Monthly Archives: August 2012

Murray’s time has come

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The power in men’s tennis could be about to shift firmly towards Andy Murray.  The British number one comes into the final major of the 2012 season on the back of an annihilation of Roger Federer in the Olympics final only three weeks ago.  For those who question Federer’s desire in that match, I suggest they read any of the Swiss maestro’s interviews from the previous four years – London 2012 was one of his biggest motivations for continuing at the top of the game and his failure to win a Singles Gold medal will undoubtedly rank as one of the bigger disappointments of his glittering career when he finally hangs up his racket. The plain and simple truth is that Murray outplayed Federer with a ruthless display of aggressive tennis, just 48 hours after seeing off Novak Djokovic in straight sets, albeit in a best-of-3-sets match.  This, coupled with his run to the Wimbledon final earlier in the summer, has now given Murray the self-belief that he belongs with these guys at the very very top in the greatest era of men’s tennis.

I have been one of Andy Murray’s biggest critics over the years.  His rise to the top was filled with missed opportunities and shock defeats in Grand Slams to players that he should never have lost to. There was a stage approximately 18-24 months ago where he looked like his career had already peaked.  Djokovic and Nadal were disappearing into the distance, with Federer hanging onto his younger counterparts’ tailcoats. Drastic action was needed by Murray and it came earlier this year in the shock appointment of  the dour Czech Ivan Lendl as his coach. Opinion was divided at the time as to whether this was inspired choosing or a desperate lunge to the bar in the last chance saloon. The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two.  Lendl knows from his own playing career that patience can be the key; he was the same age as Murray is when he won his first Grand Slam and he went on to win a number.  Murray saw something in Lendl which other players haven’t seen – this was the Swede’s first coaching appointment, a full 17 years after he retired from the game.  Whilst neither would win a happiness contest, it seems that the dour cocktail is proving a positive one and less people than normal would bet against Murray lifting the US Open trophy in a fortnight’s time.  Who knows, if that happens we may even get a smile from the both of them? One smile, not two, let’s not get too carried away.

Nadal’s absence takes away one of the big obstacles in Murray’s way.  I put only Djokovic, Federer and Del Potro as other possible winners.  Djokovic will aim to sign off a slightly less successful year (only the Australian Open in the bag this year!) by proving he is still the man to beat on the ATP Tour.  Del Potro has history here and looks to be almost back to his best and will prove an incredibly tough not to crack on the hard New York courts. Federer has continued his outstanding summer form into the American season and will expect an appearance in the final.  However, Murray stands in his way – your time has come, Andy.

The women’s game desperately needs somebody to take Serena out in a giant-killing act.  If somebody can raise their game to their maximum level and beat the dominant younger Williams sister, then the field would be blown open.  Get a blanket and throw it over about 8 women if Serena loses somewhere along the line.  Maria Sharapova has a shot at the slam where she probably has the most support.  Vika Azarenka has a shot at reasserting her number 1 ranking.  Petra Kvitova has hit good form at just about the right time for a run in the season’s final major.  A word for Maria Kirilenko, who will look to cement her finest season of her career by securing another last four spot and maybe go even further.  But it is Kim Clijsters who jumps out as the big value bet here.  Kim will retire from tennis for a second and surely final time as soon as she hits her final ball in anger or joy in New York.  She will put every ounce of effort she has in her to give this one final shot.  She will be the crowd favourite, no doubt, and if Serena is ousted somewhere along the line, the support and emotion may be enough to give Kim the edge over the rest and carry over the line.  What is encouraging is that with the obvious exception of Rafael Nadal, all the big players in both events are fit and ready to go.  It promises to be a glittering two weeks under the lights of Flushing Meadows.  I am lucky to be going over there for the first five days, with the first five sessions being on Ashe Stadium court – this should give me a chance to see most of the main runners and riders up close over the next 7 days, and I will no doubt blog further upon my return.  But for now, I will leave you with these words; Andy and Kim – you read it here first!

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Inspire a Generation

Sometimes a Facebook status or a tweet cannot do justice to your thoughts on an event or occasion; you need to write more. For me, the London 2012 Olympic Games are a prime example of that.  What transpired over the 16 days in that city will last forever in the memories of any of us who witnessed it, any of us who like sport, and any of us who care about future generations.  Long-standing heroes cemented their places in history, and new faces grasped the bull by the horns and fulfilled lifelong ambitions.  Lord Coe will no doubt state that the hard work starts now, but can London 2012 really achieve what it set out to do and Inspire a Generation?

There is no doubt that London delivered a fantastic Games.  Jacques Rogge cleverly paraphrased our national anthem to declare that they had been “happy and glorious” games.  What makes that even more impressive is that we did so under budget.  70,000 Gamesmakers were made to feel a part of it, they were an essential part of a well-oiled machine that ran smoother than we dared have dreamed possible 3 weeks ago. London’s much-criticised public transport infrastructure did more than merely stand up to scrutiny. The security systems and crowd-control arrangements meant that visitors to the Games had little to moan about, one US newspaper getting so desperate that they complained that restaurants in central London close too early. Welcome to Britain, we roll out the red carpet, but we live and die by our national traditions, thank you very much.  Therein lies a great compliment though; these were the minute details that had to be scrutinised if visitors were to find any glaring errors in these Games.  Empty seats was the complaint of the early days of the 30th Olympiad, but London certainly seemed to have a lot less empty seats than previous Games, and they were quickly filled by military personnel, a great gesture.

The opening ceremony promised to showcase Britain to the world and this it did in spectacular fashion.  From The Queen agreeing to appear in an acting role to the iconic image of 7 young sportspersons literally being handed the baton of Britain’s sporting future when receiving the Olympic torches from great Olympians of the past, it nailed it. Britain nodded to its past but the show symbolised that we were a vibrant nation, one that is still proud of who it is and who is happy to celebrate that.  Any of those who doubted that this was the case would have been left in no doubt after a wonderful 16 days of sport in which every British competitor was cheered fervently. Yes, it is most definitely cool again to own and wave a Union Flag. So, what of the sporting legacy? How far can Team GB’s success drive the next generation of aspiring sport stars?

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The whole of the British Olympic team in Atlanta 1996 summoned up one solitary Gold medal, in the coxless fours Rowing.  Team GB has just amassed a total medal tally of 65, 29 of these being of the Golden variety.  Kids watching the 1996 Games had four men in a boat to look up to.  If you weren’t from a relatively well-off background, any interest in emulating these impressive guys would have soon met with the resounding thump of a door being closed in their face.  16 years on, and with millions, probably billions, of pounds of Lottery and successive Government funds having been pumped into elite sport in this country, and children now have a vast array of new sporting superstars as their role models.  The important aspect for me is that these are across a wide range of sports and our heroes are of both genders.  Your 13 year old daughter is not interested in the exploits of Sir Chris Hoy or Katherine Grainger? Well, step up 19 year old Taekwondo Gold medallist Jade Jones or 29 year old Nicola Adams, the first ever female gold medallist in the boxing ring. Accessible sports that require dedication, hard work and self-discipline but where dreams can be fulfilled. Andy Murray triumphing on the grass of the All England Club showed that the state-school kid from Dunblane continues to excel in his chosen individual sport, metaphorically punching with the very best. Moments after Mo Farah had won the long-distance track double, he looked into the camera and told kids that “hard work and graft is all you need”.  These are the words the government and Sport England want our stars to be uttering, the type of thing that gets kids off their Nintendo DS’ and onto the fields. London Mayor Boris Johnson wants two hours of sport every day in schools. This is of course unrealistic, but more money needs to be put into sport on the curriculum to give a more varied feel to Physical Education at secondary school level. We need to move away from a culture where football rules OK. Team sports will always be important but then there will always be people who excel individually, they should not be ostracised.

The effects of London 2012 will only truly be seen in 4 Olympics’ time. Whilst Lottery funding has gone a long way to giving Team GB a leap on its opposition, the next 15 years will see what effect positive role models combined with a hugely successful home Games can have, with still impressive funding also thrown into the mix. Kudos must go the Government for reversing its initially nonsensical plan to cut funding in the years leading up to Rio 2016.  The Team GB athletes of the past three weeks have made what sometimes can be seen as naff sports seem cool.  It would be foolish to make rash predictions about success in future Games, what is more important is that these Games inspire kids to try new sports and to get active.  It is interesting that a lot of athletes have already signed up to a funding scheme which requires them to visit schools as part of their deals. This is most encouraging.  Here lies a great opportunity for the kids to be inspired by the headhunting 19 year old from Flint, North Wales, the 38 year old rower who refused to take Silver as the best she could achieve, by the son of asylum seekers who shocked the world to show that Brits can win long-distance track races, by the fun-loving teenage lad who made diving cool.  Yes, I reckon Team GB stand as good a chance as ever of Inspiring a Generation. Lord Coe may well have been talking about the games as a whole with his final sound bite, but the same can be applied to the whole team of athletes – “When (their) time came, (they) were ready”.

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