the planet have worked diligently to have their name engraved on the side or, as with modern champions, on the large black plinth that has been added on to accommodate more recent winners.

One of the more unique features of the trophy is that it features two winners for the year 1977 and none for 1986.  The tournament’s organizers bounced the date of the final around some over the course of a decade, meaning the former had a championship decided in both January and December.  The latter, after the last December final in 1985 was left without a competition whatsoever when the permanent date was set for late January beginning in 1987.  It is the only non-wartime year to go without a winner being crowned.

Best Players

Roy Emerson (6 wins)

When it comes to tournaments that have existed for a century or more, it’s not uncommon to find a player dominates a relatively small field in the early days.  Wimbledon, for example, had a six-times winner within its first decade.  Emerson, though, bucks that trend.  Playing against fairly substantial fields in the 1960s, he managed six victories and a runner-up finish between 1961 and 1967.  Lone defeat, in 1962 to Rod Laver, is all that keeps him from bettering his own record of five straight titles (1963-67) – no one else has more than three.

Roger Federer (4 wins)

A force in professional tennis for the better part of a decade, the methodical Swiss champion won three of four between 2004 and 2007, then came back for another title in 2010 after a runner-up finish the year before.  With powerful first serves and pinpoint precision with is ground strokes, Federer found himself on top of more than a few Grand Slams.  Thanks to a change in court systems, he is one of only a handful of players who can say victory was achieved on two different versions of Australia’s hardcourts.

Andre Agassi (4 wins)

Something about the brash and freewheeling American was perfect for the Melbourne stage.  After sweeping to victory over the defending champion Pete Sampras in 1995, the engaging and energetic Agassi fell off the map for a few years before experiencing a career renaissance.  He would lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup again five years later, beginning a streak of three in four that concluded in 2003.  His darting style of play and willingness to charge the net made for exciting rallies – and the Aussies loved him for it.

Rod Laver (3 wins)

There are a few men who have won the Australian Open more times than Laver, but his impact on the tournament is still felt to this day.  After three titles in the 1960s, including the first in the open era during January of 1969, he could safely be concerned a legend – but the fact he pulled off the Grand Slam twice (as an amateur in 1962 and again as a professional in ’69) has put him up amongst the very greatest to ever play.  In the year 2000, on the 40th anniversary of his first win, the arena around center court was renamed to honor him.

Recent Winners

Novak Djokovic (2008, 2011-13, 2015-16)

Stan Wawrinka (2014)

Roger Federer (2004, 2006-07, 2010)

Rafael Nadal (2009)

Marat Safin (2005)

Andre Agassi (1995, 2000-01, 2003)

Thomas Johansson (2002)