- Julian Dowse
Not long after this year’s French Open Stephen Hawking’s ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey, next to those of Sir Isaac Newton. True to the season and Hawking’s observation, there is only the briefest amount of time between the battles on the red dust of Paris and the grass courts of Wimbledon.
I was informed recently that if the history of the earth were twenty four hours, then humans have only occupied centre stage for three seconds.
Well, in that time, we have certainly made our mark.
Since Paris, we have seen the leaders of North Korea and America meet in Singapore. The much anticipated summit on 12th June produced photo opportunities and an ambiguously worded communique; however, it is probably fair to say that concerns that the nuclear clock that has been ticking loudly on the Korean Peninsula is no longer in ‘countdown to Armageddon’ mode. Having fulfilled his destiny to make the world a safer place, President Trump has returned to the minor theatre of starting unrelenting trade wars and overseeing contentious immigration policies. However, even he discovered that, whatever his own opinions about his greatness, not many believe that America can be great on any level by continuing to forcibly separate children from their parents whilst their parents seek refuge.
Leaders gather in all areas of the world in strange places. Observing Mr. Putin sitting next to FIFA’s President and the ruler of Saudi Arabia at the opening match of the World Cup was a reminder that not all the world is blessed with democratic governments and practices. Yet, somehow the purity of the game occasionally emerges, notwithstanding the best efforts of its administrators. The 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal, with Costa scoring twice for Spain and Ronaldo scoring a hat-trick was a reminder why more people watch the World Cup than the Olympics.
Time outlasts us all.
Barbara Bush, the former First Lady of America from 1989-1993 passed away this year aged 93. Her marriage of seventy three years to George W. Bush is the longest Presidential marriage in history.
Mind you, some people are only just starting, or reprising their roles. At the age of 92, Mahathir Bin Mohamad was re-elected as Malaysia’s Prime Minister, earning himself fame as the oldest elected Prime Minister in history. Although elected as a stalking horse for Malaysia’s long suffering and regularly imprisoned Opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, it was still a remarkable achievement. The new Prime Minister instigated a corruption inquiry into the conduct of his predecessor, Najib Razak, which revealed staggering sums of money had been deposited in his predecessor’s bank accounts, although Mr. Razak expressed incredulity as to how $700 million came to be in one of the accounts. Notwithstanding his disbelief, the former Prime Minister has been formally charged with corruption.
However, Prince Philip signalled the end of his Royal Duties. At the age of 97, I think he is entitled to say, “enough is enough”.
Sir Laurence Street, the former Chief Justice of New South Wales, passed away aged 91. He is well remembered as both his father and grandfather were also Chief Justices of New South Wales.
Time also makes a mockery of things we held to be so dear and true.
Australia, which has for so long, had an economy that “rode on the sheep’s back” is now debating whether to ban the export of live sheep, given concerns about cruelty to animals en route to the rest of the world.
Before Mrs. Macarthur pioneered merino farming in modern Australia, the thought of transportation or emigration to Australia as either a convict or free settler made one contemplate a lengthy journey, from which there was no realistic prospect of returning. Australia was as far away from the mother country as a colony could possibly be and many were happy for it to stay that way.
Now, the ‘Dreamliner’ aircraft has arrived to give passengers an opportunity to travel to and from England as quickly as possible, with a non-stop Perth-London route of a mere 19 hours!
It has always been quicker to travel from England to Ireland, but a returning visitor to the ‘Emerald Isle’ would note how the country has radically rewritten its social culture.
By voting decisively to amend its Constitution to permit same-sex marriage and, most recently, to remove a constitutional ban on abortion, a country once known for the dominant influence of Catholicism is now seen as the vanguard of progressive secular social policy. So emphatic have the respective votes for change been that one wonders if the Irish people believed that they had to make up for lost time in the eyes of the world.
Australia’s Olympic Committee made up for lost time with the posthumous awarding of their highest award, the Olympic Order of Merit, to Peter Norman. Peter Norman was the silver medallist in the 200 metres at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 and his time in that race still stands as the Australian record. However, for too many years too many people believed he had tainted the reputation of Australian sport by supporting the ‘black power’ salutes of the American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won the gold and bronze medals in that race.
Peter Thomson, who was driving golf balls up fairways when Peter Norman was careering around the athletics track, passed away. Arguably Australia’s greatest golfer, Thomson won an impressive five British Opens. Less well known is that his son, Andrew, was the former Federal Member for Wentworth winning the seat for the Liberal Party in a by-election in 1995 after John Hewson quit politics after leading the Liberal Party to defeat in the “unlosable” Federal election of 1993. A fluent speaker of Japanese and Chinese, Andrew Thomson was Minister for Sport at the time of the Sydney Olympics, but then lost his pre-selection to an ambitious Peter King and left the Parliament in 2001. As Peter King sowed , so did he reap. He, in turn, was ousted from the seat in 2004, after having served only one term, by an ambitious Malcolm Turnbull.
It was time for New Zealand’s Prime Minister to take her maternity leave in mid-June, with Jacinda giving birth to a “wee” daughter, Neve Te Aroha, at the end of June. No doubt she will receive much guidance and assistance. There was a time when people had mentors and confidantes. How passé. I have recently learnt that it is possible to be assisted and guided by people who offer their professional guidance working as “soul enhancers”.
There was also a time when Sophie Mirabella was a prominent Federal Parliamentarian. The long-time member for the Victorian Federal electorate of Indi, Ms. Mirabella was the Shadow Minister for Industry prior to the 2013 election, when she surprisingly lost her seat to Independent, Cathy McGowan. Ms. Mirabella was known to be one of the most direct and forthright Members of the House, with many believing that it was fair to call her “pushy”. Recently, she was awarded a significant sum of damages after defamatory comments were made by a regional newspaper about Sophie’s conduct in her unsuccessful bid to reclaim Indi in 2016.
A jury in Wangaratta found that The Benalla Express had improperly suggested that she had pushed rival opponents out of the way at a ‘Meet the Candidates” gathering to gain photographic prominence. To be pushy is one thing, but to be a pusher is altogether different!
Of course, time just keeps rolling on for some, with barely a hint that anything has changed.
After Nadal’s incomparable win in Paris, Roger Federer returned to the circuit and duly won his 98th title with a win on the grass courts at Stuttgart. His three set victory over Kyrgios in their semi-final confirmed that Federer would once again rewind the clock and reclaim the world’s No.1 ranking for a record 310th week. Federer beat Milos Raonic in the final, which in some way was revenge for Raonic’s defeat of Federer in their semi-final at Wimbledon in 2016. Pliskova won the Women’s title prevailing in a feisty final against Coco Vandeweghe.
You may have thought I was writing in jest when I suggested that Kyrgios may well be Federer’s nemesis at Wimbledon. Little did you know! After his efforts in Stuttgart, Kyrgios defeated Andy Murray in Murray’s comeback match at Queen’s Club. He and Lleyton Hewitt managed to defeat the recently crowned French Doubles champions, Herbert and Mahut , before losing their quarter-final. Kyrgios progressed to the semi-finals, before losing to the eventual champion, Cilic who beat Djokovic in a three-set final. It was the first final for some time for Novak who en route to the last match of the tournament became the 10th player to win 800 tour matches. Ah, you ask who is on the 800+ winners list? Well, here they are in current numerical order: Connors, Federer, Lendl, Vilas, Nadal, McEnroe, Agassi, Nastase, Djokovic and Edberg.
Like all Croatians, Cilic was no doubt inspired by the efforts of his nation’s football team in Russia, especially their 3-0 victory over former powerhouse Argentina. It should not be forgotten that Cilic is one of the few players to have won a Grand Slam tournament during the dominance of the ‘Big Four’, winning the US Open in 2014. In winning Queen’s, Cilic showed signs of the form that took him to the Australian Open final in January, and, more relevantly, last year’s Wimbledon final. For Djokovic, making the final, in which he held a match point, was an encouraging return to the elite level of a tournament.
If all had gone to plan in Halle, Federer would have won his 99th ATP title and have been set for a 21st Grand Slam/ 100th ATP title party in Wimbledon. However, Borna Coric made the pre-Wimbledon weekend one to remember for Croatia with an upset three set victory over Federer who was seeking his tenth Halle title. Federer’s surprise loss also saw him forfeiting the world’s No.1 Wimbledon and returning it to Nadal. Notwithstanding this ebb and flow of computer points, the All England Lawn Tennis Club exercised their discretion to select the tournament’s seeds and gave Roger top billing.
In Australia, the winter solstice was marked by the Senate passing the Turnbull’s government legislative package of tax reforms that will adjust marginal rates for most taxpayers over the next seven years. The last-minute support of Pauline Hanson and her one remaining party Senator was enough to give Malcolm Turnbull the most significant partisan victory of his time in office.
Now for the company tax cuts? Well, not until the spring and, even then, probably not. Who knows what Mr. Shorten’s policy on company tax cuts will be at that time. Having brazenly announced that he would, if elected to government, repeal tax cuts already legislated for medium sized businesses, he had to renounce his unilateral policy less than a week later. Shorten’s decision, taken without the support of his Shadow Cabinet, was quickly labelled a “captain’s call”. Will it be remembered along with Julia Gillard’s appointment of Nova Peris to the Senate and Tony Abbott’s awarding of an Australian knighthood to Prince Philip as the beginning of Shorten’s demise?
Despite all the posturing and predictable rhetoric from the Opposition , it is hard to deny that Australia’s taxation system requires substantial reform. Too few pay too much and too many do not pay enough. The wealthiest 1% of Australia’s taxpayers pay 17% of all income tax, the wealthiest 10% pay 45% and the wealthiest 23% in the top two tax brackets pay a staggering 65% of personal income tax. Four out of ten households pay no net income tax to the Federal government.
As Peter Costello often observes, it is impossible to give a tax cut to someone who pays no tax. One of the reasons, apart from the pernicious influence of ‘Air B n B’, that very few Parisians live in Paris is that former President Hollande introduced a wealth tax which had the salutary effect of making the wealthy flee the country never to pay any tax again.
When setting marginal rates of taxation, the compass must always fall on charting levels of taxation that promote enterprise, rather than excessively punishing and/or discouraging the productive from further effort.
Telstra created a winter of discontent for itself by announcing the loss of 8000 jobs. Maybe their displaced workforce could assist in finalising the installation of the profligate and dubiously effective NBN ‘rollout’.
Woolworths chose the start of winter to implement its ban on supplying single use plastic bags to its customers. Notwithstanding months of advertising of their policy, consumers reacted with concern and strongly objected to being charged fifteen cents for a reusable plastic bag. Another day of social media outrage, another backflip: Woolworths announced a ‘free bag’ period of grace as did Coles.
Meanwhile, the theocrats in Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive in public for the first time, so I suppose their ability to shop will be made easier whether free recyclable/reusable plastic bags are available at an Arabian Aldi outlet or not.
Turkey’s President Erdogan, whom many fear may create a theocracy in his country won an unsurprising victory in the country’s Presidential election. However, Mexico elected a new President, Andres Obrador, who like his counterpart in Malaysia has promised to purge Mexico’s government of corrupt practices. His critics see him as a populist riding a wave of ‘Bernie Sanders’ socialist support and fear that Mexico may experience the economic collapse of Venezuela that began under the Presidency of Hugo Chavez in 1999. Chavez died of a heart attack, aged 58, in office in 2013. His socialist successor, Nicolas Maduro, was re-elected for another six year term in May this year. As in Turkey, Opposition supporters have denounced Maduro’s re-election as a farce and the electoral process a sham.
Process and accountability remains an elusive concept in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Adelaide’s Catholic Archbishop, Philip Wilson, was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for covering up episodes of child abuse but has refused to resign his post pending the exercise of his rights of appeal.
Despite concerns about corrupt betting practices, sport, especially tennis, continues to provide unexpected victories and losses.
Caroline Wozniacki won her first tournament since the Australian Open with a timely win at Eastbourne, which is now a Men’s and Women’s tournament. She defeated Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka who was competing for her first WTA title after defeating Pliskova and Radwanska en route to the final. In the Men’s event, Germany’s Mischa Zverev won his first title. Zverev performed better than his nation’s football team. Defending their World Cup title in Russia, where as one journalist quipped Germany has always struggled to prevail, the German team failed to make the second round of the tournament for the first time in eighty years. Petra Kvitova, like Wozniacki, appeared to be preparing well for Wimbledon with her fifth victory at the Birmingham tournament.
On the eve of Wimbledon, Andy Murray announced his withdrawal from the tournament. Notwithstanding his advocacy of Scottish independence, Murray was irritated that he had to conduct a press conference during Wimbledon that prevented him watching England play a match in the World Cup.
In a lovely reminder that the world still has a humane radar, even the World Cup could not attract as much attention as the fate of a junior Thai football team that were trapped by rising floodwaters in a cave in northern Thailand. Remarkably, the boys and their coach were located alive some ten days after they were entrapped. The world began to watch, wait and pray for a great escape. Even more remarkably, parlous rescue operations saw the first four boys rescued after sixteen days of being entombed.
Wimbledon began as England enjoyed one of its warmest spells of weather for many years. Generally, in warm weather seeds germinate and grow, but not at this year’s tournament. The seeds wilted in great numbers by the end of the first week.
For the first time in the Open Era, only ONE of the tournament’s top ten Women’s seeds survived to the fourth round, being seventh seeded Pliskova. She was joined by only six other seeds out of the tournament’s thirty two, being nos. 11,12,13,20 and 25. Ironically, the lowest ranked seed to progress to the round of sixteen was Serena Williams. By the end of the second round, five of the top eight women’s seeds had been defeated. Sloane Stephens may well have secured the ‘Mercurial Player of the Year’ award. In her last four Grand Slam tournaments she has won in New York, lost in the first round in Melbourne, been a finalist in Paris and lost in the first round at Wimbledon. Top-seeded Halep lost in the third round to Su-Wei Hsieh of Chinese Taiwan, a 32 year old player better known for her success in doubles. After the match, Halep indicated her desire to “return to a normal life”. After having won her coveted French Open title, one wonders whether Halep will emulate Djokovic’s fall from supremacy after his victory in Paris in 2016.
In the Men’s event, the attrition rate of the seeds was only marginally less severe. Pre-Wimbledon form counted for nought as Federer’s conqueror in Halle, Coric, lost in the first round as did Eastbourne champion, Zverev. Dimitrov also lost in the first round to the unseeded Stan Wawrinka. Cilic, fresh from victory at Queen’s Club, lost in the second round. By the fourth round, only 8 of the 32 Men’s seeds had not wilted, with Federer (1), Nadal (2) and Djokovic (12) continuing to suggest that the title would once again be claimed by one of the ‘Big Four’.
The arrival of summer heat would typically be a positive omen for Australian players. There were early signs of promise with seven Australians progressing to the second round and five to the third. However, it was there that their cultivation of further greatness ended. Kyrgios displayed impressive form in his first two matches; however, when faced with the tenacious Nishikori in the third round, he produced another listless and indifferent display.
Back in Downing Street, Theresa May was enduring a summer of discontent with her senior Minister responsible for negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, David Davis, resigning along with two Junior Ministers, to be followed by May’s rival-in-waiting, Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. Both Davis and Johnson accused the Prime Minister of reneging on both the Conservative Party’s manifesto on Brexit and the spirit of the Brexit referendum.
The Prime Minister must have also been wishing that she could remove Russian influence from her nation, especially after an innocent citizen lost their life after inadvertently having contact with the Russian nerve agent that nearly killed a former Soviet double agent and his daughter.
The Queen prepared to meet President Trump, who visited England after his unsurprising nomination of a conservative Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States. One wonders if shortly after or before the President’s visit, the Queen may have to accept the resignation of Theresa May and anoint the fourteenth Prime Minister of her reign: Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May currently comprise her baker’s dozen. To distract herself from the prospect of possibly losing her job, Theresa May could focus on meeting President Trump at the NATO summit and hosting him at Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s ancestral home, days after Trump conducted an interview that was entirely derogatory about the Prime Minister’s efforts in securing a Brexit solution.
No-one, unless forcibly held against their will, chooses to spend winter in Canberra, least of all our Parliamentarians. They are having their ‘winter recess’. Unfortunately, like primary school children, some of them seem to find recess the time to create more havoc, especially of the “he said/ she said” variety. A slanging match erupted between Senators Hanson-Young and Leyonhjelm, with each accusing the other of political incorrectness, misogyny, misandry and/or hypocrisy in comments allegedly made about their personal conduct and morality. Their stoush may end up in court, with Hanson-Young threatening a libel action. Then old enmities in the Labor Party erupted between Mark Latham and Graham Richardson. At least Barnaby was out of the news for a while!
Appropriate comments and behaviour by men towards women continues to be the political and cultural minefield of our times and not just in our nation. In Canada, Justin Trudeau, had to refute allegations that he groped a woman at a music festival a mere eighteen years ago….
It as if we all must be engaged in a constant barometric exercise of monitoring and assessing the degree to which our comments and/or our behaviour may cause offence. And then the personal does become the political. The strategies and policies of our governments are increasingly governed by the criterion of causing the least offence to the greatest number of people.
This was seen in the Federal Government’s response to the Productivity Commission’s Report on how best to distribute the GST. Rather than articulate a policy based on rational and enduring criteria, the government announced a formula where “all States would be better and/or no worse off.” Truth rarely has any direct connection with popularity, but for politicians it must! In 1993 the Liberal Party campaigned for office promising to introduce a Goods and Services Tax. When the Liberals were defeated, former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, dubbed the GST as the “Government’s Salvation Tax”. No doubt Malcolm Turnbull is hoping that his new formula for allocating GST revenue will also help save his government at the election of 2019, (although will unexpected government victories in forthcoming by-elections in Braddon and Longman tempt the Prime Minister to head to a springtime poll?) especially by regaining support in the critical marginal seats of Hasluck, Swan and Pearce in Western Australia.
Or has electoral support for the current government already ebbed away and dried up? Well, correct use of the apostrophe seems to have entirely evaporated in Australia. In the first week of Wimbledon, I embarked on a road trip through New South Wales- Albury, Wagga Wagga, Temora, West Wyalong, Forbes, Parkes, Dubbo, Wellington, Orange, Bathurst, Lithgow, Katoomba and Sydney. Every road sign requiring an apostrophe did not have one.
Heffernan’s Creek was now Heffernans Creek, as was Slingers Creek- was it named in honour of a singular Slinger or the Slinger family? Sadly, it appears no one will ever know. It was equally as heartbreaking to see the effects of the drought in most of New South Wales. Winter paddocks were summer images of parched earth and stubble, rather than lush fields of burgeoning crops awaiting harvest in spring.
Australia has a natural geographic Great Dividing Range, but the economic and social divide between regional and rural Australia and its major cities is profound and multi-faceted. The residents of Sydney and Melbourne are endlessly anxious about either the value of their house or their ability to ever afford one.
In country towns, people worry about retaining their populations and opportunities for employment, rather than capital growth and urban problems of growing populations. The appearance and patois of regional Australia and regional Australians is no longer shared by the cities. Cosmopolitan cafes, alternative cultural events and hipster men with waxed moustaches, stovepipe denims and pointy tan shoes sucking on e-cigarettes are commonplace in the cities, but not so much in Dubbo. The optimism of the Federation architecture of many country towns now seems sadly misplaced. “A nation for a continent and a continent for a nation” declared our first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, but the common threads are wearing thin. Even in Sydney, pubs are engaged in clientele wars, with many advertising that tradies are welcome in their ‘hi-vis’ workwear to drink their tap beers and lagers and that neither artisan beers nor hipsters are encouraged. The Aussie pub, once the democratic meeting spot for one and for all -with the Ladies in their own Lounge-is no longer.
However, one should not be surprised. What once could be safely be assumed to be commonplace is no more. Even New South Wales managed to win a State of Origin Rugby series! When recently completing two government information forms, I noted the gender options on one were ‘Male’, ‘Female’ or ‘Don’t Know’ and, on the other ‘Male’, ‘Female’ and ‘Gender Diverse’. Take your pick. Visiting the Archibald Portrait Exhibition in Sydney, it was surprising to see so few portraits. Most of the paintings were grim, exaggerated images of etiolated subjects who looked universally unhappy. Thankfully, there were some Renaissance portraits in the Gallery, including one of Henry VIII, that illustrated what classic portraiture was and always should be.
As the countdown to the finals at Wimbledon and the World Cup took place, greater attention was given to the countdown to the rescue of those trapped in the Thai caves. As the female quarter-finalists were decided at Wimbledon, four more boys were rescued in a feat of skill, daring and expertise that redefined the meaning of intrepid. English soccer fans may have been chanting, “It’s coming home”, about the World Cup trophy, but the whole world was waiting for all the Thai boys to be safely back in their homes, which, astonishingly, they were by Men’s Quarter-Finals day.
Tragically, there will be no homecoming for over one three hundred people who perished in floods in Japan, or the scores killed in a terrorist attack during an election campaign in Pakistan.
The defeat of the petulant Karolina Pliskova in the fourth round by Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands, who was seeking to be the first Dutch player to reach a Wimbledon final since Betty Stove in 1977, meant that not one of the top ten seeds would play in the quarter-finals. The absence of the top seeds was unprecedented. It was the first time since seedings were introduced in 1927 that no female player ranked in top eight had been one of the last eight.
Despite this aberration, there was some pedigree with former Grand Slam champions Ostapenko, Kerber and, of course, Serena, progressing to the last eight and then to the last four in company with unseeded German, Julia Goerges.
In the Men’s fourth round, the big servers rose to the top alongside the crème de la creme. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic were joined by Kevin Anderson, Milos Raonic, Jon Isner, and Juan Del Potro and the plucky Nishikori who made his first Wimbledon quarter-final.
Neither Nadal nor Federer had dropped a set en route to the quarter-finals, with Nadal seeming to relish the unusually hard bounce of the grass courts courtesy of England’s atypically warm summer.
The Men’s quarter-finals produced two epic matches that together lasted close to nine hours. Roger Federer, playing on Court One, for the first time since 2015, surrendered a two set to love lead for only the fifth time in a career of 1415 matches-Hewitt, Nalbandian, Djokovic and Tsonga are the other players to have achieved a similar comeback-when he lost to last year’s US Open finalist, Anderson. Federer who had not dropped his serve for 84 consecutive games at Wimbledon held a match point in the third set when Anderson was serving at 4-5. Federer then lost his serve, and it seems nerve, for the first time in the tournament. Anderson rallied from 0-40 when serving for the set to claim it 7-5.
The final set proved that Anderson’s win was not fluky. Serving second, Anderson had to maintain the quality of his serve and stroke play to win the match. He saved further break points at 3-4. And then at 11-11, it was a case of Catch 22 for Federer. First, Roger blamed ill-timed noise in the crowd for distracting him from a shot. Then the noise of a plane overhead delayed a second serve leading to Federer’s first double-fault of the tournament. Was it a noise, was it a bird or a plane? Well, it certainly was the demise of the superman of tennis. Anderson broke and held serve comfortably to become the first South African to reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon since Kevin Curren in 1983, who lost an epic semi-final to New Zealand’s Chris Lewis who, in turn, was easily beaten by John McEnroe in the final. When McEnroe was disturbed at Flushing Meadow by an aeroplane approaching La Guardia airport, he once turned to the skies and told the plane “to shut up”. Maybe Federer needed to release some primal energy in that final set to secure a victory that seemed to be his for the taking.
Nadal battled from two sets to one down to continue his dominance over Del Potro in a match of powerful strokes and impressive sportsmanship. Nadal earned the right to play Djokovic in a semi-final, after Novak defeated Nishikori in four sets. The match would be their 52nd contest and their third against each other at Wimbledon. In 2007, Nadal won their semi-final and in 2011 Djokovic beat Nadal to win his first Wimbledon crown. For each of them it would be their sixth Wimbledon semi-final. Collectively, the Men’s semi-finalists were the oldest quartet since the Open era began.
With Nadal and Djokovic playing for a place in the final, the tournament was assured that the run of at least of one of the ‘Big Four’ being in the Wimbledon final since the Hewitt/Nalbandian final of 2002, would continue into its sixteenth year! Their opponent would be either Anderson or Jon Isner, both playing in their first Wimbledon semi-final. Isner, who defeated former finalist Milos Raonic to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final, will be forever famous for his 2010 Wimbledon first round victory against Nicolas Mahut, which is still the longest match in tennis history. Isner won a contest that took 11 hours and 5 minutes and was played over three days before he prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.
Little did we know that Isner would deliver an encore performance! Anderson prevailed over Isner in a mere six hours and thirty five minutes in the second longest match in the tournament’s history. Twenty four games were needed to decide the final set of the Anderson/Federer quarter final and Isner managed to win twenty four games in the last set of the semi-final before succumbing. The final score to Anderson: 7-6, 6-7,6-7,6-4, 26-24. Both Isner and Anderson commented after the match that the time has come to consider introducing fifth-set tie-breaks at 12-12. Anderson is only the second South African to reach the Men’s Final, the first being Brian Norton in 1921 who lost to the great American, Bill Tilden in five sets after leading two sets to love and holding a Championship point.
The extraordinary duration of the first semi-final meant that Djokovic and Nadal did not commence their match until 8.00 p.m. The roof was closed and the lights came on. Wimbledon Council regulations stipulate that the lights cannot remain on after 11.00 p.m. So, the maximum amount of time Djokovic and Nadal had to play that evening was two hours and fifty minutes. Djokovic began their match with greater authority and achieved what very few can do against Nadal by keeping him off balance at the back of the court. He won the first set off one break of serve, 6-4. Typically, Nadal rallied and obtained an early break in the second set, only to immediately lose his serve, but Nadal, conscious of the importance of squaring the ledger, surged again to win the second set 6-3. After the big serving brashness of the American college rivals, the Djokovic/Nadal match reminded us of why they are two of the greatest of all time. Shots of audacious power and angle, relentless scrambling for the ball, deft drop shops and improbable returns of serve were endless. One would have paid a fortune just to watch the last two games of the second set, where the players’ sublime skills were reiterated point after point.
You would have paid more to see the tie-break at the end of the third set. It began with a double-fault from Djokovic and then erupted into riotously brilliant play. Nadal played exquisite drop shots and had two set points, but could not convert either. Nadal saved a set point, but Djokovic was able to convert the first set point on his serve to win the tie-break 11-9 and take a two set to one lead as play was suspended. Play resumed the next day with the roof still closed. Of course, the match went to a fifth set. Of course, it was extended to the limits, but the advantage Djokovic had in serving first counted for something .Nadal saved a match point at 7-8 with an outrageous drop shot, but Djokovic, relishing his underdog status, held firm to prevail to enter his fifth Wimbledon final, by breaking Nadal to love in the eighteenth game of the final set. Statistically, the match was all but a deadlock. Each player scored 73 winners, each broke the serve of the other 4 times, each committed 42 unforced errors. However, by taking the final game to love Djokovic was a winner of 195 points to Nadal’s 191. If there was a decisive factor, it was possibly Djokovic’s extraordinary first serve percentage, which saw him winning 76% of points on the first serve, compared to Nadal’s 67%.
Djokovic took to his fifth final the impressive record of being the dominant player amongst the ‘Big Four’. Now leading Nadal 27-25 in their rivalry, he is the only one of the quartet to hold a winning record against all others. Their semi-final lasted 5 hours 17 minutes, meaning both semi-finals lasted close to 12 hours! As France celebrated Bastille Day and anticipated their nation playing in the World Cup final , it was bizarre to consider that the ultimate football contest will last a maximum of 120 minutes! The match emulated their epic 2012 Australian Open final which Djokovic also won in the fifth set after 5 hours 53 minutes. For Federer and Nadal their run of Grand Slam dominance since January 2016 comes to an end in the middle of 2017, which seems appropriate as they continue to reign supreme with their respective 20 and 17 Grand Slam titles.
The Women’s semi-finals saw the remarkable return of Serena Williams continue. By defeating Goerges in straight sets, Serena reached her tenth Wimbledon final where her opponent would be Germany’s Angelique Kerber who showed greater maturity to defeat a spirited Ostapenko in their match. Kerber defeated Serena to win her first Grand Slam title in Australia in 2016 and then lost to Serena in the Wimbledon final later that year. Kerber had reason to feel confident about her chances. She had narrowly lost this year’s Australian Open semi-final to Halep and reached the quarter-finals at the French. Serena had sentiment on her side as she sought to win her 24th Grand Slam final, in only her fourth tournament since giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia.
Royalty, of tennis and other worlds, was there to witness the final: The Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex , Billie-Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Conchita Martinez, Virginia Wade, Angela Mortimer, Anna Wintour and Lewis Hamilton just to name a few. Channel 7, maybe to save costs as it prepares to broadcast Test cricket, defaulted to using the BBC coverage of the finals. John McEnroe and Tracy Austin provided excellent commentary of the Women’s final, together with the engaging and measured Andrew Castle. How preposterous to think that next year will be the fortieth anniversary of McEnroe and Austin precociously winning their first US Open titles!
If the Men’s semi-finals had been outrageously rich, almost indigestible courses, then the Women’s final was barely more than a cleansing sorbet. In a match lasting just over one hour, Kerber swept past an error-prone Williams 6-3 6-3. Williams lost her serve four times. Although she hit 23 winners to Kerber’s 11, Serena made 24 unforced errors. Not even Queen Serena can abdicate a set of cheap points and expect to regain her Wimbledon crown. The match had as many games as Djokovic and Nadal’s final set and was completed in less than half the time of Djokovic and Nadal’s final two sets. Suddenly, Angelique Kerber has become the Stan Wawrinka of Women’s tennis. Like the Swiss, she has, in two years, played in four Grand Slam finals and won three of them. The French Open is the only title she now misses from her Grand Slam collection, with Wimbledon missing for Wawrinka. Kerber’s surge to stardom began at the 2016 Australian Open, where she saved a match point in her opening round match.
At the youthful age of 40, Mike Bryan teamed with 25 year old Jack Sock, to win the Mens’ Doubles title. It was his 17th Grand Slam title which equals the record of Grand Slam doubles titles won by John Newcombe. However, it was the first won without his identical twin, Bryan, who is currently injured, being alongside him. For Sock, it was his second Grand Slam and second Wimbledon Doubles title adding to his victory in 2014. Mike Bryan won his first Grand Slam Doubles title at Roland Garros in 2003, when Sock was ten years old. In another lengthy five set match-remembering that Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event where Mens’ Doubles matches are the best of five sets-Bryan and Sock beat the South African and New Zealand pairing of Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus 6-3, 6-7,6-3,5-7,7-5. Klaasen and Venus also have a combined age of 65, with Klaasen at 35 playing in his first ever Grand Slam final and Venus playing in his second, having won at Roland Garros last year.
In the Ladies’ Doubles final, the successful run of Czech players continued. Barbora Krejcikova, paired with fellow countrywoman Katerina Siniakova to win their first Wimbledon crown and add to their Grand Slam collection that began at this year’s French Open. Both aged 22, the third seeds were the highest ranked players to taste victory at this year’s tournament. They won 6-4,4-6,6-0 over Nicole Melichar, an American who was born in the Czech Republic, and Kveta Peschke, another Czech, who at a spritely 43 years of age could not add to her solitary Grand Slam Doubles title won at Wimbledon in 2011 with Katarina Srebotnik.
In the Mixed Doubles, Melichar took her second chance at her first Grand Slam title. Playing with Austrian Alexander Peya, they defeated England’s Jamie Murray and Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka, who, like Serena has returned to the tennis circuit after becoming a mother. The defeat of Murray and Azarenka meant that English sports fans were not compensated for their nation’s loss in the World Cup Third Place playoff to Belgium.
If the Women’s final was a swiftly cleansing interlude, then the Men’s final was the epitome of petit fours with coffee and ‘let’s pay the bill and be on our way.’ As is to reinforce the tournament’s remarkable run of dry weather, Djokovic and Anderson played their final on a cloudless and bleaching 30 degree Sunday afternoon.
On such days in Australia we are reined to reapply sunscreen lotion every three hours to prevent damaging sunburn. Well, there was no risk of Djokovic being scorched. Slip, slop, slap and the title was his in a little over two hours: 6-2, 6-2, 7-6(3). Anderson, still clearly sore and restricted in his movement after his marathon semi-final- maybe he had too much time to recover?- rallied to make Djokovic save a set point at 4-5 in the final set, but Djokovic’s victory was always assured. It was the third consecutive straight sets victory in the final of the Men’s competition, with Kerber’s victory being the sixth consecutive straight sets victory in the final of the Women’s Championship.
With his victory, Djokovic joins an elite group of players who have won Wimbledon on four occasions:
Amateur Era: Men- William Renshaw, the Doherty brothers, Reginald and Laurence, Anthony Wilding and Rod Laver (2); and
Open Era: Rod Laver(2), Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.
Amateur Era: Women- Blanche Hillyard, ‘Lottie’ Dod, Charlotte Sterry, Suzanne Lenglen, Helen Wills-Moody and Louise Brough; and
Open Era: Billie Jean-King, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Venus Williams and Serena Williams.
Following his presentation with the trophy on court, Djokovic, in keeping with custom was escorted through the clubrooms to greet adoring fans from the AELTC’s balcony. Having been presented with his trophy by the ageless Duke of Kent, Djokovic met with some pantheons of tennis en route to his presentation to the public. He spoke to Stan Smith, the Men’s Champion of 1972, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert-Lloyd and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Fittingly, he also spoke to fellow four-time champion Rod Laver whose titles bridge the game’s Amateur and Open eras.
Djokovic, whose fall from supremacy of the game following the French Open in 2016 was as sudden as it was surprising, clearly relished his unexpected victory which was witnessed by his infant son, Stefan. Remember, this was the man who expressed doubts about playing at Wimbledon following the French Open. Over the last ten years Djokovic has been Wimbledon’s most successful male competitor. He has played in five finals, winning four of them including two successive victories over Federer. Federer is the next best, playing in five finals, winning three of them, then Murray with two wins from three finals.
Novak has now won 13 Grand Slam titles, the fourth greatest in the Open Era, now being only one behind Pete Sampras. In winning Wimbledon, the tally of Grand Slam titles won by Federer (20), Nadal (17) and Djokovic (13) has reached a staggering 50, reinforcing, if any further proof were needed, of their unparalleled dominance for over a decade.
On the evening of Djokovic’s victory, France finally managed to conclude a campaign in Russia on a successful note. In a sparkling final, Les Bleus, defeated first-time finalists Croatia 4-2 to claim their second World Cup title, some twenty years after their maiden success. The final contained every possible facet of the game: superb strikes, a deflected header from a free kick that resulted in an own goal, an inexplicably amateur error by the French captain and goalkeeper and the first penalty awarded in a World Cup final after the referee reviewed footage of the game after the French claimed a Croatian defender had handled the ball. France’s victory confirmed that there were still residual benefits from its nineteenth century imperialism, with their key strikers having French/African heritage.
2 French World Cups x the 50 titles won by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic = 100. As the World Cup concluded, celebrations continued in Moscow and Paris into the morning of 16th July, which was the centenary anniversary of the assassination of the Romanov Royal family by the Bolsheviks. One reason for the revolutionary overthrow of the Romanovs was Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War One. Russia’s strong alliance with Serbia led to Nicholas II declaring war against his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. This year it was Serbia and Germany that produced Wimbledon’s singles champions. It is believed that the wealth of Nicholas II, was, in contemporary inflation adjusted terms, amounted to $300 billion dollars.
How pleased Russians must be that the Bolshevik revolution has not prevented their latest despot accumulating a similar fortune. And how pleased we should all be that Presidents Trump and Putin have been able to agree in Helsinki that Russia is not an aggressive, interfering nation. How timely this revelation was on the anniversary of the downing of MH17 and as Russian troops continue to occupy the Crimea and the Ukraine and support a condemned regime in Syria. It is beyond galling to think an American President would allow his wish for the personal approval of fellow narcissists to let him behave in such a pusillanimous manner. And now, away from his private Helsinki meeting room and in the full glare of the democratic spotlight, Trump’s pathetic prevarication in search of exoneration begins. His lack of statesmanship was reinforced when former President Obama delivered his first major oration of his post-Presidential life to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela.
So, the sun sets on another Wimbledon. No more lights, cameras or action. However, as we prepare for our politicians to return to the glare of Canberra, how Australia continues to generate energy for its lights and the amount Australians will have to pay for energy will sit alongside taxation policy as a key debate of the next Federal election. Not so much a search for “a light on the hill”, but a contest about “which electricity company can I trust?” and “which source of energy should we use?”
Regrettably, if opinion polls are to be believed, Australian politics is locked in a bizarre ‘double negative’. Although the gap is narrowing, the Liberal-National coalition government consistently trails the Labor Opposition as the preferred government. Further, the Opposition Leader regularly trails, by a widening margin, the Prime Minister as the preferred leader of the nation. It appears the public does not like either the incumbent government or is willing to countenance the alternative Prime Minister.
However, in the world of tennis there is no diminishing of our respect and admiration for the greatness of the players that sustain the sport at a level that will only be truly appreciated upon their retirement. Federer turns 37 in August and it is Serena’s turn in September. Nadal turned 32 during the French Open and Djokovic and Murray turned 31 within a week of each other in May. We know it all must end one day, but no one wishes that day to come just yet. After all, when rich main courses, tingling sorbets and/or petit fours are prepared by these greats, their fare and flair are always delectable.
17th July, 2018