One week of the US Tennis Open left in New York. One week left of the latest lockdown in Melbourne, but suddenly a two week extension…
The tennis is being played in front of all but zero crowds. Novak Djokovic seeks to enter the quarter-finals having won 26 matches for the year, having lost zero.
We must remember that this Friday is the nineteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York that made part of that city forever to be known as Ground Zero.
In Melbourne the epidemiologists keep searching for the elusive near zero number of Covid-19 cases before people and crowds are allowed to re-appear on the streets. The sense of isolation Victorians are experiencing from their normal September patterns of existence was reinforced when it was confirmed that the AFL Grand Final had been stripped ( not a word to mention to supporters of the Richmond football club this week) from its traditional home of the Melbourne Cricket Ground and will be played in Brisbane, where it seems only AFL footballers are welcome from other States of the country.
The home of the Melbourne Cup also lost some of its living heritage last week with the death of the popular 1992 Cup champion, whose name, Subzero, is one the epidemiologists would love to be able to use every day at present.
As one wit observed the pandemic has led to an exponential rise in the number of people poring over graphs and numbers as they watch graphs and numbers chart the pandemic’s ebb and flow. And ebb and flow it continues to do. India now has the grim distinction of leading the world in the number of new daily cases. France and England have also recorded a surge in new daily cases as their school students return for the start of a new academic year.
Tennis is all about numbers. Points, games and sets won determine the outcome of matches. The number of your seeding in a tournament greatly influences a player’s chance of success.
Numbers are elemental in politics. John Howard often reminded that “ultimately politics is a number’s game”: votes from the electorate, votes within the party room, the number of seats won and lost, the percentages by which seats are held and retained.
If the American opinion polls are to be believed, the number of days in which President Trump has to turnaround public opinion about his worthiness for a second term are fast becoming numbered.
The numbers favoured the ALP in Northern Territory’s recent election as they have secured a majority of seats in the Territory’s Assembly to form a government. Whilst Paul Keating might dismiss a Territory election as nothing more than “a local council election” , as he once referred to a Territory election in the ACT when he was Prime Minister, a win is a win.
However, the ALP seems to have a dilemma on its hands. In recent years it has proved successful in gaining the numbers in a number of key State elections, especially Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. However, this support does not appear to translate into support for the ALP in Federal elections.
Has the ALP become a victim of its own identity? Has the party typecast itself as the one best able to manage State transport, hospital and education systems, but not the national economy and foreign policy?
Speaking of Paul Keating and numbers he, and another former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, went to the barricades this week. They were protesting against the possible delay in the increase of the percentage number of a person’s salary that employers are required to pay into an employee’s superannuation fund. Currently set at 9.5%, the former PMs were livid at suggestions that the Liberal-NP government may postpone planned increases in the rate to 12% by July, 2025.
The principal reason that the promised increase in the superannuation levy may not be possible is the nation’s economic numbers. Statistics released this week confirmed the country is in recession, with our economy contracting by 7% in the last quarter.
In New York, the toughest set of numbers to face in Men’s tennis is to be two sets to love down and still manage to win. Yet, in the first round four players, including two former champions, Andy Murray and Marin Cilic, achieved this feat. For Murray, the champion of 2012, the victory was a pyrrhic one.
On the comeback trial after announcing his retirement due to hip injury, Murray was barely able to move and was comfortably beaten in the second round by Canada’s Felix Auger Aliassime. Felix has now been joined in the fourth round by two other Canadians: Vasek Pospisil, traditionally a doubles specialist and occasional Davis Cup hero who upset fellow Canadian Milos Raonic in the second round and ‘young gun’ Denis Shapovalov. The three Canadians have been joined by two Australians, Jordan Thompson and Alex De Minaur.
I venture to suggest that it must be the first time in Grand Slam history that Australia and Canada, two vast countries of British Empire heritage, have provided close to one-third of the final sixteen in the Men’s draw of a Grand Slam tournament. Australian players would have done it many times by themselves, but players from the Great Southern land have never before achieved this feat with players from the land of the True North. If it were not so contentious to do so, one could be tempted to break into a rendition of Rule Britannia.
In the Women’s Draw, the numbers did not fall for Venus Williams who lost in the first round, some twenty years after winning her first title in 2000. In the second round, France’s Kristina Mladenovic almost rewrote the numbers of tennis logic. Leading 6-1 5-1 and having four match points, she managed to lose the last two sets and the match 6-7 0-6 !
My despairing Mathematics teachers of years past would, hopefully, be thrilled that I recognised a distinct pattern in the numbers in the second round of the Women’s event. Seeds numbered 1,11,13,19 and 31 all lost. If I am not mistaken all of those numbers are prime numbers, being only divisible by themselves. For this reason, they are given a special, almost magical status amongst numerals.
In Victoria, we continue to search for the agreed and magical number of Covid-19 cases that will allow us to live by ourselves as we ordinarily do.
Numbers have patterns and so do letters. It has often occurred to me how strange it is that the word “united” is an anagram of one its antonyms, being “untied.”
Ironically, the primary political debate of our nation is how our Federation can remain united if our internal State borders are not untied. Scott Morrison has a double headache, from which today’s Father’s Day will only temporarily distract him: the extended lockdown of Victoria and the almost gleeful promise of Premiers, especially those in Queensland and Western Australia, that their borders will remain closed indefinitely.
Michael Bublé may have to record a special Australian album this year for “It’s beginning to look a lot not like Christmas, for everywhere you cannot go.” , except to walk along a deserted Collins Street:
The Victorian Premier has announced his “roadmap” for the reopening of the State. “Roadmaps” are almost as doomed as a nomenclature for success as “Five year plans.” How many failed “roadmaps” for peace have we had in the Middle East?
Even if we accept the optimism of the metaphor, I have always thoughts maps offered a definite pathway from one destination to another.
The Andrews’ government’s cartography keeps us trapped in the same tunnel for another fortnight, whilst we wait for a series of assumptions to be satisfied before moving any further towards the light. It seems to me that this prescription rests on much less than “a wing and a prayer.”
A dear friend once told me of her belief that there are three things central to one's happiness:
-Someone to love; Something to do; and Something to look forward to.
Presently, for too many Victorians the numbers of this formula are, at best, one from three! For those in aged-care, for those living by themselves without being able to see friends and loved ones, there must seem few grounds for optimism.
Even being with those we love is problematic. Many a sociologist has commented that being confined with those we love the most for too long is not ideal. Daniel Andrews may do well to remember that one of Chicago’s most popular songs was “Hard to say I’m sorry” . Its opening lyrics also have a certain ironic appeal at this time:
“Everybody needs a little time away from each other,
Even lovers need a holiday
Far away from each other.”
For the unemployed, for those who own businesses that have been forced to close and for those whose businesses can only look forward to a fiendishly slow road to recovery, there is sadly neither the prospect of something to do nor anything to look forward to. Sorry, Meatloaf but this two out of three IS bad.
So, where is the silver lining? An extra hour to exercise will be appreciated as the vernal equinox approaches. Yesterday, I noticed in the garden of our neighbouring church signs of spring’s arrival that lifted the spirits. The centrepiece was a pristine azalea, loaded with white blooms set against polished, waxy deep green leaves. A vision splendid:
And then it occurred to me. Another pattern of letters. For contained within the name of the plant itself is the word “zeal”. Remembering the need to zealously encourage and support each other both off and on-line has suddenly become more important than ever as we contemplate a greater number of challenging days.
For tennis fans, we only have one more week to learn the names of those who will be added to the US Open’s honour rolls. Will the numbers of history change? They will if Serena wins a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title. I doubt she will. For mine, a Kenin v Osaka final looms.
Djokovic will move one number closer to history if he wins his fourth US Open title, situating him one behind Nadal and two behind Federer on the all-time Men’s Grand Slam title scoreboard. Will he be successful? Only a brave person would bet against it, especially as Djokovic will not have to overcome the usual antipathy he experiences from a crowded stadium.
However, it is worth remembering that New York has produced the greatest number of champions outside the Murray/Nadal/ Djokovic/Federer quartet of any of the Grand Slam tournaments in the last eighteen years: Roddick- 2003, Del Potro- 2009, Cilic-2014 and Wawrinka in 2016. Do not dismiss the pink of team Thiem!
6th September, 2020