It’s all in the timing. Maybe we have always known that. Imagine if Wimbledon had been held this week. Yesterday, London recorded its hottest ever day with the thermometer nudging 40.1 degrees Celsius. One can only imagine the sauna like atmosphere of its grass Centre Court, roof closed or unclosed.
As it was the final day of Wimbledon was warm enough, a fitting summery climax, with the Centre Court celebrating its century of service under a cerulean sky.
The organising committee could not have wished for more, which is just as well as everything else they could control did not go to plan.
Having banned Russian and Belarussian players the Ladies’ Singles champion, Elena Rybakina, claimed her allegiance was to Kazakhstan, although many saw this as a ruse, noting that she was born in Moscow and represented Russia in tennis from 2013-2018. Her conversion to the nationalistic joys of the former Soviet province was timely indeed.
The decision to ban the Russian and Belarussian players can be placed in the category of “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” So, too can the decision of the St. Andrew’s Golf Club to ban former British Open champion, Greg Norman, from celebrating the 150th Open at the venerable Scottish links course. Could the banning of one Queenslander have contributed to the success of another?
Cameron Smith became Australia’s first Open champion since Norman. His victory only served to refocus attention on Norman’s attempt to create a breakaway golf tour underwritten by Saudi Arabia’s wealth. Greg Norman is entitled to pose the following and fair question: If Joe Biden is comfortable to visit the Saudi leader, who is to say we cannot allow Saudi Arabia to underwrite golfing events?
Meanwhile cricket administrators in Sri Lanka were able to display the game’s reputation for sangfroid and “staying calm and carrying on” by allowing a recent Test Match to proceed whilst the Presidential place was being ransacked.
Back to the tennis.
The Gentlemen’s final was overlaid with controversy. On one side of the net stood the defending champion, Novak Djokovic, seeking his seventh Wimbledon title from an eighth final, having been banned from playing in Australia and as currently stands, unable to play in his year’s US Open because of his unvaccinated status. His opponent was the surly, snarling and sniping Australian Nick Kyrgios, whose path to the final was a parade of controversial matches featuring disrespectful behaviour and inappropriate attire.
The Prince versus The Punk.
Princeliness prevailed, but only after the Punk had predictably lost his self-control at critical moments in their match, especially losing his serve at 4-4 in the third set from 40-0. Suddenly, Djokovic was serving for a two set to one lead at 5-4. Kyrgios’ momentum was lost as quickly as it took him to yell abuse at his closest supporters. Did anyone else notice that the central umpire called the second set to Kyrgios even after Djokovic had won it? Subliminal intimidation at play?
For the sake of a point or two, Kyrgios may have found his way to the kingdom of tennis. Maybe not. Djokovic has an inner resolve that seems unbreakable. Remember this is the man who saved two match points against Roger Federer in the 2019 final with Federer serving for the title. Djokovic has a mould of toughness that mercurial players like Kyrgios cannot crack. One set may possibly be lost, but not three. After all his dramas earlier in the year, Djokovic defended his Wimbledon title in an almost identical manner to last year. In 2021, Djokovic defeated Matteo Berrettini 6-7 6-4 6-4 6-3. As Australians were urged to receive their fourth booster vaccination against Covid-19, Djokovic won his fourth successive title by the near identical score of 4-6 6-3 6-4 7-6.
The awkward atmosphere of the Gentlemen’s final was captured in an image of the Duchess of Cambridge shielding her son’s ears from one of Kyrgios’ outbursts. When the Duchess presented the trophies at game’s end, she left the court with a respected, but unloved, champion standing alongside his polarising opponent. Even at tournament’s end, Kyrgios chose to provocatively wear an outré red cap. Nothing it seems is more important to Kyrgios than being the individual he thinks he must be, even at the expense of wasting his many talents and insulting the traditions of his sport.
Djokovic’s victory was on some levels pyrrhic. In response to the Russian/Belarussian ban, the players’ associations stripped the tournament of rankings points. Bizarrely, Djokovic’s ranking slid from No.3 No.7 the week after his victory.
So, forgive me but some remarkable statistics need restating:
Djokovic was playing a 32nd Grand Slam Final, the most for men in the Open Era, one more than Federer and two more than Nadal.
Djokovic has won 21 titles from 32, Federer 20 from 31 and Nadal 22 from 30.
Serena Williams has played in a record 33 Grand Slam finals in the Open era, winning 23. There will be no more. Serena’s first round exit to the unheralded Harmony Tan was confirmation, as if it were needed, that her era ended five years ago.
Only four players- Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray have won the Gentlemen’s title at Wimbledon in the last 20 years (19 titles decided with no tournament in 2020), with Djokovic and Federer sharing 15 of them. Djokovic has beaten Federer (x3) and Nadal, with Andy Murray being his only conqueror in a final; Federer has beaten Murray and Nadal, but never Djokovic; Nadal has beaten Federer, but has lost to Federer and Djokovic. The only pairing of the four not to have played a final is Nadal vs. Murray.
In the greater Grand Slam picture, this quartet have won 18 of the last 20 Australian Opens, 17 of 20 French and 13/19 US Open titles: 67 titles from 78- an unprecedented success rate of 86%.
By contrast the last 20 years Wimbledon has crowned 11 Wimbledon Ladies’ champions : Variety, thy name is woman!
The US Open may offer again the best chance for a ‘foreign champion’ to emerge. Medvedev and possibly Zverev will return to the fold. Djokovic may be barred; Federer is injured, and Murray is long past Grand Slam champion form. Nadal may well be the sole representative of the dominant quartet with a winning chance, subject to his foot and abdominal injuries not recurring.
When all champions are crowned at Flushing Meadow in early September, we should know who England’s next Prime Minister is. For all of Boris Johnson’s shameless posturing when announcing his resignation, a dear friend observed that he at least spared us the cliché of the deposed politician that he will look to enjoy “spending more time with my family.”
On 20th November, Joe Biden will turn 80 and we will know whether his party has lost control of the Congress following mid-term elections. Sadly, for Biden, many now doubt his ability to retain control of his senses, let alone the Congress.
The antics of his son, Hunter, have only added to the increasingly unedifying imagery of his presidency. Maybe by Thanksgiving, Elon Musk and Twitter may have settled their legal differences, but frankly they deserve each other.
We know with certainty that by November the world’s population will pass 8 billion. Next year India will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation. Half of the world’s population increase is occurring in 8 countries. It reminds me of the gag: “Statistics show that every three seconds a woman gives birth to a child. We must find that woman and stop her.” No such problem in England where 50% of women aged 30 are childless. The fecund are no longer in the first world.
The titanic trinity of our game provide us with a sense of order and sequence in addition to their greatness as they sit atop the game’s pantheon on their respective 20, 21, 22 and Grand Slam titles.
If only such loftiness and predictability could be seen in other areas of our world. The Ukrainian conflict continues. Much of Europe fights wildfires and extreme temperatures. Most of the world faces economic pressures of various kinds. Australia faces inflationary pressures unthought of a year ago. Low levels of unemployment are fuelling wage pressures at a time when staff shortages abound. There are jobs to be found, but rising rents and mortgage payments prevent near to full employment providing economic confidence.
In such times, the sense of shock when the appalling occurs is magnified. The recent assassination of Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, made people despair worldwide. His was a life that reminded us that honourable politics and politicians truly matter.
When uncertainties and anxieties seem to swirl all around- a bad flu season, persistent Covid-19 infections, the threat of foot and mouth disease arriving from Indonesia and too many instances of politicians behaving mendaciously- Australia’s outback offers compensation. Broken Hill, Bourke and beyond were my backdrop to this year’s Wimbledon. The sun set each evening gloriously revealing the universe’s vast beauty.
Whilst we will never have a utopian state of existence, just as we will never agree who of Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal is the GOAT, we must never forget that despite “all the world’s sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,” there is still much to play for. Just ask Matt Ebden and Max Purcell. Australia’s journeymen claimed the Wimbledon Men’s’ Doubles title after one of the most arduous campaigns in the tournament’s history.
Four of their six matches went to five sets. They won their first two matches and their semi-final after being two sets to love down. In their third-round match they came from two sets and five match points down to win. They played 28 sets out of a possible 30. Timing has a lot to do with most things, but maybe perseverance more so.