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Wimbledon 2011 Preview

June 20, 2011 2 comments

The most prestigious tournament in tennis got underway today, almost inevitably accompanied by rain. That has not, however, stopped some thrilling opening day action including home favourite Andy Murray labouring against Spain’s Daniel Gimeno-Traver. Every year Wimbledon comes around and every year the press here in Britain becomes obsessed with whether a British man can finally follow in the footsteps of Fred Perry and win a singles title at the All England Club. In Murray, the journalists and fans finally have somebody worthy of their boundless optimism, but can he finally go the extra mile and beat Nadal, Federer and Djokovic?

On the women’s side, the host nation has no such grounds for optimism, but this year’s tournament is one of the most open in living memory. Sport Report takes a look at the serious contenders.

Men’s

Rafael Nadal (Spain)

World Ranking: 1

Seeded: 1

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Won (2008 & 2010)

Rafael Nadal has achieved an unbelievable amount for a man who turned 25 only two weeks ago. He has won every Grand Slam tournament (10 in total), an Olympic Gold Medal, won the Davis Cup three times and held the number one world ranking. The current world number one and defending champion is rightfully the favourite.

 

Rafael Nadal with Wimbledon Trophy (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Rafa, as he is affectionately known, is not as dominant on grass as he is on clay but the days of labelling him a clay court specialist are long gone. He is an extremely aggressive baseline player who relentlessly pounds the ball with a great deal of top spin and whilst this has brought him a great amount of success, his volley is underrated. This is a key factor at Wimbledon. As I write this, the Spaniard is already sitting pretty in the second round following a straight sets win over American Michael Russell. He was not at his best and there are question marks over his form following his recent early exit at Queens. It should not be forgotten though that it was only two weeks back that he sealed a sixth French Open title with an excellent display against the great Roger Federer. As ever, people are doubting Nadal’s fitness but then again, when have they not? The defending champion simply has to be favourite to retain his title, but it is far from a foregone conclusion.

Novak Djokovic (Serbia)

World Ranking: 2

Seeded: 2

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Semi-Finalist (2007 & 2010)

Quite simply, Djokovic is in the form of his life. He won 41 matches to start the season, winning seven titles along the way and looking sensational doing so. Every aspect of his game has improved: he is serving beautifully, returning well and his backhand and forehand are working like clockwork. The 24 year old Serb has Grand Slam pedigree having won the Australian Open earlier this year and in 2008. He is also a two-time US Open runner-up. In this respect he does not have the mental barrier that has proved such a problem for Murray, but it should be noted that SW19 has not been a happy hunting ground for Djokovic. He did reach the semi-final last year, but needs to improve if he is to go one better. For all the hype around his winning streak, he did lose to Federer at Roland Garos and these are the kind of matches he will need to win if he is to add Wimbledon to his list of tournament victories. Can he do it? You would be a fool to write him off.

Roger Federer (Switzerland)

World Ranking: 3

Seeded: 3

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Winner (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2009)

Simply put, the greatest player of all time. The Swiss has won 16 Grand Slam titles, including six at the All England Club. There is no doubt therefore, that he is a man for the big occasion. We know all about Federer’s game: accurate serve, formidable backhand, a forehand which is a work of art and a fantastic net player. He looked fantastic at the recent French Open where he lost in the final to King of Clay Nadal, but not before he gave the Spaniard a hell of a game. Between 2003 and 2007 the Fed Express was unstoppable at SW19, racking up five consecutive titles. He lost arguably the greatest match of all time in the 2008 final before bouncing back the following year in another epic final against Andy Roddick. Whilst he is still capable of beating anybody on his day, he is not the Federer of three or four years ago. However, class is permanent and if there is one word to describe him it is class. Whilst he may not be the shoe-in favourite, he is still very much in with a chance of making it seven Wimbledon titles.

Andy Murray (Great Britain)

World Ranking: 4

Seeded: 4

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Semi-Finalist (2009 & 2010)

When you look at Andy Murray’s game, you can see no reason why he has continually come up short in Grand Slam tournaments. A supremely fit athlete, Murray is one of the best returners in the game. Recent work in the weight room has added zip to an already accurate serve and at Queens last week; all cogs of his game seemed to be meshing beautifully as he won the tournament. The Scot has been somewhat unfairly written off as a failure in Britain, but that is a measure of his own success. He is the only Briton in history who has reached three Grand Slam finals and despite the fact that he lost all three, they are proof that he can compete at the very highest level. His mental strength is not up to scratch however and has let him down time and time again. He seemed overawed in his three final appearances and he has a tendency to become highly frustrated with himself when he makes mistakes. This causes him to lose focus and become his own worst enemy. If he is to end Britain’s wait, he will need to maintain a cool head.

In all likelihood, the winner will be one of the above four, although there is a possibility that a Roddick, Soderling or fit again Martin del Potro could spring a surprise.

Sport Report Prediction: Rafael Nadal to retain his title

Women’s

The women’s competition is much less clear cut as it lacks a dominant player and is missing one of its favourites in Kim Clijsters who has been forced to withdraw with an ankle injury. There are however a few stand-out contenders.

Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

World Ranking: 1

Seeded: 1

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Fourth Round (2009 & 2010)

 

World Number One and Number One Seed Caroline Wozniacki (This image is the property of Getty Images)

 

The 20 year-old Dane is the current world number one and top seed for the tournament. This seeding has been criticised given Wozniacki’s past poor showings at Wimbledon. In fact she has underperformed at Grand Slams in general, apart from a final appearance at the US Open in 2009 (lost in straight sets to Clijsters). The youngster plays a predominantly defensive game and relies on an excellent two-handed backhand. She is unquestionably talented enough to win but can she make the step and actually deliver?

 

Li Na (China)

World Ranking: 4

Seeded: 3

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Quarter-Finalist (2006 & 2010)

The Chinese has become something of an overnight superstar having reached the finals of this year’s two Grand Slams. She lost the Australian Open Final to Clijsters but became the first Chinese woman to win a Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garos as she defeated defending champion Francesca Schiavone in straight sets. Na was however defeated in the second round at the AEGON International last week and this, coupled with an uninspiring record at Wimbledon, means there are question marks over her ability on grass courts. She is a superb baseline player but will need to improve her play around the net if she is to win at Wimbledon.

Serena Williams (United States)

World Ranking: 26

Seeded: 7

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Winner (2002, 2003, 2009 & 2010)

A four-time winner and the defending champion, Williams is one of the most dominant women’s players of all time. She has won all four Grand Slam events, so her pedigree is beyond doubt. When at her best, she is virtually unplayable: a monster server, highly athletic and capable of hammering the ball from the baseline. Serena won two Grand Slams last year but her current form is a mystery. In July last year, she stood on glass in a restaurant and required surgery. In March this year, she announced that she had suffered complications, namely a haematoma and life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Thankfully she is back to playing tennis, but has only played two matches since last year’s Wimbledon final. Can she produce some of the old magic? I fear the tournament may have come too early in her comeback.

Maria Sharapova (Russia)

World Ranking: 6

Seeded: 5

Best Performance at Wimbledon: Winner (2004)

Sharapova burst on to the scene at Wimbledon seven years ago when, as a 17 year old, she shocked defending champions Serena Williams to win the championship. She followed this up with a period of consistent quality performances and two further Grand Slam wins at the US Open (2006) and Australian Open (2008). Since then however, she has struggled with injury and a loss of form, falling off the radar somewhat. However, following a coaching change, she returned to the top 10 this year. The 24 year-old finished the clay season 12-2 and looked mightily impressive at Roland Garos before running into eventual winner Li Na. Sharapova is playing well and on her favourite surface may just repeat her 2004 triumph.

Sport Report Prediction: Maria Sharapova to win

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Categories: Tennis

Matteo Manassero: Flying under the radar

June 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Golf was traditionally seen as an old man’s game, something to do once one can no longer cope with the exertions of more physically demanding sports. The success of a young Tiger Woods was seen as the exception and not the rule, but things are changing with the likes of Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and the USA’s Rickie Fowler bursting on to the scene in spectacular fashion and showing that young men can compete at the very highest level. Fowler won the PGA Rookie of the Year award for 2010, but it is for the Ulsterman that most praise has been reserved. This is of course justified, but one young man flying under the radar may just be the best of the crop.

At the age of 18, Matteo Manassero has already won as many tournaments as Rory McIlroy (two) and has broken a seemingly endless list of records. As an amateur, the Italian became the youngest ever winner of the Silver Medal at The Open and registered the best performance at The Masters by a European amateur in 73 years. Furthermore, at the age of just 16 years, 11 months and 22 days, Manassero became the youngest player in the history of The Masters to make the cut, breaking Bobby Cole’s 43 year old record.

The youngster has carried this form into the professional ranks. He registered his first European Tour tournament win on 24th October 2010 at the Castello Masters Costa Azahar, becoming the youngest ever winner on the tour in the process. This was followed by a strong showing at the 2010 UBS Hong Kong Open, where he finished second, one stroke behind Ian Poulter. His performances netted him the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award for 2010 and the admiration of many fellow players. He did not however, rest on his laurels and in April this year, Manassero added a second tour victory when he impressively won the Maybach Malaysian Open. In fact, in his last six tour appearances, the Italian has posted four top 10 finishes. This rich vein of form has seen him rise to 30th in the world rankings and he is currently sitting 14th in the race to Dubai. Remarkable achievements for an 18 year old.

Manassero is undoubtedly a precocious talent, but he is certainly flying under the radar in comparison to other young prodigies past and present. As golfmagic.com’s Alex Perry puts it; ‘There weren’t enough calculators in the world to keep up with how many major wins the pair (Garcia and McIlroy) would have between them.’ So why has the young Italian not been afforded the same attention and hype? Part of the reason may lie in the fact that he is a young Italian. Golf is very much a marginal sport in the country with many estimates placing the number of club members at just 100,000. Consequently, the sports papers prefer to focus on more popular sports. This is in stark contrast to the British media, which have not been able to give Rory McIlroy enough coverage.

Manassero does not however dwell on a lack of coverage which borders on neglect, preferring instead to focus on his game. He goes about his business with ruthless efficiency and unwavering concentration. Whilst he is confident in his ability, he comes across as very humble. He has spoken of his own amazement at his meteoric rise and of the fact that he still has much to learn. He is not the finished article by any means, but demonstrates the maturity to take setbacks (such as that at Wentworth recently when he led going in to the final round before finishing eighth) as an opportunity to learn. Instead of beating himself up about it, he has focused on the positive of carding three very good scores. However, do not take this to mean that he will not work on improving his game.

Manassero is not a big hitter by modern standards but his strengths lie in his accuracy and a touch around the greens which is reminiscent of the great Seve Ballesteros. His game has won him many admirers, most notably Sir Nick Faldo who during The Masters tweeted ‘Schwartzel won but… da da daaa, Manassero wasn’t there. Discuss.’ This shows the high esteem in which he is held by those in the know.

For an 18 year old, Manassero takes everything in his stride. Italian journalist Massimo Lopes Pegna stated: ‘He looks like a kid and talks like an adult.’ This mix of maturity and God-given natural talent is a recipe for success so watch out, because the youngster from Verona may just be about to take the golfing world by storm.

Categories: Golf

2010-2011 European Football Season Summary

June 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Belgium

Champions: RSC Anderlecht

Champions League: Racing Genk

Europa League: KAA Gent, Club Brugge

Relegated: Royal Charleroi

Top Scorer: Jelle Vossen (Racing Genk) 17 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Jelle Vossen (Racing Genk)

England

Champions: Manchester United

Champions League: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City

Europa League: Tottenham Hotspur

Relegated: West Ham United, Blackpool, Birmingham City

Top Scorer: Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) 20 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Nani (Manchester United)

France

Champions: Lille OSC

Champions League: Lyon, Olympique de Marseille

Europa League: Paris Saint-Germain

Relegated: Arles Avignon, Lens, AS Monaco

Top Scorer: Moussa Sow (Lille OSC) 25 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Kevin Gameiro (Lorient)

Germany

Champions: Borussia Dortmund

Champions League: Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich

Europa League: Hannover 96, FSV Mainz 05

Relegated: St Pauli, Eintracht Frankfurt *

Top Scorer: Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich) 28 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund)

*Only two sides were relegated from the Bundesliga as Borussia Mönchengladbach defeated VFL Bochum in the relegation playoff (2-1 on aggregate).

Italy

Champions: AC Milan

Champions League: Internazionale, Napoli

Europa League: Lazio, AS Roma

Relegated: Bari, Brescia, Sampdoria

Top Scorer: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese) 28 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese)

Netherlands

Champions: Ajax Amsterdam

Champions League: FC Twente

Europa League: PSV Eindhoven, ADO Den Haag, AZ Alkmar

Relegated: Willem II

Top Scorer: Björn Vleminckx (NEC Nijmegen) 23 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Björn Vleminckx (NEC Nijmegen)

Portugal

Champions: Porto

Champions League: Benfica

Europa League: Sporting Lisbon, Braga, Vitoria de Guimaraes, Nacional

Relegated: Portimonense, Naval 1 de Mayo

Top Scorer: Hulk (Porto) 23 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Hulk (Porto)

Scotland

Champions: Rangers

Champions League: Celtic

Europa League: Heart of Midlothian, Dundee United

Relegated: Hamilton Academical

Top Scorer: Kenny Miller (Rangers) 21 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic)

Spain

Champions: Barcelona

Champions League: Real Madrid, Valencia, Villarreal

Europa League: Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao

Relegated: Almeria, Hercules, Deportivo La Coruna

Top Scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 41 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Turkey

Champions: Fenerbahce

Champions League: Trabzonspor

Europa League: Bursaspor, Gazientepspor, Besiktas

Relegated: Bucaspor, Konyaspor, Kasimpasa

Top Scorer: Alex (Fenerbahce) 28 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Alex (Fenerbahce)

Ukraine

Champions: Shakhtar Donetsk

Champions League: Dynamo Kyiv

Europa League: Metalist Kharkiv, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Karpaty Lviv, Vorskla Poltava

Relegated: Metalurh Zaporizhya, Sevastopol

Top Scorer: Yevhen Seleznyov (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk) 17 goals

Sport Report Player of the Season: Yevhen Seleznyov (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk)

Categories: Football

Spotlight on…Jack Wilshere

June 6, 2011 Leave a comment

In this, the final instalment of the Spotlight On… series, Sport Report assesses 19 year-old Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere.

Two years ago, not many people outside of Arsenal Football Club had heard of young Jack Wilshere. Now he is a mainstay of the Arsenal starting XI and an established full international.

Born in nearby Stevenage, Wilshere was snapped up by the North London club in 2001 at the age of nine and immediately stood out as a potential future star. He rose through the ranks impressively and was named under-16s captain at the age of 15. However, such was his quality that he was selected to play for the club’s under-18s whilst still only 15. Wilshere excelled at this level, netting an impressive 13 goals in his first full season. This form led to a promotion to the reserves, a step up he once again negotiated with no problems whatsoever. He continued to represent the youth team and was an integral part of Arsenal’s 2009 FA Youth Cup winning side, scoring one goal and assisting another two in the final.

The midfielder’s first team career started the same season. When he made his debut against Blackburn Rovers in September 2008, he became the club’s youngest ever debutant, surpassing the record of Cesc Fabregas. He soon made his Champions League debut but whilst continuing to make progress, he was unable to cement a place in a star-studded midfield and so in January 2010, Arsenal opted to give Wilshere more Premier League experience by loaning him to Bolton Wanderers. Wilshere immediately slotted in to Owen Coyle’s team and scored his first top flight goal in March 2010. The youngster demonstrated craft and guile beyond his years and Coyle was so impressed that he attempted to sign him on loan again for the duration of the following season. Not surprisingly, the Gunners rejected the offer.

Upon returning to Arsenal for what turned out to be his breakthrough season, Wilshere was thrust straight in to first team action in the heart of midfield. A string of highly impressive performances followed and he soon made his England debut as a substitute for Steven Gerrard. Furthermore, he was named Arsenal’s player of the month for September and was quickly becoming one of the league’s star performers. His performance against the best midfield in world football as Arsenal beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Emirates was justifiably lauded by Arsene Wenger, who described it as ‘outstanding.’ Not looking out of place against the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta at the age of 19 is no mean feat and bodes well for the future, both for Arsenal and England. Although Arsenal’s season ultimately ended in disappointment, Wilshere can spend the summer reflecting on an excellent season in which he played 49 games for his club, forced his way in to Fabio Capello’s England team, was named PFA Young Player of the Year, named in the PFA Team of the Season and voted Arsenal Player of the Season.

Although Wilshere was initially known as a creative, attacking midfielder, he has been forced to adapt his game so he can be accommodated in a midfield which also has to find room for Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. He has adopted a role more akin to that of a holding midfielder but to use the Eric Cantona-coined term ‘water carrier’ to describe Wilshere would be to do him a disservice. He has shown that even at the tender age of 19, he is able to dictate the tempo of a game and mix it with physically bigger, stronger players. The range and accuracy of his passing is superb and he has also shown an eye for the killer pass, notching up nine assists. His ability to carry the ball using subtle changes of pace is criminally overlooked and something which serves Arsenal well, particularly on the counter and this may be what Wenger means when he describes his starlet as a ‘box-to-box player.’

Wilshere is not however the finished article. His manager would no doubt like a higher goal return from his prized youngster and Arsenal’s Head of Youth Development, Liam Brady, has commented on Wilshere’s occasional inability to keep his temper under control. This has been in evidence this season with a number of ill-advised lunges and a proclivity to get unnecessarily involved in altercations sometimes marring his good performances. If he is able to rid himself of this unwanted side of his game and continue to improve as a player, he will be the lynchpin of Arsenal’s and England’s starting XIs for years to come.

Jack Wilshere

Name: Jack Andrew Garry Wilshere

Place of Birth: Stevenage,England

Nationality: English

Date of Birth: 1st January 1992

Career League Appearances: 51

Career League Goals: 2

Total Career Appearances: 78

Total Career Goals: 4

International Caps: 5

International Goals: 0

Key Attributes: vision, accuracy and range of passing, ability to run with the ball

Categories: Football