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  • Julian Dowse

Aus Open 2019: The Next Generation cometh - well maybe for the women, but not yet for the men

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

Last year, an engaging Australian film, Ladies in Black, was released. Set in Sydney in 1959 it is a ‘coming of age’ story of a young girl from an unprepossessing background whose world of opportunity suddenly expands when she attains outstanding Year 12 results. Throw in sub-plots about the emancipation of women in the workplace and the bedroom and the experiences of ‘new Australians’ and you had a charming recollection of an era of Australian society, whose manners and mores are almost entirely gone.

In one scene the protagonist’s father, who is a printing press operator is watching the Sydney horse races on his black and white television (remember them?). Unfortunately, the first race that can be heard being broadcast is the 1966 Melbourne Cup. The next race is the 1954 Melbourne Cup. To compound this felony of editing, the horses are running in the Sydney clockwise direction, not the Melbourne anti-clockwise direction. With the help of a good friend who is a media lawyer to the stars, I was able to contact the film’s director and advise her of these errors. She courteously replied and said that whilst she acknowledged the oversight, I was the only person who had noticed the fault and reminded me that essentially “all films were fiction and one had to accept them as that”. Well, yes, but not quite. Even fictional films set in Sydney in 1959 are not accurate if they depict events of 1966 and 1954.

So, once again, art imitates life. Much of the world that we must accept as real appears so bizarre as to be fictional or, worse still, unironically comical.

Take the fates of arguably the two most powerful nations of the last three hundred years, Great Britain and the United States of America.

Britain, once the most powerful trading nation in the world, is now economically and politically paralysed by not being able to find a solution to how it will trade in its own backyard when it is no longer a member of the European Union. It has a government that repeatedly loses votes on seminal pieces of legislation yet continues to have the confidence of the House of Commons. Westminster conventions of responsible government, seemingly assured for centuries, now appear to be a ruse.

At least the members of the British parliament can assemble to debate. Across the Atlantic, the American Congress has been closed for weeks as the President and his political opponents seek to claim moral superiority over plans to erect a wall between America and Mexico. Most Americans would probably believe that George H. Bush, their gentlemanly and respectful President from 1989-1993, who died shortly before Christmas at the age of 94, would not have allowed such partisan venom to contaminate Capitol Hill.

Of course, the Berlin Wall was not built in 1959, but it was three years later. There is nothing fictional about the horror that it brought to the newly divided Berlin. Mind you in 1959 China was one of the West’s great enemies. There are signs that the end of Cold War tensions, that was promised with the collapse of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago this November, is another fictional notion. China and Canada are currently embroiled in a nasty diplomatic stoush over the ‘tit for tat’ arrest and detention of their respective citizens. Australia has also had one of its citizens detained in China for bringing “disgrace to the State.”

Thank goodness that Yang Hengjun’s arrest coincided with a visit to the Great Hall of the People by our Defence Minister, Christopher Pyne. Given his government has almost spent the cost of the proposed America/Mexico border wall to allow the French to design and build submarines to shore up the economy of Mr. Pyne’s South Australia and his appeal in the electorate of Sturt, it only seems right that he should defend our democratic principles as well.

Democratic principles are also being put to the test in Venezuela. The oil-rich Latin American country whose experiment with a socialist economy has led to the collapse of its living standards is now embroiled in a civil dispute about the outcome of a recent Presidential election.

Russia’s President Putin, whom Donald Trump’s critics believe interfered in the 2016 election to secure his election, has warned the President not to take sides in the dispute. Much like Putin has done in Syria and the Ukraine!

Of course, democracies are always being tested. Brazil’s newly elected conservative President has been forced to take leave from his newly acquired job because of illness. The interim President will have much to do to respond to a ghastly tailings dam collapse that has recently claimed hundreds of lives. Indonesia has a Presidential election over nine days in April this year and Canadians will be voting on the first four years of Justin Trudeau’s government in October. And, of course, Australians will be heading to the polls, most likely in May just before the start of the French Open.

Our current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is the member for Cook, which is named after James Cook, who was the first European to sight and chart the east coast of Australia in 1770. More recently, England’s former cricket captain, Alistair Cook, retired in a blaze of glory, culminating in a swashbuckling century in his final innings. Clearly, Scott Morrison is seeking to evoke the endeavours and achievements of Captains Cook past as he attempts to navigate a path to an unlikely electoral victory. During the Australian Open, he announced that his government would fund the building of a replica of James Cook’s Endeavour, so an re-enactment of its voyage would be possible in the 250th year of the original voyage. Bill Shorten accused the Prime Minister of having “a fetish with James Cook” and reminded him that it was Matthew Flinders who circumnavigated the whole continent. Right on cue, the remains of Flinders were located under Euston Station in an excavation made necessary by the construction of a very fast train from London to Birmingham. As proud as Flinders, an inveterate traveller if ever there was one would be to be exhumed to make way for the trains, why the rush to reach Birmingham?

Captains Cook, James and Alistair, would no doubt remind the Prime Minister that their success was built to a great degree on loyalty and unity of purpose. Unfortunately, Mr. Morrison does not seem able to count on such stability. At the risk of overusing the marine metaphors, the rats have started to leave what appears to be a doomed ship. During the Australian Open, Cabinet Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, former Cabinet Minister and now Minister for Human Services, Michael Keenan and Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Senator Nigel Scullion all announced their intention not to contest the forthcoming election.

Whilst the Prime Minister would have preferred the focus to be on the achievements of the Australians of the Year who are the remarkable Richard Harris and Craig Challen who were central to the successful rescue of the members of the trapped Thai soccer team from a cave in July last year, there was pressure on the Prime Minister to try and staunch the flow of Ministerial desertions. And we still have not heard of the intentions of former Foreign Affairs Minister and now Australia’s merry political widow, Julie Bishop!- will this election be the ‘Curtin’ on her political career?

For decades the inevitable political assessment of the efforts of those who held the office of Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Australia and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, was that they always left their time in office with “much still to be done.” However, in recent years, notwithstanding the recent detonation of a car bomb in Londonderry, genuine progress in improving the Irish ‘problem’ can be seen.

Regrettably, this is not the case in Australia concerning indigenous affairs. Days after indigenous player Ashleigh Barty became the first Australian to reach the quarter-finals of Women’s Singles at the Australian Open for over a decade, Australia Day celebrations were anything but for many in the community. Calls to change the date of Australia Day out of respect for the indigenous community from former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, ignited another round in the seemingly endless debate about national identity and reconciliation. On Australia Day itself, the perennial RAAF Roulettes performed their aerial tricks in the sky above Melbourne. Watching their exhilarating and seemingly effortless ‘loop the loops’, somersaults, turns and dives in the sky, it was easy to forget the skirmishes on ground level as thousands protested against the continued recognition of 26th January as our national day.

However, whilst the Roulettes have a designated flight plan that assures their protection and safe progress, the minefield that is Aboriginal relations in this country remains. Should there be a referendum to recognise the indigenous population in the Constitution? If so, should the embracing words be in the pre-amble or be a section of the Constitution itself? Is such recognition mere tokenism with a greater need existing for a constitutionally enshrined Aboriginal voice in the Parliament? What is to become of Australia Day? How will chronic disadvantage end in Aboriginal communities? Like so many of the world’s problems, the evidence of the dilemma is all too apparent, but its resolution appears as elusive as ever.

Thank goodness the Australian Open gives us two weeks to pretend the world is just a carnival where diversions, even the inclusion of heinous Fortnite gaming as a tournament event, of many sorts can make us forget Banking and Aged Care Royal Commissions, collapsing exchange rates and property prices, persistent droughts and bushfires in the Commonwealth’s coldest State. Speaking of cold, the Australian Open can always be guaranteed to coincide with some of summer’s hottest days, with Melbourne baking under two forty degree days during the tournament’s second week.

Attempts by the population to keep cool were frustrated by the inability of the nation’s power grid to deliver sufficient supplies. Brexit is perhaps the greatest failure of public policy and administration in British history since the Dardanelles campaign. However, the failure of our nation, to generate and supply enough domestic electricity for its citizens during spells of hot weather, whilst we continue to be a net exporter of energy resources, must rank as one of Australia’s most spectacular public policy embarrassments. Politicians close coal-fired power stations without providing for alternative sources of energy and wonder why the system fails to cope.

Thank goodness the Greens Leader, Richard de Natale, reminded us that enduring a power blackout was simply the price we had to pay for the “existential crisis” we have created for ourselves. The constant assurances from Directors of the National Energy Grid during heatwaves that power agencies were “moving forward” when supplies of power were being diminished added to the insult.

Away from governments failing to guarantee reliable supplies of electricity, our well-intentioned rulers have found other areas to meddle where they should not. The idea that State governments should act to test pills taken at music festivals to ensure that drug-takers are protected joins the list of myopic middle-class crusades that are entirely nonsensical. People, not governments, should make the decision whether to ingest potentially deadly substances.

Even if such a policy was implemented it is simply guaranteed to fail, because of the utter impossibility of being effective. Since when have all the consequences of ill-informed personal decisions been the government’s fault? As if to prove the calamity of such a policy, the NSW Premier has recently had to remind people that her government’s wish to provide support to drug users should not be interpreted by citizens as a reason to take drugs. Who would have thought?

Nevertheless, if our various electricity companies had been able to harness the heat and vitriol of the debate between Australia’s tennis players, past and present at the start of the tournament no domestic thermostats would have required adjustment and the dishwashers would have been able to run freely. In a debate that mirrored the failure of the national body politic, personal feuds were put above all else and no-one emerged the wiser or more dignified. Bernard Tomic, two minutes into a purported comeback and one minute after his first round loss to Marian Cilic, accused Lleyton Hewitt of thuggery, nepotism and conflicts of interest. Hewitt volleyed back with counter-claims of intimidation and violence from the Tomic family. See you in court everybody, but back on the tennis court Australia’s parlous status as a powerhouse of the sport was confirmed. As brave and encouraging as Barty’s run was to the quarter-finals, her efforts were in splendid isolation. No other Australian player earned the right to play in the fourth round. Samantha Stosur, our sole Grand Slam Singles champion since Evonne Cawley in 1980, had a swansong of sorts. She teamed with China’s Zhang Shuai and as an unseeded team won the Women’s Doubles title by defeating defending champions Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos.

Another unseeded Australian pairing, John-Patrick Smith and Astra Sharma delighted with their wildcard run to the finals of the Mixed Doubles where they lost to the Czech/ American pairing of Barbora Krejcikova and Rajeev Ram. Australia’s John Peers teamed with Finland’s Henri Kontinen as 12th seeds to reach the Men’s Doubles final but were not able to add another title to their 2017 success. They were beaten in straight sets by the fifth seeded French pair of Nicolas Mahut ( forever to be remembered as the vanquished in the longest match in professional tennis history against John Isner in the first round of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, especially now the AELTC has introduced tie-breakers to decide a fifth set once games are tied at 12-12) and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Mahut and Herbert claimed their first Australian title to add to a triumph at Roland Garros last year and Wimbledon in 2016.

En route to the title Mahut and Herbert, sans gilets jaune, defeated the Bryan brothers, who were re-united after injury forced their separation at last year’s US Open, where Mike Bryan won the title with Jack Sock, in the fourth round. The chest-bouncing brothers won the first of their 16 Grand Slam titles at the French Open in 2003, the same year that Roger Federer won the first of his 20 Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon. The fourth round at this year’s Australian Open was also to be Roger’s nemesis, but more of that later.

Alex De Minaur and Matthew Ebden proved their determination and sportsmanship but were outclassed by a resurgent Rafael Nadal. Daria Gavrilova and Samantha Stosur each lost in the first round as did Nick Kyrgios. For Kyrgios, it was a galling loss, even to the well-credentialled Milos Raonic. It was the first time he had lost in the first round of the Australian Open. Luckily, the game’s new broadcaster, Channel Nine, salved his wounds by offering him work as a commentator where he could observe the game’s more dedicated and accomplished players. As John McEnroe observed of Kyrgios, it is no good “complaining that you are injured, lose your ranking and have to face seeds in the first round if you have not done the work to be fit and maintain your ranking.” Sometimes, life is very simple. For Australian tennis, the question of when its next generation will take root, remains pertinent.

This question is also at the heart of the game itself. For the first time last year the ATP staged a ‘Next Generation’ tournament to herald the arrival of the new “young guns” of players aged 21 and under. Australia’s De Minaur was runner up to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. At the end of the year 21 year old Alexander Zverev defeated both Federer and Djokovic to win the end of season ATP Finals, but it was not enough to deprive Djokovic of the end of year No.1 ranking for the fifth time. Djokovic regained the numero uno ranking at the end of the Paris Masters tournament where he beat Federer in a three hour best of three sets match. Prior to Paris Djokovic beat Federer in straight sets in the Cincinnati Masters becoming the first player to win all nine Masters tournaments. Djokovic came to the Australian Open with a winning 25-22 record against Federer.

The Bible tells us that one generation cometh and one passeth away. Many thought that this year’s Australian Open would be the harbinger of emphatic change in the Men’s game. Who would have blamed them? Nadal came to Australia not having played a tournament since the US Open and had to withdraw from the Brisbane tournament because of a thigh injury; Andy Murray made an emotional declaration that he had come to the end of his playing road; Djokovic’s surprise loss in the ATP finals to Zverev was followed by another loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in the final at Doha and the fact that Roger Federer would have to defy history to become the tournament’s oldest champion all added to the sense that seminal sporting change may well be in the air. After all, India had just beaten Australia in a cricket Test series on Australian soil for the first time; however, some sporting certitudes remained. Wild Oats XI won her ninth line-honours title in the Sydney- Hobart yacht race and Winx was spelling in her paddock after having won an unprecedented fourth consecutive Cox Plate and her 29th successive race.

The Women’s competition confirmed the depth and unpredictability of the current crop of female players.

It is still hard not to think of the lead-up tournaments to the Open as anything other than “Seven’s Summer of tennis” and they confirmed that currently nothing is certain in women’s tennis in a good and competitive way.

Angelique Kerber played strongly in the Hopman Cup, Karolina Pliskova won in Brisbane and Petra Kvitova rallied from a set and 0-3 to beat Ashleigh Barty in Sydney. With No.1 seed Simona Halep returning after injury, Serena Williams seeking to claim an elusive 24th Open Era Grand Slam title, Caroline Wozniacki aiming to defend her sole Grand Slam triumph, Maria Sharapova seeking to prove she was still a potent force and an injury cloud hanging over Naomi Osaka, predictions as to the likely Australian champion were problematic.

In the end Grand Slam winning form prevailed. Having defeated Serena Williams to win her first Grand Slam title Naomi Osaka became the first player to win consecutive Grand Slam Women’s titles since Serena in 2015. Her victory saw Osaka also become the first female player to win a Grand Slam title immediately after winning her maiden title since Jennifer Capriati won Australian and French titles in 2001. Significantly, Osaka’s victory saw her become the first Japanese player to be ranked No.1 in the world.

Most importantly, Osaka was able to celebrate her victory without the rancorous aftermath of the United States Open final where Williams’ petulance marred the entire occasion. Osaka and Williams were seeded to meet in the semi-finals at Melbourne; however, Serena forfeited a 5-1 final set lead and match points against Karolina Pliskova in their quarter-final to leave the game’s most successful modern champion still one title adrift of Margaret Court’s Grand Slam tally.

Serena has not won a Grand Slam title since pregnancy stopped her playing after her victory at the 2017 Australian Open. To her credit, Serena refused to blame a rolled ankle for her implosion against Pliskova and showed signs of her imperious best in beating Halep in a pulsating three set fourth round match.

There was much to admire in the efforts of Petra Kvitova who was playing in her first Grand Slam final since recovering from a horrific home invasion that saw her left playing hand nearly rendered useless. Kvitova’s swinging serve enabled her to rally in the second set and remarkably save three match points at 3-5. Osaka lost her customary resolve and suddenly the match entered a final set. However, Osaka’s range of penetrating groundstrokes proved too consistent at pivotal times. I was present at Osaka’s third round match where she was a point away from a 2-5 deficit in the second set, having lost the first. She simply resolved to hit the ball harder and stormed away to win the match. The lady has pluck and power, together with an endearing modesty that seems to enable her to focus singularly on the power and placement of her shots, even if she did not come to the net once during the final! Kvitova’s grace and gratitude for being able to once again play at the highest level was touching as it was genuine.

For many years the Gillette company who manufacture mens’ shaving products ran an advertising campaign declaring that its products “were the best a man could get.” Roger Federer, along with other famous sportsmen, including Thierry Henry and Tiger Woods, were the faces of this campaign. Federer was very much the right man for the slogan. For many years Federer was the best a man has been at tennis. His renaissance of 2017-2018 saw him reclaim the World’s No.1 ranking and take his Grand Slam tally to twenty. The defending Australian Open champion appeared as imperious as ever in his first three matches, not conceding a set.

However, in his fourth round match against Next Gen champion, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Federer’s quest for a 100th career title was derailed. An uncharacteristically unshaven Federer was defeated in four sets in a wonderful match that I was fortunate to witness.

For the first time I could recall Federer was unable to convert any of the break points-12-that came his way. His failure to claim one of four set points in the second set was pivotal as Tsitsipas rallied to claim the second set, before winning the match in a fourth set tiebreak. John McEnroe introduced Tsitsipas to the crowd as the “changing of the guard”, a claim that Federer dismissed in a post-match press conference as “something he has heard before.”

If Federer, who is 38 in August, may not be quite the best he was, the Gillette company has decided that men are not predisposed to be the best they can be. In another ripple of the #MeToo movement, Gillette released a new advertising campaign during the Open that, far from celebrating the bristling energy of men, suggested that, even as boys, males are predisposed to aggression and insensitivity towards others. Well, at least a new chapter can be written in the advertising manuals about the ability to gain a greater share of the market by insulting a company’s target market.

Federer is recognised as man of style. His ‘RF’ monogrammed jacket at Wimbledon, which for some was a touch arrogant, was worn with confidence. Roger’s sense of style and prominence has led him to a friendship with Anna Wintour, the British born editor of American Vogue. After all he once said that “I wear the clothes, they do not wear me”. The high priestess of fashion was a guest of Tennis Australia. Whilst Gillette were busy running advertisements warning men not to embrace their inherently dark side, Tennis Australia invited Anna Wintour to be the guest speaker at yet another breakfast seeking to “empower women.” Another guest at the breakfast was Julie Bishop, who along with Julia Banks the former Liberal now independent member for Chisholm, have recently spoken out about the need for the Liberal Party to select and empower more female candidates. The strange thing is that neither Bishop nor Banks made such comments whilst they were in positions of power and influence, but only chose to do so when their preferred leader and male patron was defeated.

Ms. Wintour chose to make shrill and ignorant remarks at the breakfast about Margaret Court and Scott Morrison. It was as if Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the American House of Representatives had come to town to offer advice. Ms. Pelosi believes that her disapproval of the President entitles her to ban him from visiting Congress to deliver the State of the Union address. Ms. Wintour believes that because she disapproves of Margaret Court’s opposition to same-sex marriage no one should play in a court named in her honour. Does it every occur to Anna that it was people like Margaret Court who pioneered the recognition of women in sport and society in a manner that greatly helped her and other women to attain their current standing? After all, Margaret Court only managed to garner a greater collection of Grand Slam titles (64) than any other man or woman at a time when women did not compete for equal prizemoney.

Attacking the Prime Minister, Ms.Wintour was aghast that Australia had laws that could see gay students expelled from schools for reason of their sexuality. Memo to Ms.Wintour: Mr. Morrison is seeking to remove a section of a law that could have been used in that manner but has not been done so to date. The relevant law was provided to allow faith schools to discriminate in favour of employing staff and selecting students of the school’s faith. It was neither intended, not was it ever used as a vanguard of homophobic oppression.

Is there anything more galling than self-promoting “democrats” of the Wintour/Pelosi variety whose view of democracy rests on all others agreeing with them? For Ms.Wintour there is a whiff of fashionista fascism about her comments: “cut to my cloth, or not at all.”

Maybe future guest speakers at tennis breakfasts should choose just to talk about tennis.

There was much talk that Tsitsipas’ victory over Federer was the harbinger of change, especially when he defeated Bautista-Agut to reach the semi-finals. However, ‘Next-Gen’ failed to fire after that. Alexander Zverev was outclassed by Milos Raonic in their fourth round match, although he did find enough energy to obliterate a racquet in a courtside tirade that ranks with the finest of the game’s history. The fourth ranked player in the world has only played in one Grand Slam quarter-final. However, America’s Francis Tiafoe celebrated his 21st birthday with a win against 20th seed and one-time “next best thing”, Grigor Dimitrov, to reach his first quarter-final before being outclassed by Nadal. Both Dominic Thiem and David Goffin wilted in the heat.

Nadal commented after one of his early victories, his first three being against the Australian players, Duckworth, Ebden and De Minaur, that whilst the next generation may be coming, he was not quite ready to accept that their time had arrived.

Both he and Djokovic confirmed that they were reluctant to cede their authority with extraordinarily one-sided semi-final victories. Nadal beat Tsitsipas 6-2 6-4 6-0 to enter his fifth Australian Open final without having dropped a set, whilst not to be outdone Djokovic outclassed France’s Lucas Pouille, who like Tsitsipas was playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final 6-0 6-2 6-2. Djokovic had only lost one set en-route to the final when, by his own admission, he became cranky with himself whilst playing Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in the third round.

It was to be the first meeting of Nadal and Djokovic in an Australian Open final since their monumental battle in 2012 which Djokovic won in the fifth set after close to six hours of play. When Djokovic was asked about the prospect of a similar contest this year, he said that the introduction of super tie-breakers would make that unlikely. Although he may have been hopeful of a quicker win in 2019, even Djokovic could not have dreamt of the overwhelming nature of his victory.

Djokovic’s straight sets victory over Nadal in the final reminded me of John McEnroe’s defeat of Jimmy Connors in the 1984 Wimbledon final. In these matches McEnroe and Djokovic played almost flawless tennis against players of extraordinary ability and resolve. In the final Djokovic made only nine unforced errors. He only made five in his semi-final making for an impossibly miserly fourteen in six sets of tennis in the final two rounds of a Grand Slam tournament!

Djokovic’s victory was completed in shorter time than the Women’s final. It was a match of 142 points, compared to Kvitova’s and Osaka’s 228. Having not lost a set before the final, Nadal, for the first time lost a Grand Slam final in straight sets.

Nadal, like Kvitova, was a gracious loser praising Djokovic and celebrating his delight in returning to a Grand Slam final after not having played since the US Open.

If Federer’s revival in 2017 after his knee injury was impressive, Djokovic’s return to the top of the game after his elbow surgery a year ago is astounding.

Djokovic does not elicit the same personal support and adoration as is displayed for either Federer or Nadal. During the tournament he expressed his frustration about not being supported more enthusiastically. Novak even tried to introduce some ‘Aussie’ vernacular into his post-match interviews to create a more personable image. He needs to remember that not everyone can be loved equally and that, for many, he is the player that stalked and shot down both Federer and Nadal.

Subjective emotions may vary in response to Djokovic, but the tennis numbers do not lie:

  • Djokovic now holds three of the four Grand Slam titles. Victory at Roland Garros would see him hold all four titles for the second time in his career- neither Federer nor Nadal have accomplished this feat;

  • His seventh Australian Open title is a tournament record. Roy Emerson, holder of six titles (1961,1963-1967), was at the final to witness Djokovic’s triumph along with Rod Laver (1962,1969), Ken Rosewall (1953,1955,1971,1972) and Frank Sedgman (1949,1950);

  • Djokovic has never lost a final in seven appearances at Rod Laver Arena, just as Nadal has never lost a final in eleven appearances at Roland Garros;

  • He is now the third most successful Grand Slam player of all time with 15 titles (7 Australian, 1 French, 4 Wimbledon and 3 US Opens), behind Nadal’s 17 and Federer’s 20; and

  • Djokovic is the only player of the Great Three to have a winning record against the other two: he respectively now leads Nadal 28-25 and Federer 25-22 in their rivalries; Remarkably, despite his greater haul of Grand Slam titles, Federer trails both Nadal and Djokovic in their ‘head to head’ contests.

Djokovic (25-11), Nadal (17-7) and Federer (14-11) all have winning records against the gritty Andy Murray whose imminent retirement is worthy of note. In any other era, Murray would have been the world’s best player. It should never be forgotten how remarkable it is that three of the world’s greatest ever players- arguably the three greatest plus Murray as one of the finest- have all played in the same era. Since 2005, when Federer and Nadal each won Grand Slam titles, the quartet have won 52 of the last 57 Grand Slam titles.

The pressure borne by Andy Murray to become the United Kingdom’s first Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry in 1936 was immense and his victory over Djokovic in the 2013 final will long be remembered as will his Olympic straight sets Gold Medal win over Federer at Wimbledon in 2012. Murray also played a pivotal role in Britain winning the Davis Cup in 2015, also for the first time since 1936. In the 1936 Challenge Round England defeated Australia 3-2 at Wimbledon with Fred Perry defeating Jack Crawford in the final rubber. What a shame to think that this year will no longer see the Davis Cup competed for in this format.

The French Open will be held from 26th May- 9th June. Will Ms. May still be England’s Prime Minister at the end of that month? It is probable that Australians will also have voted by the start of the tournament. The most recent Newspoll has been interpreted as a tonic for Prime Minister Morrison. On current figures his government will only lose 14 seats compared to a previously predicted 21. I guess this marginal improvement is akin to Napoleon being told that Waterloo will end in his routing, but an hour earlier than previously thought. All the odds are against Morrison retaining government, but do not rule out the election of another hung parliament. It seems that the success of Kerryn Phelps in winning Wentworth has spawned a range of similar challenges to incumbent members by high-profile independent candidates. The announcement of Zali Steggall’s challenge to Tony Abbott in Warringah may well be the first of many. A gold medallist at the Winter Olympics, a practising barrister and of the political right, Steggall represents another chapter in the evolution of gender/ environmental/anti-establishment politics in Australia.

Can Djokovic and Osaka continue their vein of Grand Slam winning form? Can Halep and Nadal defend their titles? Will Federer, conscious of the ebbing of time, elect to play on the clay? Will the gilets jaune disrupt the tournament? Will there be a hard or soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland? What type of border will exist between Mexico and the United States? As always, Paris will be an intriguing place to be.

Julian Dowse

30th January, 2019

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