In a few days, a bizarre cinematic event will occur. Two highly promoted films, ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ will be released simultaneously, close to the anniversary of the moon landing.
Barbie will be a frivolous, diverting film bringing to life the Barbie Doll, for so many a pink post-war Western childhood icon .
Oppenheimer will be an eponymous account of the atomic physicist that led America’s Manhattan project to develop mankind’s most destructive weapon that changed the course of world history.
The first week of Wimbledon was all Barbie. Frothy, but hardly memorable. No titanic struggles. Seeds in both the Men’s and Women’s draws were barely shaken. As pleasant as a pink Pimm’s.
The recently completed second week of Wimbledon was all Oppenheimer. Explosive and titanic matches suddenly became common.
In the Men’s there were the swashbuckling contests between Rublev and Bublik and Eubanks and Tsitsipas.
In the Women’s top seed Iga Swiatek saved match points against Bencic and Ukraine’s Svitolina played not so much a match as a geo-political battle against Victoria Azarenka before prevailing. There was no handshake at the net at the end of the match.
Then there was a destructive chain reaction amongst the Women’s seeds. Unseeded Marketa Vondrousova defeated the fourth seed Pegula and Svitolina took out top-seeded Swiatek in the quarter-finals. Second seeded Sabalenka had her own implosion when leading Ons Jabeur one set to love and having a game point for 5-3 in the second before losing her semi-final in three sets. Svitolina’s fairy tale run ended in her semi final when she succumbed meekly to Vondrousova.
Wimbledon was spared a politically contentious final between Svitolina and Sabalenka. Instead, Wimbledon generated another slice of history with Vondrousova the first unseeded Women’s finalist in 60 years- the last being Billie-Jean Moffit in 1963, competing against Tunisian Ons Jabeur who was seeking to win her first Grand Slam title at her third attempt. Jabeur was also aiming to be the first African-Arab champion. Unfortunately, Jabeur played as if shackled with the burden of favouritism. Despite leading 4-2 in the first set and 3-1 in the second, Jabeur lost 4-6 4-6. Her lowly first service percentage of 48% and her tally of 31 unforced errors explain her disappointing defeat.
Vondrousova, whose bewilderment at having won the title as the first unseeded Women’s champion was endearing, also became Wimbledon’s first visibly tattooed champion!
Forgive the hyperbole, but this year’s Men’s Wimbledon final was an instant classic. It pitted the precocious pretender to the world’s tennis throne against the imperious incumbent. In Spanish terms it was the young bull against the supreme matador.
As Spain sizzled through a summer heatwave, events on the world’s most famous tennis court in the cooler climate of England raised the temperature of Spanish sporting passion even further. For a brief shining moment the sight of King Felipe VI congratulating his nation’s hero will take Spanish minds away from their general election this coming Sunday. The election promises to be highly combative and divisive with an ultra-right wing group, the Vox Party, likely to be a kingmaker in a coalition government.
Carlos Alcaraz’s defeat of Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final has instantly made him the world’s newest sporting superstar.
And why wouldn’t it?
Let’s not forget the context of the match.
It was only the third time that Djokovic had played Alcaraz and it was in a Grand Slam final. This year’s Wimbledon was only the fourth grass court tournament that Alcaraz had played. Djokovic had not been beaten on Wimbledon’s Centre Court since Andy Murray beat him in the 2013 final. Before this year’s final Djokovic had only dropped his serve three times, the least number of times in any of his Grand Slam victories. Djokovic was playing for a fifth successive title, a record-equalling eighth Wimbledon title alongside Roger Federer and the chance to maintain his chance to complete a calendar year Grand Slam.
And who would have thought after the first set that the script was not going to fall Novak’s way? In my last article I wrote that a Djokovic loss at Wimbledon this year would be the “greatest upset since Arthur Ashe beat Jimmy Connors in the 1975 final.” In 1974 Connors, the young 21-year-old challenger, blasted Australian veteran Ken Rosewall off the court. Unlike Djokovic, Rosewall had never won a Wimbledon title.
This year the young challenger was swept away in the first set 6-1; however, like Ashe in 1975, Alcaraz responded by changing his tactics and strategy. Through variations in pace, an almost schizoid deviation between the use of attacking depth and deft drop shots, Alcaraz recovered to save set points in the second set to win a tense tiebreaker 8-6. It was then Alcaraz’s turn to win a set 6-1,which included one game that took 20 minutes, involved 32 points before Alcaraz prevailed.
In the fourth set, Djokovic regrouped and delivered the power and returns of serve that have made him all but unconquerable. Suddenly, Alcaraz was on the run again and lost the set on a double fault.
Who still would have thought at the start of the fifth set that Alcaraz would win? Djokovic had the advantage of serving first. Remember in his 302 previous Grand Slam matches, Djokovic had only lost 5 after winning the first set. Yet it was Alcaraz that proved the fearlessness of youth could usurp an Emperor’s throne.
A cracking forehand pass secured Alcaraz a pivotal break to lead 2-1. Djokovic reacted by smashing his racquet against the net post which led to a warning from the umpire for racquet abuse and audible booing from the crowd. Djokovic sensed that Alcaraz had made it abundantly clear that he was not going to buckle. Gusty winds started to irritate the defending champion. Alcaraz quickly held to love for 3-1. Djokovic held to 15 for 2-3. Two windy mishits from Djokovic and an Alcaraz ace took Carlos to 4-2. Djokovic held for 3-4 after 30-30. Alcaraz held after 0-15 and a second serve ace on game point for 5-3. Djokovic held to 15 for 4-5. Suddenly, Alcaraz was serving for the championship.
If one game can be a microcosm of a match that lasted close to 5 hours the final game was it:
Alcaraz: 0-15 after playing a low percentage drop shot
Alcaraz: 15-15 after playing a drop shot/lob combination that brought the crowd to their feet. The brilliant lob that stranded Djokovic reminded me of John McEnroe’s lob that broke Bjorn Borg’s heart in the 1981 US Open final
Alcaraz: 30-15 after a brave volley off an attempted pass
Alcaraz: 30-30 after an Alcaraz mishit
Alcaraz :40-30 after Djokovic’s service return sails long
Match point: Fortune favoured the brave. In a strategy straight from the Djokovic playbook, Alcaraz served deep and wide, drove Djokovic’s mid-court return of service wide forcing Djokovic to net a forehand.
At the end of the match Alcaraz had won 168 points to Djokovic’s 166.
So, now the tennis world asks: “is the derailment of Djokovic permanent?” Is the Alcaraz triumph this decade’s Federer’s defeat of Sampras in 2001 moment? Has the order of the guard changed at Wimbledon as it has recently at Buckingham Palace?
So many things seem to be changing and less certain. By the time of the US Open, Australia will have its first female Reserve Bank Governor, Michele Bullock. One suspects that the mortgage belt will not consider any future interest rate rises under her watch as any “gentler and kinder.”
Djokovic may have had his wish for an eighth Wimbledon title foiled, but this has not stopped former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s brood expanding to eight, with the birth of Frank Albert Odysseus. His children range in age from newborn to 30, with the mother of the last three being 35. Surely, eight is now enough!
As we look forward to the US Open, how remarkable it is that America’s political system is likely to see a second Presidential contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump who will both be octogenarians in November 2024. No generational change in Washington!
Meanwhile Australians still await confirmation of when they will vote on whether or not to change the Constitution in a referendum to create an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. As each week passes, there seems less certainty that the success of the referendum is guaranteed, especially as official and divided “Yes” and “No” arguments are circulated to the public.
Tennis, however, reminds us of the certainty that Mother Nature already wins. The television commentator of the Men’s final noted at its conclusion: “Alcaraz is 20, Djokovic is 36 and this is the way of things.” One generation cometh and another passeth away. Flushing Meadow will clarify even further how telling Father Time has been on Djokovic compared to the game’s newest star who has both talent and time on his side.