Wimbledon, we missed you and welcome back!
I am told that one of the world’s most popular movie franchises is ‘Fast and Furious’. Its ninth edition was released in Australia in June 2021.
Away from cinemas, the franchise title is entirely apt to describe the weeks on and off the tennis courts from the end of the French Open until today’s end of Wimbledon.
Fast and furious have so many events been, we must pause to remember even they were only days ago:
-The Chinese Communist Party staged a conference and nationwide celebrations to celebrate its centenary that made the Nuremburg rallies look incidental. If its import did not cause the pulse of the West to race furiously, nothing will;
-Haiti had another dose of its furiously violent politics when its President was assassinated;
-America and Australia have made a fast and furious military withdrawal from Afghanistan ending a twenty-year commitment to the nation. Many now fear the resurgence of Taliban control over the bedevilled country;
-Many South Africans were furious that their former President, Jacob Zuma, was sentenced to 15 months jail for corruption: many were equally furious that such punishment had not come faster;
-North Korea’s leader has, if you can believe the images, undergone a fast and furious loss of weight, leading to speculation that he is chronically unwell. Maybe he is just trying to emulate the famine and starvation he and his family have inflicted on his nation for decades;
-Starvation also prevented many Ethiopians from voting in their recent election, which was won by the Prosperity Party, an ironically named group if ever there was one;
-Canadians were rightly appalled and furious at further revelations about the mistreatment of its indigenous people in government schools as further graves of indigenous children who died in government ‘care’ were discovered. The news took the gloss off Canada Day on 1 July, when the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia suffered furiously hot days. The nation’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, reacted to the national trauma about the treatment of its indigenous people by appointing Inuit leader Mary Simon as the nation’s first indigenous Governor-General;
-Tasmania created another political first when its new Opposition Leader’s fast and furious tenure came to end after only a fortnight. David O’Byrne, who in a very Tasmanian way, is a member of Parliament together with his sister, Michelle, was forced to resign after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him;
-In England, a fast and furious embrace between the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and his research assistant, which breached every social distancing edict, resulted in his resignation from Cabinet. Unlike, Malcolm Turnbull, Boris Johnson has not reacted with furious indignance and imposed a “bonk ban”- I wonder why?;
-Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, returned to work on the first day of Wimbledon after a three-month enforced break caused by a serious back injury. Metaphors are all too obvious, but will Dan be able “to put Humpty back together again?” There are signs that the willingness of the Victorian people to tolerate the didactic Dan of a year ago may be starting to wane. Sadly, he had to spend his first days back at the desk refuting bizarre and pernicious conspiracy rumours about the cause of his injuries;
-Notwithstanding the nation floundering in its attempts to generate the numbers needed to achieve a barely respectable vaccination rate, Barnaby Joyce acted in a fast and furious manner to regain the leadership of the National Party and become, once again, the nation’s Deputy Prime Minister. Barnaby reclaimed the role in a fast and furious party room spill.
Scott Morrison watched the overthrow in splendid screen isolation in The Lodge whilst observing his post G-7 quarantine. Many commentators observed that the Prime Minister would now have a “more troublesome Deputy” whose views on climate change policy may be harder to isolate.
Joyce is a plain-speaking man. According to Wikipedia, his New Zealand grandfather was part of the ANZACS and briefly served as a bodyguard for the Prince of Wales, later to be Edward VIII. So, the family is bred to take the hits. Recently on television he was asked for his opinion on the Middle East crisis. He commented that the problem with trying to divide territory between Israel and Palestine was akin to someone “not wanting someone else’s turd in my toilet” With such sophistication in the highest offices in the land, what could possibly go wrong?
Sadly, in the greater Australian Commonwealth the rate of vaccination against Covid-19 remain anything but fast and furious. And there is no reason to wonder why. Parochial State politics have clashed with mixed messages from Federal and State Health Ministers and public servants to create confusion and dismay.
Astrazeneca, Pfizer and Moderna will no doubt find their way into the next edition of the Macquarie Dictionary. No doubt a quirky parent or two will see fit to name a child with one or more of these medical marvels. I suspect Delta will now be less popular.
As someone who can remember his grandparents talking about the numbers of children that died from whooping cough, scarlet fever, smallpox, tetanus, rubella, polio, and diphtheria, it defies belief that only 9% of Australians have been fully vaccinated. Some 27% have received their first dose of Astrazeneca, but many of these are now reluctant to have their second shot. As furious as I am at their reluctance, one can understand why. The Federal government says Astrazeneca is the right vaccine for those 50 and over, then announces it is appropriate for only those over 60, but those over 50 should proceed with their second jab. Then the Prime Minister says Astrazeneca will be available to those under 40 if they wish to discuss this option with their doctor. Then the Queensland Health Secretary, Jeannette Young, soon to be the Sunshine State’s Governor, declares that this would be unsafe practice. Oh, boy! Fast and furious contradictions and assertions do nothing to create public confidence at a time when it is needed most.
Gladys Berejiklian, for so long seen as the guru of pandemic management, had to impose a fast and severe lockdown in Sydney’s CBD and surrounding local government areas at the start of the school holidays. All because a driver transporting international passengers to quarantine was allowed to carry out his work without vaccination and/or wearing a mask and/or full protective equipment. Did anyone learn anything from the Ruby Princess debacle? Quelle surprise when the driver transports the pandemic far and wide! It did not take long for Gladys to become furious when Sydneysiders refused to recognise the seriousness of their situation, especially players from the St. George’s Rugby League team who conducted an illegal party, with some of them hiding under beds when police came to visit! The lockdown lingers as daily case numbers continue to rise.
What a year for the NSW Premier – certainly one where her clouds have had silver linings. If her sister’s text messages can be believed Gladys is now “in the company” of Arthur Moses SC who represented her at the ICAC hearings into the business dealings of her former beloved, Daryl McGuire. Now that is what I call a privileged lawyer/client relationship.
And then there has been the tennis! The news before Wimbledon was as significant as the tournament itself:
-the fortnight between Roland Garros and the start of Wimbledon was too fast for Rafael Nadal’s body to recover and he did not make it to the grass;
-Simona Halep’s calf injury could not recover quickly enough to enable her to defend her title. Luckily for Australia, Ash Barty had time for the hip injury that forced her withdrawal from the French Open to heal;
-Naomi Osaka did not have enough time away from the game to play at Wimbledon, but intends to play at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics; and
-Bernard Tomic proved he can continue to be fast and furious when sending his tennis career to oblivion. Now ranked 224 in the world, he lost to the world’s 125th ranked player at the Wimbledon qualifiers 4-6 1-6, with the second set lasting only eighteen minutes.
One of my favourite authors, Douglas Kennedy, has written about the human condition of being so furiously caught up in quotidian tasks that decades can quickly elapse without a person realising. He’s onto something! The 1971 Wimbledon Women’s final was the first one I watched on television. Perched in front of a black and white screen, I vividly remember the first and only all-Australian Ladies’ final between Evonne Goolagong and Margaret Court. Goolagong, fresh from her first Grand Slam victory in the French Open upset the defending champion. It seems like yesterday. A mere fifty years later, I watched Australia’s Ash Barty, for who Evonne is a heroine and mentor, emulate Evonne’s feat by adding the Wimbledon title to her French crown of 2019. In shades of 1971, there was the first all Australian Women’s quarter-final since 1968, when Barty defeated unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic. In 1968 Judy Dalton (nee Tegart) also upset Margaret Court en route to the final.
Barty, whose modesty seems to make many conclude that she lacks the authority and power associated with being ranked No.1 in the world, displayed guileful skills of spin, slice and powerful serving to take the title by defeating a former World No.1, Karina Pliskova, in the final. Pliskova, reminds me of another Czech player, Helena Sukova: like Sukova, she can reach Grand Slam semi-finals and the occasional final, but not consistent enough to win one.
Serena Williams was furious when a slippery Centre Court saw her make a fast exit from Wimbledon when she rolled her ankle. Alas, for Serena her Holy Grail of 24 Grand Slam titles now appears unattainable. Nick Kyrgios was entirely relaxed about another fast and furious appearance at Wimbledon, failing to recognise that “getting off the couch in Canberra” to race to Wimbledon without adequate preparation inevitably results in the injuries that led to his retirement from his third-round match.
The rush of time was reinforced ‘off the court’ by seeing Stefan Edberg in the stands watching the Gentleman’s Final. Frozen in my mind as a two-time Wimbledon champion whose backhand was a thing of beauty, he is now 55! On the court another reminder with Sebastian Korda, the 21 year old son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, reaching the final sixteen, upsetting Australia’s Alex de Minaur in the first round.
When Martina won the US Open in 1984 in a memorable final against Chris Evert-4-6 6-4 6-4-she edged ahead of Chris in their epic rivalry 31-30. At the post-match presentation Martina mused, “I wish it could have ended at 30-30”.
There will be many today who might wish that Nadal, Federer and Djokovic could remain at 20 Grand Slam titles each. Djokovic reaffirmed the dominance of the greatest trio ever to play tennis by winning a sixth Wimbledon and his 20th title, defeating Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in the final. Berrettini, who won the pre-Wimbledon Queen’s title, was game in defeat. Djokovic served for the first set at 5-3, before Matteo scrapped to win a first set tiebreak; however, Djokovic never seemed at risk of losing. His strength and range of shots, his fleet movement, and an extraordinary ability to return powerful serves with malice combined to make him unassailable.
We all know the script. If Djokovic can win the forthcoming Olympic title and US Open, he will win a “Golden Slam”, a feat only ever achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988. The ‘Next Gen’ of Tsitsipas, Thiem, Zverev and Berrettini will have to be finally ready to prove they are the next best if Djokovic is to be denied. Australia’s wheelchair champion, Dylan Alcott, is also capable of achieving a Golden Slam after winning his second Wimbledon title.
For the moment, it is remarkable that the three players who have won more Grand Slam titles than anyone else have all been playing at the same time, but maybe for not too much longer.
Novak made clear in his post-match comments that he will not be resting in his quest for greater glory: “I believe I am the best; I believe that I can win slams, I am the best at the moment. Whether I am the greatest I will leave for others to say.” Well, Novak I think you have filed your affidavit in support of the case!
However, Roger Federer must be contemplating the existential question of whether he can again play at his supreme level. Still adored by the crowds, Federer lost his quarter-final to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz. It was Federer’s first straight sets defeat at Wimbledon. The last set was lost 0-6, only the fifth time that Federer has suffered such an indignity.
Nadal, like Federer, will select tournaments to fit “body and soul” and no doubt hopes for a 14th French Open title next year. If Djokovic’s irrepressible vein of Grand Slam form continues, he may well be the holder of 22 titles come next year’s French tournament. I think the tennis world may have to be content with Nadal and Federer retiring, forever linked on 20 titles each, with the singular Serbian leaving them slightly in his shadow.
So, after a fast and furious fortnight on and off the court, tennis has again provided the greater stability. For all the withdrawals and surprise defeats of fancied players, the number one seeds won the Gentlemen’s Singles, Ladies’ Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles which was won by Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic from Croatia. For the third year in a row the third seeds, this year being Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Belgium’s Elise Mertens, won the Ladies’ Doubles. Just before England failed to realise its dream of international soccer glory in the Euro 2021 final at Wembley, England’s Neal Skupski teamed with America’s Desirae Krawczyk to win the Mixed Doubles title.
As always, there is still everything to play for, especially grander vaccination rates! I was reminded on a recent road tour of northern NSW, that life is very simple. When you come to a fork in the road, take it! There is more than one route to a common destination.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge the passing of Tony Trabert in February aged 90. Tony Trabert won the US Open in 1953 the French Open in 1954 and in 1955 the French, Wimbledon, and US Open singles’ titles. In 1956, Australia’s Lew Hoad also won three Grand Slam singles’ titles being denied a Grand Slam by Ken Rosewall in the final of the US Open. Trabert and Hoad were two of the great amateurs of the game who turned professional before the Open Era. Their matches against each other in the Davis Cup finals of 1953-1955 are regarded as some of the greatest in the competition’s and the game’s history. Trabert was an informative and astute tennis commentator and served as America’s Davis Cup Captain. Sic transit gloria mundi.
It is also appropriate to mark the retirement of the Duke of Kent as the President of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club. The Queen’s cousin has been presenting trophies at Wimbledon for a mere 52 years. His wife, the Duchess of Kent, retired from similar duties some years ago; however, she will always be remembered for consoling Jana Novotna after her heartbreaking loss to Steffi Graf in the 1993 Ladies’ final. In his final year of duty the Duke was accompanied by Kate Middleton How fitting it was that the Duke was presented with a replica of the Gentlemen’s Singles trophy as a tribute to his remarkable service.