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  • lydiajulian1

Paris never disappoints!

When Michael Chang won the French Open in 1989 defeating Stefan Edberg in five sets, he was just over 17 years old. The following year one of his sponsorship posters read, “Some young men go to Paris to study History, some go to Paris to make it.”

This year the French Open has provided us with a rich vein of history making events. The tournament which began in somewhat of an atmosphere desole has ended in a superbe celebatory mood. This is because of the achievements of a new Women’s champion, not much older than Chang was in 1989 and the unprecedented victory of Rafael Nadal, who has won his 13th French Open title aged 34, twice the age of Chang when he won his first.

In 2017, Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko went to Paris and created history becoming her nation’s first Grand Slam singles champion by winning her first ever tour title, which just happened to be a Grand Slam event. Ostapenko turned 20 during the tournament and defeated Simona Halep in the final.

Lightning has struck in the same place in Paris, although, in the event of a dangerous storm, spectators at Roland Garros stadium, now have a retractable roof to protect them.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek, the Wimbledon Junior champion of 2018, aged 19, has, like Ostapenko, won her first tour title by winning the French Open. She is Poland’s first Grand Slam singles champion.

The last Polish player to play in a French Women’s singles final was Jadwiga Jedrzewowska in the ominous year of 1939, losing to French player, Simonne Mathieu. More recently Poland’s Agnes Radwanska lost the 2012 Wimbledon final to Serena Williams.

Swiatek defeated this year’s Australian Open champion, Sofia Kenin, in the final in straight sets. The first set was a keen tussle, especially in its latter stages. However, in the second set Kenin, who was slightly hampered by a leg strain, was no match. Kenin should not feel too badly. She reached the final after being ‘double-bagelled’ in early rounds in Rome by Azarenka, 0-6 0-6. Kenin has had a remarkable year. As unknown as Swiatek this time last year, she has now reached two Grand Slam finals, joining a rare group of players who have won a Grand Slam final at their first attempt.

Swiatek swept past everyone in the tournament. Iga did not drop a set in the tournament and only conceded 28 games in her seven matches. Ranked 54th in the world, Swiatek, like Ostapenko beat the No.1 seed, Simona Halep en route to her title. This unexpected victory came in the fourth round, with Swiatek conceding only three games.

Simona Halep has proved me wrong and right in equal measure. Last week having written that Halep was “unassailable” in her quest for the French title, she then proceeded to lose to Swiatek. However, I did qualify my boldness by observing that we have all been reminded that, “supreme confidence in the predictability of the future is rarely justified.”

Already the tennis gurus, including Chris Evert, are predicting “many more GS titles” for Swiatek. Maybe. Precocity can be a curse. Certainly, none of Iga’s future opponents will be making any glib assumptions about either her youth or inexperience. Surprisingly, Chang did not experience any further Grand Slam success after his remarkable victory in Paris, nor has Ostapenko after hers.

Following the Women’s final the German pairing of Andreas Mies and Kevin Kraweitz-maybe some Polish ancestry in that name also? - won their second successive French Men’s Doubles title and Australia’s Dylan Alcott won a second French Quad Men’s Wheelchair title.

Poland suffered the twin horrors of Nazi and Soviet occupation in the twentieth century. Another Eastern European country that was similarly blighted was Hungary. The family of Australia’s Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, fled Nazi oppression in Hungary and emigrated to Australia. Hungary’s only two Grand Slam singles champions also won their titles in Paris with Jozsef Asboth winning the Men’s Title in 1947 and Zsuzsa Kormoczy winning the Women’s Title in 1958.

This week the Treasurer created his own piece of fiscal history, by budgeting for the nation’s largest ever debt. This financial year’s deficit is forecasted to be $213.7 billion. Relax!

The Department of Treasury predicts that by 2030-31 the annual deficit will be wound back to a mere $53 billion. In the decade to come, gross national debt is forecast to rise to $1.8 trillion, a mere 55% of our Gross Domestic Product. Relax, again!

Our national debt to GDP ratio is far less than that of other countries including the United States, Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand. Opinion polls suggest that such fiscal burdens will not dissuade New Zealand’s voters from re-electing Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party for a second term in government, maybe with a majority in its own right, at this Saturday’s general election in the land of the long white cloud.

Our conservative pro-free-market government maintains that the expansionary Budget is consistent with its ideological principles. The Prime Minister has stated that its fiscal measures are designed to “get government in to assist business and then get out.” Sporting coaches may paraphrase this comment by saying “that’s an enormous IN and an even bigger OUT.”

For the Labor Party, there was not much more they could promise to spend! Accelerated income tax cuts were legislated by the end of the sitting week. The Liberal government enjoyed promoting their party as displaying the greater commitment to improving the economic circumstances of working-class Australians.

In response to the Budget, Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, has promised to provide universal and free childcare if a Labor government is elected. Remember Mark Latham’s 2004 election promise of “gold standard Medicare”? Albanese’s ‘free’ childcare, which will be provided to all families, even those with six-figure incomes, has a whiff of the same utopian vision. It always sounds good at the time. I seem to remember Tony Abbott’s promise to provide generous maternity leave payments ran aground amidst claims that they would unfairly indulge the affluent.

America’s national debt has reached such unimaginable levels that it is unlikely that anyone can regard it seriously anymore. For the moment, Americans are wrestling with other more immediate deficits: a shortfall of trust and respect in and for their leaders and insufficient confidence about their political structures being first and foremost.

The American mood of scepticism and schism is so strong that many Americans wonder whether their President truly had corona virus or was staging his own version of “fake news”. Many Americans cannot believe that in a nation where over 200,000 people have died of Covid-19 their President could blithely proclaim that people should not let Covid 19 “dominate their lives.” This week it was announced a militia plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan had been foiled. News of such events is no longer surprising.

Even more insidious was the President declaring that his nation was incapable of conducting a fair election, because of the likelihood of massive fraud with postal ballots. I suspect he believes that will this especially be the case with those ballots that record a vote for the Democratic Party candidate. As with so many of the President’s announcements there were elements of craziness, an interpretation of facts believed only by him and few others, hyperbole, divisiveness, and spite.

However, the demeanour and behaviour of the Vice-President, Mike Pence, and the Democratic Party’s Vice-Presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, in their televised debate revived hopes that a “gentler and kinder” political culture may still be possible in America. No doubt aware of the public’s adverse reaction to the barely disguised brawl that masqueraded as a Presidential debate, the combatants were determined but dignified in their responses. They managed to focus on the political, rather than exchanging personal insults.

Trump’s narcissism will not permit it, but looking at the polls at the moment, the Republican Party may just be wondering whether a Presidential resignation due to ill health and a last-minute replacement by a President Pence would be the October surprise of all time that could derail the Democratic Party. The President may believe he now has a “protective glow”, but will it be enough to insulate him from defeat? Also, is it just me, but has the absence of commentary on the health of the First Lady slightly surprising?

Unfortunately, Trumpian brusque and uncouth behaviour is not unknown amongst members of Australia’s media and casino owning Packer family, especially the deceased Kerry and his son, James. The Packers’ extraordinary levels of wealth have meant they have never had to worry about financial deficits. However, this week James Packer was questioned as to whether his Crown Casino company had ingloriously racked up sufficient deficits of corporate and quasi-criminal misbehaviour to disqualify the company from continuing to hold a casino licence.

Answering questions asked in Sydney, via the now ubiquitous Zoom network, whilst aboard his super-yacht moored off Tahiti, James Packer demonstrated that those who do not study the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them. He evoked memories of dishonourable Australian businessmen Alan Bond and Christopher Skase when they were examined about their lack of corporate probity. Like Bond and Skase, James maintained that his failure to recall whom he bullied and/or intimidated , or why he was not aware of alleged money laundering to criminal networks within his casinos, was because of late onset medical conditions for which he is now receiving medication.

So, you see, it was not really James Packer behaving badly or negligently at the time. It was just an undiagnosed part of himself. I do hope James can remember where he next wants to sail on his yacht. Trinidad? Or is it Tobago?

The Men’s Final at this year’s French Open was the 56th meeting between the Djokovic and Nadal, the most in a rivalry between two men in the Open Era, still short of the famed 80 match rivalry of Navratilova and Evert-Lloyd (N 43-EL37). Djokovic has played Federer 50 (D-27-F 23) times and Nadal has played Federer on 40 (N26-F14) occasions. Following Nadal’s victory, Djokovic still leads this rivalry 29-27.

It was their ninth meeting in a Grand Slam final: 2 x Australian, 3 x French, 1 x Wimbledon and 3 x US Open. Nadal now leads Djokovic 5-4 in title deciders. En route to the final Nadal did not lose a set, Djokovic only three.

What of ‘the Next Generation’? Tsitsipas took two sets from Djokovic in their semi-final; Thiem lost his quarter-final to Nadal’s Italian conqueror, Diego Schwartzman, in five sets in just over five hours. Zverev, played with a flu- not Covid 19-losing in the fourth round to Italian Jannik Sinner. They are thereabouts, but not there yet.

Before the Men’s final, Hungary’s Timea Babos and France’s Kristina Mladenovic successfully defended their Women’s Doubles title. Nadal and Djokovic came onto the court each being able to claim another nugget of tennis history. A 13th French Open title for Nadal would be a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title. If Djokovic triumphed he would be the first man in the Open Era to win every Grand Slam title at least twice as part of his suite of 18 titles.

Nadal’s emphatic win exceeded anyone’s reasonable predictions and I suspect his own: 6-0 6-2 7-5 in just over two and a quarter hours. It was Nadal’s 100th victory at Roland Garros, set alongside only two losses. This was the fourth time he has won the title without losing a set. A 13th Grand Slam victory at the one tournament moves him further ahead of Margaret Court’s eleven Australian Open victories and Martina’s nine wins at Wimbledon. It is the greatest number of victories by a tennis player at any tournament of the Open Era, exceeding Martina’s dozen victories in Chicago. Quite simply, it is an achievement that is incomparable.

It could be argued that Nadal’s dominance in Paris is the greatest individual domination of a sporting event in history. Who would be rival candidates? Three of them are Australian: Walter Lindrum in billiards, Heather Mackay in squash and Bradman in cricket.

Lindrum was the world champion from 1933-1950, but for many of these years he did not have a challenger. Mackay lost only two matches in her entire career (in 1960 and 1962), and won the British Open, considered the world title of the game, from 1962-1977, without dropping a set in any of her finals. She was unbeaten in competitive squash matches from 1962 through to 1981. When she retired in 1981 at the age of 40, McKay had gone nearly 20 years undefeated. Bradman’s much remembered betting average of 99.94 is sui generis and probably will always be.

This is another good debate to have alongside GOAT discussions! I present four other nominees:

1. Al Oerter, four-time Olympic discus champion from 1956-1968 in the discus;

2. Edwin Moses in the 400 metre hurdles. From August 26, 1977 to June 4, 1987, Moses won every single 400m hurdles race he contested, adding a second Olympic gold on home soil in Los Angeles in 1984. His unbeaten streak lasted 9 years, 9 months and 9 days and during it, he won 122 races;

3. Michael Phelps. He, like Oerter, won four successive gold medals in one Olympic event, the 200 metres individual medley, as part of his 28 medal haul over four Olympics, 23 of them gold!; and

4. Usain Bolt who won the 100 and 200 metre sprint double at three successive Olympics.

What distinguishes these elite athletes? One factor must be their ability to constantly manage and absorb enormous pressure, not just managing it but crafting inspired performances because of it.

Sometimes, pressure is too much for anyone. There are moments when pressure becomes overwhelming. The recent suicide of a Federal Court Circuit judge is a reminder that people, often those expected to be most in control, are often not. There are moments when random pressures of nature, physics and/or biology tragically take lives. This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the Westgate bridge disaster when, during its construction, a panel collapsed killing 35 workers.

I learnt this week that Daphne Akhurst*, who won five Australian Open titles in the 1920s and after whom the Open’s trophy for the Women’s singles is named, died at a terribly early age of 29 in 1933 because of complications associated with an ectopic pregnancy. Transfusions were not possible at that time, so not even a general anaesthetic could save her.

Victorians, especially those in metropolitan Melbourne, continue to absorb great personal and economic pressures as the State’s Covid-19 lockdown continues. Hopes of an accelerated relaxation to lockdown measures have been dashed by stubbornly high daily numbers of new cases. However, some liberation, especially from personal rather than commercial constraints, may be announced this Sunday.

The challenge for Melbourne is to transform its mood from desole to optimiste a la Paris over the last fortnight. My concern is that our didactic Premier, supported by an overly closed cabal of advisers, is only just starting to realise the strain the Melbourne community is experiencing. Dan Andrews seems to prefer persistent repetition of a message, rather than reflective judgement. His daily refrain of “we will be driven by the science and data” is wearing thin.

The willingness of Melbourne’s citizens to display the esprit de corps needed to observe the lockdown restrictions is not limitless. Message to Dan: the science and data may now be informing you that your stated target of daily cases is likely to be unattainable. Admit that circumstances and situations have changed and that you do not want to pursue the unobtainable at the risk of even greater economic and social collapse. Excessive stubbornness can be as damaging as excessive weakness. Conversely, recognising and acknowledging when there is a need to alter the direction of a policy can be a sign of great strength.

So, the 2020 Grand Slam season ends! Who would have thought that after the abandonment of Wimbledon that we would see both the US Open and French Open take place? Three out of the four is remarkable in all the circumstances.

What is even more remarkable is that the 2020 year ends with Nadal and Federer tied on 20/20 Grand Slam titles! They are both primus inter pares of the tennis pantheon and are likely to remain so. The next tantalising prospect is whether either or both may be able to celebrate a 21st Grand Slam success in 2021.

By the time of next year’s US Open, their combined age will be 75, which would ordinarily suggest that their chances of winning further titles are unlikely. The sport of tennis is blessed that Nadal and Federer continue to create their own tennis histories. Their sublime talents ensure that extraordinary achievements continue to be commonplace and likely for them, but for no-one else.


*One of the delights of writing in the ‘blogosphere’ is the connections you make. Richard Naughton, a legal academic based in Melbourne is one of these connections. He is a published author on aspects of tennis history. This November his work on the life of Daphne Akhurst will be published and will be on sale in stores and directly via Slattery’s in November.

Richard comments that his work on Daphne “is a historical discussion about Australia’s leading female player of the 1920s, the administration of tennis in the 1920s, the first two teams of Australian women to travel internationally, and about the people who were writing about the game at that time.” Further details to be provided!

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