Tag Archives: france

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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The truth, the partial truth and nothing like the truth…

Emergency appeals and the media circus that surrounds them always bring forth an interesting period for media commentators and those who ply their trade amongst the ruins of other people’s lives.

For me, the stories that go unreported by the entity we collectively refer to as ‘the mass media’ always make for a more interesting story than the endless re-runs of the heroic and tragic stories upon which our collective societal watchdogs choose to report.

Never is the inherent bias of the western consensus more apparent than during a humanitarian disaster.  The stories omitted are a story in their own right.

Take, as a classic example of the point in question, the issue of aid given during disaster situations.  Where, in our collective conscience, is the role played by countries not aligned to the Washington Consensus in the disaster response?

The recent Haiti catastrophe and the previous case of hurricane Katrina highlight a fundamental problem with the western media.

When a country such as Cuba defies their position as an ‘enemy of the state’ and provides fantastic humanitarian relief, our collective media lack a schema in which to process their response.

A recent Al-Jazeera report indicated the extent to which Cuba’s response to the earthquake in Haiti has been criminally ignored.

Cuba has provided the highest number of medical staff on the ground of any nation, with Al-Jazeera putting the figure at 930 professionals.

To quote the Al-Jazeera report, “Cuban doctors have been organising medical facilities in three revamped and five field hospitals, five diagnostic centres, with a total of 22 different care posts aided by financial support from Venezuela. They are also operating nine rehabilitation centres staffed by nearly 70 Cuban physical therapists and rehab specialists, in addition to the Haitian medical personnel.”

Cuba has also reportedly sent 400,000 tetanus vaccines to Haiti to aid the wounded.

Why then does this figure not register in the western media? The aid response has come from the US and the UK in the main, if we were to believe reports.

These reports should be treated with deep scepticism. The US wish to control the entire response and the media scrum has seen French aid planes carrying vital supplies turned away from Haiti, according to Medecins Sans Frontiers.

Hurricane Katrina is another case in point.  Cuba were among the first to offer aid and were prepared to send over 1500 medical professionals and 26 tonnes of medicine.  This offer, according to CNN quoting Fidel Castro, wasn’t even rejected – there was simply no response, as the Cuban medical team waited on approval to dispatch.

Put simply, there was no political mileage in allowing a long-term US foe to gain the PR boost associated with such a gesture.  The press complied, as it often does, by refusing to scrutinise this blank refusal, or even acknowledge its existence.

The reasons for these media omissions lie at the heart of the media ownership/bias debates and run deep.

At a time when the US healthcare debate centres on the fact that many people in ‘the land of the free’ find it acceptable to deny 40 million impoverished citizens any form of healthcare for their ‘sin’ of not being able to afford care in the land of plenty, the offer of high quality medical professionals from one of the few nations not bowled over by the flawed model of western capitalism is not one with sufficient appeal.

Cuba stands against the US model which dictates how the world should function.  This economic outlook has run generally unopposed since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  The greatest problem with the end of communism was that it left only one system of government.

Right or wrong, every idea needs to be challenged constantly to retain its validity.

Cuba has always represented a challenge to the dominant mode of western free market capitalism and ‘the young upstart’ governments of Venezuela under Chavez and Bolivia under Morales have pushed South America into the unenviable position of the opposition to the consensus.

In times where US health reforms are resisted and 40 million people are denied healthcare in order to stop the country following what many see as the communist model of Britain’s NHS, hearts and minds are not easily conquered.

The crux of the issue is that the media in the UK and the US have nothing to gain by accurately reporting Cuba’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.  As a news provider in the west, the worst crimes to be exposed to are charges of sympathy towards enemy states.

For those who wish to separate journalism from PR, a harsh lesson awaits. Each news source will report in line with the needs of their owners.  These needs may be political or economic, but they don’t differ wildly from the needs of any business owner.

Journalists don’t work to report the truth; they work for the person who pays them their monthly wage.  The news agenda has to fit with the overall aims and business interests of the parent company. When looking at our media, we should never lose sight of this fact.

Journalism is PR and PR is journalism. You work for the person who pays you and invariably, when media companies are involved, those interests are complicated and many.

Reporting on the success of the Cuban healthcare system has been resisted as it is a sore for the US, whose sanctions have failed to stifle a system which attracts student doctors from all over the world and exposes the shame of the United States.

The harsh reality is if any journalist or publication were to extol the virtues of the Cuban health system too vigorously, or mention the Cuban response to emergency appeal which the effort surely deserves, they would find themselves in the worst place imaginable to any news source – out of the loop.

Invitations to press conferences and access to top politicians are hard to come by and easy to lose.  Report the wrong thing too often and you are out. Simple. Gone.

And no news provider can operate without access to government sources.

The truth is out there, but nobody in the west dares to say it out loud.

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Wine industry ruined by price promotions?

Everyone loves a bargain.  However, have we ever considered who loses out when we get a ‘fantastic’ deal on our wine?

For a bottle of wine to be sold on a ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘3 for 2′ deal, someone is losing.  Is it the retailer who is taking the loss?  Is the producer being forced to cut corners in production to satisfy the demands of the buyer?  Curse the thought, but are the buying public being conned?

Someone has to lose.  That is a basic fact of economics.  We’d like to believe that the retailer is the one being amazingly gracious in offering to cut the price.  Sometimes, this may be true.  But often there are other factors at play.

With seven years’ experience in the wine trade, I have seen it first hand. The price of a bottle of wine is set at a standard rate so that everyone can get a fair cut and the production chain from grower to buying public, via producer, importer and retailer (and taxman), can continue to function.  If suddenly the price of a bottle of wine is half the price it was yesterday, someone is sure to be losing out.

Even 007 can be tempted by multi-buy deals on Champagne

Even 007 can be tempted by multi-buy deals on Champagne

I’ve spoken to many retail managers in the trade.  Small and medium sized retailers offering 3 for 2 and ‘buy one get one free’ deals are, unfortunately, highly likely to be bumping up the single bottle price to offset the large discount.  This trend was started by the supermarkets, who offered big discounts on brands which were never worth any more than the discounted price.  One manager of a well known Off-Licence chain told me that many retailers feel they have to resort to such practices as they represent the only way to compete with the buyer power of the so called ‘Big Four’ supermarkets.

Even more sinister then, is the impact of supermarket buyer power.  Very often, in order to offer ever greater discounts, those with the greatest buyer power are able to exert significant pressure on the wine producers.  This has serious implications for the wine industry.

In order to satisfy the big clients who make or break a winery, winemakers are being forced to cut corners in production.  Instead of buying expensive oak in which to age Chardonnay, price pressures are forcing some wineries to add woodchip to large vats of wine to try and get the same oak influence from a much cheaper source.  Experienced tasters will tell you, it isn’t the same thing.

Whilst the addition of woodchip is not illegal in most wine regions (Old World countries like France and Italy tend to be more stictly regulated than New World countries like Australia and Chile), there are many illegal acts which do happen in wineries in order to satisfy demand.  An Australian winemaker I spoke to made reference to the infamous ‘snake in the tank’, which is the very Australian way of describing water being added by a hose in the top of the tank to bring down alcohol levels and increase the amount of wine to be bottled.

It goes on for sure“, he said, “I’m not saying everyone is doing it, but I know some wineries are“.

The 'snake in the tank' is just one way wine consumers are being bitten

The 'snake in the tank' is just one way wine consumers are being bitten

The wine industry in South Africa has already been caught out.  Several wineries were found to be breaking the rules by adding flavourings to their wines.

Producers in Beaujolias in France have had the opposite problem to their Australian counterparts; 60 producers are due in court having been caught adding large amounts of sugar in order to increase alcohol levels.

This is a prime example of corners being cut in order to compete.  Nobody is sure how widespread such practices have become, but there is only one loser and that is the wine drinking public.

Countries such as France and Italy have strict guidelines on what can and cannot happen in the winery in order to maintain quality, but anyone watching Jane Moore’s recent Dispatches documentary will agree that we have reason to cast doubt on the quality of the product we purchase.

The trend is worrying.  In order to meet the all important price point requirements of the big retailers, wine makers have little freedom to experiment or improve.  Often they actually have to cut back on the quality of what they produce.  Sometimes they just simply cheat.

Or, perhaps that 3 for 2 deal is actually just you being conned by inflated single bottle prices.

Either way, next time you see a bargain that can’t be missed, consider who is the real loser in the deal.  Chances are, it just might be you.

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