In 2010, John Alexander, OAM, a high-profile former tennis star new to politics, won a much-publicised contest against sitting ALP member and former ABC journalist Maxine McKew who had taken the seat from former Prime Minister John Howard in 2007. Mr Alexander has not held another seat nor been a senator, but he stood for pre-selection in Bradfield in 2009 before running for Bennelong.
This Liberal-held Inner-metropolitan seat of 60 sq km has a margin of 7.8 per cent but demographic shifts make it electorally unpredictable. Many residents were born in non-English speaking countries, putting diversity and immigration at stake. Issues include small business, airports, tax reform, education, health, housing, transport and infrastructure.
With tennis legend MP John Alexander polling 57.77 per cent in 2013, it's a plucky Bennelong candidate who doesn't call it game, set and match before a single 2016 federal election vote is served.
But who can forget Maxine McKew's tie-break against John Howard, taking out the match 51.4 to 48.6 per cent after falling just 143 votes short of the former PM in the primary vote count in 2007?
Not Labor candidate Lyndal Howison who is a match-ready "underdog" taking up where Jason Yat-Sen Li left off after he took 42.23 of the two-party preferred vote in 2013, leaving Liberal MP John Alexander to enjoy his increased majority.
Ms Howison is not alone in her hopes, Justin Alick for the Greens, Julie Worsley for the Christian Democratic Party, Christopher Gordon for The Arts Party, John August for the Pirate Party Australia and Independent Martin Mulcare are all game for the 2016 match.
Mr Alexander, OAM, told UniPollWatch that the ousting of former PM Tony Abbott last September “lost us some ground”, and said that a direct election model similar to that adopted by Labor would bring leadership stability.
The ABC categorises Bennelong as "safe, Liberal, 7.8 per cent" but recent significant shifts in its demographics make it increasingly electorally unpredictable. Of all Liberal electorates it has the highest proportion of residents born in non-English speaking countries putting diversity and immigration at stake.
“Bennelong has been taken for granted. There's so much we could be doing, we have a diverse population and many new residents,” Ms Howison told UniPollWatch in an interview.
"Our roads need updating. Bennelong has five of New South Wales's 10 busiest roads," Ms Howison, who works in the non-profit sector of marketing and communication, said. "We need to have the right capacity on our public transport."
Mr Alexander hopes to solve key transport and housing issues by using value-capture to fund a high-speed rail network linking Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, easing house prices in capital cities and boosting regional property prices.
Mr Alexander says his experience as a property developer has helped to convince his career-politician colleagues to back the rail project.
“My thinking had at least prepared my colleagues for this type of proposal and to understand how infrastructure can be sustainably funded,” Mr Alexander told UniPollWatch in an interview.
Mr Alexander, 64, stressed the importance of negative gearing in the rapidly developing electorate.
“In this region … some spikes have been in the order of 50% over an 18-month period … so (abolishing negative gearing is) just so poorly considered,” Mr Alexander said.
Housing affordability and investment will be the major issues that shape Bennelong into the future, according to independent Ryde councillor Justin Li.
“At the moment, house prices are very high in this electorate. It will be very hard for the younger generation to buy their properties,” Cr Li said in an interview with UniPollWatch.
In 60-square-kilometre Bennelong, a two-bedroom house sells for an average of $1.5m in Ryde while a four-bedroom-home will set you back $2m. A two-bedroom apartment goes for prices ranging from $620,000 in Ryde to $790,000 in Epping.
Ms Howison said she is campaigning to make sure schools and health services meet the needs of Bennelong's growing population.
“To me, the Labor Party is putting people first and giving people access to great quality health and education,” Ms Howison told UniPollWatch. “We need to have the right capacity in our schools."
The latest redistribution did not change the boundaries of Bennelong which stretches from parts of Ermington and Melrose Park in the west, bounded by the Parramatta River in the south and Pittwater Road and the Lane Cove River in the east, with the M2 Motorway, Devlins Creek and Lane Cove River providing the northern boundary. Suburbs include Denistone, Epping, parts of Gladesville, Macquarie Park, Meadowbank, Melrose Park, Putney, North Ryde, Ryde and parts of Carlingford.
Bennelong, held by former Prime Minister John Howard from 1974 to 2007, is home to Macquarie Business Park, the third largest commercial office region in Sydney, and Macquarie University.
Mr Alexander, who reached number eight in the world during his 17-year professional tennis career, says tennis has shaped his approach to politics.
“The dynamic of competition refines your product. When you play tennis, you get very immediate feedback … when you lose, you get back and you try again. A loser is someone who then quits,” he said.
Additional reporting by Peta Walton, Jack Smith, Zachary Crellin, Georgia Roach, Joshua Thomas, Sinead Nolan, Grace Back, and Tim Hamer. Editing and fact-checking by Oliver Jacques, Tim Hamer, Sandy Symons, Catriona Bonfiglioli and Saba Bebawi