Soothing pop music wafted through Rod Laver Arena where grunts, groans and shrieks are normally heard. Women dressed in floral bathing caps and multicolored nose clips congregated where Roger Federer and Serena Williams held court just seven weeks ago.
Yes, dropping a 50m swimming pool into the Australian Open's center court has a way of changing the usual booming atmosphere of a tennis arena. At least this week.
The world championships began yesterday in Melbourne with synchronized swimming preliminaries, to be followed today with open water swimming on Port Phillip Bay off the iconic beach suburb of St. Kilda.
Tomorrow, one day after the roaring cars of the Formula One Grand Prix have left nearby Albert Park, water polo and diving competitions will begin at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Center.
That will all set the stage for the start of the pool events back at Rod Laver Arena next Sunday. The US' Michael Phelps is expected to sweep the gold honors and Australians will have a chance to realize just how much they miss the retired Ian Thorpe, who was honored yesterday at the opening ceremonies.
With Australia's women expected to take on the US and Europeans, the eight-day pool meet is expected to bring on more of the tennis-like cheers of January, even if disappointing tickets sales thus far mean there will be few likely sellouts in the 11,270-seat complex, down about 3,500 from tennis capacity.
FINA said yesterday the Melbourne championships were the largest in its 12-event history, with 2,200 athletes competing from 173 countries.
FINA President Mustapha Larfaoui would not say how many drug tests would be conducted during the event, or the extent of the testing.
"That's something for the FINA medical commission to discuss, we cannot announce anything at this time," said Larfaoui. He said details on the testing would be divulged at a later time.
As expected yesterday, the Russian duet of Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova, aiming for their third consecutive world championship gold medal, led the synchronized swimming duet technical after the preliminary competition.
The women's five-kilometer open water swim will be held this morning, with the men's race in the afternoon. Larisa Ilchenko of Russia is the big favorite in the women's event, having won the last three world titles over the distance.
Thomas Lurz of Germany won the men's five and 10km races in Naples, Italy last year and is favored to repeat in Melbourne.
The St. Kilda course will be a 1.25km loop today and should finish in about an hour.
Rain before a competition could result in the event being moved to Port Melbourne -- a stormwater drain at St. Kilda might cause unacceptable pollution levels following wet weather. There is no rain forecast for today.