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  • lydiajulian1

Laissez les jeux commencer a Paris!

Updated: May 28, 2023

If one can believe all the hype Europe’s forthcoming summer tourist season is predicted to be its busiest ever . A ‘Covid backlog’ of tourists are set to combine with the perennial ‘high season’ influx to saturate scenic sights with onlookers.

Already French authorities are encouraging tourists to stay away from the country’s major attractions, considering many of them to be already overrun in the merry springtime month of May.

How ironic that as the French Open begins tonight- of course the French retain their point of difference* as the French Open is the only Grand Slam that begins on a Sunday, not a Monday- the very people the French and the tennis world would love to see at Roland Garros will not be there.

We will probably not see more than one of the great three grace the year’s remaining Grand Slam tournaments. Federer is now part of tennis history. Nadal has withdrawn from Paris and Wimbledon and his chances of playing in New York can be best described as unlikely. Djokovic will take to the courts alone of the greatest trinity to play the game in the quest for a record 23rd Men’s Grand Slam title.

To think that Nadal will no longer be ranked in the game’s top 100 players at the end of the French Open- the first time in eighteen years-is a cruel reminder that even the greatest are “only as good as their last match.” For Nadal, that was the second round of this year’s Australian Open.

What a debt of gratitude we owe tennis’ towering threesome. They rewrote the record books and then some. Sadly, this seems to be the only debt that brings a degree of happiness these days. Everywhere one looks there are financial debts and deficits that seem unconquerable and demoralising.

America- remember when it was the world’s economic unchallenged powerhouse?-has a debt of 31 trillion dollars and rising. It makes the forecast of Australia’s national debt rising to over $700 billion over the next five years appear inconsequential. England has a debt to GDP ( Gross Domestic Prodcut) ratio of 101%. It owes more than its economy is worth.

Unlike Brexit, England is not alone in avoiding the European malaise: France’s debt to GDP ratio is 112%- maybe it does need revenue from a bonanza tourist season?-, Belgium’s is 105%, Spain’s is 113%, Portugal’s is 114% , Italy’s is 145% and Greece wins an unenviable gold medal with a ratio of 171%. The recently departed Tina Turner would not say any of these figures are “simply the best”!

Back to Washington. Its President and Congress are locked in a political struggle to resolve the debt crisis. America reached its statutory debt limit earlier this year. Without a legislative amendment to increase the statutory debt ceiling, America will be forced to default on its financial obligations, which are currently a debt to GDP ratio of 129%.

Janet Yellen, America’s Secretary of Treasury has warned that without a resolution of the debt then the second week of the French Open on 5th June, America will not have sufficient funds to pay its government employees.

When a tennis player defaults, the pain and suffering is brief and individual. When a nation defaults on its debt, there is permanent psychological and economic scarring, especially if debt is owed to overseas governments or institutions.

Here in Australia, our debt travails appear far less unsettling when set against those of many other countries. Like America, Australia has a federal system of government meaning that both Federal and State governments can incur debts.

In my State of Victoria, I have been reminded in this the week of our State Budget of the French observation- plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

1992. Remember then? Nadal was 6, Djokovic 5 and Federer and Serena Williams were 11. Andre Agassi was an improbable Wimbledon champion. His future wife, Steffi Graf, was overtaken by Monica Seles as the world’s best female player with Seles winning all Grand Slam titles except Wimbledon. Jim Courier was the Australian and French Champion and Stefan Edberg defeated Pete Sampras to win the US Open title.

In the same year a conservative Liberal government swept to power in Victoria after ten years of Labor Party rule. The new Premier, Jeff Kennett, declared the fiscal cupboard was bare. All ratepayers in Victoria were levied with a “Debt Reduction Payment” to balance the books.

Fast forward 30 years. Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Graf, and Williams are in the record books as the holders of a mere 109 Grand Slam titles; however, not even all their prizemoney and endorsements could rid nations of their outstanding financial obligations. Here in Victoria another long-term Labor government has levied Victorians with a “10 year Covid Debt recovery plan.” Who needs Maoist and Stalinist five year plans when you can have one for ten? Maybe it could be called “Making the Great Debt go backward”?

Placing the blame for the government’s debt entirely at the feet of the pandemic is as insulting as it is illusory . Fulfilling every criteria of Margaret Thatcher’s description of a socialist government, Victoria’s Labor government has finally realised that it has run out of “other people’s money to spend.” Every one of its public work projects has failed to be completed on time and within budget. 4000 public servants are to lose their jobs to curb the runaway public sector wages bill. Needless to say the greatest burden of repairing the government’s profligacy will fall on private individuals, schools and businesses, all of whom would have been declared bankrupt if they had emulated the government’s spending habits.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Before the first payments of penury have to be made, let’s indulge in some pleasure and consider who might claim glory and Euros in Paris.

The script is set for a defining moment in the Men’s draw, albeit in the penultimate round. Djokovic aiming for his third French title and a historic 23rd Grand Slam title is drawn to play Carlos Alcaraz, the No.1 seed who seeks his first French title, in a semi-final. Awaiting the winner of that match could be Daniil Medvedev* fresh from his improbable clay court victory in the Italian Open. Rublev, Ruud and Rune will be thereabouts. Thiem could upset a few. Tsitsipas still has the appearance of a perennial bridesmaid. Australia’s Nick Kyrgios who perennially withdraws from the French Open has done so again, leaving Alex De Minaur as the nation’s highest ranked player.

In the Women’s Draw, all appeared swinging, sweet and set for Iga Swiatek to claim her third French title, before injury forced her to withdraw from her Italian Open semi-final against Elena Rybakina. Rybakina, the defending Wimbledon champion and Australian Open runner-up must be considered one of the main chances alongside Swiatek and the wildly erratic Sabalenka.

For Australia, there is an unpalatable deficit of female players. Ana Tomljanovic is injured, meaning that for the first time in 55-year history of professional tennis , there is no direct Australian entrant in the Women’s Draw with Kim Birrell being the recipient of a wildcard.

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” So said Polonius to Laertes. Sadly, for far too many it seems impossible not to be the former. Too many governments find it impossible not to be spenders, thereby creating long-term loans for the public to repay. Risibly, governments no longer talk of debt, but rather “good debt” or “bad debt”. Funnily enough, both must be repaid in full, just as tennis matches have to be played out to the final point.

There will be no shortcuts as the world’s best 256 male and female players seek to claim the Coupe des Mousquetaires and the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. Seven successive victories on Roland Garros’ famous red courts will be required.

Whoever the victors are, they will add credit to the game’s historical balance sheet. The grandest efforts of individuals rarely create deficits.

*Will we also see the French Open distinguish itself by having its chair umpires continue to climb down to review disputed line markings when their computer screens have already informed them whether the ball was in or out?

*Fun fact about Medvedev- he has won 20 titles, including a Grand Slam stopping US Open victory over Djokovic, but has never successfully defended any of his tournament victories.

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1 Comment

Andrew Hood
Andrew Hood
May 28, 2023

Brilliant insight as always, Julian. Your columns are a pleasure to read! Well done!

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