So, is some of the world is returning to normal? Qualifying rounds at Roland Garros start tomorrow, with the tournament proper starting next Monday.
Sadly, this year’s French Open will be more of a diversion than usual.
After all, most of the world seems transfixed by the effects of Covid. India’s plight is distressingly pitiful and shows no sign of improving. Britain is emerging from the worst of its lockdown, but hardly in an emphatic manner. Canada’s schools are only just re-opening for their students. Argentina has just announced a new nine-day lockdown. God knows the truth of what is occurring in Brazil and many parts of Africa. Closer to home Covid is ransacking Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Although the Summer Olympics are close to eighty days away, opinion polls suggest that 80% of the Japanese population, including Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka, do not want the Games to take place.
Australia whilst spectacularly free of contagion, is only moving spasmodically towards effective nationwide vaccination. However, for a country dependent on tourism, Australia is still constrained by the closure of its international borders. The constraints of our viral isolation policy have been underlined by the difficulties and controversies of returning stranded Australians, including feisty cricket players and coaches involved with the Indian Premier League, from the sub-continent.
To add to the world’s torment recent weeks have seen the eruption of bloody conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine and a further worsening of the refugee crisis in Northern Africa as citizens from many countries, including Libya and Morocco, seek refuge in foreign lands. Such is the desperation that many Moroccans have been prepared to swim fully clothed to a scrap of Spanish territory in the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life.
Thankfully the recently announced ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian forces on the Gaza strip seems to be effective. How can this conflict, rooted as it is in centuries of religious and geographical conflict, be resolved? The holiest lands for Christians, Jews and Muslims are only ever an outbreak of violence away from another political haemorrhage. The latest conflict began on the holiest day of the Islamic calendar.
The seeming impossibility of being able to agree on borders within East Jerusalem is problematic enough.
Add the tension caused by the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the refusal of the Hamas and Hezbollah factions of the Palestinian movement to recognise the legitimacy of Israel as a nation and one realises how the wisdom of many Solomons is needed to bring permanent peace to the region.
Israel, a land that would fit five times into Victoria is a fractured State, is besieged by the enmity of many of its neighbours, especially Iran. In such an atmosphere, the calm voices needed to agree on the boundaries of a ‘two-State’ solution seem more remote than ever. If many do not want the State of Israel to exist per se, how can there ever be agreement on how that State should be divided?
The world always delivers more question than we seemingly can answer.
During the inevitable rain delays at Roland Garros and the ridiculous time wasted by chair umpires climbing out of their courtside chairs to identify marks where balls have landed, maybe we can consider some questions arising out of recent events.
Here are my top seven:
1. To Josh Frydenberg: In 1987 when I borrowed money from the then government owned Commonwealth Bank to buy my first house it was an article of faith that I required a 20% deposit to secure a mortgage loan. It was another article of faith that no more than 30% of my gross income was to be spent repaying the loan. Why then Treasurer can you be so blasé about creating a national debt of close to a trillion dollars (yes, that is 1000 billion dollars, even when you say it quickly) by 2025 which will amount to some 40% of our Gross Domestic Product? Governments always seem to have different rules when spending the people’s money;
2. To Tim Pallas, the Victorian Treasurer: Recently an esteemed colleague’s elderly mother travelled to visit him in Melbourne from Yass by train. When she arrived, there was no-one to assist her at the station, she became disoriented and was ‘rescued’ by police. So, Mr. Pallas instead of spending over seven million on vouchers to give people cheap meals and drinks in Melbourne’s CBD, why do you not spend some money creating worthwhile employment opportunities including railway porters and assistants to help our growing numbers of elderly travellers?;
3. To the Commonwealth Bank: On a recent visit to a branch to deposit the contents of a money box, I took advantage of being with a teller to request a withdrawal. He told me to complete this transaction at a teller machine outside. Why? Because if I used the teller, I would be charged for the privilege. So, I said, are you telling me that people are being charged for the privilege of being able to speak to a person? It appears so. How can something so counter-intuitive become the policy of an organisation that purports to serve people?;
4. When will the advantages of Covid incumbency fade for governments in Australia? The Liberal government of Tasmania was returned on 1st May for a third successive term which is the first time the Liberal party has achieved this feat in the Apple Isle. Premier Gutwein has been able to achieve majority government on the election of a former Labor member of Parliament, Madeleine Ogilvie, being elected as a Liberal member! Even more bizarrely, Ms. Ogilvie is the related to a former Labor Premier of the State. The return of the Tasmanian government follows similar successes for the incumbent pandemic governments of Queensland, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia. Even a sex scandal surrounding a departing member of parliament in the New South Wales seat of Upper Hunter has not prevented the National Party from retaining the seat! For the electoral historians, the Tasmanian election created a slice of gender history: for the first time in Tasmania all five members elected for an electoral division- Clark- were female;
5. If you have all the money in the world, why can’t marital bliss be yours? After years of being charitable to others, Bill and Melinda Gates have announced their intention to separate- can’t buy me love indeed!;
6. When will Harry stop talking? Why would someone traumatised by the destructive effect of a surreptitious interview with his mother choose to use the same “intimate tell all” format to cause further anxiety for his family
7. Following his first-round loss in Geneva, should Roger Federer play in Paris or focus on the greener pastures of Wimbledon?
For the next fortnight we must ask who will prevail in Paris?
The defending champions are in ominous form.
Rafael Nadal recently won a staggering 10th Italian Open, defeating Djokovic in the final. It was Nadal’s 36th Masters Title which places him equal with Djokovic as the winner of most Masters’ crowns. It was his 88th title and Nadal now trails Djokovic 28-29 in their rivalry. Nadal has now won more 10 or more titles at four events: Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and, of course, his beloved Paris. He must start favourite as he pursues a record 21st Grand Slam title. Djokovic, Thiem and Zverev seem the logical dangers. Next-Gen hopeful Tsitsipas won in Monte Carlo but having been beaten by Nadal in an epic final in Barcelona, seems to have lost his momentum.
Arguably, Poland’s Iga Swiatek was more impressive in winning her Italian Open. In the final, she ‘double-bagelled’ the mercurial Karolina Pliskova 6-0 6-0. The whitewash evoked memories of the 1988 French Open Women’s final when Steffi Graf beat Belarus’ Natasha Zvereva by a similar score. The late and great American commentator Bud Collins touched Steffi’s shirt after the match in their post-match interview and said, “I just had to see if you raised a sweat.”
This year another Belarusian player, Aryna Sabalenka, may well reach the final. She and Ash Barty have shared clay court titles in Stuttgart and Madrid after playing gruelling three set finals against each other in each tournament. Barty had to withdraw with an arm injury in Rome; however, if she is fit must have great confidence that she can reprise her 2019 French triumph. In the mercurial world of contemporary women’s tennis, there is no certainty about what Halep, Serena Williams-still chasing what I think will be an eternally elusive 24th Grand Slam title- and Naomi Osaka may be capable of!
Let’s hope that this year’s French Open is a fortnight that provides more than its fair share of shining moments! The world could do with some illumination and inspiration.