Tennis SA History at The Drive
Tennis SA acknowledges that our courts and offices are on the traditional Country of the Kaurna people, Park 26, which has the aboriginal name Tarntanya Wama meaning Adelaide Plain.
In 1921, The South Australian Lawn Tennis Association – SALTA (now known as Tennis SA) following the granting a lease over the land at Memorial Drive, Park 26 by the City of Adelaide, established grass courts for competition and social play.
In 1923 a clubhouse and grandstand were erected, the northern grandstand being the former tennis grandstand from Adelaide Oval which was dismantled and reassembled near its old home.
SALTA leased additional land from Adelaide City Council in 1938 to build a large permanent northern grandstand costing $11,000. This was on the site of the Tennis SA present centre court complex at Memorial Drive. The money to build the stand came from a special membership category whereby tennis lovers could buy a seat for 25 years in the new facility. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Second World War in 1934 led to a shortfall in the sale of these memberships leaving the financing of the stand incomplete, it was only a loan of $3000 by Sir Edward Holden which enabled the stand to be opened.
The stand was named after Mr J A Roberts MBE, a prominent South Australian businessman and sporting identity who administered tennis in South Australia and Victoria, raised funds for the WW1 effort, served on the Adelaide Council and supported the construction of the then new stand.
The social and competitive tennis grew at Memorial Drive over the decades and the many state, national and international championships were held, featuring the world’s best tennis players.
The Australian Championships (now known as the Australian Open) was played 12 times at the Drive before finding a permanent home in Melbourne. This involved many of the world’s best players of their respective eras including Rod Laver, Margaret Smith (nee Court), Roy Emerson, Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor and Arthur Ashe.
The Davis Cup challenge round finals were contested at the Drive four times. On the first occasion in 1952, when Frank Sedgman and South Australian Ken McGregor represented Australia against the USA, three massive temporary stands of tubular steel scaffolding were built to bring the total seating to 15,625. Further Davis Cup challenge finals were held at the Drive in 1956, 1963 and 1968.
In the 1960’s SALTA sought to widen the nature of its leasehold to include public recreation, concerts and outdoor entertainments. The Harlem Globetrotter basketballers used the venues several times and in 1965 there was a proposal to build an indoor stadium over the centre court area following the successful staging of the Ice Capades which attracted 60,000 spectators over 9 nights.
In the late 1960’s, SALTA formally split into two bodies, creating the South Australian Lawn Tennis Club (which is now known as the Memorial Drive Tennis Club), while SALTA (now known as Tennis SA) continued being promoter of SA state tennis championships.
In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s, professional tennis continued involving top local and international players including the likes of John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Roger Taylor and many other top players competing in the South Australian Championships. Off court entertainment continued to boom with 130,000 people attending Festival of Arts events, stage shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar and rock concerts by Elton John, the Bee Gees and Led Zeppelin.
Staging the International Challenge in the 1980’s and early 1990’s (also known as the Rio Challenge) attracted the world’s leading male players including Stephan Edberg, Mats Wilander, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Pat Cash, Henri Leconte, Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisovic and Pat Rafter during the last two decades.
The 90’s saw the SA Championships re-branded the Australian Hardcourt Championships. Many top players competed in this event including Novak Djokovic. This was last held in 2008 and then was temporarily backfilled by an exhibition event called the World Tennis Challenge featuring top current and former players in a mixed tennis and entertainment mode.
Many people will have fond memories of more recent concerts at the Drive over the last 2 decades including U2, The Police, INXS, Midnight Oil, Santana, Powderfinger, Jet and the Kings of Leon.
A federal government grant in 2018 enabled Tennis SA to work with MDTC and Next Generation Clubs to re-layout the courts in that part of the precinct and build a new sunken show court. An SA Government grant in 2019 allowed a permanent roof to be built over the centre court. These 2 projects enabled the return of top level professional tennis to the Drive in the form of the Mens and Womens Adelaide International from 2020, with Australia’s world #1 Ashleigh Barty winning the inaugural championship and her first title on home soil.
Thanks to a $44M grant from the SA Government in 2021, the Drive is currently undergoing a full redevelopment which includes a brand new East Stand and North Stand joined by a wrap around concourse plus a roof over the sunken show court. These exciting world-class facilities are expected to be completed in mid-2022 and cement Adelaide as a sought after professional tennis destination but also have the ability to host other community events.