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Two end of year playoffs, a summit in Glasgow and a ‘sext’ for afters…

So, the tennis year is officially over, well apart from the Davis Cup which has become such a desiccated version of its one great self, that it is best to ignore it. The world’s best players have returned home from their playoff tournaments in Mexico and Italy where they sought to reach the summit of the world’s most significant tournaments outside of the Grand Slams. More about those events later. At the same time the world’s leaders returned from the Glasgow climate summit.

Of course, reaching a summit is associated with scaling the highest point of a mountain. Sadly, the view from many a mountaintop at present is not a comforting one.

With less than a month until Christmas, much of the world seems to be in the throes of convulsions caused by one or more of the four constants of our time:

Covid: It is the virus that keeps mutating and menacing. No sooner had Australia reached impressive rates of vaccination enabling more liberties and freedoms, than a new variety of the virus- Omicrom-has been identified in South Africa. Once again, the world holds its breath. Even dealing with the established strains of the virus is proving too difficult for most. Germany and Austria have imposed strict lockdowns. Traditional, cheerful Christmas markets have been dismantled across the continent. The suddenness and extreme nature of the lockdowns has led to violent protests in Austria and The Netherlands, nations not known as hotbeds of dissent. Rates of vaccination in Third World nations remain distressingly low.

Culture: Covid has provided the context for virulent debates about the role of the State in many nations. America has struggled to improve its vaccination rates, suggesting that there is a significant section of the population that assert that their rights to individualism override their commitment to community safety. American banknotes may declare that ‘In God We Trust’, but many seem Americans appear to trust neither science nor government. America also continues to be divided about its gun culture. Two significant jury verdicts, one exonerating a gun-toting teenager of murder, and the other convicting a father and son for shooting of an African-American who was peacefully jogging, suggest that America is no closer to reconciling its constitutional liberty to bear arms with universal principles of justice.

The sickening murder of innocent bystanders at a Christmas parade in Wisconsin by a vehicle deliberately driven towards them and the assassination of universally admired English MP, David Amess, have only confirmed that the rule of law is under strain. The passing of Colin Powell, a considered and humane former Secretary of State in America, confirmed that the age of “gentler and kinder” politics has been lost.

In Australia, rallies continue to be held against vaccination mandates. Ironically, they are being used by leaders of the United Australia Party to promote dissent.

The cultural battles catalysed by Covid have not prevented other cultural battles taking place. Debates about ‘cancel culture’ and what is appropriately ‘woke’ continue. Current South African and former English cricketers have become ensnared in debates about allegedly racist gestures and comments now and in the past. The gesture of “taking the knee” at cricket matches to acknowledge historical injustice has become divisive, rather than healing. Sadly, even if Roger Federer wished to kneel in solidarity, his body would not allow him to do so. Roger has announced that knee injuries will prevent him from playing in the Australian Open and probably Wimbledon.

Climate change: The world leaders, excluding those of critically important nations Russia and China, came to Glasgow, a city whose dreary climate has been the subject of much ridicule. What did we see, and do we believe that post-Glasgow that the world can take the necessary steps to conquer the worst effects of climate change? Australia’s pre-eminent historian, Geoffrey Blainey, has noted that whereas many seem to question the role of science and scientists when debating Covid, the world has placed enormous faith in scientists to determine the agenda of responses to climate change.

In Australia we once more have a partisan political debate about dates, target and percentages concerning the use of non-renewable energy. The prehistoric fuel of coal continues to be a metaphor for the climate change debate: is it to be demonised and expunged from our society or is it to continue to have some role in our economic future, whether permanent or diminished? On a political level, climate change continues to be a fascinating enigma. Debates about climate change policy have arguably mortally wounded several Australia’s former Prime Ministers Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull. However, to what extent has the issue changed the voting intentions of Australian voters? If polls are to be trusted, the 2022 Federal election may well be the first election where Climate Change is THE issue. To paraphrase John Howard: “Which party do you trust to keep emissions at the lowest level possible?”

China: The return of China’s vociferously critical Ambassador to Beijing has not eased the growing tensions between Australia and its biggest trading partner. Our Defence Minister’s pre-emptive commitment to support America in any conflict against any incursion of Taiwan by China was the latest in a series of bellicose statements by both nations.

Concerns by many nations about the welfare of Chinese Wimbledon Doubles’ Champion, Peng Shuai, following her allegations of sexual assault by a senior Chinese Communist party official, did nothing to allay fears about the modus operandi of the Chinese government. These fears were not reduced by a Zoom meeting between Chairman, Xi Jinping, and President Biden.

Days after their interactive summitry, Vice-President Kamala Harris became the first woman to assume Executive Control of America whilst the President had a colonoscopy, albeit for 45 minutes. However, the Vice-President was not allowed to agist in the Oval Office. If rumours are to be believed Biden would rather have Harris in Wyoming than the West Wing, such is her current level of unpopularity.

Novak Djokovic ends the year ranked as the world’s leading player for a record seventh time, but is no closer to improving his popularity rankings. Germany’s Alexander Zverev defeated him in the semi-finals of the ATP finals. It was Zverev’s second significant victory over Djokovic this year, having also defeated him in the Olympic semi-finals. Will a double dose of Zverev defeats be enough to make Djokovic obtain the double vaccination needed to enable him play in the Australian Open? Zverev won the ATP Final defeating US Champion, Medvedev, in straight sets. Has the ‘Next Gen’ of players started to make a firm foothold on the summit of world tennis? Stefanos Tsitsipas has certainly left his mark on the game. His extended toilet break in his US Open match against Andy Murray has led to mandated restrictions on the amount of time allowed to visit the bathroom.

Meanwhile in Mexico, the Women’s Playoff title was won by Garbine Murguruza who defeated Estonia’s unlikely finalist, Anett Kontaveit. Ashleigh Barty’s absence from the tournament, did not prevent the Australian from finishing the year as the world’s top-ranked female player. Muguruza has only won 10 career titles, but has amassed prizemoney of $US24,000,000! Having won two Grand Slam titles and a play-off championship helps!

With all interstate borders, other than Western Australia’s, scheduled to be open by Christmas, this year’s festivities will be greatly anticipated by many.

The Christmas tale begins with Jesus’ parents searching for a home. Many Australians still search for their first home. The average mortgage in Sydney is now a staggering $750,000.00. A stable at Randwick would probably cost over a million dollars! The tragic plight of refugees searching for homes in Europe is a reminder that Christ’s message of building communities is as relevant as ever.

The patron saint of Christmas is St. Nicholas. Saintliness is almost an impossible virtue, especially it seems for Australian Test cricketers. The resignation of Tasmania’s Tim Paine as Australia’s cricket captain is a powerful barometer of the current cultural zeitgeist. For an episode of ‘sexting’ that occurred four years ago between consenting adults, Paine has had to fall on his stumps. Rather than recognise that the pantheon of saints is occupied by very few, Cricket Australia has retrospectively announced that Paine’s behaviour, previously condoned, is now to be censured. The desire for saintly and noble behaviour is admirable, but allowing unforgiving judgements to be made on the inevitable fallibility of others that cruels their lives is a perilous path.

Oliver Cromwell may have been overly Puritanical in his wish to ban Christmas celebrations- mind you having been overwhelmed by the commercialism of large department stores after lockdown he may have been on the right path!- but he reminded us that we are humans, “warts and all”. Regrettably, as the world is supremely challenged, our increasing willingness to excoriate far too many with savage sanctimony stands in dismal contrast to the forgiveness and redemption that Christ promised.

Happy Christmas everyone! See you at the Australian Open!

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