Whenever I gaze at Centre Court, I am in paradise! (apologies to The Kinks)
So, another Wimbledon is about to begin!
How it can be two years since Roger Federer played his final match on Centre Court, let alone two years since Ashleigh Barty won her title ?
This week the All England Lawn and Tennis Club will release their seedings for this year’s tournament. The AELTC has maintained many distinct Wimbledon traditions for decades: insistence on players wearing predominantly all-white clothing- subject to Billie Jean King’s recent requests re female underwear- no play on the first Sunday of the tournament and no play taking place on the famed Centre Court between tournaments save for a charity match the week before the tournament begins.
Another Wimbledon tradition had been that the AELTC did not consider itself bound to automatically generate its seedings from the computer rankings of the Association of Tennis Professionals and Womens’ Tennis Association tours. It had reserved unto itself the discretion to select seedings based on grass court performance, history at Wimbledon etc. In 1985, for example, the AELTC announced that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova would be ranked as equal No.1 seeds.
No longer is discretion the better part of seeding! The computer tail wags the seeding committee dog. The AELTC may be wishing that it had not foregone this discretion. Andy Murray, the two-time local champion, won two grass tournaments at Surbiton and Nottingham before falling to Australia’s Alex De Minaur at the Queen’s Club tournament. In years past, such efforts from a patriotic evergreen would probably have earned Murray a discretionary seeding, even if the final No.32. Now, he must practise schadenfreude and hope for further withdrawals to gain a seeding: Khachanov is injured, so too is Berrettini, four more retirements required!
The AELTC have specialised in enraging the Murray clan and fans over recent days. A publicity poster for this year’s tournament -see below- promoted the new generation with an image of Alcaraz and Jacob Sinner at the forefront of a parade of past champions- the Great 3, Navratilova and Evert-Lloyd, Serena and Venus Williams, Borg and McEnroe, Edberg and Becker, but no Andy Murray! Always best to refrain from publishing the posters until one is certain of their relevance. No sooner had Wimbledon’s publicity been produced than Sinner had to withdraw from the recent Halle tournament with a strained abductor muscle!
Back to the Queen’s Club tournament. Alex de Minaur, the plucky Australian, became the first Australian finalist at Queen’s Club since Lleyton Hewitt. He was defeated in the final by Carlos Alcaraz who, fresh from his cramping collapse against Djokovic in the French Open, won his first grass court title and reclaimed the world’s No.1 ranking. Hence, the Spaniard will be Wimbledon’s Men’s top seed. To suggest he should be ranked ahead of a seven-time Wimbledon champion in Djokovic is odd to say the least.
The Women’s seedings have a clearer logic about them. Iga Swiatek, chasing her first Wimbledon title, has a deserved No.1 ranking, although defending champion Elena Rybakina’s grass-court form probably entitles her to the No.2 ranking ahead of the politically harassed and capricious Aryna Sabalenka.
The foibles of tennis purists aside, few could doubt that Alcaraz/Djokovic and Swiatek/Rybakina/Sabalenka offer worthwhile choices for either No.1 or 2 seedings.
Sadly, it does not appear that the American public will have an edifying choice at next year’s Presidential election.
Another contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden would see a battle between two octogenarians; one increasingly irrational and narcissistic, the other increasingly feeble and uncertain in diction and direction. One has been charged with criminal offences concerning the misuse of classified documents. The other has seen his son convicted of numerous tax offences and the illegal possession of a firearm whilst a drug user. In the Biden family it seems increasingly difficult for the sins of the son not to attach themselves to the father. Bizarrely, the prospect of Joe Biden’s No.2, Kamala Harris, succeeding to the position, is seen as reason to hope that Biden survives in all senses of the word. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s former No.2, Mike Pence, is campaigning to prevent Trump being nominated again. All we now need is for Hillary Clinton to announce her third coming to confirm that there are no limits to absurdity.
Russia’s tragedy is that for over 400 years, its citizens have never had the ability to choose their leaders. They have had to endure the vanities and excesses of a succession of Tsars, Communist dictators, and totalitarian thugs. Putin’s desire to annex Ukraine was never going to end well, except in his own glorious thoughts. Last weekend’s mutiny of mercenaries against their Russian masters suggests the conflict can only end in a far worse way than could have been imagined.
Nor is the world well served by India’s Narendra Modi and China’s Xi Jinping giving the impression that they consider themselves the unassailable No.1 seeds of their nations for perpetuity. Even in the early years of Wimbledon, the defending champion had to face an annual challenger. Democratic voices of dissent are muted, if not silenced, in the world’s two most populous nations.
Australians have a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ choice to make later this year about whether or not to create a constitutional indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament.’ After Wimbledon, the exact date of the referendum will be known. The referendum will be as much a test of our democratic processes and discourse as an examination of the merits of the proposal.
The honour roll of Wimbledon champions in the 1960s had a distinctly Anglo/American feel. There was an all English Ladies’ final in 1961 won by Angela Mortimer, with Ann Jones also triumphing for England in 1969. Australia had champions in Rod Laver, Margaret Smith, Roy Emerson, and John Newcombe. America had Billie Jean- Moffit and Chuck McKinley. Only Brazil’s Maria Bueno and Spain’s Manual Santana were not from the Anglosphere.
How quickly it all changes! The winners of this year’s important Wimbledon lead-up tournaments have been from Spain ( Alcaraz at Queen’s Club), Kazakhstan- Russian born (Bublik at Halle) and Latvia (Ostapenko at Birmingham). Not to forget that the seven-time defending Men’s champion is from Serbia and Swiatek is from Poland. Call it the end of the bi-polar Cold War world, call it globalisation, call it what you will, but Wimbledon has not been immune from the world’s seismic political shifts.
In the 1960s America also produced a singing duo, Simon and Garfunkel, whose soaring melodies and sensitive lyrics made them the No.1 seeds of many a lounge room around the world as their “sounds of silence” built many a “bridge over troubled water.”
As the Gods of tennis destiny prepare to oversee the near certainty of Novak Djokovic winning an eighth Wimbledon title and equalling what seemed to be the eternally elusive record of Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam titles, may I paraphrase one of Simon and Garfunkel’s sweetest songs, “Song for the Asking”?
For, it does seem that this year for Djokovic the “Title is his for the taking”
Here is my eight title for the taking
Watch me play so sweetly
I’ll make you smile
This is my eight title for the taking
Don’t turn away
I’ve been waiting it for all my life
Thinking it over, I’ve been sad,
Thinking it over, I’d be more than glad
If people would change the ways they think of me
Watch me play
And I will play with all the desire for history that I hold inside
If Djokovic and Swiatek triumph, it will be the first time that the French singles’ champions have triumphed in the same year at Wimbledon since the legendary French pairing of Rene Lacoste and Suzanne Lenglen, nearly a century ago in 1925! Never in the Open Era!
If Djokovic does not win it will be the greatest upset at Wimbledon since Arthur Ashe beat Jimmy Connors in the 1975 Men’s final.
This Thursday is the 109th anniversary of the assassination of the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian independence fighter. Many regard his bullets as the most damaging catalysts of history. Wimbledon victories for Djokovic and Swiatek would create a victorious Serbian/Polish alliance. How remarkable the joy that would bring compared to the horrors that were unleashed in the weeks following the assassination, when what is now known as Poland and Serbia became focal points of the imperial rivalry that led to the abyss of World War 1.
For the moment, we celebrate grace and gentleness of what is played for at the tournament that never has to trumpet its green credentials! Then again can strawberries and cream be carbon neutral?