Monthly Archives: August 2013

Stepping up in the city that never sleeps; time for new Number 1s?

Positive memories

Positive memories

The scores change, the matches change, the years change, even the players change, yet tennis just continues on and on and on. No time to stop to admire Marion Bartoli’s career whose pinnacle came right at the denouement. It was 12 months ago that the sport bade farewell to two Slam champions in Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick whose bodies finally gave out on them and gave in to the sport. How many passing thoughts have been given to those two in 2013? My point exactly. The wheel trundles on. So let me bask for just a second in the fact that for the first time in 35 years a British player goes into a Grand Slam as the defending champion, as “the hunted” according to John McEnroe. Add into that mix that we have a woman as a seed for the first time since 1988, and it’s nice to be looking forward to a Slam with excitement rather than trepidation. But off come the red, white and blue sunglasses for now.

Who are the form horses coming into the final slam of 2013? Where is the smart money going? It is difficult to look too far beyond Andy Murray, even without British bias. Good memories will be all around him all fortnight. New York is the place he broke through, the place where he won his first Slam by defeating the World Number One in five tough sets. In addition to that, he has appeared in the final of every Slam he’s competed in since and thrashed Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. I don’t think you can say enough about how much that can do for a person’s game and belief. Okay, he isn’t in fantastic form coming into the event but once he strolls out onto Arthur Ashe Stadium court, I think that will rectify itself pretty quickly. His potential path to the semi-finals is pretty straight-forward and things will hot up at that stage. The winner of the Novak Djokovic v Juan-Martin Del Potro quarter-final tie will pose a hard-hitting threat. I’m taking Del Potro to edge that quarter if he carries his Wimbledon form into the Slam he won four years ago.

Rafael Nadal will be a relieved man to be in the bottom half of the draw. He will fancy his chances in a potential quarter-final clash with Roger Federer (the Swiss maestro will be back to Last 8 form here in my opinion) and will find little trouble waiting for him in the form of compatriot and old friend David Ferrer at the penultimate stage. Nadal’s hard-court record this season is second to none and he will almost certainly feature on Finals day. If Del Potro has managed to beat Djokovic and Murray back-to-back, then Rafael Nadal will be a bridge too far and will pick him off without too many worries in the final. If it’s Murray who comes through from the top half, expect the Scot to get his first major final W against the Spaniard and give himself every chance of finishing the year as the world’s top player.

Roof-less....for now

Roof-less….for now

The women’s draw is depleted by the absence of Maria Sug….errrr Sharapova. The cynic in me wonders why she came to New York at all, and at that I shall leave it. All her absence does in my mind is solidify the expected repeat of last year’s final when Victoria Azarenka pushed Serena Williams to the very limit. And this year, I expect the Belarussian to avenge that particular defeat. She knew that she could live with Serena after that balmy New York night in 2012, and her fighting qualities saw her become a multi-major winner earlier this year in Melbourne. A victory in another of the majors will only reinforce her position as one of the best two players in the world. Her path to the final is easier than Serena’s, much easier. Serena starts off against former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. Whilst the Italian’s best years are well behind her now, her game of slice and backhands has the potential to upset Serena right from the off. Her route further in could involve match-ups against the up-and-coming stars of the game, the likes of Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, who both know what knocking out Serena in New York could do for their careers.

Vika has an easier route through; I would imagine she will have one small scare along the way, possibly against Alize Cornet as she did in Paris but I would be flabbergasted if she wasn’t in the Final in two weeks’ time. After a comparably easier fortnight, I think Azarenka will lift the third major title of her career.
As for the losing semi-finalists, I expect Agnieszka Radwanksa to take her decent Wimbledon form into the final slam of 2013 and get by the likes of Na Li, who in turn should have enough about her to see off a not-100% Laura Robson in Round 3 and thus extinguish any painful memories she has of said player from last year. And the big prediction from the bottom half of the draw is that I see Simona Halep dragging her amazing summer form into a Slam and taking advantage of a kind draw to cement her place in the Top 20. The Romanian has won four titles since June and being in the same quarter as Elena Vesnina, Sara Errani and Maria Kirilenko presents her with an opportunity she really cannot afford to turn down.

Let’s hope that we have a relatively dry US Open, although not too dry that the USTA goes back on their decision to install a roof on Ashe Stadium court! Kudos to them for finally dragging the tournament into the 21st century. In reading former players’ autobiographies, it beggars belief how much more innovative Wimbledon is these days compared with the US Open. Nobody would ever have imagined Wimbledon to be the more forward-thinking of the two. Let’s further hope that at the end of the fortnight, we have two deserving champions after two weeks of superb tennis. Two champions who believe that they belong at the very top. Andy and Victoria, your times are now. Time to seize, before the sport trundles on, passes you by and picks the next champions.

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Unquestionable greatness

World Champion and Great Briton

World Champion and Great Briton

I thought long and hard about whether I could get away with writing a blog about the athletics World Championships, whether I was informed enough. But then that particular concern has never stopped me with tennis. I’ve watched all week a sport which is beset with drug concerns, as the sport I love appears to be lumbering into a doping crisis. Or at least it will be if Francophone media have their way. Not content with having eventually been proven justified in their pursuit of Lance Armstrong, they appear to now want to say that any enforced absence or retirement from tennis is down to doping. Nadal, Serena, Bartoli, Clijsters, Henin. 5 Champions. All having their names dragged through mud. This is the sport that chucked Martina Hingis, a five-time major winner, out on her ear for recreational cocaine use, something the Swiss always denied. But the facts are there for me. Tennis does not do cover-ups.

Anyway, the athletics. That is a sport where you cannot trust much of what you see. You have Russians who arrive at major championships and knock three seconds off their personal bests, in the 1500 metres. You have people like LaShawn Merritt who has served two drug bans in the past winning the 400 metres by a full 10 metres and you’re supposed to admire that. No, you can’t. You watch it and you suspect immediately. Shelley-Ann Fraser=Pryce has served a suspension in the past too. How many of the host nation’s athletes have served suspensions in the past five years? How many deserving athletes have been denied their moments on the podium due to cheats initially prospering at their expense. A sport which is currently having to do without Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kelly-Ann Baptiste and Sherone Simpson. All established stars that fell afoul of regulations for an assortment of reason, none of which are acceptable for top sport stars. I’m just glad that I can watch the sport that I love and not see it through those suspecting eyes, no matter what L’Equipe or the Belgian gutter press say.

What I initially wanted to write about before I got so rudely interrupted by those libellous stories was how we measure greatness in sport. Christine Ohuruogu became World Champion for the second time this week, a full six years after her maiden victory. She followed up her first World title by winning the Olympic title 12 months later, but it has taken her five long years to get back on top of the podium. Yet we didn’t proclaim her a great athlete in 2008, no we waited until this week’s triumph ended her barren spell a couple of Relay gold medals and another Olympic medal, this time silver!). Usain Bolt is on for yet another clean sweep and now there is little doubt that he is the greatest short sprinter that ever competed. It’s because he is going out there and doing it time and time again. Mo Farah was not content with winning the 5000m and 10,000m double in just the Olympics, but has gone and repeated it in Moscow. By doing that, he inches closer to the real greats like Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebreselassie. Only by sticking around in a sport do you achieve greatness. By consistently being close to, if not on, the top of a sport for a sustained period of time.

You can have barren spells, injuries, times when a flash in the pan comes along and beats you to medals. But if you stick at what you do best and you look to continually improve, you’ll be back on top more times than you’re not. That’s why Sir Alex Ferguson was the don of British football. Arsene Wenger may have outwitted him on occasions, Mourinho may have trumped him a couple of times but Ferguson was the best for 20 years at United. That’s what made Michael Johnson the greatest athlete of all time, he was at the very top of his sport for nine years. And he doubled up in that time. That’s what makes Roger Federer the greatest tennis player of all time for me. That consecutive grand slam quarter-final record, the amount of time he’s spent in the Top 5. The way others have had to raise their games to challenge these legends of their sport. By being good, you can win. But by having longevity, you can achieve greatness. Whilst it would be a little exuberant to suggest Christine Ohuruogu is one of the greatest athletes in the world, her victory in Russia this week makes her, for me, one of Britain’s greatest ever. It puts her above the likes of Kelly Holmes and Linford Christie.

Welcome to Club Longevity Christine, you’re a fully paid-up and deserving member.

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