Sometime in the next hour or so, when I finish writing this weekly gift to the adoring masses, I’m going to walk outside and stroll to the usual pubs, bars, and other haunts that constitute Daddy’s Night Out. I’ll probably wind up in the London Bridge area, which is about 20 minutes by foot from our home in the borough of Southwark – but a lot longer when you’re taking the Pub Route.
Somewhere along the way, I might see a long line of people, at least according to the rumor mill. My understanding is that the end of the line is already somewhere around London Bridge. It might be miles long, and it will grow longer by the hour. At some point it will stretch as far east as our home, and then some.
According to some estimates, the line will stretch for 10 miles, and people will wait in it for 30 hours or more. People will camp out just to stand in it. People have flown in from all over the world just to stand in it.
At one end of the line are all these people willing to drop everything just to stand in it. At the other end of the line lies the body of Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away on September 8 at the age of 96, after a 70-year reign. Those standing in line are there to view the casket and pay their last respects.
I don’t have the words to describe how mind blowing this is. I love a lot of people, but I doubt I would stand in line for 30-plus hours just to view the casket their bodies are encased in. But then I’m not a Brit – I’m an American who happens to live over here right now.
The fact that so many people are willing to stand in line to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II shows just how beloved she was – and how much her passing marks a major turning point in the affairs of her home country. Even though she was mostly a figurehead, with no real power to speak of, she might have been the single most important person in the United Kingdom – a symbol of continuity in a nation that has undergone rapid change in recent years.
Being an American expat, Elizabeth’s death obviously means much less to me than the home folks. The United States is a former British colony that declared its independence nearly 250 years ago, and what I know about the royal family you could write on a single piece of paper. I never devoted a whole lot of thought to Queen Elizabeth II, but the thoughts I did have were largely positive. She seemed like a nice enough person, with designs to do good rather than harm.
(Full disclosure: I also loved the Sex Pistols’ ‘70s punk anthem “God Save the Queen,” a searing political commentary that offered the following take on HRH: “She ain’t no human being.” Although, really, she was a human being.).
Because I work from home and only mix with the locals when I am out and about, I can’t speak with much expertise on what the nation is feeling right now. But you don’t need to be an expert to recognize the sense of mourning and loss. Just consider that miles-long line. Elizabeth was queen longer than 80% of Brits have been alive. She’s the only head of the royal family they’ve ever known.
She ascended to the throne at a young age (26) and held it through unprecedented changes in both the world and the way we live our lives. She remained a respected global figure even as many began to take a good, hard look at the horrors of British colonialism – something the monarchy spent centuries either spreading, supporting, or turning a blind eye to.
Since we moved to London less than five years ago, the UK has had three prime ministers. The most recent, Liz Truss, took over from Boris Johnson this month. The nation has also been through Brexit since we moved here, a protracted pandemic, soaring inflation, a series of seemingly never-ending transit strikes, and a growing unease about its future.
When Queen Elizabeth took over in 1952, the UK was still very much a global power with great influence over the world’s affairs. Today, it barely ranks in the Top 30 in GDP per capita. According to at least one analysis, it ranks No. 9 among the world’s strongest militaries.
But, it had Queen Elizabeth, and she carried a lot of weight in certain parts of the world, including my home country of the USA. People are flying in from all over the world to pay their last respects, and they’re willing to stand in line for miles and days to do so.
No matter how you feel about Queen Elizabeth or her monarchy, that’s pretty GD impressive.
Meanwhile, back in the States….
Millions of tennis fans have been paying tributes of another sort to a queen of another sort, though for entirely different reasons. This queen, Serena Williams, retired at 40 years old after losing in the third round of the recently completed U.S. Open.
Serena dominated the sport longer and more thoroughly than any player in history. During a 27-year pro career, she won 23 Grand Slam singles titles – the most ever in the Open era – and 73 titles overall. She was ranked world No. 1 for 319 weeks, including a joint-record 186 consecutive weeks.
But those are just numbers that don’t begin to explain Serena’s stranglehold over the tennis world for more than two decades.
She almost single-handedly carried the women’s game into the 21st century, bringing power and athleticism never seen before (with the possible exception of Martina Navratilova), as well as a warrior mentality that wilted opponents before they even took their first shot. Serena evolved into a cultural and economic phenomenon who transcended sports and, along with her sister Venus, rewrote the rules on who could succeed in tennis.
While Serena stood alone as the queen of women’s tennis, the men’s side was ruled by a three-headed king named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Together, they have won 63 major titles over the past 19 years. That’s 80% of the major titles won since then. The three who rank next in major titles in the Open era – Pete Sampras (14), Bjorn Borg (11) and Andre Agassi (tied with Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl with 8) – have a combined 33.
The Fed/Rafa/Novak reign might not be at its end, but it’s inching ever closer. Here are some interesting stats about this year’s U.S. Open:
- For the first time since 2003, the quarterfinals of a major tennis championship did not include Serena, Fed, Rafa, or Novak.
- It was only the second time since 2004 that a major men’s tournament did not have Federer, Djokovic or Nadal in the quarterfinals. The only other time was at the 2020 U.S. Open, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the tournament was played in an empty stadium and neither Nadal nor Federer decided to play. Novak lost in the 4th round that year.
- For the first time since the inaugural edition of the American Grand Slam in 1881, there were four first-time men’s singles semifinalists at the U.S. Open.
- This year’s U.S. Open semifinals featured three first-time Grand Slam semifinalists for the first time since the 2005 French Open.
Now, let us pause for an asterisk here. Novak Djokovic, who might still be the best tennis player on the planet, did not play in this year’s U.S. Open because he refuses to get a COVID-19 vaccination, and therefore could not enter the United States. He had to skip the 2022 Australian Open for the same reason. We’ll do well to keep in mind that the first three majors of the year were won by either Rafa (Australian, French) or Novak (Wimbledon).
We would be blind not to consider that the Fed/Rafa/Novak era is approaching the Final Curtain. I say this not just because they are all on the far side of 30 (Federer is past 40, and has sat out the whole year due to injury). It’s also because a group of younger players has arisen that might finally be ready to take over the throne.
Chief among the young studs is a superhuman force named Carlos Alcaraz, the Spanish phenom who just won the men’s title at the U.S. Open at the age of 19, and whose talent is so extraordinary I can’t even think of words to describe it. More on that shortly.
Almost as good is Italian Jannick Sinner, 21, who lost to Alcaraz in an epic five-set quarterfinal at the U.S. Open this year. The losing finalist was Norway’s Casper Ruud, 23, who reached his second Grand Slam final this year and ascended to No. 2 in the ATP rankings. The top ranking goes to Alcaraz, who landed there after the U.S. Open in what must be the quickest sprint to No. 1 in ATP history.
One of the semifinalists was American Frances Tiafoe, 24, who beat Rafa in the Round of 16 and showed how good he can be when he keeps his focus for a full match. One of the quarterfinalists was Australia’s Nick Kyrgios – no youngster (in tennis years) at 27, but a supreme talent who can beat anyone in the world on his best days, when his mind is right and he gives a crap, and really should have been a Top 10 player five years ago.
Anyway: Carlos Alcaraz.
He might be the single most skilled player I have ever seen – and I’ve been watching tennis religiously for 50-plus years. He has the quickness and defensive skills of Djokovic, but a better attacking game. He has the competitive fire and powerful ground strokes of Nadal, but a better serve. He has the racket skills and offensive genius of Federer, but a much better backhand.
The shots Alcaraz makes are simply unimaginable – and he makes them all the time. Physically, he’s some kind of freak, having survived three straight grueling, 5-set matches before winning the final in four sets. He combines star power and a fierce competitiveness with an amazingly high tennis IQ, rarely making mental mistakes and showing amazing composure for a teenager.
Could Alcaraz win 20 or more majors like Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic? That’s a tough ask. A lot of breaks have to fall your way. You need to stay physically healthy and mentally sharp. One bad injury, and it’s all over in a flash
But I’ll be looking forward to his career over the next 15 years or so, at the end of which I’ll officially be an old man, not long for the grave myself.
People will line up for my funeral as well, just like they are for Queen Elizabeth’s. But my line will fit into a single room.
On the plus side, there will probably be bathrooms handy, and some refreshing snacks for the guests.
*Note: The title is from Ecclesiastes 1:5 (I looked it up), which chronicles the passage of time, and the lives that come and go.