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Destiny, destiny- who is to know?

As a new year beckons, it is inevitable that individuals and societies consider what their destiny may be in the months ahead.

Individuals reflect on their destiny, often resolving to change attitudes and patterns of behaviour. The advent of a new year always brings hope that personal and social destinies will improve. Yet, individuals are often forced to recognise that events entirely beyond their control determine a person’s destiny far more than one’s own efforts and will. It is an eternal tussle: we seek to carve out a destiny as the fates fashion our ability to do so.

What is Novak Djokovic’s destiny at the forthcoming Australian Open? Djokovic is a man who clearly believes in the power of individual will to deliver his destiny. Growing up in war torn Serbia did not deter him. His zealous regimens of training and diet are the stuff of manic legend. Yet this year not even Djokovic’s willpower could prevent the decisions of others from disrupting what he clearly sees as his pre-destined path to become recognised, even if not adored, as the greatest male tennis player of all time.

Maybe it’s just me, but the dramas of Djokovic’s deportation from Australia for arriving without a Covid vaccination seem the stuff of ancient history. In truth, his eviction was less than a year ago.

I blame my busyness for a distorted sense of time. Memo to readers- do not renovate bathrooms, move to temporary accommodation, and start a new job at the same time! Throw in seismic events such as the election of a new government in Australia, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, growing economic uncertainty, the death of the only constitutional monarch I have known, trying to comprehend England’s revolving door of three Prime Ministers in a year, the expected but still agonising retirement of Roger Federer, the unexpected and perplexing retirement of Ash Barty and the ongoing repercussions of Covid and some years do seem longer than others.

Back to the AO of 2022: we will never know whether Djokovic would have claimed a record 10th title if he had been allowed to play. If he played and won, then, notwithstanding his inability to enter America and play at the US Open, he would at year’s end, following his Wimbledon victory, been the holder of 22 Grand Slam titles. Nadal would have been on 21, after another victory in Paris and the Spaniard would have never stood alone at the top of the male honour board of Grand Slam titles, as he has since this year’s Australian Open.

Djokovic’s destiny was derailed last January by Australia’s then Immigration Minister, whose decision to deport him was upheld by Australia’s Federal Court. What a difference a change of government makes! Djokovic’s need to make an application to waive the three-year ban imposed on those who enter the country illegally has been waived by the current Minister. Come back- all is forgiven!

So, destiny again awaits Djokovic. A tenth Australian title will see him equal Nadal’s suite of 22 and it would be a brave person who predicted that a 23rd title would not be garnered by the end of the year.

Destiny, and its attendant motif of legacy, takes on a more serious edge as one heads to the end of one’s career or life. Djokovic knows that for all his gluten free superpowers he is, historically, on wrong side of the delineating age of 35, when Grand Slam titles are rarely won by men or women.

The youth of the leading women’s players means that destiny does not weigh as heavily on their collective shoulders. Destiny denied Serena Williams her ambition of equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 Slam Singles titles. Iga Swiatek comes to Melbourne as the pronounced favourite. She will seek to claim her first Australian Open title and become the ninth individual Women’s champion in the last eleven years. If Swiatek wins it will be her fourth Grand Slam title, moving her one ahead of last year’s champion, Ashleigh Barty. Swiatek’s destiny would then be to seek a Wimbledon title to complete her Grand Slam quartet.

The world’s sporting attention is still to move away from the recently completed World Cup in Qatar. Not even the immorality and indecency of staging the tournament in an authoritarian theocracy could detract from the sense of destiny that accompanied champion Argentina’s victory under the wizardry of Lionel Messi. Playing in his final World Cup tournament, Messi was indeed the “man of the moment” on many occasions, leading his nation to its first World Cup title since the ‘Maradona mayhem’ of 1986. Let’s hope that Messi’s destiny is not to emulate the corrupt, drug-ridden decay of Argentina’s last World Cup captain.

Politics is nothing if not a parade of destiny: individual destinies achieved and denied and destinies cruelled by fate and circumstances. The fate of nations is similar.

The apparent destiny of China to become the world’s leading economic and military power seems to have been curtailed by its rampaging outbreaks of Covid-19.

China considers that its formal annexation of Taiwan is also an inevitable destiny. Recent social and economic instability within China may have made this less certain.

Is it forever to be the tragic destiny of Ukraine to be the pawn in the machinations of other nations and their leaders? Consider the last century in the Ukraine: Stalin’s collectivisation and purging of the despised kulaks, its occupation by the Nazis when it was the site of mass killings that redefined inhumanity, the reimposition of Soviet rule and now its war with the Russian Federation, with Putin displaying all the insatiable nationalism of Stalin as he seeks to make Ukraine part of Russia’s buffer zone against the West. It has been a smorgasbord of unimaginable suffering.

Afghanistan is another country whose destiny appears mired in misery and cruelty. During the Vietnam War a political cartoon won a Pulitzer Prize. It depicted one Cambodian remarking to another, “We’ll be ok once we are liberated from our liberators.” The Afghan people have had a succession of foreign powers seek to control their destiny. Proving that Newton’s Third Law is unarguable, Soviet occupation and Western backed alliances have given rise to the radical Taliban movement, whose defeat by American led forces was temporary. America’s withdrawal has generated their resurgence. Despite all assurances that they would not cripple the destiny of their people, Taliban strictures have been implemented with increasing regularity and discrimination against women. Girls are now forbidden to be educated.

Is it forever to be the destiny of the majority of African and Middle-East nations to fail to attain the economic and political stability necessary to underwrite social progress? Syria, Yemen, Equatorial Guinea, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Lebanon, Zimbabwe, and South Africa are all blighted by conflicts and/or economic failure. Throw in political instability following Israel’s recent elections and the destiny of the region looks problematic to say the least.

Oh, and did I fail to mention the political divisions of Brazil, Fiji, and Malaysia?

King Charles III must wonder whether having waited over 70 years to fulfil his destiny, his every word is now to be judged through a prism of “what does that mean about what he thinks about Harry and Meghan?”

The new monarch waited three score and ten to become the regal ruler. America’s President, Joe Biden, who recently turned 80, must now consider whether his destiny is to seek to serve a second term, or to concede to the truth that age does indeed weary us all.

In Australia, the appointment of our latest ambassador to Washington provides us with a case study of the distorted destiny of some. Kevin Rudd imploded as Prime Minister in 2010 through entirely undiplomatic and inconsiderate behaviour. He then behaved even more menacingly to topple his successor, Julia Gillard. Arguably the least diplomatic politician of the last thirty years, Rudd has been appointed as our next ambassador to Washington.

Having poured scorn on the AUKUS agreement, he is now to be responsible for promoting it. Having famously declared that the Chinese government had “rat f***ed” Australia at a Climate Change summit, Rudd is apparently now the man to pour oil on the troubled waters of the South China Sea. Destiny often seems to involve an element of absurdity.

Back to the tennis.

Alongside the overwhelming focus on Djokovic’s destiny at the Australian Open, there will be rueful consideration of the destiny that Ashleigh Barty may have denied herself. There will be a celebration of the ‘Group of 9’ female players that formed the breakaway Women’s Circuit in 1970, including Australia’s Judy Dalton and Kerry Reid. Little did they know what destiny they would create!

And there will be Australia’s perennial January talking point-will Nick Kyrgios live up to his potential and achieve the destiny of becoming a Grand Slam singles champion that many predicted was an inevitability after his defeat of Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014? Let’s not forget that in 2022, Kyrgios lost a tight match to Medvedev in Melbourne, made the final at Wimbledon and the quarter-finals at the US Open. Destiny may be beckoning; however, its attainment always requires the type of effort that Kyrgios has not been able to consistently summon, especially in committing to representing his country. Kyrgios’ back-to-back withdrawals from the Australian Davis and United Cup teams have not endeared him to many. His alibi is that he is wanting to rest an ankle injury to ensure that he is at his best to seek individual glory in Melbourne.

Finally, will the improbable destiny of Carlos Alcaraz becoming the world’s youngest No.1 ranked male player be confirmed with a maiden Australian Open title?

The dream match would be to have Alcaraz play Djokovic either, depending on the seedings, in the final or en route. Would Djokovic’s age and experience overcome the raw youthful power of Alcaraz?

And let’s not forget the destiny of defending champion, Nadal. His star may not be shining as brightly as his Spanish compatriot Alcaraz, but is Nadal’s destiny to have one last heroic tilt at a third Australian Open title before heading towards a dignified retirement befitting a new father?

As always, there is much to play for at Melbourne Park and in our wider world! Destiny, as ever, awaits for us all.

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