NEITHER Lleyton Hewitt nor Bernard Tomic was alive the last time an Australian won the Australian Open. Both players ended any hope an Australian would follow Mark Edmondson's 1976 Open victory against countryman John Newcombe at tomorrow's men's finals when they were knocked out earlier this week.
But disappointed fans can take heart. Where real tennis is concerned, Australians dominate.
Tennis originated from real tennis a game first played by French clergymen in the Middle Ages with balls made from monks' robes. Today the sport a cross between squash, chess and tennis is played on 47 courts in Britain, the US, France and Australia, modelled on the monastery cloisters where they were first played.
The sport has often been restricted to a select few. French King Louis IV tried to ban commoners from playing and it declined during the French Revolution. Later players included English kings Henry VIII and Charles I and II.
The game's best players have been Australian for the past 25 years. Former tennis pro Tasmanian Rob Fahey who has won 11 real tennis Australian opens has been the world champion since 1994, when he beat fellow Aussie Wayne Davies.
"Rob is a really strong athletic guy, like a running footballer . . . He can catch balls on his racquet behind his head," the president of Australia's largest real tennis club the Royal Melbourne Tennis Club Owen Guest, said.
The best real tennis players retain their titles until defeated at world championships, held every two years. Fahey has defended his title a record nine times.
At 44, he is well past the typical retirement age of his tennis counterparts. But age can often be an advantage in real tennis, Mr Guest said. Older players are better at strategic thinking.
"An experienced person knows if it's going to end up [at the top] so they don't have to move very far. They can assess all that, they're not running around like they were hopping kangaroos," he said.
But age has also dogged the low-profile sport, with the club's 600 members about 50 years old on average and about 80 per cent male. "There is a huge will at the club level to see the game grow [to include younger players and women] within more clubs in Melbourne," Mr Guest said.
The club's youngest member, C. J. White, 21, appeared out of place amid his silver-haired contemporaries.
A real tennis pro and former squash player, Mr White said: "It's not as single-dimensioned as squash, there's just so much more going on and it's a lot harder. It's totally different to any other sport I've ever played. I still play squash, but if you wanted to make one a profession, this is it."
Like many professional players, he makes his living working at the club.
The sport also suffers a logistical problem, with courts traditionally built with little room for spectators. Few courts in the world have glass walls, and despite the club's plans to build two new courts in the next eight years, progress has been slow.