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The sweltering September slam awaits

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

The forthcoming first day of September in the southern hemisphere is heralded as the first day of spring, whilst for Americans it is the first day of their “fall.” Before we know it citizens in both countries will be adjusting their clocks as daylight saving comes and goes. In America’s autumn, it is a case of clocks “springing forward and falling backward”, whereas in Australia’s Federation of observers and non-observers, clocks move forward in some States, but not in others. For most of its spring and summer, Australia’s six states and territories have four different time zones. At 10.00 a.m. in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Hobart, it is 7.00 a.m. in Perth, 8.30 a.m. in Darwin and 9.00 a.m. in Brisbane.

And why not ? Most of the world seems fractured and fragmented, so why should time zones be any different? Spaniards cannot decide who is to govern them. Thailand has only just returned to democratic rule after its recent elections if you can call jailing a former Prime Minister and its parliament appointing the Opposition leader democracy. Every political development in Thailand still seems conditional on the approval of its military. So, too in Pakistan where its junta has jailed former President Imran Khan. The military has also had its way in Niger coup promising to return to civilian government in three years- that promise rivals Albanese’s “every Australian household’s power bill shall be reduced by $250.00” for sheer incredulity.

Not to be outdone, Vladimir Putin has extended the jail term of his most prominent opponent, Alexei Navalny, by a mere nineteen years. Israel’s combative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken a constitutional wrecking ball to Israel’s separation of powers doctrine by emasculating the nation’s courts. Personal fractures are also taking place amongst the world’s leadership. Canada’s Prime Minister has announced his marital separation just as his father, Pierre, did when he led the land of “the true North.”

South of the Canadian border the family fractures are potentially more serious. The alleged misdeeds of President Bident’s son, Hunter, are growing at a rate equal to grand jury indictments against former President Trump.

Thanksgiving in America may well be a hollow national celebration this year considering that in under a year Americans may have to choose between two increasingly tarnished candidates when electing their President.

Of course, true hemispheric change to autumn and spring does not take place until the equinox on 21st September. The US Open which starts next Tuesday often sees it players sweltering in the late sapping and humid days of a New York summer. The conditions on Flushing Meadows’ courts are far removed from the “mists and mellow fruitfulness” of a poetic autumn. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has declared that the world has moved from global warming to an era of “global boiling.”

One can only hope that the temperatures are not as great as those across the northern hemisphere since Wimbledon. Tragic fires in Greece and Hawaii and wildfires in Canada have accompanied heatwaves across most of Europe. Tourists making their traditional summer pilgrimage to Europe were literally stopped in their tracks. So hot was Athens that it was considered dangerous to let people visit the Acropolis. This week Madrid and Athens are still baking in temperatures in the high 30s, whilst in Austin, Texas you could barbecue spareribs on the footpath throughout a week of mid-40 degree maximums. Maybe with apologies to T.S.Eliot he should have warned us that, climatically, “August is the cruellest month", not April. Europe now awaits the arrival of a late summer ‘heat dome.’ California has just experienced its first tropical storm in 80 years with record rainfall in Los Angeles and mudslides in traditionally parched Palm Springs.

Players preparing for the year’s final Grand Slam tournament have not been spared. Masters 1000 tournaments in Toronto and the recently concluded Cincinnati tournament have been played in enervating heat. This probably explains the tournaments lack of predictability. Carlos Alcaraz, Iga Swiatek, Arya Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and Daniil , Jacob Sinner and Alex De Minaur all had surprising losses. Few players seemed to be able to repeat their efforts from one tournament to the next.

As the players prepared, however, to swing into the US Open in their last lead-in tournament in the swing state of Ohio, the natural order of the Men’s Game resumed with Alcaraz and Djokovic winning through to the final for their fourth match.

They reprised the dramatics of their Wimbledon final. Few best of three set matches, even in Masters 1000 finals are classics, but this was. Djokovic needed five match points, after saving one himself, and three hours and forty-eight minutes to subdue the Spaniard and claim a third ATP Cincinnati Open title.

Age and experience triumphed over youth and enthusiasm in a titanic struggle with Djokovic winning 5-7, 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/4) triumph on a day of 36 degree heat and 70 % humidity. Such was the significance of the win that Djokovic celebrated by ripping his shirt open. Such a release of tension has not been seen since his memorable win against Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open final, which lasted close to six hours.

For the man who craves tennis immortality, Djokovic’s victory was profound. He only must win one match at the US Open to reclaim the world’s No.1 ranking at the end of the year’s final Grand Slam. Tournament organisers will be hoping that the Serbian/Spanish rivalry will again be seen on the final day of the US Open. Remember, a win for Novak in New York sees him edge past Serena and join Margaret Court on 24 Grand Slam titles. Should he win, he will become the most successful male or female player of the Open era.

Speaking of Serena, America’s Coco Gauff, fresh from an indifferent summer won the Women’s title at Cincinnati. Often touted as America’s next great hope, the burden of being either the next Serena or Venus, who is still playing at 43, has often seemed to hinder Gauff who has now won her most important title. America still hopes for its first male champion at its own Open since Andy Roddick in 2003, but it seems unlikely that the ‘next gen’ of America’s male players- Taylor Fritz, Francis Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Mackenzie McDonald- will be able to snap the apparent Spanish/Serbian stranglehold on this year’s title.

To escape the northern heat people have been flocking in record numbers to air-conditioned movie theatres . Barbie is the first film directed by a female director to gross more than $1 billion in sales. Oppenheimer, the film about the “father of the atomic bomb” who feared he would unleash a chain reaction of heat that would create a conflagration around the world has reaped an impressive $720 million.

Like the great tennis players, we do not have the world’s great entertainers for ever. Recently, the world of music and television entertainment lost some of its finest. Tony Bennett whose crooning, especially about San Francisco, charmed millions died aged 97. The supreme British interviewer of celebrity, Sir Michael Parkinson, died on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death aged 88, the age Elvis would also have been if still alive. Through interviewing in his restrained, insightful style, Parkinson himself became an international celebrity.

Sinead O’Connor, the tormented Irish singer with a haunting voice, departed. Actor Kevin Spacey, still with us in a temporal sense, was acquitted by an English jury of numerous sexual assault charges, but one wonders whether his acting life will be revived.

In Australia’s winter, the challenges presented by the nation’s first serious bout of inflation in three decades have heated the political pressure on the Albanese government. The nation's housing costs, declining education standards, looming budgetary explosions in aged care, health, national disability insurance and defence spending and spiralling cost of living were temporarily forgotten as Australians were distracted in record numbers by its hosting, along with New Zealand, of the Women’s Football World Cup.

Australia’s Matildas galvanised national support as they made a heroic and historic assault on the title. After winning an extraordinary quarter-final against France that was only decided after a 20 shot penalty decider, the Matildas lost to the traditional enemy, England, in their semi-final.

The English were then denied by their cross-Channel rivals Spain. Spain’s first win in the Women’s World Cup was overshadowed somewhat by the furore about the passionate embrace of a Spanish player by the President of the Spanish Football Federation, that was seen by most as too passionate, even by Spanish standards.

Our Prime Minister, evoking the spirit of Bob Hawke following Australia’s historic win in the America’s Cup in 1983, all but promised a national holiday if the Matildas won the tournament. Unable to do this, his cash-strapped government announced extra funding of $200 million to ensure the continued growth of “grass-roots” women’s sport. $200 million?- almost as much as the rapacious Saudi Arabian Soccer League is paying to transfer one player to its competition.

Mr. Albanese has been far more reluctant to declare the date of Australia’s forthcoming referendum on constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians; however, it is nearly certain to be October 14th.

The funny thing about sporting greatness is that it rarely measured in terms of transfer fees and prizemoney won. It is all about the permanent and transcendent: titles, presence, influence, style and sportsmanship. The US Open will, no doubt, provide us with further slivers of greatness: Swiatek seeks to go back to back in New York as she did in Paris earlier this year. The last female player to win successive French and US Opens was Steffi Graf, in 1995 and 1996 and, before her, Monica Seles in 1991 and 1992. The last man to achieve this feat was Ivan Lendl in 1986 and 1987. We know what’s at stake for the relentless Serbian.

Grab your pretzels and head to the subway- it’s going to be a raucous, broiling fortnight!

Julian Dowse

This post is dedicated to Nick Hinneberg. Nick was the dearest of friends, and a lover of tennis who worked for Tennis Victoria for close to two decades, becoming its General Manager for Tennis Operations. Arguably the most passionate Roger Federer fan I have known, Nick lost his battle against kidney cancer on 26th July aged only 50. I shall never forget him.

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