Category Archives: Sport

French Open Tennis: Men’s latest

Following on from the previous post assessing the contenders for the women’s singles, we now look at the men’s competition and the form of the leading players over the first two rounds.

Rafa Nadal – seeded 2 – Odds: 4/11 favourite

What can we possibly say – Nadal is the overwhelming favourite for the title in a competition he has dominated since 2005. Last year’s surprise defeat to Robin Soderling showed the first sign of Rafa actually being human on a clay court, but he had been struggling with injuries going in to the tournament.

Nadal is the overwhelming favourite to win his 5th title in 6 years.

A fully-fit Nadal will always dominate the French Open and as long as he stays injury free this year, he should win again. However, Nadal being fully-fit is not a given and he has struggled with injuries lately. His knees are, at the tender age of 23, already creaking and the sheer amount of running he does during a match only adds to this weakness in an otherwise impenetrable armour.

The draw suggests he will have to beat two out of Verdasco, Ferrer and Djokovic, which should be some of the most exciting games of the tournament. But if Nadal is playing at 80% or above, nobody can touch him.

Roger Federer – Seeded 1st – Odds: 3/1

French sports journal L’Equipe recently named Nadal as the best clay courter of all time, with Federer at number 7. Interestingly, since 2004 Nadal is the only man to beat the Swiss star at the French Open. Federer’s title of ‘greatest of all time’ would be indisputable were it not for the man from Mallorca.

Should anything happen to Rafa along the way, Federer will become the clear favourite and the odds suggest a final between the top two players in the world is far and away the most likely outcome.

Federer often appears to adjust his game to the level of his opponent, meaning he looks disinterested in the early rounds before coming to life in the second week. The draw points to tricky encounters with Gael Monfils in the last 16 and Soderling in the quarters, but there is no doubt Federer is in the easier half of the draw.

Novak Djokovic – Seeded 3 – Odds: 20/1

The popular Serb is not a natural clay court player, but is far from uncomfortable on the surface. He is a steady performer at the French but has never looked likely to break the dominance of the top 2.

A semi-final match-up with Nadal looks to be the most realistic outcome this year, although a last 16 tie with Juan Carlos Ferrero could be a long battle and a potential quarter-final with David Ferrer could go either way.

Robin Soderling – Seeded 5th – Odds: 28/1

Having stunned the world with his win over Nadal last year, Soderling proved it was no fluke by going all the way to the final. He followed it up with a good season and worked his way up to number five in the world.

If his serve is going well, the giant Swede could be a tricky opponent for anyone, despite eventually running out of steam against Federer in last year’s final. A rematch between the two is scheduled for the quarter-finals, which is likely to spell the end of Soderling’s campaign.

Andy Murray – Seeded 4th – Odds: 20/1

Murray’s odds are as low as 20/1 with some bookies, which seems like a very poor deal on the face of it. Realistically, the British no.1 will be satisfied by getting to the 2nd week at Roland Garros, with the red dust not exactly his favourite surface.

It all depends on the tactics the moody Scotsman employs; too defensive and he’ll be on an early flight home, a bit more attacking and he could go as far as the semis. His quarter doesn’t have too many dangerous players floating around, with Baghdatis his main obstacle to an appearance in the 2nd week. If he goes as far as the quarters, his likely opponent is Jo-Wilfred Tsonga – which is by no means an impossible task for Murray.

His odds vary from 20/1 to 50/1 depending on the bookmaker, which backs up the view that on his game, Murray could go as far as the semi-finals, but equally he could lose to Chela tonight and be home tomorrow.

Best of the rest:

David Ferrer (seeded 5th, odds: 33/1) and Fernando Verdasco (seeded 7th, odds: 33/1) are both exceptional clay court players who have had to live in the shadows of their illustrious compatriot Nadal. Either of these players could cause an upset along the way but both are likely to come unstuck as soon as they face Rafa.

At as much as 125/1, Tsonga's power and athleticism make him a great outside tip

Frenchmen Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (seeded 8th, odds: 66/1) and Gael Monfils (seeded 13th, odds: 66/1) will slide their way around the Roland Garros courts, providing some great entertainment along the way. Both men are explosive at their best and are the only two players on the tour who can slide equally well on either foot, meaning they are rarely out of position or off balance. For all their respective talents, neither player has the consistency to give the crowd the home winner they crave.

Conclusions:

Surely only injury can prevent Nadal from winning a 5th title in 6 years?  The overwhelming favourite will take some stopping and he looks unlikely to be stopped this year. Realistically, Federer is the only man with the tools for the job, but even he will struggle if Nadal is fit.

For an outside bet, Tsonga is as far out as 125/1 with some bookmakers. He has a comparatively easy run to the semis, where he could face Federer. If his power and athleticism can take him that far, things could get very interesting.

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French Open Preview: The Women’s event

So the French Open is finally here and the promise of two weeks of enthralling clay court action has become a reality.  While the men’s event looks as good as a done deal, the women’s draw looks far more unpredictable and enticing.

Here, we look at some of the favourites, their form going into the tournament and their latest odds.

Justine Henin – Seeded 22 – Betting odds: 2/1 favourite

After making a sensational comeback to the tour, Henin became everyone’s fancy for the French Open – where she reigned supreme for so long before her retirement – especially without injured rival and fellow comeback queen Kim Clijsters in the draw. Despite being seeded 22nd, the Belgian is the clear favourite of the bookmakers and the fans and relishes the Roland Garros atmosphere.

Henin

Henin is the clear favourite for the Roland Garros title

Henin certainly has the game to win the tournament, with the slice backhand able to slow the play down when required and her ability to slide gracefully around the court helping her achieve perfect poise and balance. What could prove most interesting could be a final against Serena Williams, who has the mental advantage of having won the last grand slam final against Henin in Australia.

Deserves to be the favourite and it will take quite an effort for anyone to beat the queen of Paris clay.

Serena Williams – seeded 2 – Betting odds: 5/1

Serena goes into the tournament in the unusual position of being the 2nd favourite, despite holding the world no.1 position and the no.1 seeding.

However, the French Open has never been a natural home for the powerful American, with just the one tournament win in 2002. Her strength is her main asset and although her game is not ideally suited to the clay, she is simply too strong for most opponents.

Despite never being a crowd favourite, you can expect Serena to bang her way through to the second week without too many problems, but with a likely quarter final against Henin could prove to be the end of her challenge.

Jelena Jankovic – seeded 4th – Betting odds: 6/1

In-form Jankovic looked imperious in the first round and has a good clay court game. She has developed the consistency to match her shot-making and could be a good bet for anyone looking outside of the big two, although she has yet to make her mark in any of the grand slams, which is something she desperately needs to remedy soon.

Venus Williams – seeded 2nd – Betting odds: 8/1

With all of Venus’ success over her career, it is easy to forget that she has never won the Australian Open or the French Open. Her form is good coming in to the tournament and with her 30th birthday less than a month away, she knows there won’t be too many more opportunities to crack this tournament.

With her Madrid conqueror Avarane Rezai a potential opponent in the last 16 and Elena Dementieva likely to be waiting should she get to the quarter, Venus is going to have to beat two of the tour’s most in-form players just to get to the semis. Will take something superhuman for her Paris hoodoo to end.

Aravane Rezai

Aravane Rezai is in great form and is a great outside tip for the title

Avarane Rezai – Seeded 15 – Betting odds: 12/1

The young French no.2 came of age in Madrid with a sensational straight-sets victory over an in-form Venus Williams and, at 23, she finally seems to be fulfilling her tremendous potential.

With a coach who is keen to emphasise the simplicity of the game, Rezai appears to be flourishing. Her talent has never been in doubt and if she can get past a potential rematch with Venus in the last 16, she’ll have an entire country’s worth of momentum behind her as she guns for her first grand slam. More than a dark horse, especially if seeds begin to fall.

Svetlana Kuznetsova – Seeded 6 – Betting odds 16/1

The reigning champion is not among the top tier of favourites this year after some indifferent form, but she knows what it takes to win the title, which gives her a huge advantage over almost every player in the draw.

3rd seed Caroline Wozniacki is the main obstacle in her quarter of the draw, but neither player is likely to better whoever emerges victorious from the Dementieva/Rezai/Venus Williams triangle in the bottom quarter.

Elena Dementieva – Seeded 5th – Betting odds 16/1

Of all the Russians hovering around the top echelons of the game, Dementieva comes into the tournament in arguably the best form of the bunch, but will do well to emerge into the semis from a tough-looking quarter of the draw.

Best of the rest:

Australia’s Sam Stosur has been in impressive form this season but is far too close to Henin in the draw for comfort.

Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic pretty much fell apart after winning at Roland Garros in 2008 and her career has never really recovered. She is playing some good tennis going in to the tournament after linking up with Steffi Graf’s former coach Heinz Gunthardt, but is still only 9-9 for the season. The former world no.1 is still only 22, but mental toughness is the main issue. Ironically her coach’s former pupil had the best ball toss in the women’s game – Ivanovic’s ball toss is still her biggest weakness, especially when the pressure is on her second serve. There is a lot of goodwill out there for the young serb, but without a vastly improved serve she will be heading for an early exit.

World no.3 and no.3 seed Caroline Wozniacki is a bit of an outsider with the bookies at 25/1.  She has yet to hit form on the clay and has never been beyond the 3rd round in the French Open. At 19 and with the experience of the US Open final in her pocket, exciting things undoubtedly lie ahead for the Dane with 7 WTA titles to her name already. This year is not likely to be her year though.

Maria Sharapova is still struggling for consistency after a nightmare spell with injuries. The 23 still needs the French Open title to complete her collection of all 4 grand slams, but in reality the clay court is her least favourite surface and her movement is not good enough to trouble the top players on the red dust.

CONCLUSION:

Henin is the sensible choice, especially with arch-rival Clijsters out injured, but as 22nd seed she will have to do it the hard way and take down a few big names along the route. She will relish the challenge though.

Should she vanish early though, Jankovic is overdue a grand slam win and the heart says a victory for Aravane Rezai would be sensational for the crowd, the sponsors and the sport in general.

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Boxing: Khan vs Malignaggi preview

Welcome back to the boxing previews on Newsmule. Here lies a very personal view of how the light-welterweight clash between Amir Khan vs Paulie Malignaggi could play out.

Basically, as much as I’ve been a critic of Khan in the past, he simply has to win this fight.

Khan is in good shape for his fight against the big-mouthed Malignaggi

Malignaggi is one of the strangest fighters in the game at the moment – the man couldn’t knock-out an 80 year old woman with Rohypnol. His knock-out record is abysmal – 5 KO wins in 30 fights.

Now, that is not to say that knock-outs are everything – Floyd Mayweather has proved otherwise – but the Brooklyn fighter’s  record is embarrassing.

Under Freddie Roach, Khan has developed his talent and the Bredis Prescott defeat seems a million miles away for a man with his eyes on the sport’s biggest prizes.

Under the pressure of a home crowd, Malignaggi has talked a good fight but he looked very poor against Ricky Hatton two years ago and his lack of power will surely be exposed against the quick and accurate Bolton fighter.

Despite his one defeat, Khan has produced some very good fights since and has established himself on the world level – something Malignaggi has never and will never do.

I suspect Amir’s speed will be too much for the feather-hitting Italian-American with the big gob and – after taking time to adjust his style – the fight will probably end in the 7th with a Khan KO victory.

More interestingly, Londoner Kevin Mitchell – a potential Khan opponent – takes on teak-tough Aussie Michael Katsidis for the WBO Interim lightweight title, which is likely to turn into a match for the full title.

Mitchell has a perfect record of 31 victories from 31 fights, with 23 wins by KO, while his opponent has lost twice in 28 fights.

However, Mitchell has yet to be tested against the best in the division, despite his impressive victory over Khan’s conqueror Prescott in December. All the signs point to Mitchell being on the cusp of something great, but his opponent should not be underestimated.

Katsidis’ only defeats have come against some of the division’s finest and he has a reputation as a fighter who will battle to the absolute end.

He lost a brutal contest to Joel Casamayor and a controversial bout to Juan Diaz, and has been in the ring with the very best.

Looking at Mitchell’s chances, he is undoubtedly in for a tough night against a fighter who relishes a war. However, Katsidis has often struggled with bruising and cuts and the two defeats he has suffered suggest he is not at his best against a counter-puncher.

If Mitchell can maintain a healthy distance from his opponent and use his undoubted boxing skills, it could be a prosperous night for the man from Dagenham.

I suggest a Mitchell victory on the judges scorecards, but don’t be surprised if this one gets stopped on cuts.

Of the two British prospects  in action this weekend, a Mitchell victory will mean a lot more than a Khan win. It certainly won’t attract the same kind of headlines, but it will be a far more valuable and widely respected win against a really tough opponent.

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Sport & Drugs: Missing the Point

This article represents a very personal viewpoint and is more of a Newsmule editorial than a news article as such.  Please feel free to add your comments below.

The issue of drugs in sport is one which becomes ever more contentious as the methods of evasion become increasingly sophisticated.

The recent case in tennis, where Andre Agassi admitted to lying to drugs officials in 1997 about the circumstances under which Crystal Methamphetamine found its way into his system, has opened up the debate in a sport which was previously considered relatively clean.

agassi

Agassi was always one of tennis' most colourful characters

The most sane point amongst the needless hysteria and media clamour was made by Agassi himself, who noted that such a thing could not happen in tennis in 2009 as the regulations have been tightened significantly.

The issue was essentially that Agassi, as he admitted in his autobiography, had taken Crystal Meth for recreational purposes and immediately regretted it – well, one the comedown kicked in anyhow.  Up until that point it appears he had a phenomenal time.  When the presence of the drug was picked up in his sample, he told testing officials that his drink had been spiked by a member of his team and the member in question had since been fired.  This was a lie.

That was 12 years ago and nowadays taking the wrong cure for a common cold can potentially lead to a year long ban from competition, so lying really won’t cut it any more.

What followed this startling revelation by one of tennis’ all-time greats was a raft of media interest and all sorts of questions being raised. Legitimate questions were aired, such as ‘how many other players have escaped a ban by lying to cover their tracks?’ – pun intended.

Predictably though when drugs issues are involved, there were some preposterous questions posed.  Some pondered whether Agassi should be stripped of his honours as he had now exposed himself as a ‘drugs cheat’.

Now, pardon my trademark flippancy, but any competitor who can take Crystal Meth and still compete for Grand Slam prizes should probably be given some sort of extra award for his efforts and should certainly donate his body to science.

Crystal Meth has been known to cause paranoia, anxiety, irritability, heart palpitations, cardiovascular problems and psychosis.  These are hardly the types of symptoms one would wish for at match point down in the French Open final.

So whilst Agassi was hardly a regular user, having tried it and realised he was about to throw his career away, the issue does bring the attention to the difference between drug types and the notion that all those who fail drugs tests are by definition ‘cheats’.

Adrian_Mutu_2

Adrian Mutu has managed to re-launch his career in Italy since serving his lengthy ban

Agassi gained no performance advantage from his brief foray into Crystal Meth, but tried it due to external pressures.  When former Chelsea footballer Adrian Mutu was sacked by the Blues after he tested positive for cocaine, he had gained no performance advantage.  Indeed, living life on London’s cocaine party circuit is highly likely to have a severely detrimental effect on the performance of any top sportsperson.

Mutu was treated as if he was Ben Johnson or Dwain Chambers – men who deliberately used drugs to gain a performance advantage over their rivals.  Some have looked for Agassi to be treated the same way.  But surely there should be different rules for those who have what wider society knows as ‘a drug problem’, rather than pillorying them along in a similar manner to those who have sought to cheat their way to victory?

Prominent sports stars have an exaggerated list of temptations in front of them and have to perform in extremely high pressure environments.  How many of us have their disposable income?  How many of us have been attacked by members of the public because we had a poor day at work, or work for an unpopular company? Most of us don’t get screamed at by 60,000 people when we go to work.  This is a potentially explosive combination.

These sports stars are no different to the rest of us in their methods of dealing with pressure, no matter what we wish to think.  They are, by the virtue of their talent, foisted into the position of role models.  This is not something they choose, but something that comes with their exceptional abilities.

Those who have sought escape from these pressures, rather than an illegal competitive advantage, should be offered help.  Mutu was not only fired, but has to pay his former employer around £15m for his ‘breach of contract’.

If such stars are role models for youngsters, then what does such an inflexible and hard line approach teach those youngsters about compassion in society?  Sport does not exist in a bubble and its attitude towards those with drug problems should reflect the ways in which wider society wishes to address the problem.  If one of your loved ones had a cocaine problem, would you prefer they received punishment or treatment?

To suggest that Mutu should never be allowed to play professional football again is nearly as idiotic as the calls for Agassi to be retrospectively stripped of his titles.

All sports need to separate the two different types of drug taking and consider how cheats can be stopped, but also how young men and women under huge amounts of pressure can best be protected.

By failing in this respect, the governing bodies of various sports are also failing to protect those who make sport the great money making spectacle that allows officialdom to recline in self-satisfactory comfort.

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Haye triumphs over ‘Goliath’ Valuev

British boxer David Haye became WBA heavyweight champion of the world last night despite breaking his left hand in his fight with 7 foot 2 inch Russian giant  Nikolia Valuev.

The ‘Haymaker’ won a majority decision despite facing a hostile German crowd, dominating former champ Nikolai Valuev, who he previously antagonised by describing as ‘a circus act’.

All bravado vanished as Haye began the fight in speculative fashion, dominating Valuev with a

Haye1

Haye faced a massive size difference, but ultimately triumphed against Valuev

clever performance of movement and jabbing; constantly keeping his massive opponent on the back foot and refusing to give him a steady target.

Haye dominated the early rounds against the 7′ 2″  Russian, who had never been knocked down in his previous 51 fights.  Much of his clever jabbing performance was actually down to a broken hand, which Haye sustained in the 2nd round.  From then on, he looked to out-manoeuvre his massive opponent with a series of jabs and weaves, never leaving his head exposed to the Russian’s potential knockout power.

Valuev looked to utilise his height and weight advantage through the middle rounds, but Haye managed to impress the judges sufficiently through his agression to take a decision 116-112 on two score cards, with the third judge scoring the contest level.

It was a fair reward for Haye who boxed a clever fight, possibly aided by his broken hand as he looked to out-smart his opponent rather than knock him out.  Haye almost became the first man to knock Valuev out, rocking the giant Russian in the closing rounds.

Ultimately, Haye was unable to deliver on his pre-fight promise of being the first man to knock Valuev out in his 51 fights, but it meant little as he took a deserved majority decision on the judges scorecards.

Haye becomes the first British Heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 2003 and now has a mass of opportunities to consider.  He is now in a much stronger position to broker a fight with either Klitschko brother, after recent discussions broke down.

Whatever happens now, Haye can rightfully consider himself a bona-fide world chamion who the world boxing communtity will have to respect.  He has achieved a feat few thought him possible of, and deserves all his plaudits.

What the British boxing public deserve now is a heavyweight champion who can box on live television.  Hopefully the victory of David over Goliath will convince terrestrial broadcasters that boxing is a sport with a future and, more importantly, a potentially huge television audience.  That future is now safely in the hands of WBA Heavyweight Champion David Haye.

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Sport: Henin’s return vital for women’s tennis

Yesterday’s news that 7 times grand slam winner Justine Henin is set to return to the women’s tour from the start of next season may not have been entirely unexpected, but is certainly the latest sensational move to reinvigorate women’s tennis.

Having retired “for good” 18 months ago, citing personal reasons and a lack of willingness to compete, Henin has been working for UNICEF and running her own tennis academy.  During this time, the WTA tour has struggled with Williams domination of the grand slams, a flawed ranking system and inconsistency from many of its top stars. Continue reading

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Does boxing really need a saviour?

As far as sports go, few have managed out-point boxing in the realm of self-promotion and hyperbole. This week has seen British heavyweight David Haye become the latest fighter to proclaim upon himself the status of ‘the saviour of boxing’.

Haye has finally agreed a contract to fight Wladimir Klitschko, the 6ft 6in Ukrainian who currently holds the IBF, WBO and IBO versions of the heavyweight world title. Klitschko’s older brother, Vitali, holds the WBC version of the title and is regarded by the influential Ring Magazine as the top heavyweight in the world. Many commentators and fans have pointed to the two giant Ukrainians as the problem with boxing; they are effective fighters, but they rarely excite a crowd.

David Haye has promised to save boxing

David Haye has promised to save boxing

Haye, by contrast, is the brash, fast talking, big punching Londoner who has recently stepped up from cruiserweight and says he can re-ignite the heavyweight division and bring some much needed life back to the sport of boxing.

In a press conference this week Haye took his confidence to a new level, claiming that “I’m taking this fight to save boxing. I’m doing this for Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier and all the other great smaller heavyweights of the past”.

Boxers are, by their very nature, no strangers to outlandish claims. Mike Tyson once went as far as saying he planned to eat Lennox Lewis’ children, before promptly losing badly and adopting a much more respectful tone in the post-fight press conference.

Boxing has traditionally looked to the heavyweight division as its premier selling point. During the 1980s and early 1990s, whilst Mike Tyson was the most feared heavyweight for generations, the sport enjoyed great success. During the mid to late 90s, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield were amongst the most recognisable and bankable sportsmen in the world. Since the retirement of these great fighters, there has been no single heavyweight fighter who has captured the imagination of the viewing public, as much as the promoters try to convince us they have ‘the next big thing’ on their hands.

But fight fans across the world are still watching some amazing contests. Aside from the heavyweight division, the sport has rarely been in better shape. Ironically, it is the demise of boxing’s premier tier which has allowed the fighters in other weight categories to flourish and reach new worldwide audiences. Pay-per-view records have been smashed in recent years, not by heavyweight contests, but by match-ups at lower divisions.

Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao are set to go to war on May 2nd in the 140lb light-welterweight division

Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao are set to go to war on May 2nd in the 140lb light-welterweight division

Fighters like Oscar de la Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Britian’s Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe have all made a huge impact on the world stage and have become much more recognisable than any current heavyweight. De la Hoya’s fights have made over $600m and his defeat to Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2007 set the record as the highest grossing pay-per-view fight in history, making a staggering $120m worldwide.

Indeed, with de la Hoya and Mayweather both retired, Hatton and Pacquiao have the two biggest followings in the sport. Their much awaited match up takes place on the 2nd of May in Las Vegas.

As for David Haye’s claim to greatness, we will have to wait until the 20th of June to find out if he can live up to the hype against Wladimir Klitschko and thus revive interest in the heavyweight division. For now though, it appears the boxing viewing public have enough great fights to watch. It is just possible they have not even missed the heavyweights at all.

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