Tag Archives: London

All eyes back on London for one last 2012 time

8 of the world’s top 9 players descend on the Artist-formerly-known-as-the-Millennium-Dome this weekend as the ATP Tour Finals take place. This year’s finale comes two weeks earlier than usual; great news for those who have long campaigned for a shorter season.  Let’s hope this change is justified and that the players arrive in much sharper fitness than in previous years. It would be nice if next Monday night’s final was between the best two players, rather than merely the last two standing.

Rafael Nadal’s absence gives opportunity to Jarko Tipsarevic, who performed well last year as an alternate. It is just reward for a man who continues to perform more and more consistently every year – he always had the talent and was always a dangerous floater in any draw but his performances over the last 18 months mean he is now becoming a contender to be the best of the rest. His swashbuckling style will mean that all of his matches this week will be well worth a watch for any neutral.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was the other player who left it late to book his London spot. His year has been solid enough but not as successful as his 2011 season.  Tsonga has failed to kick on in a year when I fully expected him to at least reach a Grand Slam or Olympic final. The cold hard facts for Tsonga are that he is getting no younger and Murray and Djokovic look likely to continue being better than him and being much more consistent than him. The gap has not narrowed – it has got much, much wider.

Tomas Berdych arrives in Britain on the back of an impressive autumn. After first round defeats at Wimbledon and in the Olympics, Berdych looked in danger of slipping down the rankings. But he has steadied the ship and was unfortunate to have to play Murray in the New York semis on a ridiculously windy day which unfortunately spoiled what would have been a classic. The slower indoor courts in London may well suit Berdych’s game and I do not rule him out from a final appearance nine days from now, despite being put in the same group as Murray and Djokovic. If he comes out of that group, expect him to reach that final.

Juan-Martin Del Potro is back to full fitness and could have a massive 2013 ahead of him. He is the man with the game to take it to Murray, Federer, Djokovic and a fit Nadal. If Nadal continues to struggle next season, the smart money is on JMDP to be a staple of the last 4 in Grand Slam events. As things stand now, I put him as one of three men who can win the Australian Open next month, along with Murray and Djokovic. His recent victory over Federer in Basel leaves him in good fettle and one had to marvel at his delight at coming out victorious over Djokovic in the Olympics Bronze Medal match. JMDP has the ability to knock any of the top guys off the court – is he capable of doing it back-to-back? When fully fit and confident, yes I think he is.

David Ferrer is the sport’s Mr Consistency; 2 Grand Slam semi-finals this year with appearances in the last eight in the other two are testament to this. He is enjoying as fine an Indian Summer in his career as he could have dreamed of. His durability is the key to his game – I sometimes wonder what he could achieve if he actually thought he could beat the Top 3 or 4. After a favourable draw, Ferrer could feature in the last 4 this week, which will represent a solid end to another impressive year for the 30-year-old Spaniard.

I get the impression that Roger Federer is not going to pull up trees this week in London.  His year has been an unqualified triumph.  He won his 17th Grand Slam title and regained the Number 1 spot, before going on to become the man who has held that slot for the longest in Open history, a figure which now stands at over 300 weeks. Incredible. He is going for a hat-trick in London – he has not lost a match at the Championships since 2009. However, if anybody will come into this tournament feeling drained from his year’s efforts, it will be Federer. But it would be foolish to completely write him off (he has been placed in the weaker group which will help his cause) and I would be delighted to be eating my words in a week’s time if Federer poses with his 7th Tour Finals trophy. Yes, it would be his 7th. Incredible is often the best word to fully appreciate this man’s career.

Andy Murray will count on more home support than ever as he attempts to cap off a remarkable year for British tennis. His summer success seems to have inspired the country’s top 2 women with Laura Robson and Heather Watson both reaching WTA finals, the latter winning hers, since Murray lifted the US Open trophy. His early loss in Paris last week will have actually served him well. He will arrive in London fresh and ready to win his first Tour Finals. Murray has a difficult draw in Group A alongside Djokovic and Berdych but if he gets out of the group, which he should, he can take his place in his first final at the event. One thing is for certain, he arrives in better shape than he did a year ago, when he pulled out after his first match loss to David Ferrer.

Novak Djokovic is the man to beat in this tournament.  He will end the year back on top of the world when he takes over from Federer in the rankings during the tournament.  His year has been a resounding success. In an era where we are blessed with so many fantastic players, he was never going to be able to match his amazing 2011, but he has backed it up this season with one Grand Slam and two final appearances in others. Whilst Federer and Murray shared the summer plaudits, and rightly so, it is right and fitting that the Serb will finish the year as the top-ranked player in the world. He is there to be fired at, he knows that a victory in London will validate that spot but also knows that a victory for Murray or Federer will give that player scope to believe that they are the best player in the world right now. Like Murray, Djokovic lost early in Paris and should be fresh. It may not be the bravest of predictions but I tip Djokovic to prove he is still the best player in the world for now and end 2012 as Number 1 and with his second ATP Tour Finals trophy in his locker.

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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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