Wimbledon starts tonight. All eyes of tennis fans will turn to its famous Centre Court whose flawless grass surface, only played on in the fortnight of the tournament, is one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues. All tennis players wish for their name to be forever associated with winning a title on Centre Court, especially a coveted Singles championship.
The pre-eminence of the Centre Court is not simply because of its history as the mecca of the game’s greatest ever champions. Its traditions and certainties have added to its pedigree. Players must wear pre-dominantly white. Even defending champion John McEnroe could not argue his way out of having to change from navy into white shorts after entering Centre Court for his first-round match in 1984.
Music, advertisements and inane media stunts bother neither players nor spectators; and its presentation ceremonies, when compared to the hoopla at other Grand Slam tournaments are discreet and dignified. The players and the trophies “do the talking” rather than anyone or anything else. Nevertheless, even the august All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club has allowed the modern curse of “branding” to make an incursion onto the Centre Court by having “100” painted tastefully on its sward to recognise the Centre Court’s 100 years of service.
In short, Wimbledon sets the governing standard, although its traditions are not impervious from changing values. Just before players entering the Centre Court can look up and be reminded of Kipling’s famous observation: “if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same,” they pass the Club’s Honour Board of Singles Champions. There is growing pressure for some of the entries to be revised. Many see references to the marital status of the Ladies’ Champions as anachronistic and offensive. Australia’s Margaret Court is recorded as the champion in 1963 and 1965 as Miss. M. Smith, but in her Grand Slam year of 1970 is Mrs. B. M. Court. Miss E.F. Goolagong won her first title as such in 1971 but returned to make history by winning the title as a mother, Mrs. R.A. Cawley, in 1990. Many might forget that Billie-Jean King is inscribed as a six times champion as Mrs. L. W. King.
Nearly 50 years ago, Wimbledon had more pressing concerns. The 1973 tournament was boycotted by most of the world’s best male players in support of a Yugoslav player, Nikki Pilic, who had been suspended by his national association for not attending to his Davis Cup duties. This year, Wimbledon has created its own player absences, by banning Russian and Belarussian players in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition to those who are banned from attending, including the world’s No.1 player, Daniil Medvedev, many players, including Naomi Osaka, have chosen not to play in opposition to Wimbledon’s political player ban.
The players’ associations- the ATP and WTA- have made clear their opinion by refusing to grant the world’s most famous tournament any rankings points. The British government’s refusal to ban unvaccinated players from the tournament, most notably Novak Djokovic, has saved Wimbledon from further controversy.
For all appearances, Wimbledon’s Centre Court will not have changed, when play begins; however, in many ways the outlook and flavour of this year’s tournament has already altered.
In many of the world’s democracies, the political ‘centre’ has long been clearly recognisable. Post-war centrist policies have been delivered by moderate left and right-wing governments as liberal democracies have eschewed the false utopias promised by the extremes of left and right. Western democracies have sought to deliver what is reasonable for most of their reasonable citizens.
No longer. Around the world, the political centre is increasingly fluid and fragile.
America’s Supreme Court has overturned its 50-year-old precedent in the decision of Roe v Wade, which established that the American Constitution granted American women a constitutional right to an abortion. The decision made possible by the appointment by Donald Trump- arguably the least centrist President in American history-of three Justices to the nine-person bench during his tenure, means that abortion rights will now be the subject to laws of America’s individual states.
This new constitutional arrangement for America has always existed within Australia’s Federal legal system, where laws on health matters are a responsibility of the States. Unlike Australia’s States, however, who all have laws protecting the right of a woman to have an abortion up to varying times within their pregnancy, America’s political centre will be shattered by the introduction of a variety of State laws, many likely to ban abortions in all circumstances. Black lives, gun control and now abortion: America’s political centre has been destroyed by alienating extremist viewpoints.
Only a few weeks after returning an avowedly Centrist President in preference to his extremist opponent, French voters have elected a Parliament which has stripped President Macron’s party of its majority. His Centrist party now sits in a powerless and parlous position between the extremes of left and right.
Only a month after electing a government committed to action on climate change, Australians have been again left to wonder how what seems to be reasonable and sensible in terms of energy policy seems unattainable. Australia is an exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas; however, as Australians experienced an especially chilly start to winter, they were told there were risks of domestic energy shortages. If charity begins at home, then, so too should energy supplies. A centrist policy of maintaining existing energy supplies whilst developing similar capacity from renewable energy sources seems beyond the grasp of our representatives. Talk about tilting at windmills!
Upon his election, Australia’s new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, promised an end to the extremist politics of the past. Platitudinal promises rarely last. A month after coming to office he has reduced the resources available to provide staff for the largest ever number of independent members elected to the parliament. Churlish and counter-productive, this decision, cloaked in terms of economic prudency, is a reminder that strong leaders should not fear a vigorous democracy. Luckily, there seem to be funds aplenty for another overseas trip for the new Prime Minister who seems set to emulate his mentor, Kevin Rudd, in terms of time spent away from the country.
The leader of Australia’s Greens Party, Adam Bandt, declared last week that he would no longer have the Australian flag standing centrally behind him at his press conferences. For him, the flag is a symbol of colonialist oppression and dispossession of Australia’s First Nations peoples. Bandt’s rejection of a central symbol of our political system only serves to reduce the chance of creating a compelling consensus of support for constitutional recognition of First Nations people. Bandt has allowed his opinion to cruel the hopes of the reasonable centre for sensible debate on how best to advance the cause of our First Nations people. The worst are truly full of “passionate intensity.”
Joining Bandt in the “passionate intensity” club is prominent Australian journalist Lisa Wilkinson. She has long been recognised as a champion of justice for Brittany Higgins, who was allegedly raped in her office in Parliament House. Last week, when accepting a television award for her work Wilkinson delivered a speech that annihilated one of the central propositions of our free society, namely that all people charged with an offence are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Her improper comments may well see the trial of the case postponed and/or Wilkinson been charged with interfering with the administration of justice.
A Justice of the ACT Supreme Court, Lucy McCallum, reacting to Wilkinson’s comments has said that “what concerns me the most…is that the distinction between an allegation and a finding of guilt has been completely obliterated.”
Lisa Wilkinson’s zealotry has, in Orwellian style, destroyed principles of justice whilst seeking justice for an individual. She has corroded the centrality and importance of the rule of law in society. The rule of law seeks to ensure fair trials for all. It cannot be undermined by self-appointed media experts whose demands for ‘justice,’ which in this case is to declare guilt before a trial, are at best the product of good intentions and, at worst, are an exercise in self-promotion. Erode the community’s faith in central and cardinal principles of justice and much is placed at risk.
Whilst Wimbledon has made decisions about who can play in this year’s tournament, sporting associations around the world have been wrestling with decisions about who should be allowed to play in response to issues raised by a growing number of transgender athletes. The association in charge of swimming, FINA, has been accused of discrimination by announcing a policy has at its centre, the cornerstone of fairness. Transgender swimmers who become female after their male puberty have been banned from competing at Olympic level. Women who have a male physiology are not allowed to compete against women who do not. Game, set and match to FINA. For once, the centre is holding.
In the world of tennis, the centre is no longer what it is. On 13 June Daniil Medvedev and Alex Zverev were by dint of game’s arcane ranking system elevated to the position of the world’s No.1 and No.2. ranked players. It was the first time since November 2002 that one of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, or Andy Murray had not been ranked in the top 2!
Yet the new centre is almost evanescent. Medvedev is barred from playing and Zverev’s injuries, suffered in his French Open semi-final, prevents him from playing. Despite what the computer says, Djokovic and Nadal begin the tournament as its No.1 and No. 2 seeds. For the first time in 24 years, Roger Federer will not be playing. Andy Murray hopes to be able to back on Centre Court. Serena Williams returns to the Centre Court not having played a competitive singles match since injuring herself in last year’s tournament. As her fortieth birthday looms, maybe Serena can seek inspiration to gain her 24th Grand Slam title from Rupert Murdoch who still seeks his grandest love at the age of 91! How else can one explain his decision to divorce his fourth wife, Jerry Hall?
Even if Medvedev were allowed to there would have been no glory for him. Since twice attaining the world’s No.1 ranking, Medvedev has not won a title, losing quarter, semi and finals matches to a range of players, including the unseeded Dutchman, Tim van Rijthoven, ranked 205 in the world, at the Rosmalen Grass Court tournament in the Netherlands.
Romance swirls around the Nadal quest for greater glory, but grass is not his preferred surface, even if it may be kinder to his injured foot. The European trinity of Tsitsipas, Hurkacz and Berrettini all have won recent grass court tournaments, but Wimbledon is another league. Similarly, doubts remain whether Australia’s racquet smashing, cursing, but self-proclaimed “gentler and kinder” Nick Kyrgios can keep mind and body together for seven best of five set matches, which could include a third-round match against Tsitsipas. Djokovic, who under current US law, will not be allowed to play in the US Open, will be razor keen to collect his fourth successive title. Who would bravely bet against him becoming a Grand Slam champion for the twenty-first time?
In the Women’s competition, Iga Swiatek will seek to continue her impressive winning streak of 35 matches. Brazil has a rising star in Beatriz Haddid Maia who, unseeded, won the Birmingham title, and was a semi-finalist at Eastbourne losing to eventual champion, Petra Kvitova, who showed glimpses of the talent that won her two Wimbledon titles in 2011 and 2014. Swiatek, subject to her comfort on grass, seems a cut above her rivals in terms of confidence and consistency. The only certain prediction is that there will be a new Ladies’ Champion, as there has been since 2016.
Even if England’s Emma Raducanu were to reprise her shock US Open victory of 2021, the Queen is unlikely to be motivated to attend Wimbledon to present the trophies, even in her platinum jubilee year. Apparently not a fan of tennis, the Queen last presented a Wimbledon trophy to England’s last female champion, Virginia Wade in her Silver Jubilee Year of 1977: the Queen met Wade, not the controversial Roe v Wade!
Age has not diminished the Queen’s sense of humour. This year one of the Dames created under her Honours awards is Dame Susan Elizabeth ION for her services to nuclear innovation and research! Not to be outdone, the Governor-General recently awarded an Order of Australia to Mr Antony Paul HASHam for his service to drug prevention education programmes.
As always, there will be no cheap seats at Wimbledon. Sadly, there is little that is cheap anymore as the Western world confronts a dramatic surge in price and wage inflation, triggered by supply shortages of fuel and food. Thanks, Vladimir!
In Putin’s protracted – over 110 days and counting- attempt to conquer Ukraine we can see the tragedy of those who seek to shatter the central hopes of a world community for a lasting peace which provides the best chance of prosperity for all. At a time when these hopes have been fractured, far too many have also lost confidence in the central assumptions of how we are to speak, think and behave. Let’s hope, for fourteen days at least, we can selfishly concentrate on the Centre Court and witness another chapter being added to its deserved glory.
Centre Court , SW 19, take a bow and thank you!