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  • lydiajulian1

Liberte, 'Citius Altius Fortius' and farewell

Updated: 4 days ago

Many might argue that the French people and nation have never quite recovered from the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire. Five Republics on and one senses a restlessness that the French have lost their chance to control the world.

Not that the French have lost all influence. The French language is one of the official languages diplomatique and Olympique. Colonial vestiges linger. More French is spoken now in Africa than in Europe. Colonial connections have also been critical in underwriting French success in the World Cup.  They have not been so fruitful in providing national tennis heroes; however, let’s not forget Cameroon produced the father of Yannick Noah, who is the last Frenchman to win the French Men’s singles title. Yes, and that is now 41 years ago!

It is a hundred years since France had its glorious run of success when three of its Four tennis Musketeers- Borotra, Cochet and Lacoste won nine titles in a row from 1924. So dominant were they that a new tennis stadium was built in Paris to honour them. Needless to say, the French named it after a famous national aviator, Roland Garros!

The only French woman to win the national title in the Open Era was Mary Pierce in 2000 and before her Francoise Durr was champion in 1967. Of course, the French can probably claim that the incomparable Suzanne Lenglen brought the French eternal glory winning six titles in seven years between 1920 and 1926, with jaundice preventing her playing in 1924.

For the next three months there will be a renaissance of interest in France.

Today, the French Open begins.

June 6th is the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings on France’s Normandy beaches.

From June 29th- July 21st the Tour de France takes place.

July 26-August 11 will see Paris host its second Olympics, a hundred years after it hosted the ‘Chariots of Fires’ Olympics.

France may well be able to claim it is the centre of world attention in the days ahead. Unfortunately, civil unrest in its Pacific colony of New Caledonia is not adding lustre to French history in the Pacific. Thankfully, the Quebecois are not as restless as in decades past.

The ability of the French to cause diplomatic outrage is not lost, even in the tennis world. The refusal to grant a wildcard to this year’s Open to Austria’s Dominic Thiem is bizarre. Twice a finalist in Paris, Thiem has announced his intention to retire at year’s end. We know the French were upset that their doomed monarch, Louis XVI was engaged to the Austrian princess, Marie Antoinette, but their overlooking of Thiem is terriblement scandaleux!

The D-Day anniversary will be a salient reminder of the price paid to secure liberte for Western Europe and, ultimately, the world.

For the moment, the attention is on the tennis.

This year’s Open will inevitably be remembered as the farewell for Rafael Nadal. He has been the tournament’s champion, non parraleil, male or female.

He has won the tournament 14 times. Plus, eight other Grand Slam titles!

Fourteen. Quatorze. Say it slowly again. Fourteen. Twice as many as the most successful female player, Chris Evert.  

In Australia Ashleigh Barty is deified for winning three Grand Slam titles. Lleyton Hewitt is  a national treasure for winning two.

How then do you adequately honour a man who Nadal has won a Grand Slam title 14 times? Remember when we thought that Bjorn Borg winning six French Opens was miraculous? Djokovic’s most successful Grand Slam has been the Australian Open which he has won 10 times. For Federer, it was Wimbledon with 8 victories.

In amassing his 14 titles, Nadal has conquered Djokovic and Federer in eight finals, inflicting four defeats on each of the titans. Both Djokovic and Federer suffered the indignity of losing a set to love in a final to Nadal- Federer in 2008, Djokovic in 2020. Neither Djokovic nor Federer were able to achieve that feat against Nadal in a Grand Slam final.

No one thought Bob Beamon’s world record leap in the Long Jump at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 would be beaten. It was, but not until 1984.

Nadal’s fourteen Grand Slam triumphs in Paris will never be beaten at Roland Garros or elsewhere. He is sans comparaison. He won his first title in 2005:  John Howard was Australia’s Prime Minister, George W. Bush was the American President, and Tony Blair was England’s Prime Minister. Nadal has won title during the French presidencies of Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande and Macron. Nadal has created a record of longevity and supremacy that politicians can only dream of!  There is debate about where Nadal’s record places him in the pantheon of all sporting Gods, but there is no doubt he belongs there.

But age does weary them, and the years condemn! Nadal’s body has succumbed to the relentlessness of his playing style- has anyone placed so much power behind a topspin forehand in tennis history?

To realise Nadal is not a legitimate contender for the French title is to recognise that the orthodoxy of the modern game is undergoing a revolution.

For the first time in living memory the Men’s game has three different winners of Paris’ major lead up tournaments: Ruud won in Barcelona, Rublev in Madrid and, overnight, Zverev has won in Rome. Sinner and Alcaraz have injury concerns heading into the tournament and Djokovic is still smarting from being accidentally struck by a water bottle as he left the court in Rome. He was summarily dismissed in his next match. Who wins?

In the Women’s competition, greater certainty prevails. Iga Swiatek has won both the Barcelona and Rome tournaments, beating Sabalenka in the finals. She is a very warm favourite to win her fourth French title in five years.

New orthodoxies are being created in the tennis world; however, it seems even more extraordinary ones are emerging in economics and politics.

In recent weeks State and Federal Treasurers in Australia have delivered Budgets that are underwritten by the following bizarre propositions:

-          That governments can continue to spend the public’s money and borrow on behalf of the public without putting upward pressure on inflation and/or interest rates;

-          That State and Federal government debt can continue to rise with blithe indifference to the cost of repayments;

-      That governments can support the highest minimum wage rates in the world, encourage large wage increases in nearly every sector of the economy- wage increases that they  mostly don’t have to pay- and expect domestic industries to remain competitive;

-         That repaying debts by ‘soaking the rich’ generates prosperity. Wasn’t it a Labor Treasurer, Paul Keating who observed that a “rising economic tide floats all boats”? Not for this Labor government. Overly tax successful people and no-one pursues success. Margaret Thatcher was fond of quoting Lincoln’s observation: “You don’t make the poor rich by making the rich poor.”

-         That pursuing radical and hasty policies to convert Australia’s energy base to a renewable one has the perverse effect of making the citizens of a country that is a net exporter of energy resources pay greater amounts for their domestic energy, further reducing the competitiveness of local industry. And everyone thought it was only Scotland that became poorer after discovering oil in the North Sea!


The most risible aspect of the Federal Budget was the announcement of a “Made in Australia” fund, which will see a mere $22 billion spent over the next ten years to create viable industries. Can anyone name me the last handpicked government industry that succeeded at no extra cost to the taxpayer? The runaway costs of Australia’s Snowy Mountain 2.0 Hydro Project, not to mention every major public works project in Victoria, remind us of the folly of governments entering markets.

Why be so worried? With national debt set to reach a trillion dollars, $22 billion is a bagatelle, barely half an AUKUS submarine.

Oh and there is also $450 million available to purchase two new Prime Ministerial aircraft. Best to upgrade and be safe. The death of Iran’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in a helicopter crash may have political consequences far beyond Iranian borders.

Time to dream of a baguette in the Parisian spring. Former Treasurer and Prime Minister, Paul Keating, is Australia’s most ardent Francophile political leader. His love for and collection of  French Empire clocks was well publicised.

When challenging Bob Hawke the first time for the Prime Ministership, Keating said that he could bring, “elan, dash and a touch of excitement to the role”, comparing himself to a downhill skier racing without poles.

Let’s hope that the 256 players venturing out on Roland Garros can provide some Keatingesque “thrills and spills."

Even if they do not, we have the immeasurable legacy of Nadal’s fourteen triumphs to sustain us. Farewell Rafael. Mille mercis!







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