Archive for the ‘Tennis’ Category

It’s been a constant rumbling within the world of tennis over the best part of a decade: Why won’t the sport pay equally for both men and women in major tournaments? Why does gender make a difference to the rewards handed out come the end of the tournament which requires the same amount of matches to emerge victorious?

The answer for most has been a basically simple one; when they play five-set matches at majors, then they can expect to earn the same as their male counterparts.

To a certain point, you can understand that view. If you don’t put in the same amount of work, you shouldn’t expect the same rewards, regardless of whether they actually have any say in it or not.

 

For it’s hardly like female tennis players have simply refused to play five-set matches, for they have never been given a choice in the matter. It has never gone to a vote to my knowledge and no female tennis player has publicly stated that they would be unwilling to move to five sets for a major, emulating the males on the tour.

So what exactly is stopping the LTA from allowing women to play five set matches? I wouldn’t fancy it to necessarily be a scheduling issue, as it would be easily possible to move some matches around, playing a few extra games on outside courts.

And surely in this day and age, it cannot be because they believe women are incapable of playing matches of such length, because that is utter nonsense. That earlier stated view is seen by some as a sexist attitude, but the stance of tennis authorities that women are unable to compete for a potential five hours and their matches don’t have the same draw as the men.

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Women’s football is played at the same duration as the men. Why not tennis?

Few other sports holds women back in the same way. Female footballers play the full 90 minutes, those playing cricket play the full 50 overs in their one-day internationals. Laura Trott is now one of Great Britain’s most successful ever athletes competing in the same event as others that have excelled. Even WWE have dropped their sexist attitude towards women, having them perform in some the more dangerous matches and headlining their main events, a vast change from the pillow fights they put them in a decade ago.

The reasoning is that it isn’t simply a case of female tennis players needing to ‘earn their equality’. These are all supreme athletes in peak physical condition, more than capable of going the same distance as their male counterparts.

At the end of a match that goes to three sets, it is very rare that you will see the competitors come off looking exhausted, collapsing into the handshake as you do see the men come the conclusion of a gruelling five-setter. Daria Gavrilova’s victory over Naomi Broady at the Australian Open on Tuesday was a pulsating three-setter that was tight in every set, but both were able to jog up to the net

There is clearly so much more energy left in the tank that they could go on longer. Sure those one-sided matches that occur at times could be stretched out even longer for a demoralised loser, but this also could see them having more of a chance of recovering from dropping a set, as opposed to the current climate that leaves them one set away from being out of the competition.

TENNIS APIA INTERNATIONAL

Gavrilova defeated Broady in a pulsating three-set match and looked like she still had plenty in reserve.

This in turn loses then respect as competitors, their accomplishments diminished by the men they play alongside. All achievements are met with musings of ‘what if?’ as though there could still be more they can do to win your adulation.

Serena Williams has been one of the most dominant athletes in history, but for this reason she has often not received the respect she deserves for her accomplishments. She is obviously more than capable of going to five set matches, or perhaps she may find more of a challenge, should any opponents be more suited to a longer game.

 

The women’s game needs to be moved to five sets for major tournaments, to mirror the efforts of the men’s game. Not because they need to play the same amount as men to be deemed worthy of equal prize money; but because they are more than capable of doing so.

The women’s game would benefit massively from switching to that format for major events, giving them greater exposure and a chance to be viewed equally, perhaps promoting women’s sport even further than transformations in football and cricket have, putting them on a pedestal that perhaps only major athletics events can.

This isn’t simply a case of money anymore. It is athletes at the peak of their physical powers being given the freedom to display those talents on the biggest of stages. That is the main reason to elongate women’s tennis to five sets. They’ve definitely ‘earned’ that right.

 

Thoughts on the progression of women’s tennis? Get involved in the comments section below!

Djokovic Celebrates

Djokovic celebrates his Australian Open victory

The first six weeks of 2015 have already seen two major sporting finals take place as the calendar year has kicked off in emphatic fashion to help divert our gaze from the trials and tribulations of real life.

However, these have not gone the way many would have hoped within the sporting community, with both the Australian Open in tennis and football’s African Cup of Nations both being blighted by some severe cases of gamesmanship that frankly seemed of an improper nature on the way to the crowning of the victors.

Both Novak Djokovic and the Ivory Coast were guilty of feigning injury in order to play mind-games with their opponents on way to claiming their respective titles, and one wonders as to how long until the rules are changed to prevent such ridiculous acts being performed in order to unnerve their competitors.

Djokovic is quite frankly one of the most talented tennis players to come onto the scene in recent years to dethrone Roger Federer, so it beggars belief that he would need to resort to such underhanded tactics in order to triumph over Andy Murray – a man whose ATP ranking had plummeted over the previous six months.

Murray had been much improved to muscle his way into the Australian Open final having overcome his Wimbledon conqueror Gregor Dimitrov and Thomas Berdych to land another shot at claiming his maiden championship Down Under, and he had fought back well from a set down to level the match in the second.

Djokovic Injury

Djokovic receives treatment on a dubious injury

Having secured an early break in the third, it looked probable that Murray could once again defeat the talented Serb to claim gold, until his momentum was undone by an injury timeout for Djokovic to deal with supposed cramp.

Murray’s body language seemed to believe that there was nothing wrong with his friend and opponent, but yet he let the actions of the supposedly weakened Djokovic get to his performance, with the eventual champion raising his game to edge the third set, before obliterating the Brit in the fourth with a 6-0 victory to claim the title.

Whether there was any genuine injury to Djokovic is something that only he will know at the end of the day, but given a man of his talents, there was a sour taste left in the mouth that he had appeared to resort to underhanded tactics in order to claim a remarkable fifth title at the Melbourne Grand Slam.

Ivory Coast Celebrate

Ivory Coast celebrate their African Cup of Nations triumph

One week later in Equatorial Guinea, some of us tuned in to watch Ghana take on the Ivory Coast to land the African Cup of Nations, a match that went down to the wire as neither side could be separated and a penalty shootout was required to crown a champion.

Two dreadful penalties has seen Ivory Coast fall drastically behind early in the shootout, before two equally poor efforts from Ghana had allowed the Elephants to clamber back into the contest, with Seydou Doumbia levelling the scores at 2-2 with four penalties taken apiece.

It was at that point that Ivorian goalkeeper Boubacar Barry threw himself to the ground at the side of the box, claiming cramp and calling for the trainer to come on to treat him.

With there being no substitutions at this point, leaving Ivory Coast having to place an outfield player in goal should he not be able to continue, it was painfully obvious to anyone witnessing the game, that Barry was feigning injury, forcing Andre Ayew to sit and stew on his heavily important penalty for a further couple of minutes.

Boubacar Barry

Boubacar Barry hits the turf during the penalty shootout victory

Ayew clearly recognised what his adversary was attempting to do as he aimed a torrent of abuse in the direction of Barry after he converted his penalty, and the Ghanaian even came back for a second helping at the Ivorian ‘keeper after Jonathan Mensah had stuck away the first kick of sudden death.

Barry was not done there though, as he crucially denied opposite number Razak Brimah’s spot-kick at the end of the first rotation, only to once again go down claiming injury and calling for the trainer, potentially to get out of taking his own penalty and have a more established taker step up in his place to secure the victory.

Whilst the referee saw through things this time and booked Barry, it came as a disappointing end to a fascinating contest that he was able to get up and score the winning penalty that clinched Ivory Coast their first African Nations title in 22 years, breaking the hearts of the honest Ghanaian side in the process.

Whilst neither man technically broke any rules (barring time-wasting) it proved wholly unsatisfactory that the first two major sporting contests of the year were not decided by superior ability or will to win, but by playacting and mental mind-games.

Sport is supposed to give us that distraction from the realities that life brings and allow us to engross ourselves in an epic struggle between two players or teams, but this was taken away from us in truth by the underhanded actions of the eventual champions.

With major championships in cricket and rugby now underway, one hopes for a more amicable way to see a side rightfully crowned come the conclusion of these tournaments, especially in two sports that are very much renowned for holding sportsmanship at the forefront of their games.

Both sports have endured their troubles in recent years, with Mankading having reared its head in cricket in particular again last year, but there is a desperate need now within the sporting community to see a champion crowned in clean fashion, without having to resort to borderline cheating.

Wiggins was the outstanding sporting star of 2012

Wiggins was the outstanding sporting star of 2012

2012 was a massive year for sport, with the Olympics taking centre stage in a year saturated with huge sporting events.

Here I pick the highlights of 2012 and the people who will look back on it with a heavy sense of pride, as they enjoyed some wonderful successes.

BRADLEY WIGGINS

No surprises here for the sporting man of the year, not only in Britain, but potentially the world.

Wiggins made the leap to become the first Briton to ever win the Tour De France, with a Herculean effort needed to become victor without the aid of performance enhancing drugs (more on that in the losers section).

To then top it off, Wiggins had a two week rest before leaping back on his bike to win gold in the Olympic Games, Great Britain’s first of an incredibly successful summer.

His reaction to being persistently quizzed by journalists about whether he was using drugs at all saw him throw a table across the room, (which is quite frankly brilliant) and he won BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, as well as a Knighthood.  

A very good year for a likeable man. Just a shame he’s referred to in tabloids as “the sideburns ace.” Sigh.

JESSICA ENNIS

The pressure was on really on Britain’s golden girl and quite frankly it would have been only too easy to hide away or choke on the expectation that followed her around all year.

But instead she rose to the occasion and absolutely destroyed a strong field to take home her first ever Olympic Gold and fulfil a life-long dream.

There has been no sense of arrogance from the Sheffield heptathlon star who has taken the success and fame in her stride to really become a national treasure.

Who hasn't done 'The Mobot' yet?

Who hasn’t done ‘The Mobot’ yet?

MO FARAH

Followed up his World Championship success by claiming double gold at his home Olympics in some style.

His performances in the 5,000m and 10,000m races established him as the number one long-distance runner in the world right now finally wrestling that title away from the continent of Africa, with these races traditionally dominated by Athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia.

On top of that, he got an entire nation pulling a stupid pose, as millions of photos appeared on social media sites of people doing the Mobot. Given this includes Usain Bolt, that’s a reason to be proud of yourself.

LIONEL MESSI

It was generally a bad year for football, but there’s no way the Argentinean forward will look back on 2012 with anything but pride.

He’s almost become a problem for sports-writers, who are constantly trying to come up with new superlatives to describe a player who will most likely be looked upon as the best player ever come the climax of his career.

Messi won his fourth consecutive FIFA Ballon D’Or in recognition of a year in which he broke a 40-year-old record for goals in a calendar year, scoring an incredible 92 goals for Barcelona and Argentina.

For the man to stay so humble in a game populated by egos despite his incredible ability is almost staggering, but he will surely talk about 2012 for years to come.

ANDY MURRAY

After so many near misses and almost theres, Andy Murray finally broke his major tournament duck by defeating Novak Djokovic to win the US Open in New York.

I’ve been an outspoken critic of the Scot on many an occasion and won’t hide behind any hypocrisy here, but it was an incredible achievement in a fantastic match against a player currently at the top of his game.

This came just a few weeks after Murray had claimed Olympic gold as well, thwarting Roger Federer from claiming the only title he has yet to win in a glittering career.

In addition to this, his surly attitude and penchant for petty excuses seems to be giving way for a more approachable and enthusiastic competitor, who will look to build upon this successful year in 2013.

THE PARALYMPICS

Such a terrific year for sport leaves us with only so much room to cover the successes and despite several athletes and individual Paralympians, the event as a whole deserves recognition for the boost in publicity it has received.

Never before has the Paralympics been so popular, so widely watched and so well supported than in London 2012. So often it has been an after-thought to the ‘main event’, forgotten about in the aftermath of emotionally draining Olympic Games.

But not this year, not in London, as people swarmed to take in the Paralympics just as much as the more able-bodied athletes.

It helped shatter some of the poorer attitudes to the disabled, as athletes with physical and mental disabilities proved themselves worthy of adulation, exceeding the accomplishments of most other people in the nation.

Hopefully this doesn’t prove just a false dawn and the Paralympic Games can continue to receive the recognition and adulation it has finally been given. It also brought Adam Hills to our screens on a regular basis, which must happen more often.

Who were your sporting winners of 2012? Comment below or directly @SmParker8 on Twitter

Novak Djokovic suffered disappointment at Flushing Meadows, as he was defeated in four sets by Rafa Nadal as the Spaniard completed his collection of Grand Slam titles.

And it is of great disappointment to tennis lovers that Djokovic has not got more success to his name, as he remains one of the most popular players in the game.

There is something about the Serbian on court that is appealing to any onlooker. He just always seems to enjoy it, playing with a smile upon his face.

His impressions have become slightly cult as well, with Djokovic occasionally taking time in his pre-match warm-ups to imitate his fellow professionals’ service routines. It is my abiding memory of him at Wimbledon a few years ago, watching him prepare by gently mocking the techniques of Nadal, Federer and even Maria Sharapova.

He even took time to imitate US legend, John McEnroe at The US Open in 2009, prompting a short knock about with the great man himself.

After matches he is a friendly, jovial person, taking time to crack jokes with the media. Even after that final defeat to Nadal, he was smiling afterwards, offering a series of pleasantries to the Spaniard. After all, there was no need to be too despondent about a loss to a player Djokovic feels could become the greatest of all time.  

Yet whilst he doesn’t take himself too seriously off court, on court he is the consummate professional, with a fantastic array of shots and a good engine.

The number of un-returnable drop-shots he hit in Monday’s final was incredible, given Nadal’s propensity to cover every inch of the court. He certainly isn’t lacking in that department.

He hates to play badly, as shown by the racquet smashing in the defeat to Nadal, but has such fantastic ability that one would only be frustrated by not capitalising on it.

Yet the Serbs big issue is fitness. He is far too injury-prone to establish any long-standing dynasty. It’s why he often seems to tire in five-set matches, or in matches following a full-setter.

Couple that with the fact that he seems to struggle with extreme heat conditions, as found in the US and Australia and you have tennis’ best nearly-man.

Perhaps he has been unlucky to appear in an era dominated by two players who will be remembered as the game’s greats.

Djokovic doesn’t quite have the ice-cool temperament of Roger Federer, or the physical attributes to reach every shot played against him like Nadal. These are the attributes that mean he is just slightly short of greatness.

That Nadal and Federer have won 18 of the past 20 majors in the last five years shows everything you need to know about men’s tennis. It is incredibly hard to break through the dominance that those two hold over the game currently.

Alongside Juan Martin Del Potro, Djokovic can be incredibly happy to have taken one title away from the dominant duo. His 2008 triumph in Australia will take pride of place on his mantelpiece, as the one time he emerged as the victor, and not the loveable loser.

That title aside, Novak Djokovic will remain one of the sport’s nearly men. It would be great if he had more gold to show for his efforts and the demeanour in which he conducts himself.

He’s just been unfortunate to be competing in the era of tennis’ greatest ever players. He is now the sport’s greatest ever nearly man.

  

 

 

 

In the timeless words of Monty Python; Now for something completely different.

Whilst the vast number of my posts have been of a serious note, offering an opinion on a sporting matter, here is something a little more light-hearted for you to get involved in.

So this has been a topic of conversation between myself and a number of friends in the past. Just who is the ‘coolest’ sporting star?

Now, first we need to define the parameters that make up this so-called coolness. The attributes that make this person the very person anybody would want to be.

Firstly, they would require success. Whilst anyone can have a likeability, it is the trophies and medals that separate a sportsman from ‘sporting icon’ to ‘loveable loser’. Not just one or two, but continued success is needed; they need to be a legend.

Personality is a key attribute as well. There can be no brash arrogance about this person, as that does not equate to cool. Strutting around with a false sense of importance is a negative trait, as opposed to realising how lucky they are. This virtually rules out a vast number of the footballing community then. Neither can they be meek, although sustained success does not favour the meek anyway.

So their on-camera technique is crucial to their status as ‘cool’. Good levels of charisma are a must, with respect due to the media that they require to publicise their outstanding abilities.

A winning smile is always a bonus, as it is required that us spectators know that they enjoy their sport and aren’t just doing it for a living. Sports people are the people we wish we were, playing the games that we can only dream of being paid to play. So they must look like they’re enjoying their work. So this excludes Andy Murray.

A signature is also something that separates them from the rest. Not necessarily in a showboating king of way, but a technique or action that somebody can look at and instantly recognise which master they are viewing.

So here are my contenders. Given the characteristics I’ve set out, I have narrowed my selection down to two superstars to compete head-to-head in the ‘coolest sportsperson on the planet’ award.

Roger Federer

In terms of success, this one is a no-brainer, as Federer holds the record in tennis for Grand Slam titles won, consecutive weeks at number one ranking, amongst others. All this despite the fact he rarely seems to even break sweat on court!

Yet he remains one of the most likeable people in the sporting world, due to a charismatic approach to everything. He bonds well with all the media, who he recognises he needs for his abilities to be recognised globally.

There is no arrogance to his approach to the sport at all, despite all the success. Whilst he is still in recognition of his own awesome talents, he realises he has no divine right to win matches/tournaments and always presents a gracious front in defeat, whilst still possessing such an appetite to win everything is amazing given the fact he’s already won everything.

He hasn’t chased the celebrity lifestyle either. Away from the court he is a family man, with a wife who doesn’t flaunt about in the tabloids and kids that he intended to father, as opposed to a drunken mistake.

Then there is the signature move. The ‘hot dog’ shot, performed throwing the racquet between the legs is a shot often practiced by those with the ability, but only the ‘Fed Express’ is hitting cross-court winners with them. Couple this with initial emblazoned headbands and you have a complete sporting icon.

Usain Bolt

The Jamaican continues to perplex the rational mind with just how quick he is. Having smashed the world record at the Beijing Olympics, he then proceeded to decimate his own records in Berlin at the World Championships.

And all this despite being a height that rarely makes good sprinters. Stunning.

Aside from the focus he gives his race, as soon as it’s over, he reverts to a fun-loving man, bouncing up and down the track, with a broad grin plastered all over his face.

He’s very personable in interviews and does his bit for charity as well, proving that a glamour lifestyle has not gone to his head. Again, he doesn’t appear in tabloids, stumbling out of nightclubs or having high-profile fallings out/flings. Yet here is a guy that truly loves life.

The name is just perfect for sprinting as well, with ‘Lightening Bolt’ given as an inevitable nickname by our chums in the press. Stick that famous celebration pose on top of everything and I’ll show you sporting icon number two.

So who does your vote go to? Or is there somebody different you feel I’ve overlooked? Let me know your thoughts!

It was a most disappointing end to the year of competing in tournaments at the top level for Andy Roddick.

Not only did he fall in four sets to the unseeded Serb, Janko Tipsarevic, but ended up in conflict with a line judge over foot-faulting calls.

With his current ranking unlikely to earn him a place in the Master’s matchplay at the end of the year, it brings to an end to a season of disappointment for the American, who will now probably view that epic final with Roger Federer in 2009 as his last chance to win a major title.

It’s a sad predicament for one of the most entertaining members of the circuit to fall from realistic competition, when he was always perceived as a threat, but the rankings don’t lie.

For the first time in some 10 years, Roddick has slipped out of the world’s top ten players. The serve is no longer the terrifying weapon it used to be and he is not quite as quick around the court anymore to compensate for that.

In his heart of hearts, Roddick will realise that he will leave the game with just that one solitary Grand Slam to his name, the US Open in 2003.

There had been high hopes for Roddick to emulate that success again this year. Federer is not quite the player he was either, whilst Rafa Nadal isn’t the same unplayable man on the hard court as he is on clay and grass.

As proved last year with Juan Martin Del Potro, the hard court tournaments are the place for someone else to come through and claim gold.

But alas, it was not to be for Roddick. He just never got going against Tipsarevic, the serve wasn’t working and there appeared to be no Plan B for him, as his frustrations grew.

It has to be said that the Nebraskan-born Roddick is suffering from mononucleosis, or glandular fever, so was never going to be at the top of his game at these championships. But at this late stage of his career, it seems unlikely that he will fully recover from such an illness to mount a serious challenge for the top honours in the game again.

It is unfortunate for one of the more likeable members of the circuit. Roddick has been a great source of entertainment on and off-court, with his signature cheeky attitude.

Clever, yet corny, one-liners, whether to an interviewer or the match umpire have set him apart from the rest of the pack, whilst the occasional short fuse on court reminds us of the great John McEnroe.

We gasped in awe as he continually smashed records for service speed, still holding it for his amazing 155mph hammer blow in 2004.

He has done plenty of humanitarian work as well, with the Andy Roddick Foundation set up to raise money for at-risk children. He has done a lot of work for UNICEF as well; as he combines a genuinely caring person to the cheeky-chappy demeanour he carries himself with.

So it seems a shame to say, that with that comprehensive defeat to the be-goggled Tipsarevic, we have seen the end of Andy Roddick as a genuine title contender against the big guns.

It’s a shame he doesn’t have more gold to adorn his mantelpiece, but he’s been unfortunate to have peaked in the same era as Roger Federer.

It’ll be interesting to see how he dwindles down the final years as a professional tennis player, whether as a man who wants to enjoy his sporting sunset, or whether bitterness will take over that he has not achieved more with all his ability.

He will manage it all in his usual good graces, that you can be assured of. But it’s time to look to the future for new champions and Roddick is now the past.

The Wimbledon men’s final brought a new perspective as opposed to what we have become used to recently.

Having been spoilt by two consecutive five-set thrillers for the past two years, 2010 witnessed a three-set whitewash as Rafa Nadal hammered Thomas Berdych.

Gone were the impossibly long rallies. Gone were the seemingly impossible breaks of service. This wasn’t a match where you thought neither player deserved defeat, like Federer in 2008 or Roddick in 2009.

In fact, for the neutral, you could say it was boring. Perhaps we had been spoilt by two master-classes in the game full of twists and turns and worthy competitors.

Perhaps this match happened earlier on in the tournament, with Federer v Falla or Nadal v Haase. John Isner’s record-breaking victory over Nicholas Mahut also served up (no pun intended) an epic contest of guts, valour and endurance to whet our appetites for tennis.

The final however, was as one-sided as you could wish for. But instead of reflecting on an epic contest, we are talking about a man who has jumped to being far and away the best player in the men’s game.

For the past couple of years, Nadal had reached the standard of Roger Federer and we witnessed a battle between the two for overall supremacy. The pair exchanged majors like Christmas presents, as they dominated the game of tennis.

However, Nadal has now clearly gained top spot for his own. Federer seems to be depreciating now, which frankly can come as no surprise due to the emergence of other priorities in his life. Nadal is still young, with a like-minded girlfriend, whilst the Swiss is married and is a father to twins.

There is only so much time and effort he can dedicate to his game without neglecting his family duties.

One should never write off the great man, and it would be foolish to do so. But after two consecutive tournaments in which he has exited at the quarter-final stage, you have to wonder where his head is in regards to his tennis career.

That he was defeated by Berdych at Wimbledon in relatively comfortable fashion, it was possibly telling that his Spanish rival went on to completely control Berdych in the final, winning in straight sets without having to produce his best tennis.

Berdych definitely had an off day in the final, but there is a gap emerging at the top. Rafael Nadal is by far and away the best player in men’s singles action at this moment in time.

For Federer, it should be a pleasure that his place at the top has been taken by Nadal. The Spaniard combines some fantastic racquet-play with a general pleasant demeanour and is one of the more likeable men on tour.

It is amazing how much he has achieved without a notable serve. Whilst numerous other players can rely on a big serve to get them out of a spot of difficulty, the ace count always remains low in a Nadal match.

Instead, his raw pace to scramble across court, a never-say-die attitude and a massive forehand can help him out of any sticky situations he gets into. Whilst his serve is more fallible than the other top players, he is far more likely to break the service game of anyone else.

On top of that, he just comes across as a really nice guy. With a number of players (Federer excluded), their thanks to the fans comes across as rather forced. See Serena Williams’ acceptance speech this year for an example.

Whilst Nadal shies away from publicity, he seems to genuinely appreciate his fans. He values the support given to him and brings an air of humbleness despite his brilliance. It’s that genuine aspect to his personality that makes him a great and worthy champion.

Whilst Federer’s star may be on the wane, Nadal’s is on the rise. Long live King Rafa, a worthy heir to the throne of tennis.