A Platinum Monarch, a new PM, painful Post-Mortems in America and Parisian tennis matches
Few probably realise that the French Open has provided Central America with its first ever Grand Slam champion. Marcelo Arevalo from El Salvador combined with Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands to win the Men’s Doubles title. Turkey will never have a Grand Slam champion because it changed its name last week to Turkiye.
This seems to be the way of the world. New directions and trends wherever you look. Well, almost. Cities in Ukraine might fall, Prime Ministers may struggle to stay in office in England, celebrity couples will eviscerate each other in tawdry defamation trials, but Rafael Nadal will hold court in Paris. On that we can rely:- the Spaniard’s fourteen-year rule in Paris is longer than the duration of three of France’s five Republics!
The French have many contrary expressions, but none is more wryly Gallic than “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” : the more things change the more they stay the same. The election of a Labor government in Australia is not a common event. However, common events seem to confront incoming governments of the left. Fifty years ago this December, a government led by Gough Whitlam was elected to implement a range of sweeping social reforms. All seemed to be achievable until the decision of oil producing countries to quadruple the price of oil in 1973. Inflation rose dramatically along with unemployment to create a new phenomenon of stagflation.
Similar challenges seem to be immediately affecting the Albanese government. If the government had a honeymoon period, no-one had time to notice it. Another energy price crisis is threatening to unravel again the social agenda of a new Labor government. The Ukrainian war, now grimly over 100 days in duration and showing no signs of ending, has sparked steep price increases in key commodities, especially fuel and energy. Come inflation, come interest rate rises. Stand by for the next one. Although Australia is the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas, its domestic supply is, perversely, perilously low. Energy prices are increasing as supply shortages combine with winter storms and chills to increase demand.
At the same time, the incoming government has supported an increase in the nation’s minimum wage rate of 5.1% to fully compensate workers for the recent surge in inflation. Inflation fuelled by wage demands and commodity price increases ravaged the Whitlam government. In 2022, similar wage demands are fuelled both by ideology and chronic labour shortages in areas critical to the nation’s economy, especially in the tourism and hospitality sector.
As if this was not confronting enough, the government has promised to increase expenditure on a range of social programmes: another $1 billion for Medicare, seemingly whatever it takes to improve the wages and conditions of those working and living in aged-care facilities, and better funding of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, that in a few years, will be costing the nation a mere $60 billion. No wonder the new Prime Minister has chosen to head overseas twice already.
But not all is the same. When Gough Whitlam was elected, his Ministry had no female members.
The next Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, was elected in 1983 and his Ministry had only one female, the recently departed Susan Ryan.
The Albanese Ministry was sworn-in last week. 43% of its members are female, including Australia’s first indigenous female Indigenous Affairs Minister, Linda Burney. Two Ministers, Ed Husic and Anne Aly, are Australia’s first Muslim Ministers.
Down the road from the commissioning at the Governor-General’s residence in Yarralumla, the complexion of the parliament also indicated that not everything stays the same. For the first time since Federation in 1901, the Australian Senate has a majority of women: 41 to 35. In the House of Representatives female representation has increased to 39%. Ten members of the Parliament are Indigenous.
Yet, some fundamental things do apply as time goes by. The new Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, spoke about how the state of the nation’s finances is far worse than he had been told. Never has an incoming Treasurer said otherwise! And the new Prime Minister did what every PM does by ensuring that his former, and possibly future, leadership rivals were allocated unglamorous, demanding, and problematic portfolios: if you are going to keep your enemies ‘inside the tent’ you may as well exhaust them.
Australia’s looming economic problems do not have the same tragic tinges as the social problems bedevilling America. Another month, another series of shootings. The killing of primary school children and staff in the Texan town of Uvalde galvanised predictable reactions of shock and despair with the President beseeching the Congress for a legislative response to America’s perennial gun violence. It is doubtful, however, that the nation’s collective post-mortem will lead to significant legislative change to prevent such incidents reoccurring.
Across the Atlantic, England has celebrated their monarch’s platinum jubilee. In a country whose Prime Minister may still be forced to resign because of an illegal party in his residence during a Covid lockdown, the nation celebrated the Queen’s 70 years on the throne. The nation had an official four-day party complete with British bunting, military parades, brass bands, street parties and general pomp and circumstance.
And why not? It is highly unlikely that any future English monarch will reign for as long as Queen Elizabeth II. Nevertheless, a metaphorical elephant could be sensed in London’s Mall :- given the near universal affection that the English have for the devotion of their monarch, will such enthusiasm adhere to future royal rulers?
Across the English Channel the French Open was reaching its culmination in a stadium named with exquisite French peculiarity after an aviator. In 1913 Roland Garros became the first Frenchman to fly non-stop across the Mediterranean Sea from the south of France to Tunisia. Serving for France as one of its first fighter pilots, Garros was killed just before war’s end in 1918 and the stadium was named in his honour a decade later.
The impetus for the stadium’s construction was to provide a venue for France’s ‘four musketeers’ of tennis-Jacques Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste- to display their skills.
Between them they won 20 Grand Slam singles titles and 6 successive Davis Cups for France from 1927-1932.
What then do we or the Spanish build for Rafael Nadal? The centre court at the Barcelona Open was renamed Pista Rafael Nadal in 2017, but perhaps Barcelona’s epic Gaudi designed cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, will have to be dedicated to him, even if he is a Real Madrid fan?
If the English Queen’s 70 years on the throne is unsurpassable then so too must be Nadal’s 14 Grand Slam titles at the one tournament. Remarkably, Queen Elizabeth II has had audiences with 14 Prime Ministers during her reign.
Back to Nadal. Repeat again: 14 titles from 14 finals. Nadal has never been vanquished on the final Sunday afternoon of the tournament.
Only Djokovic’s nine titles from nine finals at the Australian Open and Sampras’ seven from seven at Wimbledon come close. Laver, Borg, McEnroe, and Federer all tasted defeat in Wimbledon finals. Nadal has won as many Grand Slams titles in Paris as Pete Sampras won across the world in his career.
What is even more remarkable about Nadal’s victory, which makes him the oldest ever French Men’s champion, is that it seemed the draw would make his victory all but impossible.
Paris has long been known for its division between the Left and Right banks of the Seine. The Left is the bohemian, revolutionary, febrile side of town. The Right is established elegant boulevards, haute couture and elan. This year’s draw at the French Open was the tennis equivalent of Paris’ social schism.
On Nadal’s side of the draw were the rising star, Carlos Alcaraz, Alex Zverev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and, did I forget, Novak Djokovic? It was the Right Bank and the Rue St. Honore on parade. 42 Grand Slam titles on the Right.
On the Left Bank Boulevard St. Michel side of the draw were the perpetual prospects and warhorses of the game: Tsitsipas, Rune, Ruud, Rublev, Sinner. Cilic and the herniated Daniil Medvedev. 2 Grand Slam titles on the Left. Such was the bizarre nature of the seedings that Djokovic and Nadal were seeded to meet in a quarter-final, which they only had done twice before in their celebrated rivalry-each time at the French Open, in 2006 and 2015.
Before making the quarter-final Nadal had to survive a five set fourth round match against the rising Canadian, Auger-Aliassime that lasted over four hours. He then had to play Djokovic in an evening match that lasted over four hours finishing at 1.00 a.m. in the morning. Nadal’s four-set victory, a surprise to most, drew him to 29-30 in the Open Era’s most prolific Men’s rivalry.
Nadal then exchanged blows with Zverev in their semi-final for more than three hours, winning the first set in a tie-break and then entering another tie-break to decide the second set. Zverev, who narrowly failed to injure the umpire’s ankle when smashing his racquet against an Umpire’s Chair in Mexico, rolled his own on Parisian clay and had to leave the court in a wheelchair with his French Open and Wimbledon dreams dashed. Not that Nadal could rest easily on his feet, with anaesthetic injections being required to deaden the pain in his injured foot. From the etiolated side of the draw, Norway’s Casper Ruud emerged to become his country’s first Grand Slam finalist but could only offer token resistance to a rampant Nadal.
The Women’s draw made even less sense. By the end of the third round only one of the top ten seeds remained. Luckily, for the tournament’s credibility that player was the No. 1 seed, Iga Swiatek. Swiatek swept to her second French title in three years, with the loss of only one set. She defeated 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, who like Ruud, was overawed by her first Grand Slam final appearance. Swiatek’s vocal post-match support for Ukraine and Gauff’s pleas to end gun violence in her country seemed to gain more interest that Swiatek’s feat in winning her sixth successive tournament for the year and equalling Venus Williams’ 21st century record of 35 consecutive wins.
The tennis roadshow now moves to the European grass season, culminating at Wimbledon. France will next be in the sporting limelight when the Tour de France commences in July. Last week, Jai Hindley, aged 26 became the first Australian to win the Giro d’Italia. Jai was a student at a school I worked at in Perth and I well remember his passion for road cycling. Dreams do come true as they have for another young Western Australian, Minjee Lee, who has won the United States Women’s Golf Championship also aged 26.
Whilst Nadal seeks to recuperate to play at Wimbledon, Hindley has indicated that his body will not have enough time to recover to participate in the Tour de France.
For the world’s governments there seems to be no time to rest and recuperate from managing the Covid-19 crisis. The ongoing pandemic has become overlaid with a suite of political and economic challenges that do not appear capable of quick resolution.
What would Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Anthony Albanese all give to think that their decisions and directions were as powerful and tenacious as Nadal’s ability to create an unprecedented and universally admired legacy.
Vale Caroline Jones
As Australia’s parliament begins to reflect its wider society, it is right to pay tribute to Caroline Jones, a trailblazing ABC journalist who died recently aged 84. Caroline Jones was the first female host of Four Corners and later hosted Australian Story. Widely admired for her intelligence, grit, and compassion we thank her for all the class that she showed.
I am sure Caroline Jones would not have committed the howler that I heard on the radio last week. A female journalist was reporting on the new ‘positive consent’ laws that commenced in New South Wales this week. The journalist said that the laws were to take effect when “sexual intercourse was on the table between a couple.” I am sure the legislation is intended to apply in all circumstances and situations.