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Archive for August, 2010

Who is currently the best boxer in the world?

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been the hottest topic in the sport of boxing for over a year now. Is Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather the best fighter on the planet or has Manny Pacquiao done enough to usurp him at the top of the pile? Let us know what you think!

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Categories: Boxing

Roger Federer: In decline?

August 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Swiss superstar Roger Federer is considered by many to be the best tennis player of all time and his record would certainly seem to support such a viewpoint. He has dominated the sport for the last seven years, adding trophy after trophy to his collection. Four Australian Open titles, one French Open title, six Wimbledon titles and five US open titles give him a record 16 Grand Slam wins and make him only the third player in the Open Era to achieve a Career Grand Slam. As if this were not enough, he added an Olympic Gold medal in Beijing in 2008, winning the men’s doubles with compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka. He has reached 22 Grand Slam Finals and 25 semi-finals. His incredible of record of reaching at least the semi-final in 23 consecutive Grand Slams may never be broken.

This phenomenal run in Grand Slam tournaments was, however, brought to an abrupt end at this year’s French Open where Sweden’s Robin Söderling halted the Fed Express. The Express became a slow train as it spluttered its way to the Wimbledon quarter-final where Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic served as its terminus. All of a sudden people began to question whether these were merely unexpected results or whether they were more an indication that Federer’s superhuman powers were starting to desert him at the grand old age of 28 (he has since turned 29). So is this the case?

Roger Federer is still at the top of his game and more motivated than ever to stay there (This image is the property of The Daily Telegraph)

It is worth noting at this point that reaching the quarter-final of a Grand Slam is hardly a disastrous performance, unless you are Roger Federer. This in itself is testament to his ability and achievements as our high expectations make anything less than a finals appearance seem like a disappointment. Furthermore, the players who defeated him in the two semi-finals are top players in their own right and to dismiss them as flukes or shocking performances on Federer’s part would be to do them a disservice. Robin Söderling is currently the number five ranked player in the world and the only person to ever defeat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. Tomas Berdych is ranked only two places below him and has had something of a breakthrough year in Grand Slams reaching the semi-final in France and finishing runner-up at Wimbledon. Rather than Federer being on the slide, it is more a case of other players upping their game in a bid to challenge the man who has dominated for so long. Players such as Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic have improved immeasurably in recent years and so have moved closer to Federer’s level. In short, R-Fed, as he is known, has raised the bar in the sport as a whole and forced others to improve or risk being left in his wake.

His record in 2010 does not paint the picture of a man on the way down. Let’s not forget he has won a Grand Slam this year (Australian Open) and he has performed well in the Masters Series. He finished runner up in both Madrid and Toronto before winning in Cincinnati last week. This serves as ideal preparation for the US Open which starts next Monday (30th August) and where the five-time champion will be looking to regain the title he lost in last year’s final against Martin del Potro. Do not bet against him doing just that and adding Grand Slam number 17 to the long list of career wins.

Categories: Tennis

To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Boxing is something of an anomaly in the sporting world in so far as it is a business as much as it is a sport and commercial gain will determine whether or not two fighters meet in the ring. Whether or not a fighter makes it to the top of the sport is as much a matter of having the backing of a super-promoter as it is being talented. At the moment, the super-promoter of choice is Oscar de la Hoya and his Golden Boy Promotions banner, as he holds a virtual monopoly over HBO dates. Such connections can virtually guarantee a fighter a title shot these days, but he must still be ready when that chance comes. A few weeks back on the undercard of the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz fight in Las Vegas, highly touted middleweight prospect, and Golden Boy’s big hope, Daniel Jacobs had his chance as he took on unknown Russian Dmitry Pirog for the vacant WBO title.

Boxing fans have been told for some time now that Jacobs is the real deal and a star in the making, but it all went wrong against Pirog. The Brooklyn native never looked comfortable as he struggled with the Russian’s unorthodox movement and was finally put out of his misery in the fifth round when a peach of a right hand crashed in to his jaw, sending him sprawling to the canvas. Seeing that he was gone, referee Robert Byrd did not even bother to count. The man from Russia had shocked the world and left Jacobs’ plans in tatters. So, was Daniel Jacobs ready for such a fight?

A cursory look at his record would suggest he was. Going in to the fight, he was 20-0 with 17 wins by way of KO. He is a tall, rangy fighter with solid boxing skills and power to match and he no doubt has the ability and physical tools to one day go on and become a world champion. However, if one looks deeper at his record, the problems quickly become evident. Jacobs was identified early in his career as a future star by Golden Boy and HBO and so he has been spoon fed cherry-picked opponents and been given plenty of TV exposure. He has steamrolled these opponents and been made to look better than what he is. A look down the list of Jacobs’ victims reveals names such as Sergio Rios, Tyrone Watson, Jose Rodrigo Berrio and Jose Varela. Heard of any of them? Thought not. The only opponent of any note is former Contender star Ishe Smith who Jacobs outpointed in August 2009. Still Golden Boy felt their man was ready to win a title against an opponent they probably knew very little about. They were proved wrong. Now, it must be said that this is not the first time Golden Boy has made such an error.

As soon as Jacobs hit the deck in the Madalay Bay ring, the name Rey ‘Boom Boom’ Bautista sprang to mind. For those who do not know, Bautista was a much publicised super-bantamweight prospect who was steamrolling hand-picked opponents much like Jacobs. In 2007, Golden Boy decided he was ready to fight for a title and put him in with another of their fighters, the crude but extremely hard hitting Daniel Ponce de Léon. The champion crushed Boom Boom within a round and he has never been the same fighter since. He was dominated by Heriberto Ruiz two years ago and is now fighting on unspectacular cards in the Emirates and in his native Philippines. The common denominator is the use of tailor-made opponents to make fighters look good. This is all well and good early in a fighter’s career but at some point, he must be extended and made to learn new skills and tactics. In the cases of Jacobs and Bautista this never happened as they blasted their way through average opposition.  So just how should a promoter build a fighter’s career?

Firstly, they should realise their fighters’ limitations. Fighters like Oscar de la Hoya who can win a world title in only their twelfth fight are extremely few and far between. Patience must be exercised by promoter and fighter alike. The promoter should temper any over-exuberance and confidence on the part of the fighter and perhaps somebody at Golden Boy should have pulled the plug on Jacobs-Pirog when Jacobs’ grandmother (who raised him) passed away less than a week before the fight. Secondly, the quality of opposition must be stepped up gradually as the fighter is steered towards a title shot. The type of opponent must be varied so that he can learn how to adapt to different styles in the ring and become a more rounded fighter. Thirdly, it is a good idea to let the upcoming fighter face off against a wily veteran, perhaps a former world champion. Such a fight will provide a stern test and a win will bring great kudos and confidence. Next of all, the promoter cannot be afraid of his fighter losing. As has been seen with David Haye and Amir Khan, a loss can be a great blessing in disguise. Finally, the promoter must research the opponent thoroughly prior to arranging the fight so that they know what their man will be up against. It looks as though this did not happen with Pirog who certainly looked a quality fighter and now has a bright future ahead of him with potential fights against the likes of Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams or Sergio Martinez on the horizon. In truth, it looked very much like Amir Khan-Breidis Prescott all over again.

Jacobs has the ability to bounce back and become a world champion. With Golden Boy and Al Haymon behind him, it will only be a matter of time until he gets a second opportunity. Let’s hope for his sake that he has been properly prepared for such a fight next time round.

Categories: Boxing

20:20 Overkill

August 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Cricket is not everybody’s cup of tea. Those who love it enjoy watching players of great skill with bat and ball exercise great patience in an attempt to outwit each other. Its detractors claim it is too slow and boring. In an attempt to attract a new breed of fan, a new format was launched in England in 2003, 20:20 cricket. For those not familiar with the sport, this is a short game in which each team gets 20 overs (one over is six balls) to score as many runs as possible. This led to aggressive shot playing and the invention of new shots such as the reverse sweep and Dilshan scoop that wowed the crowds. A match (including the change over) lasts around three hours and so can take place on a weekday evening, giving people the chance to attend after work, school etc.

The new format proved an instant success as it offered something completely different from four day long county championship matches. There were cheerleaders, loud music to greet fours and sixes, big hitting and a party atmosphere in general. It was razzmatazz on an almost American scale. Large crowds flocked to watch the matches with a marked increase in the number of youngsters attending. The peak came in 2004 when almost 30,000 people piled in to Lord’s to watch Middlesex take on Surrey. Sky purchased the rights to show the competition on TV and large audiences tuned in. 20:20 quickly became an important cash cow for the counties.

Seeing the success of the format in England, other cricketing nations followed suit and established their own domestic 20:20 competitions. Australia established the KFC Big Bash, the West Indies had the Stanford T20 and then came the grandest of them all, the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL), a competition in which players earn more money than Premiership footballers. These all proved incredibly successful too and the new format’s meteoric rise continued. It was not long before the idea of a 20:20 World Cup was entertained and in South Africa in 2007, India won the inaugural tournament. 20:20 was fast starting to dominate the sport.

It became so successful so quickly because it offered a high octane, fan-friendly alternative to test cricket, but test cricket and county cricket were still very much the norm. Those who wanted to see big hitting had to wait for the games to come around as in the grand scheme of things; they were still few and far between. Over the last three years however, this has changed as there now seems to be wall-to-wall 20:20 as everybody looks to cash in.

The IPL takes place every year, there have already been three world cups since 2007 and domestic competitions have been massively expanded (there were 151 games in England in the season finished yesterday and the KFC Big Bash in Australia has been effectively doubled this year). What started as an alternative to the mainstays of test and 50 over cricket is now taking over the sport. If any further illustration of this were needed, it came last month as Pakistan played two 20:20 matches against Australia in two days. Was there really any need for this?

The surge in the number of 20:20 matches is of course born out of financial reasons. National cricket boards and clubs/counties alike saw pound/dollar/rupees signs and pushed for expansion of the format. This has proved to be counter-productive. Certainly in England, attendances have decreased quite dramatically in recent years as fans have either become fed up of 20:20 or simply cannot afford to attend eight or nine games in the space of a few weeks. Warwickshire averaged around 3000 fans for 20:20 matches last season, whereas they used to fill Edgbaston in the competition’s early years. Those who pushed for expansion just a few years ago are now arguing for change.

Lancashire’s Chief Executive Jim Cumbes says change is a must as the financial health of several counties is at serious risk. Lancashire lost in excess of £500,000 last year, and this loss would have been around three times greater had it not been for concerts by Coldplay and Take That at Old Trafford. It would seem that the competition needs to be restructured to win back supporters.

Financial health is not the only health concern according to Pakistan legend Imran Khan. The former World Cup winning captain recently gave the Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s and spoke of the effect non-stop cricket is having on the bodies of players and fast bowlers in particular. Anyone who remembers the likes of Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Curtley Ambrose, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis etc, knows that there is no greater sight in the sport than that of a top class fast bowler in great form sending batsman back to the pavilion with their tails between their legs. Khan stated that he fears for the future of such bowlers as playing 50 over, 20 over and test cricket is simply too much for knees, backs and ankles to take over a prolonged period of time. Injuries sustained by the likes of Andrew Flintoff, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait would seem to suggest he has a point. Khan’s suggestion is to do away with 50 over cricket and keep 20:20. He spoke of the obsession with the sport’s shortest form in India and Pakistan in particular, where it is now much more popular than the more traditional forms of the game. Given the choice of a test match or 20:20 game, fans on the subcontinent would opt for the bish bash bosh of 20:20 every time. As such, discarding of 20:20 cricket, which enjoys unrivalled popularity in two of the sport’s biggest markets, would be tantamount to suicide.

Shrinking crowds would certainly seem to suggest that people have gorged on 20:20 and are now full to bursting and a revision of the current situation is needed to reduce the burden on players, but in a sport that has often been slow to change in the past, do not expect it any time soon.

Categories: Cricket

Who will win the Premiership?

August 13, 2010 1 comment

It’s back tomorrow everyone! The Premiership returns and will no doubt throw up plenty of surprises along the way. Who do you think will win the title? Will Chelsea successfully defend it or will Sir Alex Ferguson’s men regain the trophy? Perhaps you think Arsenal will finally deliver on their promise or that Roy Hodgson will bring the glory days back to Anfield. Will Manchester City’s petro-dollars bring them success or will ‘Arry and his team win the League? Let us know!

Categories: Football

Jess has the X-Factor

August 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Jessica Ennis is Britain's golden girl but she will have to prepare for intense media attention in the run up to London 2012 (This image is the property of The Independent)

At just 24 years of age, Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis has the athletics world at her feet. Last week she added the European Heptathlon championship to the world title she won in Berlin last summer, setting a new personal best and championship record in the process.

In modern-day sport, there are certain characteristics that make somebody a star; Ennis has them all. Firstly, and most importantly, she is exceptionally good at what she does. She is after all, the world champion. Crucially, she realises that this comes above all else. She is dedicated to her chosen career and understands that success on the track is integral to any success she may enjoy otherwise. Secondly, she is an attractive girl which never harms an athlete’s chances as far as endorsements are concerned. Thirdly, she is extremely likeable. She is a smiley character devoid of ego or bad attitude (Mark Lewis-Francis take note). Jessica Ennis is fast becoming the nation’s sporting darling.

These are all elements more or less within her control, but she also looks set to benefit from circumstances over which she has no influence. In short, the stars seem to be aligning for Jessica Ennis as she may just be the right person in the right place at the right time.

 It is not often that Britain gets the opportunity to host a major, global sporting event, but in 2012 the world’s greatest sporting extravaganza (with the possible exception of the World Cup) is coming to London and as far as Ennis is concerned, the timing could not be better. The country will be looking for a ‘face’ of the games and Ennis’s status as a leading heptathlete, coupled with her looks, make her perfect for the role. Michael Johnson was the poster boy for the Atlanta games in 1996 and it was interesting to listen to him speak to Ennis in the BBC studio in Barcelona. Recognising that she was in the presence of an athletics legend and somebody with great experience, she hung on to his every word. He spoke of his own experience from those games including the fact that somebody called him asking for tickets on the day of one of his finals and warned Ennis that the added responsibility and expectation at home must not become detrimental to the bread and butter task of winning races. During the conversation, she intimated that she is now having to juggle training and competing with increased commercial commitments, but so far, she is doing a good job. It will be turned up several notches as 2012 nears as she has the chance to become a golden girl in her home country and she will have to deal with it as Johnson himself did. It should be noted however that she seems level-headed and has a good team around her, including a close-knit family. She also took the added responsibility of being Team GB’s captain at the European Championships in her stride which bodes well.

However, before 2012 comes round, there are the World Championships next year in Daegu where the 24 year old will look to defend her title. If she can, she will cement her place as one of the sport’s elite performers and her stock will rise further.

There is of course one potentially huge spanner that could be thrown in to the works; injury. It is always a possibility with top athletes as their bodies are fine tuned to the extreme and it can either force them out of competition altogether or lead to sub-par performances (see Usain Bolt this week). Ennis knows this better than anyone having been forced to sit out the 2008 Olympics in Beijing with stress fractures in her foot. If she can steer clear of any such issues both in the run up to and during the games in 2012, she has an excellent chance of winning gold on home soil and catapulting herself in to the upper echelons of sporting stardom in Britain, and who knows, maybe the world. With talent, looks and a media-friendly personality, Jess has the X-Factor.

Categories: Athletics