Fighting Melbourne traffic on hot January days has been Hazel Riordan’s choice for three decades.
With some of the world’s best tennis players for company.
The 86-year-old has worked as a driver at the Australian Open since 1988, the tennis tournament’s first year at Melbourne Park.
Her duties have included ferrying players and their families to and from the airport, their accommodation and, of course, the courts.
“Embassy work will come into it too, delivering them, because they might want to go and get another visa to go to Japan or wherever their next tournament is,” Mrs Riordan said. “You do get a mixture of everything, sometimes it’s taking the player’s family to the zoo.
“Rod Laver, I had him in my car last year four times.”
An article in a tennis magazine many years ago prompted Mrs Riordan to become a driver, especially as her then-job with Girl Guides took a break during summer.
“I thought ‘Why not?’,” she said. “I like going to the tennis, so I just then made it a little more useful.”
Familiar with Melbourne’s streets, there have been no crashes or bingles during her 30-year career.
“I’ve kept up with the changes, so there’s not too much throws me,” she said.
The 300 drivers for the Open’s fleet of 120 cars are trained not to ask their famous passengers for photos or autographs but a simple chat isn’t banned.
“I usually say good morning or good afternoon and then work it out from the answer whether to continue on,” Mrs Riordan said.
“I try to judge who wants to talk. You leave them in peace because if they’re on their way to the court to practise or play, particularly play, they don’t want to be bothered with questions from people like us. We don’t know what’s on their mind.”
She remembers one champion player who sat in the back seat, newspaper firmly up, in the early years but then changed later on.
“She was in the front seat, chat, chat, chat, totally different,” the driver said.
This year Mrs Riordan will drive mainly afternoon rosters but past shifts have been less convenient.
“I’ve done the years of getting up at 4.30 in the morning to be there by 6 and I’ve also done enough late evenings, to come home after midnight,” she said. “The last shift you have to be there until two hours past the last game and I have been there at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Mrs Riordan expects the 2018 Open to be her last (“Thirty years is all right”), but has enjoyed her time.
“I love it, I just like meeting people, it doesn’t matter about conversation or not conversation, but you feel you’re doing some good,” the great-grandmother said.