Top seed Ashley Barty plays at Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park this afternoon following what promises to be a thrilling morning to start the Australian Open, featuring defending champion Naomi Osaka against Camila Osorio and the most famous Greek lady since Melina Mercouri, Maria Sakkari, playing against Tatjana Maria.
Everybody loves Miss Barty, the poster girl of Aussie sweet-natured good sportsmanship, though the women’s match of greater interest for many Americans will be the first round meeting between two of our mercurial homegrown stars, Madison Keys and Sofia Kenin.
In the men’s draw, Californian Reilly Opelka, the finest very-big man in tennis history (he stands seven feet and moves with the agility of a basketball forward), meets the popular South African veteran Kevin Anderson, and another Californian, Marcos Giron will give the old college try against the mighty man of Mallorca, Rafa Nadal, who looked fit enough to make another of his remarkable comebacks from injury when he won a warm-up tournament in Melbourne last week.
Of Nadal’s 20 major trophies, only one (2009) was lifted at Melbourne Park. Roger Federer, six trophies here, most recent one 2018, is recovering from knee surgery. Nadal’s other great rival Novak Djokovic, who has won nine (including the last three) expected a first-round meeting with his compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic at Laver on Monday, but Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke canceled his visa and a court on Sunday ruled the ruling is legal (without addressing the substance of the rule), so he too is out.
Judging from precedent, Nadal has a good shot at making the quarterfinals, where there is a no less good chance he will meet Alexander Zverev, but in tennis precedent and shot and chance are fickle factors.
As are the rules governing big events during a public health emergency. Since November 2019, when a biological warfare research lab in Wuhan may have released upon China an easily mutating strain of a virus that soon spread around the planet, homo sapiens, as a species, has lived with the uncertainty of rapidly mutating rules of the road — and everything else, evidently — with certain psychological — and geostrategic – consequences of which the warfare lab bosses — if they exist — would be taking note.
The maddening ten days of uncertainty surrounding Novak Djokovic’s participation in the year’s first tennis Major, without covid vaccination but a medical exemption based on his having tested positive in December, ended with the non-appealable ruling by a federal court on Sunday morning (their time) that Mr. Hawke’s deportation order on Friday canceling the world No. 1’s entry visa was legal. This ruling reversed a court decision on Thursday that the Border Police’s confiscation of his entry visa a week earlier was mistaken.
There has been much confusion, legal and other, about what rules apply regarding public health guidelines during the covid pandemic. Not the least trouble the Chicoms caused — unless, of course, the disease occurred and spread naturally in a case of ecological book-keeping — is to bring discord into our consideration of all things that matter in the public sphere; why, we scarcely can agree on facts any more, let alone how to draw consequences that can be broadly accepted as fair and sensible.
The Australian government insists its firmness on vax mandates is a principled stand for public health. The pros mostly went along with this, though Nick Kyrgios, a superbly talented Australian player with a somewhat on-and-off work ethic and an irrepressibly outspoken and sometimes irreverent mouth, came to Djokovic’s defense. This may indicate herd mentality is easier to attain than herd immunity.
It also suggests Tennis Australia, not the Border Police or the federal government, is to blame for the imbroglio, as it advised Djokovic to get a medical exemption and come to Melbourne, and the state of Victoria did not object. Djokovic stated at the beginning of his visa problems that had the feds laid down the rule there could be no medical exemptions, he would have passed on the tournament. Instead he got an exemption but the Border Police was not satisfied with it, nor with unmasked public appearances in Serbia and Spain just before his trip to Australia.
There was concern Russia would declare war on Australia in defense of an outraged little Serbia: Sarajevo 1914 all over again. But what would they be fighting about? Vax freedom? Fair play on the tennis tour? And how would Russia justify a war declaration? Officially Russia is banned from international competition due to a doping scandal and Russians play under the misleading — or meaningless — flag of “the Russian Federation Olympic Committee” or Russian Tennis Federation.
Djokovic’s graceful exit helped calm the tense international standoff; he accepted the court’s verdict, wished the tournament well, and boarded a plane on Sunday for a flight to Dubai from where he will want to get away from it all until returning to a hero’s welcome in Belgrade.
With Djokovic out, will Kecmanovic get spooked in consideration of the blow done Serbia — as all Serbs see it — or will he pick up the fallen flag and beat lucky loser (as last-minute replacements in tennis draws are called) Salvatore Caruso, a good-looking journeyman player from Sicily who is surely a fine player but has yet to get very far in big tournaments? Can Kecmanovic take his game all the way to the final where, one may guess, he will meet the Karamazovian — but which Karamazov? — Daniil Medvedev, and avenge Djokovic’s loss to him at the U.S. Open a few months ago?
The Red Chinese have stayed quiet throughout. The sports media, obsessing over vax vs. no vax and making Djokovic’s case the big story, forgot about where the bug came from. Moreover, they lost sight of Peng Shua. We still do not know if this talented and lovely tennis star is safe and sound. Last November she accused a communist big shot named Zang Gaoli of sex deviance at her expense and then she retracted, or at least was reported by a Singapore Chinese language paper to have retracted, her story. She has yet to discuss her case with a reporter from a Free World paper, such as the Australian, or the Age, the big paper in Victoria.
Are there dots here that might be connected? Or have we just been treated to a covid paranoia show that ought to serve as an object lesson in, as they say at Wimbledon, keeping our head when all about us are losing theirs. So let them play some tennis, and pray omicronism does not enter Rod Laver Stadium as easily as it seems able to run freely all across Australia. With no Border Police to stop it.