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  • Julian Dowse

French Open 2018

It all began on 28th May, 2018.

Well, whether the summit on the Korean Peninsula is on or off is one thing (apparently on as at the time of writing), but you can predict with certainty that Nick Kyrgios will withdraw from a Grand Slam event on its opening morning, blaming the recurrence of injuries that he never seems motivated to overcome. The irony is that he was scheduled to play Bernard Tomic in the first round, the only player more chronically underprepared than him. Needless to say, Tomic lost his first round match to Kyrgios’ replacement, who had to drive ten hours through the night to arrive in Paris on time. Not to be outdone, every other Australian male player lost in the first round, with our players achieving this inglorious feat for only the second time since World War 2.

Since I last wrote to you all, my knowledge of the modern world has expanded. The concept of ‘hot-desking’ has become known to me. The ubiquity and bizarre reach of the world of social media, was confirmed when I met a dog whose owners told me that their canine, a golden retriever/poodle cross had his own Instagram account: # IamRemington. What next? - Barkchat? As a teacher, one wishes that the current computer game du jour, Fortnite, would end at the end of the fortnight of this year’s French Open. It is a scourge that is pernicious and addictive par excellence.

I have also previously written about the grim coincidences of my recent life that saw the death of dear friends and family members coinciding with Australia changing its Prime Ministers. Well, now it seems that Royal funerals and weddings have become the signposts of the unravelling of Anglican rites of worship as we once knew them. Elton John singing his reworked ode to Marilyn Monroe at Princess Diana’s funeral can be considered the beginning of feel good areligious worship and mass popular grieving.

Elton, however, resplendent in his pink lollipop glasses and looking relaxed after recently announcing his retirement from touring so that he could spend more time with his surrogate IVF family, was aghast at Prince Harry’s wedding when the visiting American preacher decided that an unseemly display of Baptist preaching was required. If only it had been Baptism, pure and simple. As is the want of too many contemporary Anglicans, the temptation for the Bishop to offer simplistic political critiques of the Western World that has sustained them proved irresistible. The wedding sermon became a cheap political rally as Bishop Curry thundered, “…if we had love in the world no child would live in poverty”. Funny, but I thought that Christ reminded us “that the poor will always be with us.”

The point about tennis tournaments is that players are not always with us: one generation cometh and another passeth away. At Roland Garros, first round losses to Victoria Azarenka, former finalist David Ferrer, perennial quarter-finalist Tomas Berdych and former champion, Stan Wawrinka were a reminder that the old guard is never fixed for too long. This was especially the case this year with neither Andy Murray nor Roger Federer choosing to play on the clay. The springtime French perennials are also starting to fade: Jo Wilfred-Tsonga withdrew from the tournament with a knee injury and Gail Monfils lost in the third round.

However, so dominant was Nadal’s European spring season on the clay that his return to Roland Garros to seek an eleventh title confirmed that, even if they are not always present, the ‘Big Four’ of the Men’s Game are not yet ready to abdicate their collective authority.

Of course, speaking of abdication reminds us again of the Royal Wedding. The last time an English monarch chose to marry an American divorcee he was forced to relinquish his throne. Edward VIII went into family approved exile in 1936, never to be seen again. Whilst Prince Harry is not the heir to the throne, it is remarkable how in the space of three generations the rules have changed.

There was a sense that the need for an English royal to marry a foreign divorcee, who also had the exotic advantage of being bi-racial, was long overdue. Further, such a marriage proved that the Royal family could attain that most enviable of modern descriptions and be called “inclusive and diverse.”

If Nadal returned as a King very much in authority, the French Open also welcomed back the absent Queen in Serena Williams, who was playing her first Grand Slam tournament since winning the 2017 Australian Open, giving birth to her daughter and attending Prince Harry’s wedding. A victory in Paris would see Serena claim a 24th Grand Slam title, only one behind the magical mark of 25 consecutive victories now shared by the equine Queens of the Australian turn, Black Caviar and Winx.

Serena made it to the fourth round, exceeding the performance of the Australian women in the draw, by beating Ashleigh Barty in the second round and surpassing Gavrilova and Stosur who lost their third round matches. The sporting world was keenly anticipating Serena’s fourth-round match with Maria Sharapova; however, Serena had to withdraw from the match citing pectoral muscle strains.

Nadal came to Paris after almost a faultless spring in Europe, although the American clay court season was not dominated by the top four male players. Federer, who had won his 97th title in Rotterdam to return to the No.1 ranking and become the oldest player to rule the roost, lost in the final of Indian Wells to his occasional nemesis, Del Potro. Federer then lost in the first round of the Miami Masters to Australia’s Thomas Kokkinakis. With Nadal and Murray missing from Miami and Djokovic also losing early in the tournament, it was the first time since 2006 that neither of the ‘Big 4’ had been in the third round of a Masters 1000 tournament.

Miami was a good tournament for the Americans with John Isner claiming the Men’s title from Alex Zverev in the final. Zverev once again proved too strong for Nick Kyrgios earlier in the tournament. Sloane Stephens, the reigning US Open champion and still smarting from her first round loss in Melbourne, beat Muguruza, Kerber, Ostapenko and Azarenka to claim the Women’s title. Not to be outdone, the Bryan brothers won their 115th title and their first since 2017! Let’s not forget they are now 39, were Olympic Gold medallists in 2012 and have won at least two of the each of the four Grand Slam titles.

When the ATP tour came to Europe Nadal reasserted his authority and reclaimed the world’s No.1 ranking. He won his 11th title in Monte Carlo and then his encore was an 11th Barcelona title on the court named in his honour. Nadal’s semi-final victory in Barcelona was his 400th victory on clay and with 54 titles and only 35 losses on the surface, Nadal continued to rewrite his own records as the game’s greatest player on the red dirt. His Barcelona victory was his 31st Masters title, moving him ahead of Djokovic on 30 and Federer on 27. Djokovic continued to struggle to regain a dominance of the game that was so recently his, losing to Dominic Thiem in Monte Carlo and to Slovakia’s unseeded Martin Klizan in Barcelona.

The Nadal juggernaut did not continue in Madrid where he lost to Thiem in the quarter-finals, with Djokovic losing in the second round to England’s Kyle Edmund. Alex Zverev beat Thiem in the final in a match that many scribes saw as a preview of the post-Nadal clay era. However, the Spanish Emperor continued to rule in Rome, where he reclaimed the No.1 ranking with his eighth title, defeating the pretender Zverev in a three-set final. Nadal’s semi-final saw him playing Djokovic for the 51st time, which is the greatest number of matches played by a rival men’s pair in the Open Era.

One doubts if they will play the 80 matches of the rivalry of Navratilova and Lloyd, but it is a reminder of the closeness of the game’s great rivalries: Martina edged Chris 43-37, McEnroe and Borg had 7 wins each in their brief but glorious stanzas of 14 contests; McEnroe shaded Connors 20-14, but Lendl had McEnroe’s measure 21-15, Becker led Edberg 25-10 and Sampras trumped Agassi 20-14. Djokovic clings to a 26-25 lead over Nadal, despite his loss in Rome, and marginally leads Federer in their rivalry 23-22. Nadal has 23 victories from his 38 matches with Federer.

Nadal’s victory in the Italian Open was his 78th career title and elevated him to outright fourth on the Open Era honour board, behind Connors with 109 titles, Federer 97, Lendl 94 and ahead of McEnroe, now fifth, on 77.

If Nadal had maintained the pedigree of the Men’s rankings, it was an entirely different story in the Women’s game.

After having played such a stirring final in Australia neither Halep nor Wozniacki won anything prior to Paris. Between them only Halep reached a final en route to Paris, losing easily in the Italian Open final to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina. Petra Kvitova showed signs of returning to her best with victories in St. Petersburg, Qatar and later Prague and Madrid. Japan’s Naomi Osaka, who had beaten Ashleigh Barty in the Australian Open, won her first Masters’ Title with victory in Indian Wells. Sloane Stephen’s victory in Miami was the only win by a reigning Grand Slam champion in a major title prior to Paris. Sharapova’s return continued, but like Djokovic she struggled to proceed beyond the middle rounds of most tournaments.

However, the unpredictability of the Women’s tour still struggled to match the bizarre events of the world away from tennis.

Barnaby Joyce, about whom the less said is better, continued to talk too much culminating in his “tell nothing” interview with the Channel 7 network. It maybe too early to say, but one suspects the electors of New England may well have a new representative come 2019.

The Chinese President declared himself to be “President for life”, which may not be enough time to resolve his nation’s trade and tariff wars with the United States. In the meantime, in an Orwellian gesture XI Jinping has unilaterally removed from China’s lexicon any word that means “to disagree.” The Communist dictator should remember that we all have ‘a brief moment in time’, as the world did when remarkable physicist Stephen Hawking passed away.

Another man who rewrote the concept of time was Sir Roger Bannister who in May 1954 achieved what many considered to be impossible by running a mile in less than four minutes. A distinguished doctor after his athletics career, Sir Roger died on 3rd March, aged 88.

On the same day Sydney held its first post-marriage equality Mardi Gras, which sadly provided another opportunity for our Prime Minister to wear pink and encourage others to take inordinate ‘selfies’, in his attempt to ‘Cher’ the love. One wit observed that as same-sex marriage is now legal everyone in Oxford Street should have been home and tucked up in bed by 9.30 p.m.!

If one returned home early from the festivities, it was possible to watch coverage of the Tasmanian election which saw Liberal Premier Michael Hodgman become the first Liberal leader to win successive elections since Robin Gray in the 1980s. The State’s 310,000 voters- barely the voting population of four mainland Federal electorates- also created history by returning the first parliament in the Commonwealth’s history with a majority of female members. Tragically, one of the former female members of the Parliament, Vanessa Goodwin, who had been Attorney-General, died on election day of brain cancer aged only 48.

The Queen’s Birthday Honours List also, for the first time, saw a majority of female recipients being recognised by the Australian community.

The by-election for the inner- Melbourne seat of Batman was held on St. Patrick’s Day and, to the surprise of many, the seat did not turn Green and was retained by the ALP. The Liberals also had reason to celebrate on the same day winning their first election as an Opposition in South Australia since 1993 to have the right to sit on the Treasury benches for the first time since 2002.

The Australian Senate continued to debase itself, with a seemingly endless run of defections, realignments and/or disqualifications. I suspect that even the most devout student of Australian politics could instantly name the members and allegiances of the Senate’s current crossbench. It was all too much for Senate Leader, George Brandis, who left to become Australia’s High Commissioner in London.

In the House of Representatives, the High Court created more vacancies by declaring the members for Braddon, Fremantle, Longman and Mayo ineligible by reason of their dual citizenship at the time of their election in 2016. Throw in the resignation of the member for Perth, after less than two years in his role, and the Australian Electoral Commission has five by-elections on its books for July 28.

The political fortunes of Europe seem no less advanced than they did during the Australian summer. Brexit negotiations seemed to have best stalled or, at worst, stopped. Germany has a government, barely, but its economy falters. Italy is having another predictable bout of instability and Macron struggles to convert his popularity into effective economic reforms for the moribund French economy. No wonder the ‘boy President’ loved visiting Washington so much.

Vladimir Putin won another ‘election’ victory after promising that he was on the verge of developing indestructible nuclear weapons for his country. Just when we thought the nuclear reactors might be cooling somewhat on the Korean peninsula, the Russian President reignites Cold War heat. At least he did not react peremptorily after an air-strike on Syria by a coalition of American, French and British planes in retaliation for the continued use of chemical weapons in the nation’s seemingly interminable civil war.

Tensions between Israel and Iran over Iran’s nuclear programme continued to escalate, with deadly conflict erupting on the border of the Gaza strip and Israel when America opened its relocated Israeli embassy in Jerusalem. Let’s hope that Israel’s success in the 2018 Eurovision song contest, which will see next year’s competition take place in Tel Aviv, will presage greater harmony for many.

President Trump’s willingness to fight anybody and everybody was seen in the extension of his international trade wars to include Canada. His dismissal of Justin Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak” in a tweet sent from Air Force One was not the end to the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec that everyone hoped for. The American President’s rhetoric against a fellow Western nation was far more splenetic than that directed against his supposed Communist enemies in China and North Korea.

The global conflict over sexual politics and identity also continued. The Swedish government has declared that referring to a child in primary school using either a feminine or masculine pronoun is forbidden. Recently, when completing a form, the choice of my ‘identity options’ was Male, Female or Don’t Know! I can cope with ‘Other’ but ‘Don’t Know’ seems entirely outré to me.

Roseanne Barr sent an inappropriate racist tweet and lost her eponymous TV series which had become America’s most popular comedy. Ironically, its appeal was based on its willingness to challenge and confront complacent political and social viewpoints; however, there is clearly a contemporary line one cannot cross, stretched as it is across the impossibly subjective divide between free opinion and unsalvageable offence.

Harvey Weinstein handed himself in to New York police and formal charges have now been issued months after the allegations and the boycotts and hashtags all began. In Australia, there was only marginally less hysteria as Cardinal George Pell was committed to stand trial in Melbourne’s County Court later this year on various sexual offences charges, the exact details of which are still unknown. Adelaide’s Catholic Archbishop, Philip Wilson, stepped aside after having been found guilty by a NSW Court of concealing child sexual abuse in the Hunter Valley region in the 1970s.

Robert Doyle, the successful Lord Mayor of Melbourne, relinquished his chain of office believing that he was too weighed down by allegations of improper sexual conduct. The ensuing Mayoral by-election -and how fashionable they have become! - produced an eclectic array of candidates. Being entitled to vote in this postal ballot, it was fascinating to read the claims of the candidates of potential Mayors. Not quite the cast from The World According to Garp but near enough. One candidate began her pitch to voters by writing, “As a single mother, a survivor of rape, addiction, bullying and depression, I have a deep understanding of the issues in our society.” This is certainly different to pithy political slogans of the past: Whitlam’s “It’s Time”; Fraser’s “Turn on the Lights”; Thatcher’s “Don’t just hope for a better future, vote for one” and FDR’s “Happy Days are here again”. Another candidate promised that she would bring to the city “creative ideas and a feminist, intersectional viewpoint as a way to tackle structural diversity, planning and sustainability”. The candidate for the Animal Justice Party wrote that “Dogs, foxes and cats should not have to suffer short painful lives for our fashion.” Thank goodness the winning candidate, Sally Capp, was able to elegantly express that her “focus on getting the basics right will improve Melbourne’s liveability.” Who are the basics? When have they ever been wrong? And can someone define liveability?

Gymnastics continued to be a popular sport for Australian politicians. After having rallied vehemently against a Royal Commission into the Banking Industry, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison showed the true passion of converts by somersaulting over their inhibitions and opposition. Suddenly, they were leading the chorus of disapproval about the unethical practices of many financial institutions that were revealed at the Commission’s hearings. The banks were not quite as immoral as Barnaby in Malcolm’s opinion, but they were coming close as he and the Treasurer happily supported the prospect of banking executives being jailed.

For most Australians, however, the greatest outrage of the last few months has been the misbehaviour of some of our Test cricketers. In the largest on-field controversy for the game since the ‘Underarm’ incident of the early 1980s, Australia’s Test Captain, Stephen Smith, Vice-Captain, David Warner and debutant Cameron Bancroft were all suspended from the game for up to a year for orchestrating deliberate tampering with the ball during a Test Match in South Africa.

Never has the handyman’s innocent accoutrement of sandpaper had such prominence in public discourse until it was revealed that a square of the abrasive product was malevolently applied to the match ball to bring advantage to Australia’s bowlers. Cheat in haste, repent in leisure! The predictable male tears followed for the public: Smith’s were believed, Warner’s were not. The national Coach resigned to be joined more recently by the CEO of Cricket Australia. Before James Sutherland announced his resignation, he disclosed, somewhat surprisingly, that Cricket Australia’s Integrity Officer, was no longer required.

Ball tampering, on and off the field, has usually became the exclusive domain of football, aka known to Australians as soccer, and its disreputable governing body, FIFA. The hosting of this year’s World Cup in Russia is not an initial victory for transparency and integrity, but let’s hope the deeds of the players in the ensuing weeks overcome the misfeasance of their administrators. The Champions’ League final held in Kiev was a reminder that the purity of sport is forever worth searching for. Real Madrid won their third successive title with a 3-1 victory over a plucky Liverpool: the ‘bicycle kick’ by Gareth Bale- a Welshman playing for the Spanish juggernaut-that took Real Madrid to a 2-1 lead had to be seen to be believed.

No doubt Simona Halep has worried that her childhood ambition of winning a Grand Slam title was never to eventuate. After her agonising loss in the Australian Open final, she had struggled to demonstrate the form expected of the world’s No.1 player. Yet, in Paris, playing to win the Grand Slam title she coveted most, her dream came true.

Halep came from a set down to defeat Angelique Kerber in a quarter-final which was a rematch of their epic Australian Open semi-final. Simona then easily defeated Muguruza in their semi-final, after the former French and current Wimbledon champion had easily defeated Sharapova in her quarter-final. Halep’s opponent in her fourth Grand Slam final, and her third in Paris, was Sloane Stephens who won her semi-final against another American, Madison Keys, who had lost to her in last year’s US Open final.

True to form, Simona did not make life especially easy for her long-suffering coach, Australian Darren Cahill. She lost the first set, was a break down in the second, but wrested control of the match to win 3-6 6-4 6-1. Simona became the third Romanian to win a Grand Slam singles title at Paris after Virginia Ruzici in 1978 and Ilie Nastase in 1973.

Halep’s victory continued the remarkable recent run of assorted female Grand Slam champions. Different women have now won the last eight Grand Slam titles. The last female to win successive Grand Slam titles was Serena when she won the first three titles of 2015 and the last to win two in a calendar year was Kerber with her beginning and end of year Australian and US Open victories in 2016.

Nadal’s path to his eleventh, I repeat, eleventh French Open final was achieved with the loss of only one set, being the opening set of his quarter-final to Diego Schwartzman. Nadal had beaten Schwartzman in four sets in their clash at the Australian Open and the Argentine was no less plucky this time. Nadal had an easier straight sets victory against the much taller Argentinian Del Potro (198 cm cf. Schwartzman’s 170 cm) in their semi-final.

Dominic Thiem reached his first Grand Slam final after beating Nishikori in the fourth round, second-seeded Alex Zverev in a lopsided quarter-final and the unseeded Italian, Marco Cecchinato, in his semi-final. Cecchinato had upset a disgruntled Djokovic in their quarter-final. Zverev could be excused for his lacklustre performance in his quarter-final as he had come back from two sets down in three consecutive matches to reach the final eight. Thiem earned the right to become only Austria’s second Grand Slam singles champion as he sought to emulate the victory in Paris by Tomas Muster in 1995 when he beat Michael Chang, the 1989 champion, in straight sets.

Before the final match of the tournament, other titles were decided. In the Mixed Doubles it was a Grand Slam first for Ivan Dodig from Croatia and Taiwan’s Latisha Chan, as it was for the Czech Republic’s pairing of Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova in the Women’s Doubles.

The French retained some connection with their tournament when their duo of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won their first French title to add to their Wimbledon title of 2016. A French victory was fitting as 2018 is the centenary of the death of French aviator Roland Garros. In 2013 he became the first person to fly across the Mediterranean Sea. He lost his life after being shot down in an air battle in World War One a month before the war’s end. His deeds inspired his nation to name its premier tennis stadium after him.

Alongside Simona Halep’s victory, these victories meant that four of the five champions won their maiden French titles this year, with three tasting Grand Slam success for the first time.

Alongside them stands Nadal whose catalogue of triumphs in Paris is incomparable and, probably, unsurpassable.

By reaching his eleventh final, Nadal joined Federer as the only male players to have reached eleven finals at one Grand Slam tournament, with Federer playing in eleven Wimbledon finals for eight victories. Martina Navratilova played in twelve Wimbledon finals for a record nine SW-19 titles, including six in succession from 1982-1987.

Anticipation before the Men’s final was high. After all, Thiem had beaten Nadal in straight sets in Madrid. Thiem had also had a relatively easy passage to the final and had youth on his side. It all counted for nought as Nadal swept him aside in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3,6-2. It was the first time since Jim Courier and Monica Seles won in Paris in 1992 that the two top seeds were victorious.

Commentating at the 1992 tournament and many before and since was Australia’s Fred Stolle, whose retirement from the commentary box was acknowledged at the end of the Men’s final. Stolle, who is 80 later this year, was the French Open champion in 1965, the US Open champion in 1966, runner up at the Australian Open to Roy Emerson in 1964 and 1965 and three times runner up at Wimbledon from 1963-1965, twice also to Emerson. In Doubles, Fred won the Australian doubles title with Bob Hewitt in 1963 and 1964 and Wimbledon in 1962 and 1964. With Roy Emerson he won the French and US titles in 1965 and the Australian and US titles in 1966. Partnering Lesley Turner, he won the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title in 1961 and 1964, the Australian title in 1962 and, playing with Margaret Smith, as she then was, won the US Open Mixed Doubles titles in 1962 and 1965.

Nadal’s immaculate record of eleven Grand Slam wins from eleven finals sets a unique benchmark of greatness. He joins Margaret Court as the only player to have won eleven singles titles at a Grand Slam tournament, with Margaret Court having won eleven times at the Australian Open; however, Nadal is the only player to have won eleven Grand Slam titles entirely in the Open Era.

He is now the only player to have won 11 titles at three separate tournaments: Roland Garros, Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Federer’s greatest haul is 9 at Halle. Martina won 12 titles at Chicago and 11 at Eastbourne. Nadal has only lost two matches at the French Open since 2005- to Robin Soderling in 2009 and to Djokovic in 2015; in 2016 he had to withdraw due to injury. In the finals of his eleven victories, Nadal has only conceded six sets and has never been taken to a fifth set.

In stark contrast to the varied roll-call of recent female Grand Slam champions, Nadal and Federer have now won the last six Grand Slam titles. Remember, when Roy Emerson’s record of 12 Grand Slam titles seemed unpassable, until Pete Sampras finally edged ahead on 14? Nadal and Federer have now galloped away with 17 and 20 titles respectively. Their combined total of 37 majors takes them past the 36 collectively won by Martina Navratilova (18) and Chris Evert (18).

Roger and Rafa are the anchor behind the unprecedented dominance of the game’s Big Four. Of the 54 Grand Slam titles decided since 2005, the Big Four have won 48, a mere 88%. Federer and Nadal have won 33, an extraordinary 61%. What is even more remarkable is that since 2003, Federer and Nadal have only failed to win Grand Slam titles in 2015 and 2016, when the end of their era was predicted. Maybe the candle does burn most brightly before it expires, but the renaissance of the Swiss and Spanish duo, with their 67 combined years, is something to behold.

Looking ahead to Wimbledon-and is that safe to do considering what might emerge from discussions at Sentosa, Singapore this week? - the question is not so much who will win, but who might play.

Serena has an injury, Djokovic is mumbling that he is undecided about playing, Andy Murray is yet to re-appear on the circuit and who knows what Kyrgios will decide to do, although he is playing in this week’s tournament at Stuttgart that sees Federer return to the court.

Predictions about Wimbledon are even riskier, especially in the Women’s event, whether Serena competes or not. Kvitova, with her left-handed skills should be hard to beat. Svitolina has talent but seems unable to display it in the second week of Grand Slam tournaments. Muguruza is mercurial but will probably need warm weather to bake the grass courts dry and fast. Halep is tenacious, as is Kerber, but neither are natural grass court players. Pliskova has lost momentum and will need to control her temper to win. For Sharapova to win would create history as no player has won Wimbledon singles titles fourteen years apart. Wozniacki’s form would have to drastically improve to realistically challenge for the title. Neither Ostapenko nor Kontaveit are to be dismissed; both play with the fearlessness of youth and hit the ball freely and fast.

So, who, outside of Nadal, stops Federer from having a 21st Grand Slam party? Djokovic is a shadow of the player he was in 2016. Cilic has had a good year, yet always seems overwhelmed when playing one of the Big Four. Del Potro is a wonderful player on grass, but struggles to achieve successive victories against the highest seeds. Raonic, a former finalist, continues to struggle with injuries. Zverev, Thiem and Goffin are all clay court specialists. Dimitrov is the epitome of the frustratingly mercurial- if he has not won a Grand Slam title by now, the odds are certainly not shortening. The big serves of Anderson and Isner may take them to the second week, but neither could be considered genuine title threats. Which, clearly, leaves Kyrgios as Federer’s main challenger!

In Australia, the question for the foreseeable future is not who plays, but who pays. Debates about taxation levels, economic fairness and wage justice will be at the heart of the next Federal election. The enigma for me is why both major political parties are not honest about the nature of the country’s economic challenges. Close to half of all Australian families now pay no net tax to the government. Yet the population continues to age and demands for government services continues to grow.

Not to mention that we have a $530 bn national debt. When, do we start paying that back? Well, we don’t if the public continues to demand that the government continues to provide.

A recent review of State and Federal government expenditure would suggest that this might not always be the wisest option: the Pink Batts programme, the NBN, the runaway train of the NDIS, the Adelaide Hospital and the Perth Children’s Hospital are just some of the projects where billions have been spent only to see more having to be spent to overcome incompetence, delays and inefficiency. These failures continue to mire Australians in unsustainable government debt and, to borrow Hayek’s famous phrase, risk taking us on the road to serfdom. Or, am I allowed in the spirit of tennis to use a ghastly pun and suggest we risk travelling on a “road to servedom?”

Alfred Deakin, three times Prime Minister of Australia during its first Federal decade, has been described as enigmatic in Judith Brett’s recent biography. One of our true founding fathers, Deakin was curious to be sure. He was a leading advocate of spiritualism and regularly conducted seances to speak to the spirits of the departed. Deakin also has links to the grand history of tennis, as one of his daughters married the brother of Norman Brookes, Australia’s first Wimbledon champion.

A true philosopher, Deakin wrote that: “The root of social injustice is interior and only to be reached through religion in its widest sense. Not until every man is his own policeman, his own legislation, his own shepherd and his own pastor…can he reap the full benefits of those who try to help him as legislators and pastors.”

If I could communicate with Deakin he and I might agree that our nation seems to have too many people who are now dependent on the State, rather than being financially autonomous and spiritually independent.

The past fortnight at Roland Garros has reminded us that no one can truly control the will and talent of the most brilliant individuals and we are all the better for their freedom. He may be fussy about the arrangement of his towel and water bottles, but Nadal’s self-determination and resolve have characterised his greatness. Federer, no doubt somewhat envious of Nadal’s unqualified success on clay, will be more motivated than ever to impose his will on Wimbledon. Anything you can do…

It is the noblest ambition to be the grandest one can be. In the tennis world, Nadal and Federer continue to be the standard against which all others must be judged.

Julian Dowse

11th June, 2018

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