The US Open is about to start and when it closes much that is grand will be gone...
Can you have two epiphanies in a week when writing about politics and tennis? As we prepare for the beginning of the final Grand Slam of the year next Monday, I think I can.
First, despite the tumult of the political world, the tennis year will, remarkably, end in a similar fashion as it began. As in Australia, it appears that Novak Djokovic will not be allowed to play because of his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Daniil Medvedev, the world’s No.1 ranked player, who has only won one tournament- and a minor one at that in Mexico- since becoming number one-is seeded to play Rafael Nadal in the final, just as they did in Australia. Ashleigh Barty’s absence only guarantees that predicting the finalists of the Women’s tournament will be as hard as ever. Who would have thought Danielle Collins- remember her?- would have reached the final in Australia? Only the brilliant could accurately predict who might reach this year’s Women’s final in New York, such has been the caprice of the Women’s game throughout 2022.
In writing about the worlds of politics and tennis, it has been often necessary to write about the unprecedented greatness of the tennis world in the last fifteen years. We have witnessed the feats and rivalries of the greatest three male players of all time: Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal. On the distaff side, there has been the feats of the Williams sisters, with Serena in particular winning more Grand Slam titles than any other player in the Open era.
Hence, the second revelation: as these players have created new dimensions in the game’s pantheon, it has become clear that very few politicians and political systems have created legacies of greatness in the same era.
Recently, a friend’s son graduated from the University of Melbourne. The motto of the University is “Postera Crescam Laude”- we shall grow in the esteem of future generations. Whilst the recent vanguard of tennis players will fulfill the university’s wishes, the same cannot be said of our politicians.
The comparison between the two arenas could not be greater. Paradoxically, the gulf appears as wide as it does because this year’s US Open may well be the swan song for so many of the game’s transcendent heroes. If you can believe what is written in Vogue, this will be Serena’s last Grand Slam tournament. Roger Federer will be absent and is unlikely to play another US Open. Djokovic will be absent, leaving Nadal as the sole icon of the Great Three. Time and injuries have taken their toll on Nadal since his Australian and French Open triumphs. As always, the greatness of those we admire is reinforced as they prepare to leave us.
Sadly, there are few comparisons in the political world. The Finnish Prime Minister has volunteered to take a drugs test after her unseemly behaviour at a party and the publication of an “inappropriate” photograph. Papua New Guinea seems incapable of conducting a free and fair election. England’s citizens are hardly breathless about the identity of its next Prime Minister. Be it Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, they are taking over from an incumbent who was forced from office because of narcissistic and arguably corrupt use of the office. Boris Johnson’s unedifying commentary on his demise, was not an apology, but the facile reflection of “ them’s the breaks.” The American President stumbles, literally and metaphorically, from one economic and social crisis to the next. Meanwhile, his predecessor has his home raided by the FBI amidst concerns that he misused secret government material. Let’s not forget that investigations into Donald Trump’s financial affairs and his role in the riots on the Capitol in January 2021 are ongoing.
Most Australians regard the recent prime ministerships of Messrs. Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, and Turnbull as unedifying. Theirs is an aggregate legacy of bitter personality conflicts, instead of productive policies.
Further blows have been dealt to the esteem of politics and politicians with revelations about the conduct of Scott Morrison as the most recent Australian Prime Minister. It has been confirmed that whilst in office, Mr. Morrison assumed Ministerial responsibility for five additional Cabinet posts, believing that his ultimate authority was required in these portfolios at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
There are precedents for Australian Prime Ministers topping up their responsibilities. Most famously Gough Whitlam granted himself 13 portfolios and his Deputy, Lance Barnard, 14 upon his election in December 1972 to immediately implement initiatives of his government.
Whitlam famously quipped that it was the most “efficient government he ever presided over.” His duumvirate lasted a fortnight.
Whilst Morrison was not quite as greedy as Gough, there is one salient difference. We all knew about Gough’s aggrandisement. Only one Minister, Greg Hunt in Health, was advised by Morrison of his intrusion into their portfolios. It can be argued that our democratic system flushed out knowledge of this bizarre behaviour and we should grateful; however, there is no doubt that Mr. Morrison’s legacy will be tainted by this clandestine ‘power grab.’
When Mr. Morrison dies his family, in accordance with convention, will be offered a State funeral. Until recently, his title on the Order of Service would have been straightforward: Minister for Immigration, Treasurer and Prime Minister. Will the font need to be minimised to fully record his hitherto unknown areas of responsibility?
They say things happen in threes, although a hat-trick of Grand Slam titles is rarely achieved. Three renowned Australian singers, Archie Roach, Judith Durham and Olivia Newton-John, whose grandfather, Max Born, was a Nobel prize winner in Physics, have recently passed away. All their families have been offered State funerals , and there can be no doubt that their esteem will grow postera crescam laude.
For me Judith Durham, whose crystalline, pure voice catapulted The Seekers to world fame in the late 1960s, is the greatest loss of all.
As Melburnians look ahead to the annual devotion of 100,000 people at the Australian Football League Grand Final at the end of September, we should remember that Judith Durham drew a world record crowd of 200,000 to a Seekers Concert at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl in 1967.
Australia’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, has recently boasted that it pays 10% of all Australian company tax. Judith Durham in 1967 drew one in ten Melburnians to hear her sing. Given the titles of The Seekers most famous hits, it was not surprising that Judith’s death was noted under headlines of ‘The Carnival is Over’ and ‘We’ll never find another you.’ My tribute is to remember the opening lines of a lesser-known Seeker’s song:
All over the world people must meet and part
There’s someone like me feeling the pain in their heart.
I can’t imagine a life without having heard Durham’s glorious voice.
It seems increasingly difficult to find voices of reason, but there are glimmers of hope. Australia’s government has decreed that it is acceptable to describe a mother as a mother and not a “birthing parent” on forms recording the arrival of a child. A small victory.
Nevertheless, the desire amongst many in the West to remove any language or legacies of the present or past that may cause offence continues at a bewildering and debilitating pace.
In Tasmania, a statue of a former State Premier , William Crowther, is to be “relocated.” Crowther, Premier in the 1860s was a surgeon who is accused of having removed the skull of an aboriginal corpse from a morgue.
Those celebrating the statue’s removal stated that they were celebrating “truth-telling in history.” In their zealotry, this is entirely the opposite of what they have done. What they have achieved is to remove history. Eminent surgeons around the world experimented on corpses in the post-Darwinian world to investigate physiological and psychological differences between species. Whilst their practices can be rightly criticised as unethical and based on racial prejudices, knowledge of such practices informs us about our cultural past. Do we condemn William Harvey stealing paupers’ corpses so he could investigate the circulation of blood around a body? Do we not teach Australia’s White Australia immigration policy on the basis that it is now considered offensive? We must know the past to judge it.
Those offended by opinions contrary to their own should consider the cost of stifling free speech in the name of inclusivity. Those that preach diversity often exude a harrowing wish to exclude those of differing viewpoints. The evil attack on Salman Rushdie should remind us of the quintessential importance of promoting differences and tolerance of a range of opinions. As does the recent execution of opponents of Myanmar’s national government. Or try the recent jailing of a Saudi woman for six years for using an app concerning human rights. These are the existential threats that the truth telling zealots are remarkably quiescent about.
How ironic that the arch-Puritan, Oliver Cromwell recognised the need for unvarnished truth when he demanded he be painted “warts and all.” The idea that we can live in a society where opinions and attitudes must be delivered without causing anyone offence is laughable and dangerous. It is why we despair at the modern breed of anodyne politicians, who are terrified to place policy and debate at the heart of politics.
It may also surprise the new Puritans that there is much to celebrate about the past. Walking around inner Melbourne last weekend I discovered the following foundation stone:
Who would have thought that anyone prior to the age of social influencers were prepared to “assist the destitute and sick of every creed and clime”? Dare I point out that inclusivity has been practised long before people started lecturing others about it?
New York is a city that prides itself on its diverse and inclusive history. The main stadiums at Flushing Meadow are named after Arthur Ashe, the first black male champion of the US Open and Billie Jean-King the trailblazing advocate for equal pay in tennis. Her sexuality proved no barrier to her advocacy.
So, who in the shadows of the fading greatness of Rafa, the retirement of Serena and the absence of Novak and Roger, can claim the tennis year’s final grand prizes? Australia’s anti-hero Nick Kyrgios has had a summer surge in America winning singles and doubles titles in Atlanta and the singles title at Washington, before a quarter-final loss in Montreal and an even earlier loss in Cincinnati. As always doubts exist about Kyrgios’ mental and physical fitness to win seven best of five set matches.
Daniil Medvedev looks to defend his title, but given his poor form since winning his first Grand Slam there is more chance of Australians voting to pass a referendum than Medvedev successfully defending his title. Zverev is injured.
The following players who comprise the ‘next gen’ of the game will never have a better chance to claim a maiden Grand Slam title: Alcaraz, Rublev, Fritz, Sinner, Hurkacz, Norrie and/or Ruud.
Don’t even attempt to predict the Women’s champion. Those who should be genuine contenders seem incapable of Grand Slam success: Pliskova, Sabalenka, Kontaveit, Jabeur and Badosa. Swiatek has lost her dominant swagger. Look out for the rising star from Brazil, Beatriz Haddad Maia. Elena Rybakina did not accidentally win Wimbledon.
A fellow tennis tragic alerted me this week to a great truth. Somehow, we must recalibrate our expectations. We must consider the reality that someone outside of the unprecedentedly great will win the year’s last Grand Slam singles titles. We must give Serena the farewell she deserves. We know Nadal will leave his heart on the court; however, in Grand Slam tennis Mother Nature and Father Time diminish the strength and passions of all.
How reassuring that as this great generation passeth, we know that they will abideth for ever. Or as Judith Durham may have sung, “We will never find another them.”
It is high time that we were able to consider our politicians and political systems in anywhere near the same manner.