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  • Julian Dowse

US Open 2016

I am often accused of still living in the Cold War, which is an entirely comfortable accusation because at least way back then the West knew both what it stood for and who its enemy was.

The most remarkable feature of the Cold War was its denouement. In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and President Reagan was proposing his ‘Star Wars’ Defence programme which, for the benefit of my younger readers, was an American concept to control the Arms Race by having incoming Soviet Inter-Continental missiles intercepted by weapons launched from outer space. Rivalry between the Western and Eastern blocs had led the world to a parlous place. If someone had predicted in 1985 that the Cold War would be over by 1990 and that the Berlin Wall would be rubble, they would have been dismissed as insane.

Given that there are precedents for outlandish predictions coming true I am prepared to say after the recent fortnight at Flushing Meadow that neither Nadal, Federer, Djokovic nor Serena Williams will win another Grand Slam title. That’s right- that’s all folks! Upon reflection, there has been more than enough. Between them the four players have won 65 Grand Slam titles: Williams 22; Federer 17, Nadal 14 and Djokovic 12. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt have won a mere 32 gold medals between them which is more than most nations can ever dream of winning at generations of Olympic Games. The phenomenal swimmer and sprinter are bowing out at the top of their games. One senses that the game has caught up with our pantheon of tennis superstars and they might be wise to recognise it.

As always the tennis in New York provided a wonderful distraction from the world’s absurdities. Since Wimbledon there have been many worthy nominations for the gold, silver and bronze medals of the “I’m not making this up award”.

The gold medal must go to the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who labelled the President of the United States the “son of a whore”, after President Obama requested to discuss why so many thousands were Filipinos were being killed by police in attempts to curb the drug trade. Duterte redefined the nature of undiplomatic and intemperate language. His comments were truly deplorable, but then along comes Hillary and dismisses Donald Trump’s supporters as “the deplorables”, categorising them as a collection of ‘phobes: homophobes, xenophobes, Islamophobes et al. The “you must be stupid if you support my opponent” line is rarely well received.

The silver medal goes to one of Hillary’s Australian soulmates on the progressive Left, Greens Leader, Senator Di Natale. For him, it’s not that the Australian electorate is deplorable, it’s just that they cannot be trusted to agree with him. In announcing his party’s opposition to the government’s proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage he stated that “Decisions about fundamental human rights should not be left to the public”. Funny that. In 1951 Australians voted not to ban the Communist Party and protect political freedom at the onset of the Cold War. In 1967, ninety per-cent of Australians voted to grant Aboriginals citizenship rights. In the early 1980s former Greens Leader, Bob Brown, was only too keen to have a plebiscite in Tasmania on options for the development of the Franklin River, knowing that his’ No Dams’ option would be the majority verdict. Sorry, Senator but you either trust democracy or you do not. And this from a man whose contribution to open political debate is to have his party conduct its annual congresses behind closed doors.

The bronze medal goes to Senator Sam Dastyari. What is worse about the man his colleagues have now dubbed Senator Dimsam- his asinine and cringing objection to paying a bill that he would prefer not to or that it appears that he was prepared to support Chinese foreign policy for such a minute sum of money?

If $1670.00 buys the Chinese government hopes that Australia will accept its “build them and claim them” approach to the accumulation of territory in the South China Sea, one wonders what $50,000.00 could buy- perhaps the repudiation of the ANZUS alliance and/or the cancellation of our submarine contracts? It’s just as well that the Labor Party in good conscience used the disgraced Senator to launch vitriolic attacks on the integrity of the business sector, especially the Banks. To think that self-righteous Senators have to pay bills for expenses they incurred over and above what the taxpayer had already paid for. Imagine what the Senator would say of a Bank Director who did not pick up the tab for his expense account?

The forty-fifth Federal Parliament opened on 30th August as the US Open began. No wonder the tennis looked even more attractive. Given that the election was held on 2nd July, one had almost become accustomed to officially sanctioned anarchy. It was a long count, but at least the pencils worked on Election Day unlike the Census website on 9th August.

The final seat to be decided was the Queensland seat of Herbert, based around Townsville, which was won for the first time by a female, Labor’s Cathy O’Toole, by thirty-seven votes. The reassembled Parliament had its first female indigenous member, Linda Burney, and its first female Muslim member, Dr. Anne Aly. The Liberal Party was castigated for not increasing its female representation, but it did elect two openly gay members, Tim Wilson and Trent Zimmerman.

Former Western Australian Senator, Louise Pratt, was returned to the Senate to join Labor’s Penny Wong and the Liberal’s Dean Smith as being out and proud in the Upper House. Before returning to the Senate, Ms. Pratt has given birth to a child, but has refused to identify its father. We know that on Jasper’s birth certificate are the name of his “two affirming fathers”, being a Labor MLC in Western Australia and his partner, one of whom is the biological father. The other father on the birth certificate is Senator Pratt’s former female partner who has now completed his gender reassignment. Once Renae, now Aram. And people wonder why the electorate voted for the populist Pauline Hanson, the vanity of Nick “we are better than all the other parties” Xenophon and the theatrics of Derryn Hinch. It’s no less than the Senate according to Garp. Having always thought the greatest asset of parliamentary democracy was that it flushed out the demagogues, narcissists and self-servers, I am now fearful that our parliament attracts them in growing numbers.

Growing the number of tennis records was in the forefront of many as the year’s final Grand Slam began with the Arthur Ashe stadium proudly bearing a newly constructed roof, leaving the French, not for the first time, in splendid isolation, as the hosts of the only Grand Slam tournament conducted sans roof. Would Serena move past Steffi Graf and claim her 23rd Grand Slam title? Would Djokovic erase the relative disappointments of Wimbledon and the Olympics and win a third US Open title? Would an Australian player make it to the second week? Could the Bryan brothers have one last hurrah? Would players who should know better, especially the men, stop wearing fluorescent lemon and cyclamen coloured outfits? Roger Federer withdrew from the Open and the balance of the year due to injury, meaning that it was the first time since 2001 that he has not won an ATP title.

The US Open was played without Maria Sharapova who joined many Russian Olympians on the detoxification time out bench. Regrettably, tennis was played at the Rio Olympics. This faux tournament provided an opportunity for Puerto Rico to win its first ever gold medal when Monica Puig defeated Angelique Kerber in the final. Puig lost in the first round in New York. Andy Murray defeated a resurgent Juan Martin Del-Potro to claim a second Olympic title. In Rio, Del-Potro defeated Djokovic and Nadal, which were further high profile scalps for the 2009 US Open champion, who had also upset Wawrinka at Wimbledon. Nadal had some compensation by winning the Doubles Gold Medal with Marc Lopez.

At the US Open, Del Potro, who has battled injuries for many years was a sentimental favourite, but he could not reprise his Wimbledon victory, with Wawrinka beating the Argentinian in four sets in the fourth round. However, Del Potro gained revenge over Andy Murray in the recent Davis Cup semi-final beating the Wimbledon and Olympic champion in Glasgow in five sets to set up a 3-2 victory for Argentina.

Australia’s diplomatic duo of Tomic and Kyrgios chose to not to play in Rio, offended at the suggestion that their behaviour may have to improve. Kyrgios won the Atlanta title whilst the Olympics were being played, beating John Isner. In other pre- US Open tournaments there was a collection of strange winners. Monfils won in Washington defeating Karlovic who won in Newport. England’s rising star, Johanna Konta, won her first WTA title beating Venus Williams at Stanford and Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer won in Washington. At the Montreal Masters, a tournament weakened by the withdrawals of Federer, Nadal and Murray, Milos Raonic could not claim a hometown title, with Djokovic defeating Nishikori in the final. It was Djokovic’s 30th Masters 1000 title, his ninth straight victory over Nishikori and his 66th ATP title, just three behind Nadal. Kyrgios lost in Montreal to Wimbledon junior champion, the Canadian Denis Shapovalov. Simone Halep avenged her Wimbledon loss to Kerber, winning their semi-final before claiming the Canadian title against America’s Madison Keys.

Back in Canberra, the first sitting week of Parliament was made noteworthy by the fact that not enough government members chose to sit for long enough. When the Opposition called for a division on the innocuous motion that the House adjourn on the Thursday of the first sitting week the government lost the vote as some of its frontbench had already left for the airport. Parliamentary business continued long enough for sufficient government members to scramble from their offices to restore the status quo. John Howard once advised a class of my students that “one should always leave enough time to get to an airport”. Clearly the MPs who were absent for the division left too much. Not that traffic jams are ever likely in Canberra, but getting caught in traffic has its moments in New York. In the 1980s Peter Fleming and John McEnroe were stuck in a New York tennis jam en route to a doubles match at the Open and were had to forfeit the match.

It would be unfair to say that Bernard Tomic forfeited his first round match at the US Open. After all, the scoreboard tells us it went to four sets, but it would be generous to call his 0-7 loss in the fourth-set tiebreak anything other than supine. Tomic’s audible and generous invitation to a spectator to become more familiar with parts of his anatomy reminded us once again that his understanding of what is decent appears to be permanently elusive. One suspects that no amount of “gender sensitivity” or “cultural awareness” seminars will ameliorate his brand of deplorable.

Kyrgios’ ability to be defiant and impertinent in press conferences continues unabated, but his physical fitness and stamina is less enduring. He had to forfeit his third round match when trailing two sets to one because of a recurring hip injury. John McEnroe, an original talent who can spot another, admonished Kyrgios demanding that the Australian train seriously to realise his talent. One suspects other rising stars are also not as focussed as they need to be. Ever since Milos Raonic graced the cover of GQ following his appearance in the Wimbledon final the results have not been as fine as his clothes. Raonic lost in the second round in New York and the female French champion, Garbine Muguruza, struggled to prove that her feet can move anywhere other than on Parisian clay, when she had a first round exit to add to a similarly early departure at Wimbledon.

Speaking of people departing, political developments in Turkey since Wimbledon have been distressing. The quelling of an attempted coup, supposedly instigated by the President’s chief rival who is exiled in America (shades of Stalin and Trotsky), has been used as a justification for a purge of the President’s suspected rivals that echoes Mao Tse Tung’s Cultural Revolution. It is estimated close to 60,000 academics, jurists, judges and political opponents have been arrested. As Bette Midler once quipped, “talk about preposterous on the Bosphorus.”

2016 has been a year of near exits and ‘Great Escapes’ in Grand Slam tennis. Possibly for the first time ever there have been two Grand Slam champions in the one year who survived match points in early rounds: Kerber in the first round of the Australian Open and Wawrinka in the third round of the US Open when he overcame the plucky Pom, Daniel Evans. Maybe Djokovic’s loss in the US Open final can be attributed to not having had enough tough matches earlier in the tournament. His second round victory was a walkover, his third round win was by forfeit after six games and Tsonga retired injured in his quarter final after two sets. Wawrinka is nothing, if not a warrior.

For the second year in a row Serena fell at the semi-final hurdle. She had her compensations though. Serena has now won more Grand Slam matches than any other player in history, with her fourth round victory being her 307th moving her one ahead of Navratilova and her quarter-final victory taking her one ahead of Roger Federer to stand alone on 308. Eerily she has not only joined Steffi Graf as the winner of 22 Grand Slam titles, but also equalled Steffi’s record of 186 consecutive weeks as the world’s No. 1 ranked female player, until Kerber wrested that crown from her at tournament’s end. Some records seem destined not to be broken. Imagine having an Australian Prime Minister that has that many weeks in office- the last to do so was John Howard!

However, some records are broken. Just before the US Open Brent ‘Boomer’ Harvey set a record for the most games played by a male AFL player when he played his 427th game, continuing a career that began in 1996, some three years before Serena won her first Grand Slam title at the 1999 US Open and seven years before Federer won his first title at Wimbledon in 2003, beating Australian’s Mark Philippoussis in the final. Sri Lanka added a new page to the cricket record books with its first ever Test series win again Australia. Team GB’s recent sporting dominance, which commenced at the London Olympics, was reinforced by Chris Froome becoming the first Englishman to win successive Tours de France and Lewis Hamilton continuing to lead the World Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship.

Here’s another trivia question- who was the last player to beat both Williams sisters at the same Grand Slam tournament before this year’s US Open? Well, we know that Karolina Pliskova achieved this feat, but was unable to close out a 3-1 lead in the deciding set of her maiden Grand Slam final against Kerber. The German champion has completed an extraordinary year in which she has reached three Grand Slam finals, after never previously been in one, and won the bookend Grand Slam titles in Australia and America. Pliskova’s unfortunate tattoos should not blind us to her undoubted ability.

Djokovic ends the year as the unchallenged No.1 Men’s player. Like Kerber, he has played in three Grand Slam finals, winning two including his much coveted maiden French title. For all of his statistical ascendancy, Djokovic’s reign as No.1 is decidedly more fallible than his ranking suggests. Admittedly, the US Open is not his happiest hunting ground. He has now played in seven finals for a meagre two victories. If Andy Murray had remained composed in his quarter-final against Nishikori, I think he would have beaten Djokovic in the final, assuming he could have beaten Wawrinka. Ever since his French Open victory, Djokovic has not been as ruthless and domineering on the court. In the final, Djokovic seemed to tire after the first set and could not muster the resolve to outhit his Swiss opponent. The final was played on the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and, even today, recollection of that event overpowers everything else.

Wawrinka now has a perfect strike rate in each of his three Grand Slam finals and has won his last eleven finals. Remarkably, a win at Wimbledon would see him become only the sixth player in the Open Era to have won all four Grand Slam titles. With Federer injured and Nadal a shade of his former self, it may well be possible. Nadal and Djokovic were due to play their 50th match in a semi-final, but a Frenchman, Lucas Pouille upset Nadal in the fourth round. Frenchmen have had quite a presence at this year’s Grand Slam titles, with three making the quarter-finals in New York; however, only Monfils advanced to the semi-finals. The inability of the French to realise their potential was also seen in their Davis Cup semi-final against Croatia. The French lost 2-3, with their highly ranked Doubles team of Mahut and Herbert losing the critical Doubles match to the scratch pair of Dodig and Cilic.

Croatia will host Argentina in this year’s Davis Cup Final. Croatia will be seeking their first Davis Cup win since their maiden victory in 2005. Argentina will be aiming for their first victory in their second final. Argentina lost to USA in 1981 when John McEnroe beat Guillermo Vilas in straight sets, teamed with Peter Fleming to win the doubles 11-9 in the fifth against Vilas and Jose Luis Clerc and then clinched the tie with a five set victory against Luis Clerc.

This year’s Doubles’ tournaments in New York also confirmed that the old order is evanescent. The Bryan brothers who were chasing their sixth title in New York and their seventeenth Grand Slam prize lost in the quarter-finals to the Spanish team of Feliciano and Marc Lopez who are neither twins nor brothers. Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza have parted company, but neither found success with their new partners, with the Women’s’ Champions being Bethanie Mattek-Sands, whose tattoos are more egregious than Pliskova’s, and Lucie Safarova from the Czech Republic which is a sporting alliance that would have been impossible during the Cold War. Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares combined to win their first US Open title to add to their Australian victory this year. The win of Laura Siegemund-another German success-and Croatia’s Mate Pavic in the Mixed Doubles meant that this year every champion at the Open was a first time victor in New York. One generation cometh and another passeth away.

The prizemoney at Grand Slam titles continues to surpass ridiculous and move towards the indefensible. The Singles champions each received a mere $ US 3.5 million. Perspective is eternally difficult to maintain, especially when it comes to public debates about money. One of the debates within the same-sex marriage plebiscite is “the cost”. The Prime Minister estimates the price that the public will have to pay for the vote is $170 million- $160 million administration plus $10 million public funding. Given Australia has just under sixteen million registered voters, it seems a good deal at just over $10.00 per head. The cost of a grande latte and chia muffin at Starbucks. To look at it another way the cost is a miniscule 0.025% of the savings in government expenditure in the recently passed omnibus Bill. If the plebiscite were successful, it is likely that the same-sex wedding industry will generate more than $170 million in revenue for State and Federal governments. February 11th is the scheduled date; however, unless Bill Shorten returns from his Canadian sojourn with a change of heart, it appears both the cost and date of the plebiscite are moot points.

How impregnable old orders seem and then how suddenly they fracture. Australia has had stable majority governments from 1943-2010 and since then all has seemed tenuous in Canberra’s representative chambers. Hawthorn reaches four Grand Finals in a row, winning the last three, and then is bundled out by a team that has not won a Premiership since 1954. Roger and Serena have ruled over the tennis world with unprecedented authority and suddenly they are deposed. Roger turned 35 in August and it is Serena’s turn next week. Federer has not won a Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2012 and Williams who this time last year was ruing the lost chance to complete a traditional Grand Slam, ends the year with only one Grand Slam title to her name.

I began with predictions so let’s end with some more.

Politicians will continue to earnestly remind us “that the future is going to be unlike anything we have ever known before.” Strange to think that has probably always been the case.

So-called celebrities when ending their marriages- Broncos Coach Wayne Bennett being the latest-to pursue new relationships with women, usually younger than their children, will feel compelled to announce their newfound happiness in unlimited social media forums, but then request “that their privacy be respected.”

Politicians shall continue to use the eternal alibi of “wanting to spend more time with their family” when brazenly announcing their intention to quit their parliament before the end of their term. Thankfully, the ones that announce their early and surprise retirements are usually the ones that we miss the least- who was Mark Arbib anyway? I am told that this former Upper House colleague of the more recently departed Senator Conroy can be found polishing his commitment to socialism in the offices of James Packer, probably just down the corridor from Peta Credlin. A shortage of roles in Mr. Packer’s office is probably why it is suggested that Stephen Conroy, also a champion of the proletariat, may have to work for Kerry Stokes instead.

Hillary Clinton will win the Presidential election, but not as emphatically as she should. Malcom Turnbull will continue to face greater opposition from within his party than from those assembled across from him in the parliament. An Australian bred jockey will partner a foreign bred horse to win the Melbourne Cup.

And finally, God will continue to display a sense of humour.

In the southern hemisphere, Australia’s Great Ocean Road, that only last Christmas was closed because of bushfires, is now closed because of landslides caused by torrential rains.

In the northern hemisphere, an election is currently taking place for the Russian parliament, the Duma. The last attempt at a free and a fair election to that body was nearly a century ago in 1917. However, when electoral returns did not deliver a mandate to the Bolsheviks Lenin simply closed the Duma and started sending out members of his CHEKA secret police to proclaim the joys of one-party rule.

Today, voting has begun in the first of Russia’s eleven time zones. This ensures that President Putin will have plenty of time to oversee the results from outlying districts before declaring the result. However, just to be sure of his authority, the President has allowed the residents of forcibly annexed Crimea the opportunity to vote for his brand of autocracy. What’s that old line about nations being free when they are “liberated from the liberators”?

Next year will be ten years since Federer and Serena Williams won the singles titles at the Australian Open. In 1997 it was Sampras and Hingis. In 1987 it was Edberg and Mandlikova. In 1977 it was the year of two championships when Roscoe Tanner and Vitas Gerulaitis and Kerry Reid and Evonne Goolagong were the champions. In the last year of the amateur era in 1967 it was Roy Emerson and Nancy Richey. The deeds of all these players are done and, despite the hope that no doubt springs eternal in Federer and Williams, their records, for mine, are complete.

With that somewhat risky and slightly provocative prediction, I wish you the happiest of spring equinoxes at week’s end.

Julian Dowse

19th September, 2016

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