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  • Julian Dowse

Australian Open 2018: 20 to 1

Last year’s Australian Open was a lavish, almost excessive, serving of history, drama and entertainment. The tennis was clearly worth coming a long way to see.

This year, I did just that travelling from Perth to Melbourne arriving in time to attend some of the final days of the 2018 tournament. The family odyssey was completed in two stages: first, by boarding the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Adelaide and then driving from Adelaide to Melbourne. Traversing the continent by rail and land is a reminder of the sheer vastness of our nation and its remarkably diverse geographical, social and political environments.

The Indian Pacific departs the inner-city Labor Federal electorate of Perth, gathers speed as it enters Ken Wyatt’s electorate of Hasluck, leaves the urban reach of Western Australia’s capital behind it as it travels through the outer regions of Christian Porter’s marginal electorate of Pearce and then travels through two of the four world’s largest electorates; Durack of 1,629,858 square kilometres and O’Connor of 868,576 square kilometres. The latter electorate is centred around the famous gold mining township of Kalgoorlie, if anything can truly be centred within such a vast area.

As the train crosses the South Australian border in the afternoon of its second day of travel it enters the electorate of Grey which has an area of 904,881 square kilometres. The fourth of the stupendously sized electorates is Lingiari in the Northern Territory which borders each of Durack, O’Connor and Grey, having an area of 1,352,034 square kilometres. The train journey makes one consider how accurate Alfred Deakin was to describe the achievement of Federation as a miracle. As isolated as Perth is- it is further from Perth to Sydney than from London to Moscow-it is hard to imagine how complete that isolation must have been in the 1890s remembering that no trans-continental rail linked the Indian and Pacific Oceans until 1917. A single gauge railway spanning the continent was not finalised until 1970.

The train then enters more typically sized electorates in South Australia beginning with the Labor strongholds of Wakefield and Makin. Wakefield is home to the suburb of Elizabeth, where the socio-economic statistics do anything but reign supreme. It is in Elizabeth that the Holden car plant closed its doors on 20th October, 2017. The train concludes its journey in the marginal electorate of Adelaide. Currently held by Kate Ellis, a candidate selected by Mark Latham, she has announced she will be retiring at the next Federal election. Alighting in Adelaide, we stayed with dear friends in Henley Beach, which is a suburb within the even more marginal seat of Hindmarsh. We toured the seminal Labor seat of Port Adelaide and the Liberal Party’s two remaining metropolitan seats of Boothby and Sturt, the latter being the borough of the Minister for Submarines, Christopher Pyne.

How the electoral map of South Australia will look after their forthcoming election on St. Patrick’s Day is anyone’s guess. Nick Xenophon, fresh from his expulsion in the Senate, has launched a campaign to gain the balance of power within one or both of South Australia’s two Houses of Parliament. That the people of Adelaide are dazed and disillusioned by politics and their politicians was made all too obvious for me. As I was extolling the symbolic and structural features of Adelaide’s Parliament House to my son whilst standing on North Terrace, a passer-by interrupted me to say, “forget it mate-it’s bullshit castle”.

We drove through the Federal electorate of Mayo, formerly the home of Julie Bishop and the electorate of another Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, whose term as High Commissioner in London is coming to an end with George Brandis to succeed him. Just what the Senate needs- another casual vacancy! Mayo is now held by the Nick Xenophon Team. From there we headed to Robe which is situated in the Federal electorate of Barker.

At the electorate’s edge and close to the border of Victoria is the bucolic township of Mt. Gambier, which is renowned for the dazzling peacock blue colour of its lakes. Regrettably, the town is also now known for the blight caused by its population’s high usage of ice, being the modern narcotic du jour. It is probably for that reason that the town is home to a Federally Funded “Family Relationship Centre”. As Barry Humphries’ venerable character Sandy Stone once observed, “it is extraordinary to think that families used to take care of their relationships.”

Entering Victoria, we traversed the Federal electorate of Wannon, formerly held by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and then entered the marginal Liberal electorate of Corangamite. Travelling from Camperdown to Colac, we could see where Federal government money was being used to create a dual carriageway with no doubt the dual purpose of shoring up support for its current member, Sarah Henderson. Peter Costello’s largesse in providing funds for the Geelong by-pass did not convert the seat of Corio into a Liberal borough, but then nothing on the electoral road from Geelong to Melbourne gives the Liberal Party much to cheer about. Corio is left behind as we entered Lalor- formerly held by Julia Gillard, then Gellibrand, formerly held by Nicola Roxon, the Commonwealth’s first female Attorney-General and then finally into the Green hipster borough of Melbourne.

My apologies for this electoral discourse-or should that be detour? However, it is a reminder that the physical vastness of Australia is matched by growing gulfs in experiences, attitudes and values between its cities and regional towns. Even though Fair Trade coffee and gluten free vegan samosas can be found in regional towns nowadays, one cannot begin to describe the social and political differences of Australia’s country towns from the obsessions and interests of Australia’s inner-city populations, but I shall try. There is a gulf between a country outlook and a cosmopolitan one, a gap between the cultural liberalism of the cities and the conservative outlook of the regions. There is the gap between the fear in rural towns of economic stagnation and declining opportunity as opposed to the ‘pop-up’, ‘start-up’, artistic, IT, café and economic culture of Sydney and Melbourne. Little wonder that politicians are failing win everyone over. Often accused of speaking at crossed purposes, they now must speak and appeal to very different audiences at the same time.

The inner-Melbourne hipster progressive urban vibe is as alien to the conversation in the Tailem Bend bakery as one could imagine. Only last week I heard a passenger on a tram declare non sotto voce that as a Gemini she was “an air person” and her tarot cards had been revealing “swords and serpents” which made her realise that “she could not return to being straight”.

Thankfully, this year’s Open brought some reassurance that some things are still constant and less subject to change. We arrived in Melbourne at the end of the tournament’s first week. Typically, by this time there were no Australian women left in the Singles Draw with Ashleigh Barty losing in the third round, Daria Gavrilova in the second and Samantha Stosur in the first. There were also no current female Grand Slam champions left by the end of the third round. With the absence of Serena, Ostapenko lost in the third round, Muguruza in the second round and Sloane Stephens joined the inglorious honour roll of Grand Slam champions to have in the first round of their next Grand Slam tournament. Such an early exit by all current female Grand Slam champions may be a first in the Open Era.

The French players once again promised much and then were all gone before the second week- bye bye to Cornet, Mladenovic, Mannarino, Gasquet, Tonga, Julien Benneteau (who had beaten Goffin in the first round) and Monfils who was had to play Djokovic on a day of ridiculous and potentially lethal heat when on-court temperatures reached 69 degrees.

Nick Kyrgios achieved growing and grudging respect for being the only Australian male to reach the fourth round, where his run was halted by Grigor Dimitrov in a spirited and high-quality match. However, Kyrgios’ temperament was once again called into question in his Davis Cup match against Alexander Zverev a week after the Open. Needing to win the match to keep Australia’s hopes alive, Kyrgios lost in straight sets to a player he had beaten in three of their previous four matches. Zverev was not in peak form, having lost to unseeded Korean player Hyeon Chung in the third round of the Australian Open. Not even Lleyton Hewitt’s patriotic courtside presence prevented Kyrgios from incurring code violations and a point penalty.

Dimitrov’s resolve to consistently compete at the highest level was also called into question when he meekly lost in the quarter-finals of the Open to England’s unseeded Kyle Edmund.

As the seeds fell and the players wilted, there were some elements of farce literally entering the arena. Federer opined that players had to recognise that all conditions, including those of a furnace, had to be experienced to win Grand Slam titles, without acknowledging that his first three matches were played in the relative cool of the evening. Some of Federer’s post-match interviews also bordered on the farcical, with American comedians intervening and some of the interviews seeming to last longer than his contests. Maybe it was the abundance of pink clothing being worn by the male players at this year’s Open that added to the sense of farce- Nadal’s outfit looked like a tribute to George Michael.

Entertainingly mild farce seemed appropriate for this year’s Open. In late 2017 farce was freely available for all Australians to observe. The High Court’s ruling that five of our Federal Parliamentarians, including our Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, were ineligible continued to have repercussions. It reminded the Senate’s President, Tasmania’s Senator Parry, of the meaning of S.44(i) of Constitution and he promptly fell on his sword. John Alexander did not wait for the High Court’s verdict and announced that he had discovered that he remained a dual citizen, triggering another by-election.

Labor’s Sam Dastyari also quit the Senate, but there was no issue of him being a dual Australian-Iranian citizen. Rather, it was his relationship with all things Chinese that brought him undone, although he did claim that the announcement of a Royal Commission into the Banking System was his doing. The Prime Minister’s announcement of the Royal Commission once again had many questioning our leader’s judgement. After foolishly proclaiming that the High Court would find Barnaby Joyce a lawful Parliamentarian, his decision to announce a Royal Commission into the financial sector after months of rejecting the idea as pointless and damaging, was a moment of both expediency and apostasy.

However, the tide turned for Malcolm in December. On the anniversary of the election of the Whitlam government, Barnaby Joyce had a crushing win in the New England by-election. Both he and the Prime Minister looked at all their Christmases had come at once. How long ago those days must now seem for Barnaby. Maybe he now wishes he could have lost the by-election, so he could spend more time with his two families.

On the 7th December, Royal Assent was granted to legislation legalising same-sex marriage. A fortnight later, on the fiftieth anniversary of Harold Holt’s death from drowning, John Alexander retained his seat of Bennelong by defeating former NSW Labor Premier, Kristina Keneally. Ms. Keneally is currently negotiating her way into Sam Dastyari’s Senate vacancy. Everyone wins a prize!

The saga of who is entitled to sit in the Senate and the House shows no sign of abating. The member for Batman, David Feeney, recently revealed he could not disprove he was a dual national and the voters of inner-Melbourne stand by for another election. But, then again this is a man who could not remember he owned a house in his electorate.

The Government, smelling a possible electoral slaughter for the ALP, is poised to refer the member for Longman, Susan Lamb, to the High Court for a ruling on her eligibility.

A quick electoral and Constitutional lesson is needed to explain how all this works.

If the High Court declares a Senator to be ineligible to sit in the Parliament they must resign their seat. Their place will be taken by the person who would have been elected in their absence at the election that elected the ineligible member to the Parliament.

Thankfully, this decision is made by the independent Australian Electoral Commission. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the person selected to be the replacement Senator will be of the same political party. For example, Fiona Nash of the National Party was replaced by a Liberal. Jacqui Lambie has been replaced by Steven Martin (no, not the American comic, but quite possibly funnier) who was a Jacqui Lambie Party candidate, but who has now been expelled by the party and will sit as an Independent. Similarly, Fraser Anning, who replaced the disqualified One Nation Senator, Malcolm Roberts, from Queensland, now sits as an Independent, having quit the party a day after taking his place in the Senate.

However, if a Senator chooses to resign (Dastyari) retires (Brandis) or dies in office they will be replaced in accordance with the terms of s.15 of the Constitution. This section, which was inserted because of a referendum in 1977, provides that the Senator will be replaced by a Senator from the same political party they represented.

If a member of the House of Representatives is declared ineligible or resigns, retires or dies (e.g. Don Randall in Canning in 2015) there must be a by-election to elect a new member.

This is how it works, but where it will end, anybody knows…

Many have observed that when the Constitution was written there was no one who was an Australian citizen, but there you have it.

In the sporting and entertainment world, Australians have never had difficulty accepting and celebrating dual citizenship. Phar Lap, ‘our’ legendary racehorse was foaled in New Zealand and raced in Australia. As mighty as he was he never won 22 races in a row as Winx did in October when she won her third Cox Plate in a row. Dustin Martin, the All- Australian player of the year, Brownlow and Norm Smith medallist has a father marooned in New Zealand, but that did not stop the Richmond faithful adoring him as the greatest Australian known to them in 37 years as he took Richmond to their first ever AFL Premiership in September. Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson were both born in New Zealand, before calling Australia and then Hollywood home.

Whilst same sex relationships were given historic legal recognition in December, the weeks before the Australian Open rewrote the social rules about heterosexual couplings. Suddenly, everyone was a groper and a sexual harasser. Revelations about Harvey Weinstein, who will no doubt become a staple at Trivia Night evenings as the man who ignited the #Me Too movement, were quite literally the tip of an iceberg that saw celebrities lining up to apologise for previous behaviour. Don Burke, Australia’s favourite home gardener of the 1990s saw his reputation collapse in the court of public opinion. Dustin Hoffman joined the queue to apologise for indiscreet acts of the past. Will Academy Awards be retrospectively removed from wayward recipients? The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, has become another high-profile casualty of the relationship wars. At least Jamie Briggs, former Federal MP for Mayo, will no longer feel, and I use that word advisedly, alone.

With so many people Western countries either feeling offended or classifying themselves as a victim, there is little forgiveness or fun to be shared around.

Ron Tandberg was a political cartoonist whose thumbnail sketches exposed the farce of our body politic for many years. His passing confirmed that the year had not been a good one for political satirists with Tandberg’s death reminding us of the loss of Bill Leak.

Farce also continued in England, where no progress has been made with Brexit negotiations, but there have been many exiting the May Cabinet as she engineered a reshuffle. Her authority was further weakened when some of her Ministers refused to go. It is not quite England’s Darkest Hour, but one wonders what Churchill would think of the authority and status of the office of English Prime Minister being reduced to such a degree that no-one wishes to take on the role?

Over in the former English dominion of Canada, yuppie preppy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, barely better than Bieber on many levels, said he was only joking when he suggested that the word “mankind” be replaced with “peoplekind”. Pull the other one, Jus!

Germany has still not formed a government since their election in late September, but they can celebrate the fact that the Berlin Wall has now been obsolete longer than it was the concrete buffer of freedom that made Kennedy describe West Berlin as “a defended island of freedom.” The geographical and political fracture that divided a city, a country, a continent and a world is thankfully over, but its legacy must never be forgotten.

A government was finally formed in New Zealand. As I predicted, the telegenic prevailed against the tried and tested. Jacinda Ardern received sufficient support from the minority parties and Winston Peters to form a Labour government. However, there will be a pregnant pause in her leadership in a few months when she gives birth to her first child. Both she and Serena derailed from their courtly duties! It is just as well that Jacinda leads a nation known for its abundance of dairy produce. Australian supermarkets have taken on the appearance of those of post-war England in recent months. Fears in China that domestically produced baby formula may be contaminated has led to mass buying of Australian and New Zealand tins of formula and has forced supermarkets to limit purchases to two tins per person.

But rising above it all for sheer bathos and hilarious terror was President Trump’s boast that his nuclear button was bigger and more powerful than that of his North Korean counterpart. Fire and fury indeed. I suspect many in the world would like to see each of the leaders have a satellite rocket strapped to their back and have them take off from a ski ramp at the Winter Olympics never to be seen again. Trump’s ability to rationalise the recent gyrations of the stock market have the hallmarks of an aerial gymnast.

Back to the tennis where some of the results were equally ridiculous. Kevin Anderson, last year’s US Open finalist lost in the first round as did 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic. Chung, fresh from beating fourth-seeded Zverev in third round, beat Djokovic in the fourth round. He then defeated another unseeded player, Tennys Sandgren-that’s right his first name is pronounced “Tennis”-, in the quarter-finals. Chung was joined in the semi-finals by another unseeded player, Kyle Edmund, who had defeated Kevin Anderson and Denis Istomin before beating Dimitrov. However, the improbable run of success of the unseeded duo came to an abrupt halt when they respectively faced Cilic and Federer who were seeking to win their way through to a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final.

Cilic had won a torrid quarter-final against Nadal who had to retire in the fifth set due to injury. In last year’s Wimbledon final, Cilic was an ineffectual opponent whose ability to play at his peak was prevented by his severe foot blisters. The same sort of blisters made Chung retire in the second set of his semi-final against Federer. Federer entered the final without having dropped a set. His highest ranked opponent before the final was the 19th seed Tomas Berdych.

Berdych held set points in the first set of their quarter-final but, once squandered, Federer cruised to victory. However, it should be noted that during this match a tetchy Federer said the umpire had used a “bullshit argument” in ruling that the original call of a linesman should stay when the Hawkeye system failed to operate and then deducted a challenge from Federer’s allocated amount. Cilic won his semi-final in straight sets, with little need for remonstration or dissent.

In the Women’s draw there were some equally odd results and moments. Coco Vandeweghe lost her first-round match and remonstrated with the umpire that not enough bananas had been provided on the court for the players. Venus Williams, last year’s runner-up, also lost in the first round.

Kerber dismissed Sharapova with ease in the third round, suggesting that Maria’s comeback is unlikely to see her regain her former status. Second seed Caroline Wozniacki saved two match points and came from 1-5 down in the third set of her first-round match against unseeded Croatian Jana Fett to reach the second round.

The top seed, Simona Halep, easily beat former Wimbledon finalist, Eugenie Bouchard, in the second round and then embarked on a torturous road to the final. The Romanian required a record equalling final set margin of 15-13 in her second-round match to prevail against unseeded Lauren Davis, saving three match points when Davis served for the match at 11-10. Things became no easier for Halep who also had to save match points against Angelique Kerber before prevailing in a compelling semi-final 6-3, 4-6, 9-7. There was also an unseeded Women’s semi-finalist when Belgium’s Elise Mertens reached her first Grand Semi-Final with a surprisingly easy win against Ukraine’s fourth seeded Elina Svitolina.

This year’s Australian Open saved its best until last. After an anaemic Men’s competition, the final was to be played between the second and sixth seeds. The Women’s competition provided more constant drama, but the top two seeds survived their challenges to make the final. Halep and Wozniacki were to play for their first Grand Slam title after each having lost two previous Grand Slam finals-Halep French finals of 2014 and 2017; Wozniacki -US Open finals of 2009 and 2014. They were to also play for the world’s No.1 ranking.

Wozniacki delivered Denmark its first Grand Slam title, which was appropriately achieved in Australia given that the Danish Crown Prince is married to a Tasmanian. After much debate and discussion about whether women should play a best of five set final, the Women’s final was only a fraction shorter than the five set Men’s final. The Women’s final was a contest for a first grand slam title for the winner and was arguably the best since Seles beat Steffi Graf in three sets in 1993.

Lasting just under three hours, the match was played in the presence of Billie Jean-King, the Australian Open Champion of 1968. Her great sporting and philosophical rival, Margaret Court, chose to not attend this year’s Open. It was pleasing that the pathetic calls for the renaming and/or boycotting of the arena named in Court’s honour barely gathered any interest.

The Women’s Final was a match of stanzas, revealing the mercurial nature of both players. Wozniacki raced to a 5-2 lead before Halep rallied to force a tie-break which Wozniacki comfortably won 7-2. In her third Grand Slam final, Wozniacki had finally won a set.

In the second set Wozniacki held four break points at 1-1 but could not claim any of them. Halep broke Woznaicki’s serve to claim the second set 6-3. The match was played in sweltering humidity and the players could take extra time before playing the deciding set. The referee must have known how draining the denouement was to be. The first three games of the set lasted thirty-five minutes. The players traded early breaks of serve. Wozniacki led 2-0, Halep broke back for 1-2, Wozniacki broke again for 3-1 and then Halep reeled off three straight games to lead 4-3. Wozniacki called for a trainer to treat a sore knee and then won three claims in a row to claim the title.

The rallies, especially the one to give Wozniacki her first match point, were breathtaking on a night when both players literally appeared to be often struggling to respire. Every corner and angle of the court was used to try to force an advantage. It was gritty and compelling tennis and, as so often does not happen, was a final which produced the best tennis of the tournament.

The night of the Men’s final was even more oppressive and sultry. Florida’s summer climate visited Melbourne and then some. A decision was taken to close the roof and play the match indoors. Pat Cash, Australia’s Wimbledon Champion of 1987 and twice runner-up in the Australian Open expressed his disapproval with the decision. It was not the only matter on which Cash spoke out. He said that he could not celebrate Australia Day on 26th January as he was ashamed at Australia’s treatment of its indigenous people. The “change the day” campaign has all the signs of replacing the same sex marriage debate as the next totemic struggle of Australia’s culture wars. Calls to replace the current date of the national holiday with January 1st were rejected by former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott for many reasons including the fact that many Australians would be “worse for wear” on that day. An honest, but not especially edifying observation.

The start of the Men’s final suggested that there would be no on-court struggles for Federer. Reprising his commanding display in their Wimbledon final, Federer swept through the first set 6-2. Playing in front of Rod Laver, Federer appeared in supreme control. However, Cilic fought back to win a tie-break in the second set, becoming the first player at the tournament to take a set from Federer. Roger regained his ascendancy to win the third set 6-3, but then Cilic rallied to take the fourth by a similar margin and held break points against the defending champion in the first game of the fifth set. That was Cilic’s high watermark. Federer held serve and raced through the final set 6-1. At one of the change of ends in the fifth set when the title was firmly in his sights, Federer could be seen remonstrating with himself. I am not a lipreader, but it seemed to me that he was saying “remember he was up 3-1 in the final set last year and lost the match”, referring to Nadal’s advantage in the fifth set of their unforgettable 2017 final.

After the presentation ceremony, there were tears from Roger. For me, they were a combination of relief and disbelief. When he wrenched his knee running a bath for his daughters in early 2016, I am sure Federer could not have contemplated his resurgence five years after winning his previous Grand Slam title. Federer is not quite “Lazarus with a triple bypass”. However, no doubt John Howard believed in early 1995 that his political career was over. Barely a year later he began what was to be the second longest term served by an Australian Prime Minister. Time and circumstances can always surprise us.

In the Doubles’ events France and Hungary had success in the Women’s event with Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos. Babos won her first Grand Slam title, with Mladenovic adding to her French Doubles and Australian and Wimbledon Mixed Doubles titles. The Men’s Doubles also gave us new champions when Oliver Marach from Austria and Croatia’s Mate Pavic won their first Grand Slam title. Pavic had double reason to celebrate when he combined with Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski to win the Mixed Doubles’ title.

This year’s Australian Open did not have the undiluted drama and profundity of last year’s tournament, which was probably to be expected. The tournament was robbed, for the best of reasons, of Serena Williams attempting to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Injuries desiccated the intensity of the Men’s competition with Murray not appearing and Nadal and Djokovic deciding, somewhat foolishly, to play despite their insuperable injuries.

Nevertheless, there are some notable footnotes of tennis history that emerge from this year’s Australian Open.

The two No.2 seeds won the singles titles. Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki both represented countries whose flags are red and have white crosses. Federer won his 20th Grand Slam title from 30 Grand Slam Final appearances, but remains the world’s No.2 Men’s player. However, Wozniacki’s first Grand Slam victory in her third Grand slam final elevated her to the No.1 ranking, a ranking she last held in January, 2012.

The Men’s tennis world remains in a predictable pattern that no-one could have foreseen eighteen months ago. Federer and Nadal have won all the Men’s Grand Slam titles played since the 2016 US Open. The promise and potential of the next generation remains just that. The fluidity of the upper echelons of the Women’s game continues, with every Grand Slam since the 2016 US Open having been won by a different player: Kerber, Serena Williams, Ostapenko, Muguruza, Stephens and Wozniacki. Woznaicki’s early loss in the St. Petersburg tournament to unseeded Russian, Daria Kasatkina, in her first tournament after the Australian Open confirmed that there are many months ahead before the hierarchy of the women’s game is settled.

Cape Town, one of the jewels in South Africa’s tourist crown is a city that sits beneath a panoramic mountain top by the ocean. How remarkable it is that due to the worst drought in a century it is likely to run out of water by May 11, even with its citizens reduced to using no more than twenty litres of water a day. One can only imagine the apprehension and fears of its four million citizens. The modern world, for all its advances, cannot usurp the inexorable effects of nature. The manifestations of nature remain random, sometimes chaotic and rarely predictable.

Maybe the game of tennis appeals to many because, no pun intended, it is set in its form. A court’s dimension and the height of the net are fixed concepts and the scoring system is predictable, producing a definite outcome. We know that at the end of a fortnight of Grand Slam tennis, there will be five champions crowned. We are absorbed and captivated, realising that the tournament will achieve its desired outcome. Imagine possessing that confidence in all areas of life- knowing, for example, that legislation would pass the Senate in a set time or that a tradesman would arrive within ten minutes of when they were expected! For most of us random acts, sometimes chaotic and rarely predictable tend to be the norm rather than the exception.

So often the odds seem stacked against us. I suspect that at least 20 to 1 would have been offered throughout most of last year about Federer winning his 20th Grand Slam title and Wozniacki her first at this year’s Australian Open. “20 to 1” are long odds in anyone’s language. Federer’s ability to make the magnificent and unprecedented appear commonplace is what has made him the greatest player of all time.

One should not underestimate the resolve that Wozniacki has displayed to capture her maiden Grand Slam title. Without a Grand Slam title to her name, she may have been remembered as an ephemeral World No.1 without Grand Slam credibility in the vein of Jelena Jankovic, and Dinara Safina. Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova must be wondering when their day in the Grand Slam sun will come.

Halep should start favourite in Paris and no doubt will be reminded that Ivan Lendl lost his first three Grand Slam titles before accumulating eight major victories. Provided he is fit, who would bet against Nadal being favoured to win an eleventh title in Paris?

The odds may be against us. However, with the evolution of tennis’ history, intrigue and elegance set to be renewed at Roland Garros, we also know the truth of the quintessentially Aussie observation: “you wouldn’t want to be dead for quids”.

Julian Dowse

12th February, 2018 *

*Can it really be thirty-five years since the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 tomorrow? I can remember ash falling from the sky on that torridly hot Melbourne evening. The tragedy and devastation of the fires was so great that campaigning in the 1983 Federal election was postponed for three days out of respect to those who perished.

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