It's Thiem's time, but he took his time about it!
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Until Dominic Thiem’s victory last week in the US Open, the last man to win the title outside of “the great three” was Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka in 2016. Thiem, from neighbouring Austria, has become his nation’s first Grand Slam champion in the Big Apple. In honour of their European proximity, maybe Stan and Dominic could claim that they obtained their pioneering victories in The Big Strudel! (Forgive me, I am in lockdown: ergo, corny jokes emerge)
It was a US Open like no other. No Mixed Doubles competition was played. One wonders, in these days of gender fluidity, whether such a competition will, before too long, be considered passé.
What has certainly passed into history are the days when men and women played for mixed prizemoney. When the US Open became an Open event in 1968 men played for a purse of $14,000.00 and women $6,000.00.This year both the Men’s and Women’s champions received a cheque for $US3,000,000.00.
One of the banners that was draped across empty seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium this year celebrated the beginning of the Women’s Tennis Association when Billie Jean-King and eight other female players signed one-dollar contracts with the Virginia Slims cigarette company in 1969 to initiate a dedicated female competition. Two Australians Judy Dalton (nee Tegart) and Kerry Reid were among the founding females, one of who has the unforgettable name of Peaches Bartkowicz.
Under Billie Jean’s leadership the Women’s competition never looked back. In 1973, the year of Billie Jean’s famous grudge match against Bobby Riggs, the US Open introduced equal prizemoney for its Singles’ Champions. The impetus for this radical policy came after Billie-Jean threatened to organise a female boycott of the event if equal prizemoney was not introduced. Equal prizemoney has been standard practice at the Australian Open since 2001, the French Open since 2006 and Wimbledon since 2007.
How ironic that a cigarette company that was the progenitor of professional sport for women! It is now illegal for cigarette companies to be associated with anything considered athletic; however, we cannot disagree with the famous advertising slogan of Virginia Slims of the early 1970s when assessing the trajectory of women’s tennis: “you’ve come a long way, baby”. Billie-Jean proudly noted in an interview during last week’s Open that nine of the world’s ten highest paid female athletes are tennis players.
Having organised a federation of players that rewrote the history of the game, it is fitting that this week the Federation Cup was renamed in honour of Billie-Jean King who first played in the nations’ team event in 1963.
Speaking of trailblazing women, this weekend has seen the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. She is only one of four women to serve as Justices of the Court. The first woman appointed to the Court was Texan Sandra Day O’Connor. Justice O’Connor was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Justice Ginsburg was appointed in 1993 by Bill Clinton and served in this role until her death, becoming America’s longest serving female Supreme Court Justice. Unlike Australia, American Supreme Court Justices do not have to retire at 70 and can “die in harness” as the popularly known ‘RBG’ has done. The other two female Justices of the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, appointed in 2009, and Elena Kagan, appointed in 2010, continue to serve on the Court.
I am told that people in New York avidly read death notices to see if there may be a better apartment in the co-op to move to. Well when a Supreme Court justice dies in America, minds similarly and instantly turn to the question of who will be appointed to fill a judicial vacancy. This question is always viewed through the prism of how the appointment will affect the balance of judicial conservatives and liberals amongst the nine Justices. Until Justice Ginsburg’s death, the Bench was seen as tilted towards the judicial conservatives 5-4.
So will President Trump have time before the Presidential election to finalise the appointment of Justice Ginsburg’s replacement, anxious as he is to appoint another conservative Justice? He can certainly name and nominate his preferred appointment, but whether Congressional confirmation can occur before Presidential polling day is a moot point. What is not moot is that every time an appointment is made to the Supreme Court, there is conjecture whether the Court will change its precedents, especially in relation to landmark interpretations of the nation’s Constitution, one of being its ruling in Roe v Wade. This 1973 decision saw the Supreme Court strike down a Texas law prohibiting abortion, effectively upholding since that time the right of American women to have abortions.
Also in 1973 the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission began to implement its landmark decision of 1972 to apply the: “principle of ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ to all awards of the Commission. By ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ we mean the fixation of award wage rates by a consideration of the work performed irrespective of the sex of the worker.”
This week Billie Jean- King commented on how significant it was that two Australians joined her breakaway league and their role in forming the modern women’ game should never be forgotten. At the same time and away from tennis courts, Australia’s Germaine Greer became a leading international voice on feminism with the publication of her seminal work, The Female Eunuch in 1970. Let’s not forget that Australia’s Helen Reddy became an international singing star primarily through her song ‘I am Woman’ , which became an anthem of the feminist movement following its release in 1972. When the United Nations declared 1975 to be the International Year of Women, women from the Antipodes had played no small part in accelerating the feminist cause.
When the US Open Men’s final commenced, it appeared that Dominic Thiem, would only be playing a very small part in proceedings. Alex Zverev, fresh from recovering from a two-set deficit in his semi-final, and playing in his first Grand Slam final, swept through the first two sets. Thiem was standing so far at the back of the court to receive Zverev’s serve, there was barely any room behind him and he was barely able to find his range, especially on his powerful backhand side.
John Howard was once asked on his success in politics and he made a comment to the effect of “never underestimate the importance of just staying around”. Thiem just did that. Like Osaka in the Women’s final he began to play with greater rhythm after being overwhelmed and, suddenly, the match was two-sets all.
The final set, even in the absence of a crowd, was compelling. Zverev broke Thiem’s serve to serve for the title at 5-3, only to be broken back. Thiem won three games in a row to serve for the match at 6-5, but faltered. As the match edged close to four hours, a fifth-set tiebreak was required to decide the Championship for the first time. The Women’s title has twice been decided in third-set tiebreaks in 1981 and 1985 with Martina Navratilova losing both finals to Tracy Austin and Hana Mandlikova.
Zverev led the tie-break early, but two double faults proved costly. Thiem squandered two match points at 6-4, but won it on his third to take the title 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 7-6 (8-6). Thiem won his first Grand Slam title in his fourth Grand Slam final. He is the first man to win a US Open from two sets to love down in the Open Era and the first since 1949 when Pancho Gonzales rallied to beat Frank Parker.
The last time the Men's final was won from two sets to love at the Australian Open was in 1965 when Roy Emerson beat Fred Stolle; in Paris it was in 2004 when Gaston Gaudio beat Guillermo Coria, and at Wimbledon it was in 1927 when Henri Cochet beat Jean Borotra in an all French final.
After the escapades of Zverev and Thiem at Djokovic’s Belgrade tournament, which saw them filmed dancing shirtless in a nightclub violating every rule of social distancing, many commentators despaired of the attitudes of “the next Gen”. Dismissed as immature, selfish, flaky and wilful, how could they possibly be the next ambassadors of the game? The fining of one of Thiem’s entourage for a Covid breach in New York saw Dominic labelled as “consistently clueless”.
The Thiem v Zverev final went a long way to restore optimism about the future of the Men’s game. John McEnroe, who is the young brat turned trustee of the game, par excellence, commented that the game was the not the greatest of all time, but it was the greatest “all time effort match”. Thiem could barely walk at the end of the match and Zverev broke down and was nearly inconsolable at the presentation. Zverev should find comfort and greater self-belief from his efforts. He dispelled many doubters by reaching his first Grand Slam final and could not have come much closer to victory. In a match of 322 points Zverev won 159 to Thiem’s 163.
Watching Zverev in tears I was reminded of Malcolm Turnbull, who seeing Kevin Rudd in a similarly distressed manner after Rudd was ousted as Prime Minister in 2010, said “for goodness sake, someone give him a hug.” Covid-19 protocols prevented such physical support for Zverev. Funnily enough, Turnbull did not offer such comfort to Tony Abbott whom he ousted as Prime Minister five years ago.
Providing support, restoring optimism and preventing economic and social breakdown remain the priorities of nations battling the Covid pandemic. New Zealand’s economy contracted by over 12% in the last quarter, reigniting debates about whether an “elimination” or “suppression” strategy is preferable. India and Indonesia’s daily infection rates remain staggering with India recording 1,100,000 cases in the last two weeks. A second wave is erupting in Spain, Great Britain and France, where it has been announced that maximum crowd numbers at the forthcoming French Open have been halved. In the absence of a vaccine, how we allow people to “live and let live”, without risking unnecessary deaths remains the cardinal Covid-19 question.
America has recorded over 6,000,000 cases with close to 200,000 deaths. These figures would ordinarily mean that an incumbent President facing re-election in 44 days would be doomed, but after the upset of 2016 the jury remains out on this year’s result. The outcome of this year’s poll will be further complicated by close to 50% of Americans voting by postal ballot. With so many votes in the mail, a final result may not be known for an extended period of time, but hopefully not as long as we had to wait for the results of the 2000 election, a contest ultimately determined by the Supreme Court.
President Trump’s best efforts seem to be assisting people in the Middle East with America brokering “normalisation” of relationships between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. There is a prevailing sense that most Americans wish they could choose between two more edifying candidates. In Japan illness has led to the resignation of Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, whose departure from office was met with a reaction of universal disappointment.
Tonight the Tour de France ends with the champion likely to be a 21 year old Slovakian. Tasmania’s Richie Porte has achieved the remarkable feat of finishing in third place.
Also finishing tonight will the Italian Open. Nadal made an impressive return to his beloved clay, before losing for the first time to Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman in their quarter-final. Victory for Djokovic in Rome would see him with his 36th Masters title and move one ahead of Nadal on that honour board. Simona Halep plays Garbine Muguruza in an intriguing semi-final this evening. Muguruza defeated Victoria Azarenka in their quarter-final, after Azarenka had humiliated Australian Open champion, Sofia Kenin 6-0, 6-0.
After Rome, in echoes of Ancient Empires, all roads lead to the covid-bubble of Paris. Naomi Osaka, who is now the fifth woman to win her first three Grand Slam finals (can you name the other four?) has withdrawn from the tournament citing muscle soreness. Australia’s defending champion, Ash Barty will also be absent.
Ash Barty would no doubt have Cathy Freeman in her pantheon of sporting idols alongside her numero uno idol, Evonne Goolagong.
This week attention turned to the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Olympics and Cathy Freeman’s victory in the 400 metres final and her little known, but equally important triumph over a near technological malfunction when lighting the Olympic flame.
The Olympics reinforced Sydney’s reputation as the flagship city of Australia. Former Prime Minister, Paul Keating commented once, “that if you are not living in Sydney, you are camping out.” This week Mr. Keating was offering words on how best to care for Australians who are living longer than ever, whether in Sydney or elsewhere. Presenting evidence to Aged Care Royal Commission he suggested that those not wishing to enter nursing homes be offered Commonwealth loans to fund their home care. Such a debt, similar to Higher Education Contribution scheme debts, would be repaid in the future by the levying of a debt on a family’s estate. How terrifying it is to think that university fees may be reach such levels that tertiary education debts might only be just repaid just before having to arrange a similar debt for elderly living! However, every Australian politician, alive and dead, knows the electoral terror of suggesting universal estate taxes to pay for the burgeoning costs of aged-care.
The dilemma we face with caring for our elderly reminds us that what we think and assume will be the social, economic and cultural structures of our family, our community and nation rarely eventuate as expected. Take the Sydney Harbour Bridge: when it was opened in 1932, no-one could have imagined that a harbour tunnel would also be needed to transport Sydney’s citizens from one shore to another. Everyone thought that the bridge’s eight traffic lanes and two railway lines would suffice for ever.
Some companies are so bold to make lifetime guarantees about their products. Tupperware is one such business. This week the lid of my Tupperware lettuce container-purchased in 1989-cracked. Time to avail myself of the lifetime guarantee. My Tupperware agent has told me that my container will be replaced with a new and improved version.
Deep down this must be the hope when our ‘Plan As’ turn awry. A crisis, fissure and split forcibly redesigns what was intended or hoped for. Then the realignment and adaptation begin as we search for a ‘Plan B’ hoping that, for all its forced necessity, it will be better. The post-pandemic world offers us a chance to design a national Plan B. What we need is sufficient morale and optimism to enthusiastically chart new waters after being marooned in lockdown-including the 24,000 Australians still waiting to return from overseas-and behind closed borders for as long as we have.