Tonight on Australia’s national broadcasting network the programme, Nemesis, premiered. It is a documentary which will chronicle the remarkable period of conservative government in Australia from 2013-2022 when the ruling Liberal Party deposed two of its Prime Ministers- Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull and suffered an emphatic electoral defeat when led by its third, Scott Morrison. With Morrison’s recent announcement that he will shortly quit politics, all three Prime Ministers will no longer be members of Parliament.
For the first time since 2005, the Australian Open Men’s Final did not contain one or more of the ‘great three’ of Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal. In Australia’s Federal history, the nation has had thirty one Prime Ministers-including those who have served one or more terms: Deakin, Fisher Menzies, and Rudd.
The fates and factors that determine who becomes a Prime Minister similarly affect who becomes a Grand tennis champion: the era one plays in and the quality of your opposition-(how Gabriela Sabatini must have rued playing in an era dominated by Steffi Graf and how Andy Roddick must wonder how many Wimbledon titles could have been his if not for Roger Federer) , innate talent, events and circumstances, persistence and/or the lack of it. For the last factor read Nick Kyrgios.
John Howard, Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister once observed that success in politics also often comes from “hanging around and seeing what turns up.” He should know. Elected to Federal Parliament in 1974, he became leader of the Liberal Party in 1985, lost the Federal election of 1987, lost the party leadership in 1989, only to regain the leadership of the party in 1995 before becoming Prime Minister after the 1996 election, remaining in office until his party’s electoral loss in 2007.
128 players in each of the Men’s and Women’s draws set out in a Grand Slam tournament to become the singles champion, numero uno. 151 members of Australia’s Federal Parliament compete to see who becomes primus inter pares.
This year’s Australian Open finals confirmed the devilish behaviour of the fates.
In the Women’s Draw, defending champion, Aryna Sabalenka, retained the title without dropping a set. She was challenged by reigning US Open champion Coco Gauff in their semi-final. However, in the final she faced first time Grand Finalist, Qinwen Zheng. Seeded 12, Zheng reached the final without playing a player ranked in the top 50. The match was predictably one sided. Over in 78 minutes, no rally lasted longer more than nine shots. Sabalenka did not play well, but used her dominant serve to prevail. You can only play who is on the other side of the net; however Sabalenka’s successful title defence was assisted by the lopsided nature of the contest.
There was never the risk of such a mismatch when Navratilova and Evert were in opposite sides of the draw. How delightful that they are now allies in Chris Evert’s battle against a recurrent cancer.
In the Men’s Doubles final Australia’s Matt Ebden, 36, and India’s Rohan Bopanna, 43, were successful in proving that if you persist and specialise, success can be yours. Ebden and Bopanna are Doubles’ journeymen. Having long ago given up on seeking success in singles play, they have honed their wily doubles play with great success. For Ebden, this title added to his Australian Mixed Doubles title of 2013 and avenged his loss in the Men’s Doubles final of 2022 to the younger, but now injured, Australian ‘party boys’ pairing of Kyrgios and Kokkinakis.
Ebden’s triumph is also a story on the opportunities that Australia provides immigrants as he moved to Perth from South Africa with his family at the start of his secondary school years. It is a shame that tales such as his are not given more recognition as the debate about Australian Day becomes an ugly combination of vitriol and vandalism.
Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh, currently ranked 710 in singles, has similarly concentrated on her doubles game and achieved double success at the Open winning both the Mixed and Women’s Doubles titles. In the Women’s Doubles she teamed with Belgium’s Elise Mertens to achieve success as the No.2 seeds. Su-Wei Hsieh is coached by Australia’s Paul McNamee who was a double Doubles’ champion at Wimbledon in the 1980s.
Italy, a country starved of tennis success in the Open Era has had some purple months. Late last year they won their first Davis Cup since 1976. In that year Italy had its first male Grand Slam champion of the Open Era when Adriano Panatta won the French Open. Until last night, Italy’s only other Grand Slam Champion was Flavia Pennetta who won the US Open in 2015 in all Italian final defeating Roberta Vinci. Vinci had stunned the tennis world by defeating Serena Williams in the semi-finals in one of the game’s biggest upsets which denied Serena her best chance of winning a calendar year Grand Slam.
Now from its furthermost northern regions, Italy has another Grand Slam champion in 22 year old redhead, Jannik Sinner. Playing No.3 seed, Daniil Medvedev, who was playing in his third Australian Open final, it appeared for much of the match that Sinner would fail to win his first Grand Slam final. However, unlike Zheng in the Women’s final who did not have time to play herself into the match in a best of three sets final, Sinner took John Howard’s advice and “hung around.” After Medvedev had played two supreme sets, Sinner worked his way back into the match. Medvedev, who had been on court for longer than any other player in a Grand Slam tournament before reaching a final, started to tire and Sinner won the third set. Playing with increased confidence Sinner overwhelmed Medvedev in the final two sets and put Italy, and his army of supporters dressed incomplemetary 'carrot top' suits, at the forefront of the tennis world.
For Medvedev, it was a loss that earned him an unfortunate first in Grand Slam tennis. Since the Open Era there have only been eight occasions when a player with a two sets to love lead in a Grand Slam final has lost the match. Medvedev is the first player to have suffered two such defeats, both at the Australian Open, having also surrendered a two set lead over Nadal in the 2022 final.
Five titles decided over fifteen days, witnessed by a record crowd of over one million spectators. Three victories to No.2 seeds, one to No.3 and Sinner triumphing in the final match as No.4 seed. Sinner is now the only player that can claim the 2024 Grand Slam by winning all four Grand Slam tournaments. As the 2024 tennis year continues Margaret Court and Novak Djokovic remain equal atop tennis’ pantheon, each with 24 Grand Slam titles.
The attention of the sporting world will probably now turn to America’s Superbowl Final to be played in Las Vegas in a fortnight. Sport will collide, not with politics, but with entertainment, literally. The world’s foremost entertainer, Taylor Swift, named by ‘Time’ magazine at their ‘Person of 2023’ will be watching her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, play for the Kansas City Chiefs, who will be seeking their third title in five years. There is no success in America like excess!
Sinner has won his first Australian Open at the same age as Sampras and Federer, generating inevitable comparisons and predictions. For the moment, however, Sinner’s skills, fearlessness, enthusiasm and, it has to be said, infectious youthfulness provides a wonderful counterbalance to the political impasses that seem to affect too much of the world.