Why it’s all over for the big three of tennis

There’s many things I love about the pithy and insightful Mark Petchey as a tennis commentator and no doubt it says more about me than it does about him that I get irritated with him for referring to ‘The big four’ rather than ‘The big three’. He includes Andy Murray in that list of modern titans of tennis which as a former coach of Murray’s you might expect him to do. But with just three grand slam titles to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s twenty and Novak Djokovic’s eighteen, as of April 2021, Murray does not deserve to be placed in such elevated company. The three of them have dominated the sport for more than fifteen years, defying the wisdom that they would in their early 30s give way to the next generation. But I believe that 2021 is the year that their dominance will come to an end and – big prediction – that Djokovic’s win at the Australian Open is the last grand slam that any of them will win.

Given Djokovic’s overwhelming dominance at the Australian Open, you might think that he looks likely to add to his tally. And in the autumn of 2020 Nadal did not lose a set on his way to winning his 13th French Open, and will be favourite to win the event again when it is played, probably in early June. But at the ATP Tour Finals in London in November 2020, both Nadal and Djokovic were beaten by Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev. At the Monte Carlo Open in April 2021, Djokovic was beaten by Dan Evans who was number 33 in the world at the time, while Nadal lost to Andrei Rublev. Federer meanwhile has been out injured for most of 2020 and in the two matches he’s played in 2021, he struggled to beat Dan Evans and then lost his second match against Nikolos Basilashvili . So, there is definitely a sense of fragility among the big three. But I think that it’s the strength of the chasing pack that will be the telling factor.

The first four on the hunt for the big trophies are Thiem, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Rublev. Immediately behind them is Alexander Zverev who can be a big threat if he cuts out his double faults and mental fragility at crunch moments.

Following hot on their heels is the toughest top 100 the game has ever seen, made up of consistently hard-to-beat performers like Robert Bautista Agut, Diego Schwartzman and Kei Nishikori; tough and grizzled veterans like Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic; exceptional young talents such as Jannik Sinner, Lorenzo Musetti, Denis Shapovalov, Casper Ruud and Felix Auger-Alliasime; one-off mavericks like Dan Evans, Fabio Fognini, Alexander Bublik, Benoit Paire, Nick Kyrgios and Gael Monfils; awkward power-servers like Milos Raonic, Reilly Opelka and John Isner; and surprise packages like the fastest rising star of 2021 so far, Aslan Karatsev.

For any of the big three to win another grand slam, they’ll have to play at least two extremely tough matches against these contenders, and probably more. And in a best of five set tournament the physical endurance of these ageing warriors is no longer a given. Of course Nadal will be hard to beat at Roland Garros, but his reign has to end at some point, and I predict it will be this year. Djokovic as a true all-court player could triumph at Wimbledon but faces a stern test on both the clay and the hard courts. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that Federer is going to be competitive again.

So my predictions for the next four grand slams:

French Open 2021 – Stefanos Tsitsipas

Wimbledon 2021 – Stefanos Tsitsipas

US Open 2021 – Daniil Medvedev

Australian Open 2022 – Jannik Sinner

Leaving the sewer that is Twitter

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

Social media companies won’t tolerate hate speech, they say, yet they publish it every day. And I use that word ‘publish’ deliberately. They do publish it. They don’t just ‘host’ that content, or enable third parties to add their own content. They’re responsible for that content in the same way that the New York Times or Die Welt is responsible for its own stories. And that’s a problem. Because social media companies let racists and pornographers and misogynists add content on their platforms that they say they don’t tolerate. But if you publish it, you do tolerate it. And that makes social media companies racists and pornographers and misogynists too. Yet they’re excused by legislators and traditional media because the other option is now unthinkable. They have become too big to fail, too big to be brought to account.

Is this the principled reason that I left Twitter, now some months ago? Well, yes and no. The reasons are based both in principle and in self-interest and mental self-preservation. I realised that Twitter is a particularly suffocating and unhealthy form of digital experience in a number of different ways. Like all social media, it’s bad not only for individual mental health, but, as ‘an aggregator of venom’, as one critic put it, it has had a pernicious and ruinous effect on us all. The most visible effect of this has been the presidency of that tinpot reality TV dictator and pussy-grabber-in-chief, Trump, who used Twitter as his mouthpiece to frame his own narcissistic version of reality. Twitter only pulled the plug on him in the last week of his presidency. But that belies the fact that Twitter was Trump’s most important means of getting his divisive voice heard in an uncritical way. Of course people post critical replies, but Trump chose the message he wanted to put out and he could broadcast it whenever he wanted. Twitter let him do that.

Twitter with its cute bird logo and cutesy name and pseudo-hipster entrepreneur CEO is actually a sham for an old media trick: divisiveness sells, antagonism sells, hatred sells. Sure, there are some good things about it as platform. As Owen Jones wrote: ‘Twitter is simultaneously many things: a means of elevating otherwise ignored voices, a platform for facilitating debate, a portal to access a bewildering array of information – and a cesspit of hatred.’ Twitter’s business model is built on friction and disagreement. It aims to polarise and fails to offer an opportunity for resolution. As John Poederetz put it in his article ‘Why I quit Twitter and you should too’: ‘It ­rewards bad rhetorical behavior, it privileges outrage of any sort over reason of all sorts, and it encourages us to misunderstand each other. It’s the devil on our shoulder.’

CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey couldn’t be more out of his depth with his Frankenstein’s Monster. And just like Frankenstein, I don’t think he had any idea of what he was giving birth to. Twitter began as a simple way of letting people know your status in realtime. That word ‘status’ has a dual meaning, of course: it can mean what you’re doing at any given point, and your social standing. These two things are interlinked: by telling people what you’re doing you’re also relating an implicit narrative about your social status. Yet the widespread understanding of what Twitter’s true purpose was revolved around the first of these definitions when it first started out. Dorsey’s first tweet, remember, was ‘just setting up my twttr’. And there was lots of media commentary which now seems obtuse, but which was at the time I think written in reasonably good faith, about ‘not wanting to let everyone know what I’m doing at any given point in the day.’ If you look at 2007 screenshots of Twitter, such as those of tweets posted by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, they fall firmly into this category. ‘Livy is making me watch the Giants game’, ‘Getting a Centro salad to go.’ etc. In an interview with the LA Times in 2009 Dorsey talked about the origins of the name Twitter: ‘We came across the word twitter, and it was just perfect. The definition was “a short burst of inconsequential information,” and “chirps from birds”. And that’s exactly what the product was.’

Everything points to the fact that Dorsey had no idea that Twitter would turn into a platform that people would use to develop complex personal narratives, advance political and celebrity careers, argue over intellectual and aesthetic points, and publish pornography and hate speech. I mean, ‘just setting up my twttr’ reeks more than anything of naivety – he sounds like an entrepreneur technologist with little or no ethical, philosophical or humanitarian sense, like a large number of people who work in Silicon Valley and other digital startups around the world. And subsequent events seem to have proven this. Of course, as anyone who has worked in the digital industry knows, products are iterative: they evolve quickly. Twitter is different now to when it started. It will continue to change. Yet it still has not yet addressed the hatred at its heart. My contention is that it cannot, because it realises that violent disagreement and outrage is an essential cog of its machine. The only way to undermine the power of social media platforms like Twitter is for people to vote with their feet and stop using them. There have been various short-term boycotts but until enough people boycott it not just for 24 or 48 hours, but for good, the blithely positive, entrepreneurial faux-naivety of the Dorseys and Zuckerbergs of this world will mean that the power and the hatred will continue to grow.

VE Day: Excitement and relief, but people were anxious, the country was broke and the war in Japan continued

This article appeared in the iPaper on the 75th anniversary of VE Day

By Kevin Telfer

Some politicians have suggested that we are at war with coronavirus. It is a ridiculous analogy in many ways, but there is a strange sense in which the build up to the end of lockdown does in some respects resemble the wait for VE Day in May 1945. There is the same constant focus on government announcements, for instance, and grumbling about regulations, and their enforcement, that are seen as bureaucratic, or mistaken, or mistimed, or all of these things. There is also the same sense that when the lockdown is lifted, just as when the war was over, there will be a price to pay that cannot yet be counted.

Churchill summed this up when he wrote about his feelings as he travelled through central London in an open-top car on 8 May, 1945. ‘Apprehension for the future and many perplexities filled my mind as I moved beyond the cheering Londoners in their hour of well-won rejoicing.’ It was only at 3pm that day that he formally announced to the public on the radio that the war in Europe was over.

A national obsession was publicly renewed on the morning of 8 May: the weather forecast could be printed in newspapers and broadcast to the nation for the first time since the war began – it had been classified as sensitive information since 1939. There had been thunderstorms overnight in many parts of the country and the day was warm and humid – hitting 78°F in London. The weather meant that the streets of many towns and cities across the country were filled with people celebrating in one form or another.

The churches were full of worshippers who came to give thanks, remember loved ones they’d lost, sing hymns and pray. Some churches ran hourly services from morning until late into the night.

And although the day was dominated across the country by flag-waving, drinking, bonfires, fireworks and singalongs, Churchill’s own apprehension was felt, even on VE Day itself, by many others.

The end of the war also brought all kinds of uncertainties with it. Conflict had been a constant companion in people’s lives for six years. Now people looked around and saw poverty and rationing, towns and cities ravaged by bombs, and an uncertain economic future. People waited for loved ones to return with a mixture of hope and trepidation. In victory, with its promise of freedom and peace, it was indeed the best of times, but for many fear and anxiety made it feel like the worst of times had not quite ended yet.

More rationing was introduced in May with less cooking fat and less bacon. There was less meat available in 1945 than there had been in 1944. Edmund Wilson, an American writer living in London was surprised to find a shop in Holborn with ‘rows and rows of dead crows’ in it. He assumed that they were for people to eat. He wrote that ‘Where our efforts have gone towards destruction, we have been able to build nothing at home to fall back on amidst our ruin.’

There was a widespread desire to build a better country out of these ruins – a country with universal healthcare, a national insurance scheme to protect vulnerable people, and adequate housing. There was some bitterness from servicemen about ‘the fruits of victory’ – or lack thereof. Britain was broke and broken, tatty and weary, and thousands of those who would be demobilised, or ‘demobbed’, in the coming months would have to find new careers and start from scratch.

But on VE Day itself, most of those servicemen across the world could not even fully rejoice that the war was over. In Europe, the fighting may have ended but conditions were still tough. Private Sid Verrier from Stoke Newington sent a letter home to his parents to describe VE Day in Germany. ‘Believe me, folks,’ he wrote, ‘I’ve never felt so fed up since I joined the army. No beer here, no decent grub worthy of such an occasion, no mail, no fraternisation with civvies, absolutely nothing.’ He spent his evening chatting with an ex-German soldier who was now the interpreter for his unit.

It was even worse for many servicemen in the far east. In Burma, Captain I A Wallace of the 115th Army Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, spent VE Day engaged in tough fighting with Japanese soldiers in the dense rainforest. Near the end of the day he described his platoon commander breaking down in tears after a corporal had been killed in action. ‘The tears poured down his cheeks and he sobbed bitterly. That was how we spent VE Day.’

Just over a month after VE Day George Orwell wrote the first pages of his new novel – Nineteen Eighty-Four. It captured a general mood of pessismism. People had seen and experienced terrible things that they could not easily forget, and the war had given them what might have felt like an enduring insight into human nature. Further events of that summer, such as the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, only seemed to cement the central vision of Orwell’s novel: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’


The Summer of ’45: Stories and Voices from VE Day to VJ Day by Kevin Telfer


The Labour case for conservatism (thoughts on the 2019 election)

The Conservatives are not conservative. In fact, it is one of their greatest tricks to convince the electorate that they are. Because one of the most well-known truisms about the British electorate is that we are innately conservative, with a small ‘c’. We are collectively resistant to change; suspicious of radicalism; mistrustful of ideology; and scared of revolutions. The Conservative Party learned this essential lesson long ago, which is why it has always tried to portray itself as the party of law and order; of strength and stability; and of unwavering belief in those institutions that uphold what they see as the decent British character: the monarchy, The Bank of England, the military, the Institute of Directors, etc.

Yet all the while the Conservatives have been much more radical than this portrayal might suggest. Radically destructive. Their project, in essence, is to usurp the 100 years of progress that have seen workers get more rights, consumers get more protection, and the vulnerable get more care. This is a combination of ‘red tape’ and ‘sponging’ as they see it. And they want to return to Victorian times; both in terms of hypocritical, anachronistic morality and a deregulated state that allows for capitalism to be unfettered by responsibilities. All accompanied by a prototypical Victorian foreign policy of ‘splendid isolation’. These things, of course, are all intertwined. And the Conservatives have shown themselves to be highly pragmatic when it comes to respect for those institutions that they claim to espouse, as shown by the reaction to the verdict on proroguing parliament. They will respect state institutions so long as those institutions support their ideological project.

Continue reading “The Labour case for conservatism (thoughts on the 2019 election)”

The impossibility of filming Catch 22

STARLIFESTYLE ONLY Catch 22 — Episode 1 – Young American flyers arrive in war and discover that the bureaucracy is more deadly than the enemy. Yossarian (Christopher Abbott), shown. (Photo by: Philippe Antonello/Hulu)

I’ve been watching George Clooney’s TV adaptation of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and it did that great thing of making me want to read the book all over again, which I have not done for a long, long time. Too long, as it turns out, because it is indeed a unique piece of writing that seemed so much fresher and full of energy than I remembered it.

The Clooney adaptation is very different to the 1970 film but I think that both show the impossibility of capturing the wild, contradictory spirit of the book.

Catch 22 is a novel that has contradictions at its heart. The main one being that in the novel, set in the later years of the Second World War, as a member of a bomber crew you could be grounded and not have to fly any more missions if you were insane. But before you could be grounded you would have to ask to be grounded. And if you asked to be grounded it proved that you were actually in full possession of your faculties, and so could not be grounded.

‘That’s some catch, that catch 22,’ says Yossarian after Doc Daneeka explains it to him.

‘It’s the best there is,’ says Doc Daneeka.

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Putting Salisbury back on the map – an open letter to John Glen MP

Dear John,

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to put Salisbury back on the map (in a good way), as it were, after its strange and significant setbacks in 2018, and I was rather disheartened by reports of the multi-million pound retail project proposed for the centre of city, which seems to me to lack vision and a sense of place.

Salisbury has many strong points, but it does not always do a brilliant job of making the most of them – there are beautiful parts of the city but they are not well connected with one another for pedestrians; there are dead streets created by poor town planning (especially, and most sadly in my opinion, New Street, half of which is just the back of a shopping centre and a car park when it should be a thriving street in its own right); and although the city lies in the heart of fantastic countryside it feels tragically cut off from it by the encircling dual carriageways and roundabouts.

There is one theme that unites these three things – in my view Salisbury is a city that has been designed in the last 70 years or so of its history rather too willingly around the needs of motorists and cars. Historically that’s fine – the twentieth century was the high point of the car – but I think that the future – even the very near future – will be different. Some European cities – like Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Pontevedra and Amsterdam – are leading the way in making their cities much less car-focused. There is also a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions as demonstrated by the recent IPCC report. If this is the way that all cities will eventually go, why not lead from the front?


I’m going to lay out some of my ideas and you can feel free to jump up and down with joy at their brilliance or else screw this up, put it in the bin and forget about it. Now I know that the future of Salisbury is not up to you, but I expect that you’re quite influential in talking to people about what that future might be and I’d like to think that some of these ideas are at least worthy of discussion and consideration.

Let’s do something truly visionary and daring to make not just Britain but the world take notice of Salisbury in a good way, attracting tourism and people from all over the country who want to live in the city. My suggestions:

  1. Make the centre of Salisbury predominantly car-free: increase pedestrianisation and cycle routes to connect key heritage sites and attractive spaces together, using the country’s best architectural and town-planning talent. Here’s a case study for a city of 90,000 people in Spain that did a similar thing: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/sep/18/paradise-life-spanish-city-banned-cars-pontevedra
  2. In this more peaceful, unpolluted and attractive city centre, it will be easier to make a memorable retail and restaurant experience for Salisbury that is different to other cities; and much more inviting than going to an out-of-town shopping centre like Hedge End.
  3. To complement the city centre changes and to encourage people to visit from surrounding areas, create an extensive network of mixed cycle and pedestrian paths that protect cyclists and pedestrians from traffic on the main roads – one to Old Sarum, the Woodfords and, ultimately, Stonehenge; one to Wilton; one to the Winterbournes; and one down the Avon Valley all the way to Ringwood. This will encourage exercise, wellbeing and tourism and reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.
  4. Promote electric bike use with cycle recharging points along the routes powered by renewable energy and sites for cafes/refreshment stalls.
  5. Use extensive, sensitively managed tree and wildflower planting along these routes to make them more attractive, promote biodiversity and the concept of eco-tourism.
  6. Promote cycle tourism and guided cycle safaris in and around Salisbury, creating jobs in the city.
  7. Improve park and ride schemes with better and faster – and even more entertaining (cycle rickshaws, electric tuk-tuks, free bicycles for instance) – ways of bringing people into the city – rewarding those who want to park outside.
  8. Consider a small-scale bike hire scheme along the lines of London’s Santander bikes.
  9. Ultimately consider introducing a light railway (electric monorail?) to connect park and ride with the city centre and even further afield to outlying villages and towns not currently connected by rail.

I realise that some of these ideas are way out there in terms of current thinking and financial feasibility but I think that Salisbury could become a far more successful city if it is ambitious in how it approaches the future.

Let me know what you think.


Kevin Telfer

Continue reading “Putting Salisbury back on the map – an open letter to John Glen MP”

Walking for wildlife


The thing I worry most about for my kids is not Brexit or Vladimir Putin or ISIS or Donald Trump; not directly at least. No, I worry most about the destruction of the natural environment: habitat loss, biodiversity destruction, ecocide and climate breakdown. Regardless of what else is happening, if there isn’t a planet that is habitable, then all of us are up the proverbial creek without a paddle. The impact may be proportionately worse for poorer people and those in particularly vulnerable places in the world, but ultimately nowhere in the world is immune from the impact of the environmental disaster that is happening right now.

I believe that this is the most important issue of our era – the later stages of the fossil fuel age where humans are coming to realise the consequences of burning all of those fuels that we found in the ground. Yet given the lack of column inches in newspapers, minutes of news broadcasts and documentaries, and statements from political parties, you wouldn’t realise that this is such a critical – possibly existential – subject. It reminds me of the Jaws films – the people of Amity cannot admit to the fact that there is a killer shark in their waters as it would destroy the tourist industry in the town. Chief Brody is treated as a pariah for daring to publicise the fact that the shark is out there. Well, climate breakdown and ecocide is the killer shark in the waters and people are putting on their dark glasses and pretending that there’s nothing to worry about because they realise that business-as-usual can’t happen if a genuine solution is going to be found for this crisis.

Yet I am optimistic. I feel that most people want to do the right thing, yet inadvertently end up contributing to more environmental problems. It needs to be made easier for people to begin tidying up the mess that humans have made. I am as culpable as anyone – we all are. And that is one of the reasons that makes it  easy to feel powerless. I care about wildlife yet I feel that I am doing almost nothing to improve the situation other than making regular contributions to wildlife charities and trying to teach my children respect for the natural world.

That’s why I and my family are going to London this weekend to attend the People’s Walk for Wildlife. I’ve no idea how many other people will be there but I feel that I want to put my hand up and be counted. I asked my eldest son (6) how he felt about it. He said he wanted to do it as well, because ‘he loves nature.’

I think that there is a lot to be hopeful about in the UK: the decarbonisation of power and the growth of renewables; the increase in electric cars; the growth of cycling and cycling infrastructure; huge interest in the rewilding movement; and the mainstream recognition that plastic pollution is choking our habitats, for instance. But all this is a drop in the ocean compared to what needs to happen. Some of these things are detailed in The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife.

I hope that the walk this weekend helps to persuade more people in the mainstream media and political parties that these proposals need to be considered much more seriously – and urgently – if as a nation we are to arrest the decline of our natural environment and actually start to improve it.


The genius of Rhasan Roland Kirk

This year has for me been the year of the saxophone – from rediscovering the music of Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane, and going to see Pharaoh Sanders at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho in July and Too Many Zooz at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in March, to getting to know Austrian saxophonist Guido Spannocchi, who regularly plays at the Bloomsbury Hotel basement bar just off New Oxford Street. But the crowning glory of the year for me has been finding out about the unique, multi-instrumental  talent of Rhasan Roland Kirk. And I’ve had to ask myself: how has it taken me so long to begin listening to this giant of 20th century music?

I should have arrived at this stage earlier. I came to Rhasan Roland Kirk via Jimi Hendrix. I knew that Jimi Hendrix was a big fan of Kirk’s – it is a well-documented fact that Hendrix had the Kirk album Rip, Rag and Panic in his luggage when he arrived in London from America in 1966. But for some reason I had never checked out his music. I wondered after I had listened to him if this was because Kirk, in a genre of individualists, was such an arch-individualist that he didn’t logically fall into any of the standard family trees of jazz – he was way out there doing his own thing.

Continue reading “The genius of Rhasan Roland Kirk”

My problem with ‘We’ – an exchange of views with Newsnight’s Evan Davis


The use of the pronoun ‘we’ has always been a bit of a problem for me in the broadcasting business; so much so that it is one of the main reasons I stopped listening to Today on Radio 4 (main culprit John Humphrys) and, after watching Newsnight last week I decided to contact presenter Evan Davis about it. He very graciously wrote me a thoughtful reply and a copy of our exchange is published below – with Davis’s permission.

And here is one of the more egregious recent examples of Humphrys’ use of ‘we’, as spotted by Twitter user James Melville.




Kevin Telfer wrote:

Hi Evan,

You may think this a small thing; and in some ways it is – just a word
with two letters: ‘we’; but I think that the use of this word has
significant implications and its overuse on the Today programme in
particular is one of the reasons why I stopped listening to that show.
Did I overreact? Well, maybe, but I don’t think so.

Continue reading “My problem with ‘We’ – an exchange of views with Newsnight’s Evan Davis”

Lincoln in the Bardo – a very funny and brilliant novel



Who knew that experimental literary fiction could give you belly laughs?  Well, Lincoln in the Bardo is one of the funniest and most raucous books I have ever read, of any genre.  I didn’t expect it to be funny. It is also many other things as well – but I think that its humour was the greatest surprise for me, especially given that the principle focus of the novel, outwardly at least, is death. Yet on reflection I don’t think that I should have been so surprised because this book does not provide a type of artistic experimentation that feels academic and ultimately alienating; instead it offers a carnivalesque celebration in the finest traditions of the novel, which has it its heart Bhaktinian dialogism and heteroglossia.

Do you see what I did there? I explained how a novel that you might think would be artistically elitist actually turns out not to be using academically elitist language. That deserves a bit more explanation.

Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian theorist who wrote extensively about the novel using slightly obscure terminology. But beyond the terminology, he offers a compelling analysis. Let’s go back to what the word ‘novel’ means – new and original. Bhaktin’s view of true novels is that they always seeking to be new and original by being an ‘anti-form’ that undermines the idea of single, authoritative truth in texts. He argues that the thing that makes novels distinct is the way that they incorporate a range of different speech types – or ‘discourses’ – that compete against one another within the text in a way that never fully resolves itself. This is something that Bhaktin called ‘dialogics’. David Lodge explained it by saying that ‘As soon as you allow a variety of discourses into a textual space…you establish a resistance… to the dominance of any one discourse.’ So rather than a unified, homogenous form of language, the novel presents a heteroglossic variety of language types.

Continue reading “Lincoln in the Bardo – a very funny and brilliant novel”