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  • Julian Dowse

French Open 2017-Rafael rolls on at Roland Garros and a new champion from the Baltic emerges!

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

This year the 4th of May marked one hundred days since the end of the Australian Open. It was also the fortieth Star Wars Day, so ‘may the fourth’ always be with you.

The day was just over three weeks before the start of the French Open. It seemed appropriate to begin reflecting on all that has occurred since those stellar figures of the game, Serena and Roger, respectively claimed their twenty-third and eighteenth Grand Slam Titles at the Australian Open.

One hundred days and the significance of a century have become flavour du jour since I last wrote to you.

The first 100 days of the Trump Presidency received enormous attention and coverage. From those who seemed thrilled at his presence in the Oval Office, to those relieved the world was still around to assess the Presidency and for those who still appear unable to accept his election, the divide of opinion about the President remains as trenchant as ever.

For me the greatest concern is the divide between what the President says and what he does less than a hundred days, often minutes later. After all, is not a tweet a maximum of one hundred characters?

One day the North Korean leader is the archenemy of the world, the next the President describes him as a “pretty smart cookie” who he would be “honoured to meet”. NATO, dismissed as “obsolete” during Trump’s campaign is suddenly worthy of great support and protection. China, whose economic policies were according to the President “raping America”, is now America’s friendly ally with the Chinese President being flattered by golfing diplomacy, Florida style. The Mexican border wall, construction of which was going to begin 100 nano-seconds after the President’s election, remains an image in the mind’s eye only. Trump personally called the President of Taiwan barely 100 minutes after his election, but has now indicated he will not be making any further unprompted calls to Taipei. Mind you if he does, Barrack Obama will know about it, because, after all, did not the former President authorise the bugging of Donald Trump’s office? Mercurial just does not begin to describe the policy oscillations of the Trump administration.

The delusions are just as evident in the Democrats camp. Hillary Clinton seems close to articulating one hundred reasons why she lost the Presidential election, other than the one salient factor: “not enough people liked you.”

In the tennis world, it is just over a hundred days that Serena Williams won the Women’s Final at the Australian Open in the early stages of a pregnancy. Margaret Court lost her Wimbledon crown in 1971 to fellow Australian Evonne Goolagong, and disclosed afterwards that she had played whilst pregnant. Both Margaret Court and Evonne returned to Grand Slam tennis after having had children and added to their collection of Grand Slam titles. Ironically, the question now asked most in Women’s tennis is whether Serena’s pregnancy will end her illustrious career and prevent her from equalling and/or eclipsing Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Margaret Court may well wish that she only be questioned about this matter rather than the controversy caused by her recent public comments opposing same-sex marriage and the influence of homosexuality on the WTA tour. Of greater concern than her comments are the irrational and undemocratic demands to remove her name from her eponymous arena at Melbourne Park. Who would have thought a strain of McCarthyism could erupt out of resentment of a person’s faith based convictions?

Australia’s Cricket captain, Steve Smith, seemed unable to do anything other than score a century in a Test series against India. Notwithstanding his heroics with the bat, Australia lost a contentious series 1-2.

For the first time in over a hundred years, the High Court of Australia appointed a female Chief Justice, Susan Kiefel. In a matter of under 100 days under her stewardship, the Court declared the election of two Senators- Western Australia’s Rod Culleton and South Australia’s Bob Day – at the July 2016 double dissolution election to be unconstitutional.

Another South Australian Senator, Cory Bernardi, could not wait another hundred days for the Liberal Party to espouse what he sees as its true conservative heritage. He defected from the party to establish a new party, Australian Conservatives, which seems to have attracted barely more than a hundred members to its ranks, other than those blended into the party from South Australia’s Family First party.

In another first for females, Air India announced that one of its flights had been the first in the world to be entirely organised by females: from ticket counter to cockpit. Indira Gandhi – (or should that be Indair, I think it is funny) - would be proud.

In just under a hundred days, the inaugural AFL Women’s Competition attracted great interest; probably a hundred-fold more than expected.

40 plus 50 is close enough to a celebratory hundred, but there seems little to celebrate for aboriginal equity in this country. 27th May 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum that granted Australia’s aborigines citizenship rights. Regrettably, the much-promised referendum to recognise the occupation of Australia by our indigenous peoples will not be taking place this year, meaning that 21st May 1977 remains the fortieth anniversary of the last successful referendum vote in Australia.

Remembering 1967 reminds us that it is over half a century since the tragic Tasmanian bushfires of February in that year. Come December, it will be the fiftieth anniversary of Harold Holt’s drowning.

The French people did not seem to have known neither Emmanuel Macron nor his political party for more than a hundred political hours, but that did not prevent him becoming France’s next President. From obscurity, he went en marche towards making the Elysee Palace his home for the next five years. For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, candidates belonging to neither of the nation’s major left or right wing political parties contested the Presidential election on 8th May when Macron defeated the strident Rightist, Marine Le Pen.

Macron became the youngest French leader since Napoleon, a worrying reminder if ever there was one. A quarter of the electorate did not vote and thirty-five per-cent of those that did voted for Le Pen, so Macron comes to office supported by just under half of the electorate.

Many American Presidents and Australian Prime Ministers have had their parties elected to govern with similarly unimpressive levels of popular support. Would even the French have thought that someone never previously elected to office would lead them and that he would assume office without his party having any parliamentary representatives?

If you add Macron’s age (39) to that of his wife’s (64) you have over a hundred. We all know that there is a L'indifférence française à des liaisons scandaleuses. I can remember Francois Mitterand’s mistress having front pew billing at his State funeral; however, how many other Heads of State can, like Macron, claim to be younger than the eldest child of their wife’s first marriage? Emmanuel and Brigitte’s liaison began he was a student and she his Drama teacher. In Australia, such a dalliance would possibly result in criminal prosecution and certainly the withdrawal of her ability to be a registered teacher. Avant–Garde 1: WASP 0. C’est la vie.

Comparisons between Macron and the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, quickly followed Macron’s election. Maybe they can have their first meeting in Montreal and settle the French/Canadian separatist debate? They are both young, metrosexual types who have attained political eminence in atypically short time. Justin will know something of the criticism, and perhaps double standard, made of the age-gap between Macron and his wife. In a world far away in, 1971 Justin’s father, Pierre, married Justin’s mother, Margaret, when he was 52 and she was 23, an age-gap of twenty-nine years, a gulf greater than the twenty-four years between Emmanuel and Brigitte. Is it the generation or the reversal of the genders within the marriages that explains contemporary comment? At least Pierre was not Margaret’s high school teacher.

Speaking of political leaders, Australia’s penultimate political primus inter pares, Tony Abbott has continued to give another 100 reasons why it is clear that he no longer has his former job. The man who promised, “not to snipe” continues to do nothing else. Tony is a well-educated man so I suggest he spend part of this year, which is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, to revisit the musings of the incomparable Bard, about the vagaries of the fates.

The former PM risks becoming a political King Lear, raging helplessly against all that he perceives as unjust, being his self-inflicted wounds, in full view of the public. At least Kevin Rudd has the decency to take his rancour overseas for most of the year.

Maybe both he and Abbott should now consult Julia Gillard in her new capacity as Chair of one of Australia’s largest mental health foundations, Beyond Blue. There was a wild suggestion that Malcolm Turnbull should consider making Tony Abbott Governor-General upon Peter Cosgrove’s retirement, but I suspect that would be even less popular than when Malcolm Fraser toyed with the idea of making Prince Charles the Vice-Regal representative of his mother.

In order to give Prince Philip a fighting chance to live for a hundred years, the 95-year-old was retired from royal duties in the 65th year of his cousin’s reign. At least Philip will have time to polish the insignia of the Knight of the Order of Australia that Tony Abbott awarded him.

Closer to home South Korea also elected a new President, Moon Jae-in, bringing to an end their impeachment scandal. The new President is decidedly less sympathetic than his disgraced predecessor to the ideology of President Trump and his posturing about North Korea. There was not much sympathy for democratic values in Jakarta when the city’s former Christian Chinese Governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, imprisoned for two years’ jail for blasphemy against the Koran. Equally reprehensible was the public whipping in Aceh province of two young men for homosexual conduct.

Shakespeare’s observation that the wearing of crowns is an uneasy burden was borne out in the world of English Premier League Soccer. Claudio Ranieri, the hero of Leicester’s improbable EPL victory in 2015-2016, lost his job when the team’s owners became fearful that the team’s Premiership hangover brought with it the possibility of relegation.

The artistic and comic genius brilliance of many hundreds of minds resided in the wit, work and wisdom of Bill Leak and John Clarke. Their premature deaths in March and April saddened their thousands of admirers.

The death of Michael Chamberlain in January reminded us of a legal cause celebre that divided the opinions of thousands of Australians in the early 1980s when arguments raged about whether a “dingo had killed the baby”.

58 plus 35 just leaves you short of one hundred, but that is how the votes fell in an acrimonious contest to decide who would be the President of the Australian Olympic Commission. John Coates, who has led the Commission for 27 years, prevailed in the ballot to be Australia’s sporting supremo. He will now preside over the Commission until his imminent retirement; however, he has agreed to make concessions to reduce his ‘allowance’ of over $700,000.00 per annum. The AOC’s Media Director, Mike Tancred, stepped aside to allow investigation of allegations that he bullied the Commission’s former CEO.

South Australia continued to struggle to have more than 100 days without a power blackout, a political issue that plagues the State’s Premier, who in keeping with his name, blames the ills of the weather, rather than structural deficiencies in South Australia’s sources of energy. Jay Wetherill’s personal attack on the Federal government, delivered as he stood beside the Federal Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, was one of the most splenetic witnessed in over one hundred years of Federation. The Federal Minister’s glacial indifference to the Premier’s tirade was almost as remarkable as the Premier’s outburst.

Close to two hundred female hostages of the Nigerian terrorist organisation, Boka Haran were freed after nearly a thousand days in captivity, I doubt if one can ever imagine what experiences the hostages endured and what horrors may still face those held captive.

Shortly after President Trump’s one-hundredth day in office, Malcolm Turnbull had his first meeting with the American Chief Executive in New York, a meeting that coincided with the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Britain did not seem so keen to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore. Thankfully, Mr. Turnbull’s introduction saw his correct name announced.

Earlier in the year, the President’s exotic Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, referred to our Prime Minister as Mr. Trumble, which is marginally better than Mr. Tumbril, which might become a metaphor for our PM’s critics who see him leading the Liberal Party to the electoral guillotine in 2019. Fears of electoral demise could not have been far away from the Prime Minister’s mind in framing this year’s Budget.

It is over a hundred and twenty five years since Ben Chifley was born. However, under a near full moon his spirit was reborn on Budget night as the Treasurer announced a pump-priming budget of government spending on infrastructure projects paid for by taxing the banks. Personal tax levies are to increase to ensure the continuation of our nationalised health care programme. The ‘lifters and leaners’ rhetoric of 2014 has been replaced by a government “willing to hear the pain of the people” and lift them up by leaning on the banks and multinationals who are the poster-enemies of the populists. That is the trouble when you elect a nominally conservative government with a wafer-thin majority. They have this habit of adopting the political policy and direction of their opponents. Other than the financial welfare of a handful of disgruntled Catholic Schools, what does the ALP argue about? I am not sure the electorate has rivers of sympathy for any of the established churches, least of all the Romans.

Rivers of sympathy certainly do not run for Anna Bligh. To see the former socialist Premier of Queensland advocate for the ‘oppressed’ banks is more than one can stomach.

Facing the guillotine this year was Brian Cullinan, an accounting partner with Price Waterhouse Coopers, who handed the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty at the Oscars. We were really in La La Land when Beatty declared it the year’s ‘Best’ film, rather than Moonlight.

In the tennis world, everything old was new again, or as the French would have it, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Australia won its way to a Davis Cup semi-final against Belgium, defeating archrival the United States in a quarterfinal in Brisbane. In Bernard Tomic’s absence, Nick Kyrgios behaved atypically, playing with finesse and discipline. Kyrgios had returned to Brisbane after twice beating Djokovic in America and losing to Roger Federer 6-7 7-6 6-7 in a stirring quarterfinal in the Miami Masters.

Less than 200 days after her suspension for drug taking and to the squeals of delight from her fans and sponsors Maria Sharapova returned to the circuit.

Roger Federer has hundreds of accolades and records, but that did not stop him from gathering more in the American spring. Before withdrawing from the French Open his win/loss record for the year was 18-1. Following his Australian Open triumph over Nadal, Federer had two more victories against the Spaniard en route to claiming the Indian Wells and Miami Masters titles. For the first time in their rivalry, Federer recorded both a hat trick and quartet of successive wins against his left-handed nemesis.

Not to be outdone, Nadal also accumulated some historic deciles. He won his tenth Monte Carlo Masters title, becoming the first man to win a tenth Masters title at the same tournament. Nadal’s victory in Monaco was his 50th clay court title and 70th overall. He became the first man in the Open Era to win ten titles at the same tournament. Martina holds the all-comers record, having won a dozen tittles at Chicago.

Following his success in Monte Carlo, Nadal won a tenth Barcelona title on a court named in his honour. He was able to share his sporting success with Sergio Garcia who, at his 73rd attempt over eighteen years, won his first major golf tournament at this year’s US Masters. Garcia’s gracious and gutsy final round battle and play-off with Justin Rose did much to enhance golf’s reputation for sportsmanship, even if away from the fairways Tiger Woods was still driving erratically.

Nadal easily beat Kyrgios in Madrid before meeting Djokovic in a semi-final for their fiftieth match. Nadal’s victory was his first win in seven against Djokovic, who still leads their rivalry 26-24. Djokovic also still shades Federer 23-22, whilst Nadal leads Federer 23-14 in their respective contests. Nadal beat Thiem in the Madrid final to record his fifth victory in Madrid and equal Djokovic’s record of 30 Masters Titles.

Federer chose not to play in either Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid or Rome. Andy Murray lost in the third round in Monte Carlo, the semi-finals at Barcelona and early in Madrid. Djokovic lost to David Goffin in the quarterfinals at Monte-Carlo and did not play in Barcelona.

In Serena’s post-Australian Open absence, or should that be confinement, titles were shared amongst her putative rivals: Elina Svitolina won Dubai and Istanbul, France’s Kristina Mladenovic won St. Petersburg and was runner-up to hometown champion Laura Siegmund. Elena Vesnina won Indian Wells and Johanna Konta won in Miami. Ashleigh Barty won both singles and doubles titles at Kuala Lumpur and the Hungarian Timea Babos won her native title in Budapest. Simone Halep triumphed in Madrid, where Bouchard beat Sharapova before losing to the perennial Kuznetsova.

In Rome, Kyrgios withdrew because of a hip injury and Federer announced his withdrawal from the French Open. Losing one drawcard did not prevent French tennis authorities excluding another, which they did by denying Maria Sharapova, a former champion, a wildcard to play at Roland Garros.

In the Italian capital, Andy Murray stumbled again, losing to Fabio Fogliani. Thiem ended Nadal’s supreme run with a victory, before losing to Djokovic, who then unexpectedly lost the final to Alexander Zverev, being one of Thiem’s rising generation. Svitlina gained another title by beating Halep in the Women’s final. A week later in Strasbourg, Stosur defeated Gavrilova in a rare all-Australian women’s tour final.

At the Turkish Open, Cilic beat Raonic. The tennis tournament may well be the only thing in Turkey that is open in name as Turkish President Erdogan continues to grant himself dictatorial powers.

Tragically, one cannot seem to count 100 days between terrorist attacks around the world. Dickens wrote ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ about Paris and London, when Paris was the post-revolutionary city under siege. Today, it is London under siege as London Bridge joined Westminster Bridge and Manchester Arena as the latest tableaus of terrorism.

One wonders which city’s politics are more predictable. An unknown becomes President in Paris, without a parliamentary representative to his party’s name; however, on the last day of the French Open, the French electorate deliver his nascent party a landslide parliamentary majority. Even if the electorate had not provided such an endorsement, Macron would have remained the nation’s President.

In London, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, having been in office for barely more than a year and assured of a parliamentary majority for five more, calls an early election to restate her convictions about managing the ‘Brexit exit ‘. By doing so, she creates her own probable exit from authority and power. No doubt Mrs. May thought that she would repeat the Conservative Party victory of 1983, when their first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, put the sword to an aging Labour unreconstructed left-winger in Michael Foot. Fast forward to 2017 and for Michael Foot read Britain’s ‘Bernie Sanders wannabee’ in Jeremy Corbyn. However, May could not reprise the Thatcher triumph. Although the Tories won seats in Scotland for the first time since 1983, they did not win enough to avoid them having to ignominiously rely on the support of Northern Irish unionists to form a minority government.

It was clear that President Trump did not think Paris was worth a visit for either a Mass or a tennis tournament. Shortly before play commenced at Roland Garros the President toured Saudi Arabia, met the Pope and returned to Washington to withdraw America from its obligations under the Paris Climate Change accord.

The French Open was a tale of two form lines, with titles and triumphs for the unexpected and unseeded sitting alongside further glory for the good and great.

In the Mixed Doubles the unseeded Commonwealth pairing of Indian, Rohan Bopanna, a mere 37, and a Canadian with a Polish surname, Gabriela Dabrowski, won their first Grand Slam titles. Dabrowski, from Ottawa, became the first Canadian woman to win a Grand Slam tennis title.

The Women’s Doubles saw the Australian pairing of Barty/Dellacqua reach their first French final to achieve the distinction of having played in the finals of all four majors. For Dellacqua, it was her seventh Women’s’ Doubles Grand Slam final, but it is not a lucky number as she is still to win one.

Barty and Dellacqua were the first all Australian team to reach the Women’s’ Doubles Final since Helen Gourlay and Kerry Harris in 1971. They were seeking to be the first Australian pair to win the title since Judy Dalton and Margaret Court in 1966. However, the Australians were no match for the No.1 seeds, Luci Safarova and the absurdly dressed Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who won their third successive Grand Slam title in straight sets. They now head to Wimbledon in search of their first SW 19 title and a complete set of Grand Slam trophies.

The Men’s Doubles saw a final between two unseeded combinations with America’s Donald Young and Santiago Gonzalez from Mexico - although with a name like that he should be playing for Chile- being beaten by American Ryan Harrison and, American turned New Zealander, Michael Venus. It was only Harrison’s fourth Doubles title since 2011 and only his second with Venus, having paired with him this year to win the clay title at Estoril in Portugal. For Venus, the win is only his seventh tour title. He became only the second New Zealander to win a Grand Slam tennis title in the Open Era. Ironically, both have won the same title as Onny Parun teamed with Australia’s Dick Crealy to win the Men’s Doubles title in Paris in 1974.

In singles, New Zealand has only ever had one Grand Slam Champion and what a champion he was. His name was Anthony Wilding. As a boy in Christchurch Wilding received a racquet from Mr. Slazenger himself and started practising tennis at the age of six. He went to England to study law at Cambridge. Before doing so he won the Australian Open in 1906 and 1909 and then four successive Wimbledon titles from 1910-1913, before losing to Australia’s Norman Brookes (of perpetual trophy fame) in 1914. Then, on the advice of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, Wilding joined the Royal Marines. He died on the Western front in May, 1915. A veritable Boys’ Own hero, he was dating a Broadway star, fifteen years his senior when he was killed.

The Women’s seeds blew away in Paris, beginning with Kerber losing in the first round to Makarova, who upset Serena a few years ago in Melbourne. Much to the delight of the French crowd, the upsets continued when their local hopes Cornet and Mladenovic respectively beat Radwanska and defending champion, Muguruza. All spectators cheered when Petra Kvitova won her first Grand Slam match after her vicious assault last year.

For the first time since the Women’s Singles at the 1979 Australian Open, and for the first time in Paris since 1977, the Women’s tournament would have no previous Grand Slam champion in the quarterfinals. Halep nearly imploded in her quarterfinal, but won her way through to her second Grand Slam and French final after a courageous semi-final win against Pliskova. Her opponent was the unheralded Latvian, Jelena Ostapenko, who beat Samantha Stosur in the fourth round.

Ostapenko was the first unseeded finalist in Paris since Mima Jausovec in 1983. Fifty years earlier in 1933, an unseeded player had won the Women’s title in Paris when Great Britain’s Margaret Scriven became the first British player to win a French title. Scriven was also the first left-handed female Grand Slam champion. Her successful defence of her title in 1934 has earned her a place in history as the only British woman to win successive Grand Slam singles titles. 1934 was the year that Australia’s Jack Crawford won the French Men’s title, becoming the first Australian to do so. Crawford beat defending champion Henri Cochet, ending a 10-year monopoly on the title by Cochet, his fellow French Musketeers Lacoste and Borotra and the lesser known, Francois Blanchy.

Arguably, Jelena Ostapenko’s victory five decades later is a more stunning achievement than either those of Scriven or Crawford. It was, remarkably, her first ever tournament victory. Spookily, the last player to win their first title at the French Open was Brazil’s Gustavo Kuerten, whose victory came on 8th June 1997, being Ostapenko’s birthday!

Ostapenko fell behind 4-6, 0-3 and saved break points to avoid a 0-4 deficit in the second set. In the deciding set, Halep led 3-1, before losing the last five games. Latvia now has a Grand Slam singles champion, with Ostapenko joining former Doubles Champion Larisa Savchenko-Neiland as the best of the Baltic.

Was it also the first ever-Grand Slam final where both players wore the same outfit? To use the parlance of a racecaller, Ostapenko could only be distinguished from Halep by the green cap (well, a headband actually) that she wore.

The other critical point of distinction between the players was their degree of pluck and self-belief. Ostapenko played with the fearlessness and abandon of youth. In a cavalier performance, she struck 54 errors, but also 54 winners. Halep played with the tortured and inhibited style of being the player expected to win. Halep’s post-match admission that she felt sick with worry said much.

The Men’s tournament, sans Federer, still managed to run with precision of a Swiss watch. The old stagers Ferrer, Tsonga and Berdych were early casualties. Just as predictably, Australia had no male players left in the tournament by the end of the first week. Tomic lost to Thiem in the first round. Kyrgios lost his second round match to Kevin Anderson, managing to smash two racquets in the process. Thankfully, he had composed himself sufficiently to check his mobile phone, that great comforter of the modern era, as he left the court.

The top four seeds- Murray, Djokovic, Wawrinka and Nadal- cruised into the quarterfinals, joined by the impressive sixth seed Dominic Thiem from Austria. Indeed, the quarterfinals saw seven of the top eight seeds take their allocated places. If Busta had not edged out Raonic, who once again confirmed doubts about his ability to win a Grand Slam, in their fourth round match in five sets, the Men’s quarterfinals would have been a perfect octet of seedings. The chances of Belgium’s David Goffin were cruelled when he rolled his ankle after his foot caught underneath a tarpaulin carelessly left at the back of a court.

Dominic Thiem confirmed his rising ascendancy with a thrashing of Djokovic in their quarterfinal, with Novak humiliated by a 0-6 final set loss. For the first time in over 900 Grand Slam sets of tennis, Djokovic had lost a set to love. If it gives Djokovic any comfort, Thiem had the favour returned to him in his semi-final when Nadal routed the Austrian 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.

Djokovic’s demise is dramatic, but arguably not desperate. This time last year, he was the tennis colossus that bestrode the world. By winning the 2016 French Open, he was the first player since Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the one time. Now he has none. His fall from grace, whilst unexpected, is not without precedent. I would like to wait another year before declaring the Djokovic era over.

Wawrinka outlasted Murray in a thrilling semi-final that lasted four and a half hours. Twice coming from a set down, Wawrinka’s sublime ability to create powerful winners off both sides of the court, rattled Murray who, like Djokovic, could not sustain his momentum in the final set. Murray has had a disappointing a reign as the world’s No.1 player since usurping that honour from Djokovic last December. He has failed to win a Masters’ title since and his Australian Open loss was inglorious. However, Murray played his best tennis of the clay court season in Paris. With Federer rested and believing that an eighth Wimbledon title is possible, Murray must be anxious about his ability to retain his Wimbledon crown.

Wawrinka entered his fourth Grand Slam final with a 100% winning record from his previous three Grand Slam championship matches, including a victory against Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open. Could he beat Nadal who had never lost a French final?

The pundits thought probably not, but no one could have foreseen Nadal’s emphatic dismissal of Wawrinka. The final lasted just over two hours, being only six minutes longer than the Women’s final and containing five fewer games. Nadal conceded a miserly 35 games in the whole tournament and, for the third time when winning a French title, did not drop a set.

Nadal was imperious. He is now the first male or female in the Open Era to have won 10 Grand Slam titles at the one event. Nadal’s La Decima victories have immaculately come from ten finals. Only Navratilova with her nine Wimbledon victories from twelve finals and Pete Sampras with his perfect seven Wimbledon titles from seven finals come close. Martina still has the Open Era record of winning six successive Grand Slam tournaments with her run at Wimbledon from 1982-1987.

Nadal now has fifteen Grand Slam titles. His Paris victory moves him past Sampras to be in outright second position on the Grand Slam honour board behind Federer who has eighteen. What is even more remarkable is that neither Federer nor Nadal would have seem themselves as resurgent Grand Slam champions at the end of last year. Both had serious injuries. Before this year, Federer had not won a Grand Slam title since 2012 and Nadal had not tasted success since 2014. Despite the temptation to do so, there is no need to compare two of the greatest players of all time. Rather, one must acknowledge how blessed and fortunate the game is to witness the vivid twilights of their careers.

As the world lurches towards the middle of the calendar year, many would argue that there is not much to feel blessed or fortunate about. Democracies appear to be either exceedingly volatile or, as in Australia, structurally incapable of delivering effective policies. The Western economy functions, but are the fruits of economic activity sustaining everyone? Cherished notions of Western democracy, especially home ownership, State guaranteed healthcare and retirement incomes are, for many, fading dreams. The terrorist cloud swirls around us in a menacing and capricious manner. Faith in our Parliaments and Churches is historically low. The refugee crisis, the greatest since World War 2, shows no signs of abating. Syria remains a blight on the world. The Left is aggravated and adversarial, the Right is resentful and angry and the middle class-what is left of it-is cynical.

In short, there does not seem much to honour. The unedifying spectacle of President Trump and his former FBI Director offering divergent opinions on their conversations is a case in point. One or both of them are shamelessly prevaricating. Should we be surprised that the vanities of leadership force the selective rewriting of history? I think of John Kerr and Gough Whitlam offering their radically divergent views of their conversation at Yarralumla on Remembrance Day, 1975. They presented their differing accounts as gospel. We expect better, but whom do we believe and trust? We want promise and hope from those that represent us, but when politicians appeal to our better angels, they are characterised as facile and self-serving.

The times, they really do change everything: o tempora o mores! I suspect that this year’s Wimbledon will be heavily policed and take place amidst more than a fair degree of apprehension.

Thankfully, the quality of the players that will grace the grass dispels the need for apprehension. The anticipation that Federer may continue his resurgence will be great. It is fifteen years since a male player, other than one of the Big Four, has won the Singles title. Will either Thiem, Wawrinka, Zverev and/or Raonic usurp the Kings? Can Kyrgios be a contender? It is possible, but only if his body and mind hold together for a fortnight. The Women’s draw is as open as it has been in living memory, with no clear favourite. The effect of Serena’s absence is great, but Wimbledon rarely crowns an unworthy champion.

The story of tennis in 2017 is a tale of the game’s greats defying predictions of their demise. Their resilience is more than a triumph of age and experience over youth. It is the story of unfinished business, of reservoirs of genius still flowing and, take note Generation Z, enormous respect for the game. Serena and Roger in Australia, and now ‘Decima Rafa’ in Paris, have created further honourable chapters in the annals of tennis. As the central-court umpire might say: “Advantage- for all of us.”

Julian Dowse

14th June 2017

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