Australian Open champions set to be unmasked, like the rest of us!
In 1988 when the Australian Open was played for the first time at its new venue, then called Flinders Park, history was made when mid-way through the Women’s Singles Final the Centre Court’s roof was closed as rain swept across Melbourne. It was the first time that a Grand Slam final had begun in the open and concluded indoors. The closure did not derail Steffi Graf from winning her first Australian Open in what was to be her ‘Golden Grand Slam’ year. Graf defeated Chris Evert, in what was to be her final Grand Slam final of her astonishing career which finished the following year.
This year there have been far more dramatic closures at Melbourne Park. The 2021 Australian Open enters the history books as the first Grand Slam tournament that began being open to the public, albeit with significant restrictions. Then, another dreaded COVID-19 cluster emerged and, with less than a day’s notice, it became a tournament without spectators last Friday. Hopefully, the courts will be reopened to crowds on Thursday who can witness the tournament’s culmination this weekend. Such was the draconian nature of the lockdown that spectators had to be removed from Centre Court at 11.30 p.m. last Friday to ensure that they did not stay longer than the mandated midnight.
With remarkable speed, the city returned to an abandoned, serene state.
Cruelly, the anti-hazardous handbrake was applied. After the privations of 2020, many Melburnians were set to celebrate with especial optimism the romance and hope associated with the weekend’s St. Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year.
I did predict it may be an open and shut tournament, but it may well be an open, shut and then open again edition of the Open. There has been much commentary about the fact that tennis players at the Open have been classified as "exempt workers", but churches remain shut. God's work can not always be done!
The first rounds of the Open confirmed that the time has come for some players to shut down their careers. No-one likes to make their own succession plans, especially when, as a professional sportsperson, thinking about options other than one’s own personal pursuits is uncommon. Here is my retirement list: Venus Williams, Samantha Stosur, Marin Cilic and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Petra Kvitova is hovering on the margin. They have all won Grand Slam titles- let us not forget Venus is a five-time Wimbledon champion-but to see them bundled out of tournaments with alacrity in early rounds is to diminish their legacy. Bernard Tomic should shut up shop to protect what scintilla of reputation he has left.
Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Bianca Andreescu, the US Open champions of 2016, 2017 and 2019 also made early departures. Maybe, with apologies to Sinatra, if you “can make it in New York” you cannot make it anywhere else? And there are players who are in the Top 10 of world rankings who seem to save their worst performances for Grand Slam events, such as Karolina Pliskova and Elena Svitolina.
The first rounds of the Open also underlined the truth that it is better for certain players to keep their mouths shut rather than open. Nick Kyrgios, who once again displayed his raw talent, but once again failed to reach, along with all other Australian male players, the tournament’s second week, provokes unseemly controversy with his every utterance. His verbal and social media joust with Novak Djokovic, into which Thanasi Kokkinakis was unwittingly dragged, served no purpose. To hear Kyrgios suggest Djokovic has been making spurious claims about his stomach injury, does not sit well when one remembers how many times injury claims have seen him withdraw from matches, when the real ailment was Nick’s lack of interest.
Away from the Open this week, events have reminded us that never have been people judged so stridently for what comes out of their open mouths. Double standards and inconsistencies sadly seem to be the major elements of such judgements.
In the Australian Football League obsessed city of Melbourne, the forced resignation of Eddie McGuire, after more than twenty years as President of the Collingwood Football Club assumed the significance of a papal death.
Eddie built his own scaffold by stating that it was a “proud and historic day” for his beloved club when he released a report which condemned the club for systemic racism. It was one gaffe too many for the those whose religion is virtuous purity.
McGuire clearly overplayed the “best defence is a good offence” strategy. However, few could doubt that he meant to convey it was an important day for the club insofar that it was acknowledging and tackling allegations of ingrained discrimination. His critics saw his words as further proof of a blasé and insincere commitment to tackle racism. Eddie’s previous remarks, most notably, his crass attempts at humour by likening Adam Goodes to King Kong, were replayed to prepare the indictment for his eviction. If he had said that “it was a sobering and confronting day” for his club, he would still be President. And which other AFL Club could, hand on heart, say that racist attitudes have not polluted their corridors in recent decades?
It seems that good intentions and sincere actions are not enough if the words are misjudged, even if genuine apologies follow. Public debates, especially about indigenous matters, are at risk of being paralysed by excessive attention about who says what and in what manner. One’s comments are only seen as acceptable if words have requisite degrees of inclusivity and are “inoffensive”. Meanwhile, away from precious rhetorical wars, indigenous communities continue to struggle to achieve social and economic parity, let alone constitutional recognition.
In debates about environmental policy, critics of those supporting the coal industry have been vociferous in their pronouncements. “Troglodytes”, “backward looking stone-agers”, “Neanderthals” are some of the epithets used. Yet, these comments and personal insults are not derided as offensive in the manner that Eddie’s were. Similarly, in the debate about Margaret Court’s attitude towards same-sex relationships, her critics have labelled her, “sick”, “evil”, “cruel” and a “vicious Christian”. All fair game, apparently.
Across the Atlantic another former President, Donald Trump, was tried and acquitted in his second impeachment trial, with his second trial being the first impeachment brought against a former President. If the appropriateness of the “articulation” of Eddie McGuire’s words can be debated, there can be little doubt about the context of the former President’s words.
Speaking to his supporters on 6th January, he urged them to “fight” for something that had been “stolen from them.” “We will never give up; we will never concede.” “Can anyone believe Joe had 80 million votes? He had 80 million computer votes. It’s a disgrace. There’s never been anything like it.” Sound like fighting words to me; certainly strong enough to incite radical and fringe elements amongst his supporters. Yet the loyalty of most of the Republican Senators has seen the Senate fail to convict the former President by the required two-thirds majority.
Eddie McGuire reflected that his commitment to Collingwood had prevented him from a career in politics. Ironically, his fate may discourage others from entering the public domain fearing, as they have every right to, the razor-sharp vengeance that is unleashed upon those who hit the wrong rhetorical and polemical notes.
Our language continues to change in a way that reflects a pointless search for an unattainable social parity. Barnardo’s Orphanage has announced that it has abandoned its “Mother of the Year” award, because it may offend same-sex or transgender parents. So, motherhood is not to be celebrated because not everyone can be a mother in its simplest meaning? So, what does the word mean anymore? I could never have been a Wimbledon champion, because I am not a good enough tennis player. So, is it offensive to me that anyone be called a champion?
If our use of language is becoming crazier, so is our sense of relative worth of labours. The quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahones II, has signed a ten-year contract to play for half a billion dollars. Which part of the 50 million a year will he struggle to spend?
For all the money in the world, Mahones’ abilities were not good enough to stop Tom Brady adding to his ‘Brady Bunch’ of Superbowls last week when Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers victory gave him his seventh title. Mahones certainly will not be able to spend his money immediately at a Crown Casino in Sydney. Last week a scathing report was delivered by a former Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, finding that the current management of Crown Resorts Limited was not fit to hold the licence to operate a casino they have built in Sydney at the Barangaroo harbourside development.
In the same building, James Packer, now the shattered scion of Kerry, has purchased a multi-level penthouse. Unless many more corporate heads roll at Crown, James will not so much be the Emperor without any clothes, but a Chief Croupier without any chips to play.
There is still much to play for at the interrupted Australian Open. It is tantalising in extremis. As I press 'Publish' there is still the chance of a ‘21/24’ finish that would rewrite tennis history if Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams win their respective record-breaking 21st and 24th Grand Slam titles. Not to forget the prospect of Ash Barty becoming the first Australian to win either a Men’s or Women’s Grand Slam singles title since Christine O’Neill in 1978. Three more wins for each of them and it is done!
Barty has an easier draw than her major rivals and Djokovic and Nadal are seeded to play their third Australian Open final. However, I sense that history will go begging again. The Russians are coming, so for me it is a Medvedev victory over Zverev, whilst Osaka may well break Australian hearts with a win over the hometown darling. Mind you, Melbourne residents should never make any predictions. After all, who would bet on the current five-day lockdown of the State being its last? So, I offer my thoughts based on all things being equal, but allowing for all necessary alterations, without affecting the central issue. Mutatis Mutandis indeed!