Thoughts on the decline of Aussie tennis (and why grinners are winners)

Below is a slightly longer version of a piece the Age kindly published  a couple of weeks back, which there’s a link to here.

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For twenty-six years, from 1950 to 1976, Australians dominated world tennis, claiming nearly 100 grand slam singles titles. Forty-four years later and that slam tally has increased by the grand total of nine.

 

The reason most commonly given for Australia’s tennis demise is that the rest of the world embraced the sport in greater numbers: it’s all about per-head-of-population. But this statistical conclusion doesn’t explain the swiftness of the fall or why the USA, for example, continued to produce great tennis players, or why Sweden, with a smaller population than Australia, suddenly emerged as a power.

 

The pride we place, and the success we’ve had in punching above our weight further contradicts the numbers argument, and in any case, our population has increased significantly since unheralded Mark Edmondson proved the golden era’s last gasp at the 1976 Australian Open.

 

A notable tennis factor overlooked is the knowledge lost when our champions left Australia en masse to establish tennis camps, or similar, in foreign shores. By the time Newk and Roche returned to steer our Davis Cup campaign 20 years later, Aussie tennis was puttering along like the mediocre remnants of a collapsed empire.

 

However, those former greats simply exercised their right to export expertise and experience (even if it touches on flexible lines of loyalty and how they can be tested by opportunity, ambition and the pursuit of economic betterment). And their absence didn’t result in home-grown players suddenly forgetting the basics of serving or hitting a forearm, but learning by association, subtleties of skill, strategy and the experience of taking a game to the highest level were no longer there to rub off.

 

It was like a two-goal turn around in Aussie Rules, with expertise given up instead of score. Or, in tennis vernacular, an unforced error, because we were neglectful about retaining our advantage.

 

Evidence of how the exchange, selling or theft, loss or gain of information can result in success or failure is easy to find, whether it be in sport, war, scientific discovery or national economies.

 

The rise of Canadian tennis is a recent sporting example, and it has been attributed to the acquiring of overseas assistance in establishing a national tennis program. Interestingly, Canada once trumped Australia in swimming at the Commonwealth Games following the hiring of an Aussie head coach.

 

Naturally, factors other than departing champions were at play regarding Australia’s tennis downturn. An obvious reason is that success is often cyclical. Declining participation is another influence – a 35% drop from 2001 to 2016, but it began dwindling long before that, and any tour of regional areas will reveal abandoned courts nurturing weeds instead of tennis talent, or venues that have disappeared all together with only local knowledge to prove they once existed. Participation, though, also tracks success or failure on the main stage, not to mention changing lifestyles.

 

A recent pic of formally Fernbank tennis courts – drizzle stirred with bushfire smoke, and literally reflecting the changed nature of Australia? These courts are salvageable though, and in a better state than many.

 

Regardless of the reasons for our downturn, Aussie tennis now finds itself comparable to the state burdening England for many years: desperately seeking a saviour, particularly one who’ll bring home the local slam bacon after a 44 year-old drought, while our media thumps a similar jingoistic drum. The schadenfreude is on the other foot.

 

I subscribe to a theory that athletes happy in the face of a challenge are successful ones. To twist a well-known phrase: grinners are winners! Those tennis greats had a zest for life and a self-deprecating humour that undoubtedly worked toward success, as underdog Australia took on the world.

 

And in that guise, Ash Barty is a new light shining from our side of the net, a local player with composure, talent and humility, who doesn’t take herself too seriously.

 

Just as Roger Federer’s laid-back demeanour reminds us of those past Australian greats (and he confesses admiration of them), Barty reminds us of Federer, and like him always appears to say the right words. She even deploys a slice backhand!

 

Barty’s “it isn’t about me” attitude is further revealed through her press-conference references to “we”, which also helps put a lid on expectations, and allows her to focus on her game while shifting focus off herself (maybe Nick Krygios et al could likewise thrive by finding external motivations).

 

However, I’m not concluding Ash Barty, or any one player points to a turn-around in Australian tennis or a renaissance or a replication of the glory days, but if anyone can overcome the pressures of expectation, shrug a 44 year-old primate off our back and hoist the Aussie trophy aloft, it’s Ash.

 

And perhaps that will start another bout of emulation, encourage participation, and from there, who knows? We just have to remember to hang on to what we got.

 

***

PS: I didn’t total the number of slam doubles titles won by Australians from 1950 to 1976, because they sometimes had partners from other countries, but it would be many, many more.

 

Australia won 16 Davis Cups in that period.

 

Perhaps also worth noting is that tennis then was transitioning from amateur to professional, and it could be argued the exclusion of players turning pro would’ve had more impact on the talent pool of smaller population countries, at least when it came to winning slam titles.

 

An earlier draft explored the notion that many post-era Australian male players, dating back to Pat Cash, often appeared to have temperaments more suited to team sports like footy. Nick Krygios has recently suggested (following the ATP cup) he prefers the team environment. External motivation again, having someone or something else to play for.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. This is great Paul, missed it in the paper.

    Really interesting, too not because I know much about the elite level, but at a grassroots level I’m interested and have been curious re this for years.

    I finally got one of my kids playing comp but not until she was about 11 or 12yrz of age… had lessons early on but not enough of a cohort to make it get, until we found another club with wider appeal. Went in then for the next 6/7 years and loved it.

    Personally, I think the breadth of choices now on offer for community sport in young children is so vast that tennis has suffered… basketball, in particular, has drawn a huge following over the last 20 plus years.. footy, it’s always been there, but participation I’m guessing has increased, especially at the younger end.. possibly absorbing kids that may have otherwise given tennis more of a go.

    Justt resurfaced local courts btw, memberships increasing.

    A neglected tennis court is such a sad sight.

  2. Terrific analysis Paul and I agree with your comment Kate. Tennis in the 50’s and 60’s was really just US and Australia (with the odd pom chucked in as cannon fodder). Europeans were unknown save the odd lead footed French clay courter. Edberg, Wilander and Becker heralded the new era of tennis as an international sport. Americans had the college system with sustained the industrial development of talent. Australians in that era took a perverse pleasure in believing success was a god given result of sunshine. We also maintained a stubborn attachment to grass courts that overvalued serve and volley and most Australians couldn’t play from the back of the court on hard courts. Given our small population and the wide variety of competing sports it seems unrealistic to expect more than the odd world class tennis player (as in golf and athletics – the exceptions are the new rule).

  3. A thought-provoking piece, Paul. Thank you.

    I am glad that in the penultimate paragraph that you touched on the transition to professionalism from the amateur era. I am no tennis expert, but I believe that this transition was the catalyst for Australia’s decline as major force in tennis. Yes, the rest of the world embraced tennis, notably the Eastern European and old Soviet nations. But I believe this was a direct result of tennis becoming professional. What kid from a poorer nation would be allowed to endlessly pound balls back over a net in the hope of becoming an amateur tennis player?

  4. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks, Kate:
    You’re right about the choices on offer. The rise of the digital age being another impact. Soccer has possibly been the major drawcard from other sports, though also basketball as you say – footy probably more from the female side. Overall, I’d hazard a guess there are less kids playing sport these days – evidenced by the obesity problem (and the fast food franchise culture). Many reasons for that too, one arguably being a downgrading of the role of sport/physical education in schools at one point (think the error of that way has been seen and addressed).

    Great that your courts are refurbished and membership on the rise, and that your daughter is having a hit. Tennis is a great social activity as much as anything, though it’s so long since I got the old Yonex out, I fear I’d do damage attempting a serve with anything resembling passion.

    Thanks, Peter:
    I think you’re underselling our achievements a bit, though there’s truth in what you say. Just doesn’t explain everything. Perhaps the lack of post-war devastation on home soil advantaged the Yanks and us as well.

    But you raise an interesting point about whether we should play for pleasure or success – and does success come from playing for pleasure? Personally, I like grass courts, though didn’t have the luxury of playing on many as a kid. And the serve and volley is still a delight to watch – the Fed does it sometimes (along with a one handed backhand), and it should’ve got Rafter a Wimbledon. Back of the court tennis can still be enjoyable to watch, but it’s sometimes like possession footy by comparison.

    Thanks, Smokie:
    Excellent point about professionalism providing opportunity and motivation for kids that would otherwise not picked up a racket. No doubt was a factor. Those kids were more hungry (and possibly more driven by parents too).

  5. Peter Fuller says

    Paul,
    When I was a child in the 1950s, tennis seemed to be almost universally accessible. Even the tiniest country hamlet had a couple of courts, as well as many churches in towns and the city suburbs The only sports available were cricket and football (Aussie Rules in the southern States, rugby codes north of the Barassi line) for boys and tennis for girls and boys. The mix of genders actually was a particular attraction for adolescents. Talented kids emerged and had the inspiration provided by the assembly line of champions. Sedgman-McGregor, Hoad, Rosewall, Cooper, Fraser, Emerson, Laver, Newcombe, Roche (apologies to any I’ve omitted) as inspirations, and the sport might fuel dreams of overseas travel.
    Even the USA was at a participation disadvantage (obviously offset by their vastly greater population) because as I understand it tennis there was largely confined to the middle classes, the country club set. That generally meant that most of the Australians were hungrier, as many emerged from modest backgrounds..
    Until tennis went indoors climate also gave Australia an advantage, because it was possible to play outdoors for more of the year. I think this factor is sometimes overlooked.
    I also see a parallel with swimming, where Australians were spectacularly successful from early post-war (perhaps earlier) until the mid-70s. While there have been occasional outstanding talents since, that golden age is no longer. I think it’s no accident that so many of the pool champions of that era were from NSW or Queensland, because the outdoor swimming season was longer and participation of children was near universal, and of course Australia enjoyed a climatic advantage compared to most of the rest of the first world.

  6. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks for your comment, Peter F. A good summation of Australian tennis.

    Re swimming – other countries pumping money into it was also a factor there. Don Talbot left for Canada largely due to lack of government funding here. It was after a particularly disastrous Olympics – medal wise – that our government started putting money into sports like swimming, setting up academies etc.

    Surfing is another interesting example. If Melbourne was on the coast rather than a bay you’d find a lot more Victorian representation – similar in South Oz and Adelaide’s positioning.

  7. Australian tennis did a have a dominant tennis era from to 1950 – 1976 and wonderful champions in Margaret Court, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Evonne Goolang Cawley and many others. But, let’s put things in perspective. I know it’s very difficult to compare different eras but now many Grand Slam singles titles would have all those champions won at their peak in the post 1976 era? I would argue not many more than what the likes of Cash, Rafter, Hewitt, Stosur and Barty have all achieved in Australian tennis since 1976. Those 1950s to 1979s champions may have won more Davis Cups after 1976 at their peak because the likes of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal don’t play Davis Cup every year and neither did Sampras and Agassi before them. But nowadays and especially since The Australian Open moved from Kooyong to Melbourne Park in 1987, all the top players from all over the world play in The Australian Open as well as the other 3 Grand Slam tournaments.

  8. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks, Jeff:

    I agree it’s difficult to compare eras. Though, I reckon our decline was too swift and dramatic to simply explain away with “the rest of the world started playing it”. There were many factors along with professionalism and wider participation – trends, attitude, our declining participation etc.

    I proposed that loss of knowledge/experience was also a reason and explored that theme here. We can suffer from a brain drain in other fields so why not tennis/sport?

    Even in the AFL the personnel of the premiers is sought after. Japan and China built economies based on acquiring knowledge from the West. We’re still trying to figure out how the Romans did things because information was lost. Etc, etc, etc.

  9. Wannabe Tennis Historian says

    But was it really that swift? Would it even be called a decline just because of the ratio of Grand Slam titles since 1976 to what it was between 1950 and 1976? Of course Australia won more Grand Slam singles titles in that era of 1950 to 1976 because of the lack of representation of many other countries. Of course, the number of Grand Slam singles titles would be less for Australia because of the increased competition of other countries. Don’t forget that in the AFL National Competition in 1987, the increased participation to 18 clubs together with the draft and salary cap have meant that Carlton, Essendon and Collingwood no longer win as many flags as they did prior to 1987. That’s happened pretty quickly after 1987.

    However, in 1977, 1983 and 1986 Australia were still winning the Davis Cup against a strong Italian and Swedish teams. In 1987, Pat Cash won Wimbledon and the following year in 1988 he was runner up to Wilander in the Australian Open. Only nine years later, Pat Rafter won back to back US Opens in 1997 and 1998. In 2001, Hewitt won the US Open in 2001 and in 2002, he won Wimbledon. Don’t forget that Pete Sampras and to a lesser extent Andre Agassi were dominating tennis from 1990 to the early 2000s making it harder for Australia or any other country to deprive them of Grand Slam titles. How is Swedish tennis going now after the retirements of Borg, Wilander and Edberg? Also, don’t forget that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic like Sampras, are one in a generation tennis players who have won a staggering 55 Grand Slam singles titles between them. Granted the huge population USA also won many Grand Slam singles titles post 1976 with McEnroe and Connors but how iis men’s tennis going in the United States now after Sampras and Roderick have retired? Rod Laver is probably the only Australian tennis player of all time who could have perhaps deprived Sampras, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic from winning as many Grand Slam singles titles as those 4 players have, as Hewitt won his 2 Grand Slam singles titles before Federer became almost unbeatable and before Nadal and Djokovic came along.

    Sorry, but I think you are being a bit harsh regarding Australia’s so called swift decline. How many Grand Slam singles titles instead of 9, which I think is more than fine taking into account the greater participation from other countries, do you think Australia should have won in the post 1976 era?

  10. Good stuff Paul. I’m old enough to recall the end of our great era; at least i can recall Evonne winning Wimbledon in 1971, our 5-0 Davis Cup victory over the ‘septics in 1973, ‘Muscles’ two grand slam drubbings at the hands of Jimmy Connors in 1974, then ‘Newks’ revenge over Connors at Kooyong over the 1974-75 summer.

    In the late 1970’s, 1980’s i saw a lot of journeymen; Brad Drewett, Syd Ball, Kim Warwick, Paul Kronk, Brod Dyke amongst them. To me this time was going to be a segue that wouldn’t last especially as Pat Cash arrived, but it was a ‘false dawn’, as Cash struggled with injuries. Then the cusp of the new century Leyton Hewitt, Pat Rafter and Mark Phillipoussis all performed well, but one could not maintain any sort of consistency, another retired to his tax free haven, whilst the third’s body could not keep going at a level we/he wished.

    Why did we never return to that golden post war period ? The recorded drop in participation rates is important, the globalisation of tennis as the old eastern bloc nations as well as those in Asia have more involvement. I’m interested in the participation component as the once familiar Anglo names are replaced by those of Eastern and Southern European origins. What do we read into this?

    Compounding this what could happen if we lose our grand slam status? Sam Duncan had a good piece in the Age yesterday, 24/1, re this topic. The Australian Open was for many years for the poor relation of the grand slams, though from the 1980’s it worked its way up to its current status. It’s come a long way.

    In closing it would be great seeing Ash Barty claim the current Australian Open. Chris O’Neill has held the mantle of our last women’s winner, but now it’s time for Ash to claim it. Re the fellows, i think at the end of the current tournament ‘Eddo’ will be the last male winner.

    Glen!

  11. Reality check says

    We never returned to that golden post war period because the game became more and more professional, meaning many more countries wanted to their tennis players to be successful. There became less grass court tournaments which meant Australian tennis players were brought back to the field without their serve and volley game. What we read into this is that as good as Australia were in that post war period, let’s face it, they did not have much to beat in terms of the lack of quantity from other countries.. Look at the achievements of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Sampras.. They have beaten the best players from all over the world in their era. Let’s be honest, only Rod Laver at his best from Australia’s golden post era would have been really successful in winning more than 2 Grand Slam singles titles from post 1976. As good as Australia’s post war players were, all except Laver and Margaret Court would be overrated in the post 1976 period.

  12. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks, Wannabe:

    Wasn’t intending to be harsh – only making a comparative observation – ‘swift’ is a relative term, though, and open to semantic interpretation.

    Otherwise, there are always lags, exceptions to rules, etc.

    Mainly exploring the concept of lost knowledge.

    Thanks, Glen:

    You’re right, I reckon we’ve had players in the recent past that seemingly had the ability to do more, but lacked the self-belief or composure or similar? Different pressures than in the ‘old’ days too, of course.

    Had raised the idea of ethnicity, but edited it out for veracity’s sake. On a simple level it probably reflects less participation among the traditional talent pool, and is a natural result of the changing face of Australia. No doubt participation is a factor, generally though – it’s probably one of those chicken/egg things: participation follows success, success follows participation.

    Our grand slam status was under threat toward the end of Kooyong days, apparently, but I went yesterday for the first time in over 10 years – if the fans and players have anything to say, it will stay, but nothing is forever, so to speak – just like glory days.

    Yes, would be great to see Ash claim it. Kyrgios is playing some amazing tennis, and has the ability, so I wouldn’t write him off – though this time, physical stamina could be more of an obstacle.

    Thanks, Reality:

    Peter B raised similar points. All valid.

    I’m hesitant about comparing eras. You could be right, but many things have changed as you say.

    Modern day players also have the advantage of larger and lighter rackets, and better conditions, there’s two-handed backhands etc. Who knows how players of the past with their clunky wooden rackets would go? It’s a far more serious game these days too – maybe they couldn’t cope with that? Moot points.

  13. Another Peter says

    Everyone has made some good points from Paul’s article.

    Maybe Paul, what is really concerning for you, as you alluded to in your article and the timing of your article, is the lack of an Australian Open winner in the men’s for 44 years and in the women’s for 42 years.

    As you mentioned England had a worse problem regarding droughts before Andy Murray won Wimbledon. It has to be borne in mind that Andy Murray has a game style suited to grass. Tim Henman also had a grass court game but was often beaten by Pete Sampras at Wimbledon, one of the best grass court players of all time. Strangely enough, Andy Murray beat Roger Federer in The Wimbledon Final, who is currently the best grass court player of all time.

    What should we read into this? Even if the media hype and pressure for a local is even more apparent in Wimbledon (I was there as a visiting Australian spectator 5 years ago), perhaps Andy Murray is simply a better all round tennis player in terms of both his net and ground stroke game than Pat Cash, Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter, who were all very good tennis players, but just fell short in winning the Australian Open, where you need good aggressive, consistent ground strokes, which is why I think that Lleyton Hewitt was more disappointing in the Australian Open than Cash or Rafter, whose games were more suited to grass than hardcourt, unlike Hewitt. Yes, Hewitt won Wimbledon but it wasn’t in Australia and he beat Nalbandian in the final, who wasn’t a top grass court player.

    Therefore, the pressure and media hype for an Australian to win the Australian Open is enormous, especially if you are ranked outside the best 3 or 4 players in the world, let alone to confront them at the business end. This has been happening since 1988, when all the top players played in the Australian Open. Australia’s best chance in the men’s Australian Open for another Australian Open winner after 1976 was the period 1977 to 1987, when not all the best players in the world came to Kooyong. Unfortunately, Australia’s best grass court players of all time had either retired or were well past their best, which is why you saw Australia’s journeymen compete at Kooyong, as another reader pointed out. Cash should have won an Australian Open on grass at Kooyong, injuries notwithstanding, but
    I believe home town pressure got to him. At least he won Wimbledon on grass against top players in Wilander, Connors and Lendl.

    As far as Ash Barty is concerned, yes she can handle the media hype and pressure, but as good as her all court game is, I want her to beat a big scalp in a Grand Slam tournament to be really convinced about her. Yes, it’s been remarkable that she is ranked number 1 in the world so quickly after giving the game away for around 18 months. Yes, she won the French Open. But she beat the unheralded Vondrousova in the final and was done a set and 3 love to Anisomova, a 17 year old unseeded player at the time, in the semi final. Like in the Australian Open this year, she was lucky she didn’t have to play Osaka and Serena Williams who were beaten the rounds before she played them. I know you can only beat whoever is put before you in the draw. I know she beat highly ranked players to win the WTA year end tournament who were also very tired and maybe weren’t that motivated anyway as it wasn’t a Grand Slam singles tournament and there were many forfeits in that round robin tournament.

    If Ash Barty can win her quarter final on Tuesday against a highly ranked player in Kvitova with all the hype and media pressure, only then can I believe she will win the Australian Open, with Serena Williams, Osaka and Pliskova out of the way. However, nothing can be taken for granted as every match is different and Barty could not beat unseeded players in the 4th round at Wimbledon and the 3rd round of the US Open last year, having earlier won the French Open.

  14. Tennis Observer says

    Paul, you mentioned Nick Kyrgios. I believe it is just as much his mental lapses as it is physical stamina for him, if not more.

    Just look at his past performances in the Australian Open this year and previous years? As Federer has pointed out numerous times in the media, does Nick Kyrgios really want it? He didn’t look too injured to me in his warm up yesterday and I know he will be keen to avoid any mental lapses against Nadal, as Kyrgios does not like Nadal. Sure, Kyrgios is better in 3 set matches than 5 set matches, like Alexander Zverev. Too often though in 5 set matches, I believe that it’s his mental side which has cost him matches. Two sets up against Seppi and losing to him at Melbourne Arena a few years ago amid a brain fade out comes to mind. There are many other examples.

    I expect Nadal to beat Kyrgios. Nadal is simply a better player than Kyrgios and is better both mentally and physically than Kyrgios. Hopefully, touch wood for Nadal fans, Nadal is over his injuries which has forced him to miss many Grand Slam tournaments in the past and can eventually pass Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal is currently on 19. Nadal could win his 1st Australian Open since 2009 but Novak Djokovic is too good at the moment and Novak on 16 Grand Slam singles titles, could eventually win the most Grand Slam singles titles.

    But you do make a good point about physical stamina. If Grand Slam matches were the best of 3 sets only, Kyrgios would be the one to beat. Also, Nadal is a good problem solver on the court. He beat Kyrgios at Wimbledon last year, having known more about Kyrgios’ game after Kyrgios had beaten Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014, where he announced himself on the big stage.

  15. Happy with Australian Tennis after 1976 says

    I believe too much emphasis is being placed on Australia’s lack of Grand Slam singles title after 1976 to what it was between 1950 and 1976. It is very hard to win Grand Slam singles titles, just like it’s very hard to win AFL premierships. There are always 128 players in the draw who want to win the tournament, but in reality, there are only a select few who will win the title because of the seeding system. Unless, of course there are upsets. Davis Cup lacks the prestige it once held but the organisers have now changed the format to the best of 3 sets over a 2 week period to entice the best players in the world to compete.

    I’m not trying to embrace mediocrity, but Australian parents should be telling their kids if they’re not already, especially if they have the talent, that it’s fine to make a living from the sport without winning a Grand Slam singles title. Success should also be measured on the number of players a specific country has currently in the top 100. I believe currently that Spain has around 12 players, followed by Italy on around 8, and then Australia on 5. To me, that is a good result for Australia. It’s very difficult to even make the top 100, even to get a world ranking with the participation rates so high from all over the world.

    I believe honourable mentions from the era after 1976 who did not win Grand Slam singles titles but still had a good career should be given to Mark Phillipoussis, who was runner up in 2 Grand Slam singles titles and a Davis Cup, Peter McNamara and Paul McNamee, champion Grand Slam doubles winners and Peter reached top 10 in singles. Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde were also champion Grand Slam doubles winners and both were accomplished singles players with Todd making the semi finals at Wimbledon and Mark the quarter finals of the Australian Open. Wally Masur and John Fitzgerald were very useful singles and Davis Cup players. I remember John Fitzgerald at Kooyong in the Davis Cup in 1983 with a great victory in the final against Sweden’s Joachim Nystrom.

    Nowadays, it’s good to watch what steps that journeyman John Millman has made in his career, when he beat Roger Federer in the US Open a few years ago and nearly beat him again in the Australian Open this year, having led 8-4 in the final set tiebreaker. Millman would have won the match if the match tiebreaker was the normal 7 points, like the other sets.

    Alex Dimanaur has made remarkable strides to be ranked in the top 20 and Nick Kyrgios, if he gets his head right, has beaten many top 10 players in his career and has the potential to win Grand Slam singles titles one day, most likely after the big 3 have retired, assuming Kyrgios hasn’t given the game away by then and is still playing. Bernard Tomic, although he is in decline, has had a good career reaching number 17 in the world, a quarter final at Wimbledon and a winning live Davis Cup Record of 17 wins and 4 losses.

    Jordan Thompson and Alexi Popyron, both performed welll at the Australian Open. Alexi shows a lot of promise and Jordan pushed the number 12 seed Fognini deep into the match tie breaker in the 5th seed.

    I’m not going to talk about Ash Barty in the women’s because she has won one Grand Slam singles title currently but there are promising players in Astra Sharma, Priscilla Hon, Destinee Alva, Kimberly Birrell as welll as the seasoned Daria Gavrilova. Stosur, who beat Serena Williams in the 2011 US Open singles final, will not play singles probably after this year.

    Paul, I understand your frustration in the lack of an Australian Open winner for forty plus years in the men’s and women’s Australian Open and the grand total of 9 Grand Slam singles titles since the late 1970s, but I am one who has been generally happy with Australian tennis since 1976.

  16. Saint Kilda says

    I don’t think the Australian tennis fans realise how good they have had it since 1976. Their drought of 45 years and now counting in the mens and 42 years and maybe drought broken in the womens for an Australian Open winner is nothing compared to my AFL team St Kilda, who has had a premiership drought since 1966, 54 years, and has only 1 flag in 123 seasons of the VFL/AFL. They also have 27 wooden spoons. It took them 69 years to win their 1st and only flag to date. At least Australian tennis fans have still seen 9 Grand Slam singles titles and 4 Davis Cup titles since 1976, even if it’s really 8 because since means after 1976, namely 1978 O’Neil women’s Australian Open, 1987 Cash Wimbledon , 1997 Rafter US Open ,1998 Rafter US Open 2001 Hewitt US Open, 2002, Hewitt Wimbledon, 2011 Stosur US Open and 2019 Barty French Open.

    At least the Australian tennis fans even now have hope with Nick Kyrgios to win Grand Slam singles titles in the future and Ash Barty, who already has won a French Open, to win more Grand Slam singles titles in the future, including the Australian Open. Hope is better than nothing.

    Perhaps I should stop supporting St Kilda and become an Australian tennis fan!

  17. Paul, I don’t subscribe to the theory that athletes happy in the face of a challenge are successful ones. Although Barty and Federer have been successful there are plenty of other players who were successful without humour or a laid back attitude. Novak Djokovic on the court is as ruthless as you get and is not liked by the tennis public.. Djokovic has won 16 Grand Slam singles titles. Djokovic is a joker only off the court. McEnroe was as nasty as you can get to the chair umpire and linesmen, yet won 7 Grand Slam singles titles. Kyrgios can be irate too on the court but wins his fair share of matches. Boris Becker was unhappy on the court, yet won his fair share of Wimbledon and Australian titles. Serena Williams is incredibly fiery on the court and has won 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal is very intense on the court and has won 19 Grand Slam singles titles and is liked by the tennis public. For some players, getting angry, can make them play better whether we like it or not. I subscribe to the theory that you need fire in your belly and killer instinct, to go with talent and hard work, to be successful. I also subscribe to the theory that winning then brings happiness.

  18. Great comments from everyone. I was particularly interested in reading the comment from Happy with Australian Tennis after 1976. I completely agree with your honourable mentions for Australian players who did not win Grand Slam singles titles after 1976 but who still had good careers. One who you forgot to mention was none other than Kim Warwick, who was runner up to Brian Teacher in the 1980 Australian Open. You could say that Teacher taught Warwick a lesson that day! Teacher won in straight sets in one of the worst Australian Open singles fields as the the top players in the world did not come to Australia but it was still good of Warwick to get to the final. Warwick got to number 15 in the world in singles in 1981 and beat 35 players ranked in the top 10, including Vilas, Gerullaitis and Ashe. In doubles, he won 4 Grand Slam titles. Another honourable mention for Australian players who did well after 1976 without winning a Grand Slam singles title goes to the doubles combination of Ross Case and Geoff Masters, who won the Wimbledon doubles in 1977. They had previously won the Australian Open doubles in 1974, which was pre 1976.

  19. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks everyone, most recently to Another Peter, Tennis Observer, Happy With Australian Tennis…(agree, a player can be successful and not win slams etc), Saint Kilda (all droughts end – hang in there), Tennys and Brian.

    Am overwhelmed by your deft volleys, precision serves, backhanders, cross-court winners and lobs. Game, set and match to you all.

    Just to furthermore, as a kind of presser: I’m not a tennis historian, otherwise I would’ve referred to a “42 year-old primate”, given Chris O’Neil was the last Australian winner of the local slam in 1978 (and also alluded to by Another Peter). Also, no mention was made of Harry Hopman, an influential figure during the heights.

    I still subscribe to the grinners-winners theory – I wasn’t being absolute or entirely literal, Tennys. Sure, hunger is also important and there can be many things driving that (Djokovic recently revealed an account of childhood poverty). One example of what I mean was before the start of the Nadal/Kyrgios match – Nadal was smiling and calm, Nick was tense and serious-faced. Seen that a lot, and frequently the former prevails (observed similar by captains in the lead-up to grand finals – Voss versus Buckley, for example, during the early 2000s). It probably just reflects self-belief. In the animal world, as I understand it, punters can make decisions based on a horses demeanour in the mounting yard.

    I’m not necessarily frustrated with the current state of Australian tennis; was mainly curious about why an era ended, and offered the idea of lost knowledge as something that hadn’t been explored, not to mention some attitudinal shifts. It was submitted on spec to the Age – not a commissioned piece. I’m not in that league.

    Go Ash.

  20. As i alluded to in my Saturday posting we had some good journeymen in the late 70’s through much of the 80’s, though we don’t have those numbers anymore. As i mentioned, then Brian further expanded on, Kim Warwick was a good player. Phil Dent and John Alexander both played good tennis, with 1977 especially being a good year for ‘Philby’ in the grand slams, as JA led us to a Davis Cup victory over Italy to close the year.

    Obviously with less participation, there’s less journeymen, as there’s less players on the circuit. John Millman is probably closest to the journeyman of the 70’s & 80’s, with Jordan Thompson if he can remain in the world’s top 60 another handy journeymen. Hopefully a few of the younger bred if they can’t be champions, can give us a few solid years on the circuit.

    The days of Harry Hopman, grass courts and amateur tnenis are no more. Let’s cheer on our current players.

    Go Ash !

    Glen!

  21. Saint Kilda, I empathise with your team’s luck of success and I hope your team can break their premiership drought within 5 years, like the Western Bulldogs did in 2016 and Richmond in 2017, as well as Geeling in 2007 and Sydney in 2005, to name a few.

    If there is any parallel with Australian tennis post 1976 and an AFL football team, it would have to be Melbourne. Melbourne supporters can relate to Australian tennis’ 44 year and 42 year droughts respectively for the men and women. Although Melbourne’s premiership drought is now 56 years, Melbourne with 12 flags, particularly had a golden post war period winning flags in 1948, 1955, 1956, 1957,1959, 1960, and 1964. That’s an incredible 7 premierships in 16 years, not dissimilar to Australia’s tennis golden post war period from 1950 to 1976. What has happened since and why couldn’t Melbourne win at least another flag before the National Competition began in 1987 and after 1987? Let’s just say Barassi left Melbourne to coach Carlton and Norm Smith was sacked as coach. Plenty has also gone wrong since, and incredibly, Hawthorn has won 12 more flags since Melbourne’s last flag in 1964 to lead Melbourne 13 flags to 12. Perhaps Melbourne should have merged with Hawthorn, although Hawthorn fans will disagree.

    Can Ash Barty win the Australian Open this year? That is the $4 million dollar plus question? I believe she should beat Sophia Kenin in the semi finals, but I am a bit worried if Barty has to play Halep in the final. I would be more confident if Barty plays Magaruzza in the final. Although Halep hasn’t won an Australian Open, just the French Open and Wimbledon, she has previously been in the Australian Open Final a few years ago, narrowly losing to Wozniacki in the final. She won’t hit Barty off the court but gets that extra ball back and like Barty, has improved in Grand Slam tournaments in the last few years. Also, she has one of the best coaches in Darren Cahill, another good Australian tennis player who didn’t win a Grand Slam singles title after 1976. He knows Barty’s game well and will come up with a good game plan should that final transpire. Likewise, Ash Barty’s coach, Craig Tyzzer, is a great coach too, perhaps better of late, considering what Barty’s ranking has come from in the past 3 to 4 years. Why didn’t Jason Stoltenberg have similar success as Barty’s coach? Perhaps Barty wasn’t ready for the challenges of professional tennis back then and has since matured after making a comeback and winning certainly helps. Maybe Tyzzer is a better coach than Stoltenberg, who achieved success with Agassi and Hewitt.

    Let the semi finals begin and may the better player on the night win the semi final and the final.

  22. Barty was awful today. And her Semi with Kenin was 3 grades below Muguruza-Halep which was outstanding. As in footy a Prelim is sometimes the GF between the best sides. Half the crowd left after the Barty loss which shows how much people were wrapped up in the hype and not tennis fans. They missed a brilliant contest.
    Muguruza will win 6-2; 6-2 on Saturday. Tough, elegant and a beautiful mover for her height.
    My take on Barty is that she needs a break after playing until the 2019 finals in China in November. Great for the bank balance but notable how many players spent the time after the US Open getting their bodies right rather than playing tennis. Wawrinka and Muguruza had their best slams for several years.
    I also think Barty will be better overseas where she is not well known and can live inside a tennis/team bubble. Her generous nature makes it hard for her to counter distractions and focus at home. Nice people are rarely champions. Self absorption and hatred of losing drive the best.
    Barty only beat one seed (Madison Keys #14) in winning the French Open. In winning the WTA Finals in China she beat Bencic; lost to Bertens; beat Kvitova to get through the round robins; then Pliskova in the semi and Svitolina in the final. Good but not great. Her #1 ranking is more the result of her resilience and volume of tournaments played than sheer quality of her play.
    Losing here will add to her focus and she has come a long way in a short time with lots of improvement possible – but she is not in Halep or Muguruza’s class when they are fit and playing well.

  23. Mel Bourne, Jason Stoltenberg as you mentioned as Barty’s previous coach, was another Australian tennis player who had a reasonably good career without winning a Grand Slam singles title. He was a top junior player. Apart from Pat Cash, who did win a Grand Slam singles title and was a top junior, unfortunately there were many top Australian juniors who didn’t go on to have a good singles career, as in senior singles Grand Slam title success. Namely, Mark Kratzmann, the late Todd Reid, Luke Saville (but now the Australian Open doubles final), Craig Miller and Ben Elwood. Andrew Illie, who Ben Ellwood beat in that Australian Open junior boys final, actually had a better singles career than Ben Ellwood. Pat Rafter wasn’t a top junior, yet ended up winning 2 Grand Slam singles titles. Unfortunately, injuries and expectations took its toll on some of these players. America had a similar issue with Donald Young, who was probably even a better junior than Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios, but failed to live up to expectations in the seniors. He is still a useful doubles player. Taylor Fritz, was the world’s top junior about 4 years ago and pushed Dominic Thiem to 4 tight sets in the 3rd round of the Australian Open. He has a similar ranking to Nick Kyrgios and plays a bit like Nick Kyrgios too. It would be a good match now between them.

  24. As Australian Tennis History post 1976 has been a major theme here, I know that this gentleman won Grand Slam singles titles before 1976, but I thought that Ken Rosewall making the semi finals of the Australian Open at Kooyong in January 1977 against Roscoe Tanner was in itself a phenomenal achievement, regardless of the field. Although Rosewall didn’t win that match, I thought he played well enough. I was there that day and it has already lived long in my memory 43 years later.

  25. Gary, one person who you didn’t mention and no one else has is journeyman Alex Bolt. Bolt led Thiem 2 sets to 1 in the second round of the Australian Open this year, before fatigue set in. How is that performance looking now for Bolt, considering that Thiem is now in the semi finals of the Australian Open, having just beaten the number 1 ranked player in the world in Nadal?

  26. Keith, good observation but I guess you also wanted to mention that “Muscles” Rosewall was an amazing 42 years of age in January 1977, which makes it even more remarkable.

  27. Gary, i’d totally forgotten Craig Miller. In what ,1982 or so, he looked like he was heading into the top 50, or so, but not to be.

    I was talking to a mate the other day about some of the ‘Aussie battlers’ on the circuit in the early 1980’s. Brad Gaun, John James, Chris Kachel, Craig Johnstone, Ernie Ewert, he of horse training stock, Brod Dyke, the Fancutt brothers: where did these fellows end up?

    Glen!

  28. Paul Spinks says

    Peter B:

    Ash looked flat-footed from what I saw (the second set). Underdog theory, favouritism etc. Some of the pre-match media reporting implying she was already in the final, wasn’t helpful. Still, a great effort to make the semi etc. If it burns she’ll be back.

    Also bullish about the Spaniard tonight.

    Not quite so certain about tomorrow – Novak seems impassible, but Thiem is a little unknown in terms of his improvement.

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