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An Open and shut case?

Tomorrow, competition at the Australian Open is set to commence. The gates will be open, but even after the first ball is struck there will be concerns that the tournament could be shut down. Last week, all preliminary tournaments had to be suspended for a day after it was revealed that a quarantine worker at Melbourne’s Hyatt Hotel, where most players had been confined for a mandatory fourteen days, had contracted the virus. Over 500 players and entourage were returned to their hotel rooms and received further Covid-19 tests.

All Victorians reached for their masks again and they are now required to be worn in all indoor venues, except when eating and drinking. No more than fifteen people are allowed in a household. The expected return of greater numbers of workers to their long-neglected CBD desks has been postponed.

Remarkably, initial test results indicate that, notwithstanding the quarantine worker having contracted the more infectious South African variant of the virus, neither his closest contacts nor the players and their cabals have been infected. Just as remarkably, amidst the frenetic activity needed to develop and distribute vaccines to save the lives of millions around the world, the President of the World Health Organisation found time to plead for no references to be made to the origins of new strains of the virus, lest South Africa or England are unjustifiably maligned and/or vilified. We must keep an open mind on the science, but we are to shut down references to the objective national origin of an illness. I await details of how I should now refer to the Spanish influenza epidemic. If only there was a vaccine against the abandonment of common sense! What next, “the southernmost State of the Australian Commonwealth Devil”?

When play in preliminary tournaments was suspended last Thursday, Will Swanton, a pithy sports journalist from The Australian, opened an on-line poll to select the greatest tennis player of all time. He asserted with breathtaking audacity that it was an open and shut case in selecting the six candidates: Margaret Court, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rod Laver and Rafael Nadal. How preposterous! How could any serious poll exclude Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras from readers’ consideration? Nothing is ever that open and shut. Three of the contenders....

That’s the thing about this virus; it has led to an ‘open and shut’, ‘shut and open’ state of existence. A quarantine worker in Perth tests positive and the city is shut down for five days. State borders that had previously been reopened are once again either fully or partially closed again. For Perth residents, the strictures of the lockdown were compounded by witnessing a savage bushfire in the city’s outer Eastern suburbs that destroyed close to one hundred homes. In a Dorothea MacKellar scenario, the northern regions of the country’s largest State now battle inland floods. In Canberra, the Prime Minister was forced to tell one of his party, the Federal Member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, to shut his mouth and stop advocating views that were diluting public confidence in the nation’s forthcoming vaccination programme. Mr. Kelly’s mouth may not be opening itself spontaneously for some weeks. Cricket Australia announced that plans for a tour to South Africa have had to be shut down.

Like nearly everything else over this past year, little about this year’s Open is an open and shut case. Even the weather seems at odds with what should be. Typically, Melbourne’s February weather is its hottest of the year, coinciding perfectly with the start of the school year. So far 2021 has produced a damp and mild Melbourne summer. Today Melbourne’s temperature struggled to pass 20 degrees as cool southerly winds blew through the city.

The ‘open and shut’ motif of the Open is rippling around the world. France has shut its borders to most of the world. They will only remain open to those from fellow European Union countries, thus shutting out the recently excised Great Britain. In Myanmar, once celebrated Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has had her dream of an open democratic society shattered by a military coup and remains shut away in house arrest. Whilst many argue that she may have done much to destroy the country’s nascent democracy, including her alleged support of a genocide of the nation’s Rohingya population, military coups rarely lead to restoration of open societies. Mr. Navalny has been shut away in prison for at least two years as the political openness of Russian society continues to be diminished.

As much as the pandemic has changed the certainty of our lives in the past year, it is equally clear that there have been forces at play for longer periods of time that have caused equally significant changes in the way we live.

Recent data has confirmed that the average price for a house in Melbourne is now just under one million dollars. Add pernicious State government Stamp Duty and you are looking at outlaying seven figures for a ‘typical’ dwelling. Can anyone believe the original budget for the construction of Sydney’s Opera House in the late 1950s was a mere seven million dollars? When the Queen opened the Opera House in 1973, a worker in Sydney or Melbourne earning an average wage needed to save one year’s salary to fund a 20% deposit to purchase a house. Nearly fifty years later, a Sydney worker on average earnings requires nearly nine years’ salary to fund a 20% deposit. The figure is slightly less in Melbourne. Outside of our two largest cities, five years’ salary is required to open the door to one’s house. Even with interest rates at historically low levels, low wage growth means that many Australians are resigned to being shut out of the housing market.

It is for this reason that the luxury car market is a shining economic beacon: “If I cannot obtain a decent house, I may as well spoil myself with a luxurious car.” Before the pandemic international tourism was also the beneficiary of an increasingly unaffordable housing market. In the early 1970s when Qantas commenced their Jumbo Jet Longreach flights to Melbourne it required 24 weeks of an average salary to fund a flight; at the time of the pandemic it was 1.7 weeks, with a shorter flight and more in-flight entertainment options as further bonuses! As the housing door shut for too many, other doors opened!

Speaking of “one door closing and another opening”, those of us who are old enough remember this observation as sage advice given by Mother Abbess to Sister Maria in the 1965 cinematic classic, ‘The Sound of Music’. This comment sent the novitiate, played by Julie Andrews, back to the arms of widowed Captain von Trapp. Christopher Plummer, whose performance in the role guaranteed him worldwide recognition for generations, passed away this week aged 91. If anyone is dry-eyed when watching him sing ‘Edelweiss’ in his most famous role, then they are not made of mortal stuff! More recently his portrayal of the demonic J. Paul Getty in ‘All the Money in the World’, a role he secured at the last minute after Kevin Spacey was sacked, confirmed that Plummer was a class act and actor.

Strangely, it seems the death of individuals affect us more than the collective loss of many many more. This was seen in Australia recently when a couple who were expecting their first child were killed by a car in Brisbane whilst crossing the road. The car was being driven by a drug affected seventeen-year-old who was evading police. The fickle finger of fate could not have been more cruelly pointed.

In England, the nation paused to recognise the life of Captain Tom Moore who died from corona virus aged 100. Captain Tom had been personally knighted by the Queen for his efforts in walking laps of his garden to raise millions of pounds for England’s National Health Service.

The pandemic has now claimed over two million lives. Every year January 27, the day after Australia’s contentious national day, is International Holocaust Memorial Day. As horrific as the effect of an unexpected malignant bacterial outbreak has been, nothing can ever compare to the calculated depravity that exterminated the lives of over six million people. Hopefully, vaccines created by scientists seeking to preserve life, will ease the scourge of COVID-19. Tragically, fifty million lives were lost in World War 2 to end the Third Reich’s evil. It has often been observed that without recognising the profundity of death, the power of living cannot be known.

When the Australian Open concluded last year, the chair of Tennis Australia, Jayne Hrdicka, reminded the world that Australia was “open for business.” As we all know, Australia has had to shut itself away from most of the world since then. However, international business has continued. Thankfully, the world’s demand for our natural resources has continued during the pandemic contributing to another annual trade surplus. We are far from a mid-1980s banana republic in the waiting. In 2020 Australia posted a trade and services surplus of A$72.7 billion ($55.47 billion), an increase of A$5.2 billion on the surplus of A$67.5 billion recorded in 2019, notwithstanding tensions in our trading relationship with China.

We have erected many barriers and shut many borders, but our trading coffers remain open. Imagine our national debt if they had not!

The Australian Open is arguably Australia’s premier international sporting event. Until this year it was an open and shut proposition that Australians, especially those living in Melbourne, took great pride in the event. Despite the undisclosed amounts of money that have been provided by State governments to underwrite the event, the public have long considered that the benefits of the event far outweigh its costs.

How quickly things change! On the eve of this year’s Open there is a decided ambivalence about the worth of this year’s event: a sort of collective deuce in public opinion, if not a break point! Many Victorians believe that its government may have been reckless to risk another outbreak of the virus by subsidising the arrival of international tennis players. Doing this whilst many Australians residing overseas are unable to return has added to public criticism of the event. Comments made by many of the players have not endeared them to the sports loving folk of Melbourne. Having endured months of punitive economic and social restrictions Melburnians have, understandably, not been impressed by the petulant protests of players who will earn $100,000 for losing a first-round match at the Open. If a player reaches the third round of the tournament, they will, in seven days, earn an amount equal to the seven years’ wages paid to an Australian worker receiving the average national wage.

For the time being the Open is open for business and is rearing to go! So, who wins this year’s event?

In the Men’s Draw the bookmakers seem to believe it is more of a shut case than an open one. Novak Djokovic is overwhelmingly favoured to win his second hat-trick of Opens and his ninth title overall. Nadal, Thiem, Zverev and Tsitsipas are seen as credible challengers. If the weather remains mild then Daniil Medvedev has a good chance of becoming Russia's first champion in Melbourne since Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1999. Australia’s best hope appears to be Alex de Minaur, who, if the tournament’s draw proceeds as expected, will play Nadal in the fourth round.

The Women’s Draw is regarded as far more open. For the first time since the days of Court and Goolagong, an Australian player is No.1 seed. Ash Barty, who today defeated last year’s finalist, Garbine Muguruza, 7-6 6-4 in a preliminary tournament, has received a favourable draw. A mere eight Grand Slam champions are in the opposite side of her section of the draw. Recent Grand Slam results suggest that on any given day Halep, Osaka, Muguruza and possibly Kenin and Kvitova could be the best of the rest. Serena Williams commands interest and attention as her three-year quest to equal Margaret Court’s tally of 24 Grand Slam singles titles continues.

Many traditional aspects of the Open will be shut down in order that it can be open. Spectators at the Open will be shut into distinct zones at Melbourne Park. The Open is, without stadium roofs being closed, an outdoor event. Over the next fortnight, spectators, will, until further notice, be required to wear masks in the stands. Linespeople will be shut out as ‘Hawkeye’ will be permanently open to adjudicate contested calls. John McEnroe’s tennis heaven may have arrived in Melbourne!

In or out? Shut or open? Either way, it appears there is not to be a dull moment!

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