One strike and you are out! Six state borders and you are locked in!
Updated: Sep 13, 2020
On reflection I suppose that most people thought that the only way Novak Djokovic would not win the US Open was if he beat himself. And so he did. Bizarrely and improbably and not in a way that could have been predicted.
We all know how fine the margins are between success and disappointment on a tennis court. Modern technology can now adjudicate on the fate of points within a millimetre. What seems an ace becomes a fault. A ball that looks in, is ruled out and a possible game point becomes a break point.
So it is with tantrums. If Djokovic’s frustrated swipe at a tennis ball had seen it land centimetres on either side of the linesperson it struck, Djokovic would have received a warning and we would probably be discussing his chances of winning an 18th Grand Slam singles success. As it is now, Djokovic will forever be remembered for his inglorious exit.
Djokovic protested to some degree his ‘innocence’, but not too much. Clearly, he did not intend to strike the official, but this is a strict liability offence. Intent is irrelevant. Do the deed. Leave the stadium.
One wonders whether Djokovic has simply placed too much pressure on himself. Everyone has a breaking point. This year he expressed his scepticism about being able to safely travel to New York, then he organised a tennis tournament in Belgrade that saw himself and others contract corona virus and then he unsuccessfully attempted to form a breakaway players’ association. As steely as he is, Djokovic cannot be insensitive to the fact that he is not seen as an endearing personality, notwithstanding his spectacular record as a player.
Let’s not forget Djokovic is the only player in the Open Era to have won four consecutive Grand Slam titles: Wimbledon and US Open of 2015 and then the Australian and French Opens of 2016. It also must be remembered that Djokovic is the man who has beaten Federer three times in a Wimbledon final. Last year with 98% of the crowd against him, Djokovic saved two match points on Federer’s serve in the fifth and final set before prevailing in a historic fifth set tiebreaker. Novak is made of the sternest stuff.
So, why did he lose his composure following a break of serve in the first set of a fourth round match against a player ranked twentieth in the world, especially when he did not have to contend with an antagonistic crowd? Well, in truth he did not implode and remonstrate in the way McEnroe did when he was defaulted from the Australian Open in 1990. He swatted a ball away, probably to release pent up frustration; however, his indiscriminate flourish has made him the dark prince of the tennis world.
What has been as remarkable as the act itself, has been the total absence of sympathy for his actions. “Go and be gone” has been the universal reaction.
Indeed, one detected a hint of schadenfreude towards Djokovic as he departed the tournament. It seemed that many thought that Novak’s self-inflicted expulsion was overdue comeuppance for all sorts of things: the suspicion that he feigns injuries and strains at critical stages of matches and the belief of many that his sincerity is confected. His didactic utterings about the perils of vaccinations and the virtues of plant based gluten free diets may not have won him many admirers either. Isn’t it strange how some tall poppies in the tennis world, especially Nadal and Federer, are universally respected, but Djokovic attracts unfavourable comments as regularly as he superbly returns serve?
Well, there seems to be a fair degree of schadenfreude being served up at the moment, no more so than in Australia’s ongoing pandemic Federal political battles.
The continued inability of the Federal and State governments to find common ground, literally, about where and when the nation’s internal borders can be re-opened is paralysing the economy, producing unfair and needless harm for many people and causing many to doubt the sense of our leaders.
Yet, for many of the Premiers, especially those facing elections within the next six months, this is a moment of power and domination over Canberra that they will not relinquish. After decades of seeing their lawmaking powers and financial autonomy emasculated by a series of High Court decisions and the introduction of national income and Goods and Services taxes, State governments are fighting back. In true schadenfreude style, they are relishing the opportunity to remind people of the importance of States. After decades of having to beg Canberra for funds to finance their health, transport, education and justice services, the States are wickedly enjoying watching the worm turn as Scott Morrison pleads for their co-operation and acquiescence on a range of matters.
This week, however, saw cracks in the border bravado strategy. The inability of family members to cross into Queensland to visit dying relatives jarred with Australian views of decency and common sense. Suddenly, as if we could have forgotten, people were reminded that a State’s boundary does not determine the spread of the virus. Rather, it is people that spread the virus.
Therefore, it is the management of people, communities and public facilities that will determine transmission rates, not the posturing of Premiers about their State’s respective virtues. This has been reinforced by Victoria’s decision to allow its regional areas to “open up” and to isolate metropolitan Melbourne. Health boundaries and borders are entirely fluid and arbitrary depending on where infection resides.
The closure of our international borders dramatically reduced the possibility of undetected cases arriving with visitors. Keeping our international borders open would have invited increased infection rates that would have made the consequences of passengers disembarking of the Ruby Princess seem trivial. However, our intra-national borders, which were political divisions to carve out colonial expansion, are not central weapons in the management of the virus.
Australia’s recovery from the effects of the pandemic- the economic, social and cultural-will, self-evidently, require a national response. The boastful “beggar thy neighbour” policies of the States are myopic and appallingly hypocritical. Whilst they maintain their restrictions on intra-national movement, the States are only too happy to continue to have their citizens receive unprecedented Federal JobKeeper and Job-Seeker payments. How relieved Queensland’s Premier must be that notwithstanding that “Queensland’s hospitals are for Queenslanders”, Australia’s welfare system provides for all Australians.
Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, is clearly the target of much ill-will and resentment. Having been shocked by the outbreak of Victoria’s second wave, the Premier is paranoid about the eruption of a third. For that reason, he sees his “scorched business”, “5 km radius/ curfew” policy as necessary and unavoidable. Notwithstanding the sincerity of his convictions, there are many who argue that his stated criterion for the number of transmissions required before easing lockdown restrictions is unnecessarily low and, possibly, unobtainable.
Around the centrifugal force of the pandemic, other events continue to swirl.
Two Australian journalists were forced to hurriedly leave China in another sign of the worsening relations between the two countries.
A fatal shark attack on Queensland’s Gold Coast Greenmount Beach at Coolangatta of a 46 year old surfer was the first fatal shark attack at one of the state’s netted beaches in decades.
The Queensland Fisheries Department states on its website that the nets “are used to catch sharks passing through an area that could pose a threat to beach-goers…The equipment lowers risk but does not provide an impenetrable barrier between sharks and humans.” The Queensland Fisheries Minister described the attack as an “absolute tragedy”. Such a description is almost as bad as a “terrible tragedy.” Please, let’s remember once and for all that a tragedy is a tragedy and cannot be qualified.
As it is with shark nets, so it is with virus transmission. It’s not the net, it’s the shark. It’s not the border, it’s people. We do not close all our beaches, because we know that not even a shark proof net the length of our coastline could prevent all shark attacks. However, our Premiers persist in keeping our State borders closed for what are being increasingly seen as selfish reasons, devoid of long-term justification. No-one is asking for laissez-faire movement across the nation, but rather sensible and controlled movement that allows the business of our lives to resume as much as it can and needs to.
Proof of the power of the natural environment upon the body politic was seen in New South Wales when the coalition government nearly fractured over an environmental dispute. The National Party was angered by proposed plans for management of the koala species that they believe will overly restrict land use. Who would have thought, even as recently as 40 years ago, that the fate of koalas and other species would be at the top of Governments’ Cabinet agendas?
The acceptance of the importance of bio-diversity and protection of the environment- remember Great White Sharks are protected- has been one of the radical and permanent shifts in our society in the last forty years. This change has overturned many long-held views about the relationship of humanity to its environment.
Verse 25 of the 1st Chapter of Genesis :
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth.
The notion of humans having dominion over their environment is, for the Godless, known as anthropocentrism. It seems that the days of belief God-given dominion and/or a belief in anthropocentrism are over. Clerics are now among some of the most vocal advocates of environmental action. Even the most conservative of them talk of the need of humans to be “stewards” of their earth, sea and sky. Many argue that it has been the notion of environmental dominion and dominance by humans that has led to the decimation, if not worse, of the world’s species and habitats, a view echoed this week by the eminence grise of environmentalism, David Attenborough who is spritely and spirited at 94. Uncontrollable wildfires in California and Oregon on America’s west coast further echoed Attenborough’s warnings.
Taking care of the cultural significance of the environment has also become paramount. This week’s decision by one of the world’s biggest miners of iron ore, Rio-Tinto, to dismiss its CEO and two of its Executive, followed the decision by the company in May to destroy two ancient caves in Pilbara, Western Australia. The company went ahead with blowing up the Juukan Gorge rock shelters despite the opposition of Aboriginal traditional owners. “What does it a profit a company if it gaineth the ore, but destroys the soul of a culture?” Clearly, corporate social responsibility has now more to do with the social than solely the ambitions of shareholders to receive personal financial dividends from corporate activity.
Despite there being no crowds in the stands, the US Open still managed in its humid, New York “in your face” atmosphere to be a de-facto barometer of the social agendas of our time. Sections of stadiums were draped with banners reminding us that Black Lives Matter. Naomi Osaka wore facial masks with the names of victims of police brutality after her matches. The presence of three mothers in the quarter-finals for the first time in Grand Slam history could almost have ignited #Mums can too!
New York’s cosmopolitan milieu was also reinforced: a Japanese-Haitian Women’s champion; the Men’s Doubles champions, Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares coming from Croatia and Brazil, the Women’s Doubles Champions, Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva coming from Germany and Russia. Tomorrow there will be either the first German Men’s Champion at the US Open since Boris Becker in 1989 or the first ever Austrian champion at the US Open and the first Austrian Grand Slam champion since Tomas Muster became the one and only when he won the French Open in 1995.
Without the crowds, it literally was a case of players having to let the tennis do the talking.
In the absence of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, three emerging stars of ‘Next Generation’ of Men’s players made their way to the semi-finals almost as predictably as the missing champions: 2-Zverev; 3-Medvedev and 5 Zverev. Only Tsitsipas, ranked No.4 failed to prove the pedigree of the emerging new era. Thiem will be playing in Grand Slam final No.4 and Zverev in Grand Slam Final No.1.
Four minus one is three and that is the number of Grand Slam titles both Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka played for in today’s Women’s final. Again, there are patterns in numbers. Osaka won her third Grand Slam title, coming from a set down to win the final two sets 6-3 6-3.
Azarenka, having beaten Serena Williams in three sets in their semi-final played a flawless first set winning 6-1. Osaka looked bewildered. The esteemed BBC tennis commentator, John Barrett, often remarked that when a player begins as Azarenka did “all you can do is hope they come off their boil, because then they start to worry.” Barrett’s script played out as Osaka worked her way back into the match. In the deciding third set, Osaka had fewer doubts. She led 3-1 and saved three break points from 0-40. Azarenka, to her credit, held her serve for 2-4 after facing break points and then broke Osaka’s serve to have the chance to level the deciding set at 4-4, but her energy was spent. Osaka became the first player since Sanchez-Vicario in 1994 to lose the opening set in a Women’s final at the US Open and recover to win the title.
After tomorrow’s Men’s final, attention will turn to Paris, where the French Open starts on 27th September. Serena heads to France remaining stranded on 23 Grand Slam titles, still chasing an elusive 24th to equal Margaret Court’s record. I hope Serena does not feel either morose or marooned. 23 is a prime number after all and she is the most successful singles player of the Open Era: primus inter pares!
There will be probably as much interest in Djokovic’s demeanour at Roland Garros as Nadal’s quest for a 20th Grand Slam singles title. If Thiem wins tomorrow and either wins or makes the final in Paris, he could rightly claim to be the best male tennis player of this truncated year. Ash Barty will not be defending her title, so predicting the Women’s champion remains as difficult as ever. Osaka has the momentum, but will the mercurial Muguruza rediscover her Australian Open form?
Pleasingly, the pandemic has not diminished the prevalence of the absurd. Victoria’s State government has announced that the AFL Grand Final eve holiday has been moved to 23rd October, notwithstanding that there will be neither a Grand Final nor a Grand Final parade in Melbourne. Metropolitan Melbourne will most likely still be in lockdown, so let’s have a holiday from doing nothing at a time when nothing can be done.
As always, much to reflect on for Melbourne and the world alike: