Posts Tagged Federer

Random Yarns from the Week: England Have No Claim and More


Seeing a female formula 1 driver is rare and on a sad note, the closest one there’s been to driving at a competitive level in recent times, Maria de Villota was found dead in Seville earlier today.

De Villota was a reserve F1 driver who had survived a terrible accident while testing for the Marussia team in 2011 in a collision with a lorry, suffering severe head and facial injuries and losing her right eye in the process… though she did get back to racing.

Onto competitive racing where it’s almost rare for Sebastien Vettel not to finish on the podium. And he could be crowned world champion of Formula 1 for a fourth consecutive year in this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, a race the Red Bull driver heads into with a 77 point lead over Fernando Alonso, who must finish lower than eighth for Vettel (who also must win the race) to be crowned champion.

At the moment, Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton led the track after first practice session in Suzuka but inevitably, Vettel remains firm favourite to win a fifth successive race… but maybe not so much the title for this weekend at least.

That said, Vettel and Red Bull teammate Mark Webber matched the Mercedes by heading the track after second practice, leaving them odds on to take pole position. Vettel was pole in the last grand prix in South Korea.

Inevitably also, there’s talk of fans getting bored of Vettel’s dominance of the sport, exemplified by him getting booed in a recent race, but Suzuka is almost a second home for the German while the other teams just need to step up to the level the Red Bull team has reached over the years.

Can’t blame some fans getting irked by Vettel’s dominance however, as I was in their shoes when Roger Federer held sway in the tennis world right after the glory days of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

Never liked Federer in that period simply because it will always be Sampras for me while Novak Djokovic is my present favourite on the tour, but watching Federer crash out of the Shanghai Masters didn’t inspire a rival fan’s ‘joy’.

Only two years ago, Gael Monfils would’ve been happy to get a set off Federer not the other way round as it happened in Shanghai. Alas! The Swiss master (I don’t like his game doesn’t make him less a great) is past his prime and has twins to care for too.

Novak Djokovic remains in his prime though and is through to the Shanghai Masters semi-final (at Monfils expense) alongside Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro who beat Florian Mayer and Nicholas Almagro respectively. Rafael Nadal on his part beat Stanislas Wawrinka for a place in the last four, his 68th win in 72 matches this year.

As for world number three Andy Murray, he’ll have to be content with watching his peers from the sideline as he continues his recovery from back surgery. Sadly, he’s had to pull out of the season ending ATP World Tour final in London to continue his recovery.

Murray’s absence means there are now five more places in the Tour Final to fight for, with Nadal, Djokovic and David Ferrer already guaranteed their place in the season finale. Ferrer however has been beaten in Shanghai, 6-4 6-3 by Florian Mayer earlier on.

Seventh ranked Federer could seal his place in the Tour Finals by doing well enough in the two tournaments before November’s finale, at Basel and Paris, but he will be contesting for those five spots with Tomas Berdych, Del Potro and Tsonga who are in the last four in Shanghai, as well as countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, Milos Raonic of Canada and Richard Gasquet of France.

Del Potro, Berdych and Tsonga hold a big threat to Federer’s quest to make the finale for a 12th successive year, while Wawrinka, Gasquet and Raonic will have to put up strong performances over the next fortnight to boost their chance of making it to London, where there’s little chance of them getting embroiled in who should or shouldn’t represent what nation.

Special thanks to native Englishman and Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere for making the lines clear between who’s English and who’s not English even though they may have the Queen’s passport anyway… thus getting a number of sportsmen such as Kevin Pietersen and John Fashanu worked up.

All because of what (who)? The mere suggestion that Adnan Januzaj should play for the English national team; the Three Lions, following his heroics at the Stadium of Light… a debut that has eventually made us now know that he shares his birthday with Cristiano Ronaldo and that he made his debut on the anniversary of George Best making his Manchester United debut all those years ago.

Simply put, and that’s if you don’t read the fine print, it means Januzaj is destined to be great! Destined to be great because the boy scored two (well made first and well taken second admittedly) goals? Against a bottom of the league side? On his league debut?

While trying to understand why the 18 year old who’s eligible to play for the national teams of Belgium, Croatia, Serbia, Albania and Turkey and actually won’t be eligible to play for England before 2018… wait, so what’s all the fuss about?

And right on cue, the matter changed from the morality involved in having ‘foreigners’ play for a nation of residency or descent even rather than of birth to ‘do we have enough of our (native) youngsters coming through even?’

Judging from the calamitous Euros endured by Stuart Pearce’s young Lions last year and by the number of young Lions (under 23 years of age) featuring regularly for ‘top six/seven’ Premier League clubs or doing exceptionally well on loan to decent clubs from these ‘top’ clubs, the future of English football for the next decade is bleak.

While a world class institute/academy in England ala Clairefontaine in France or La Masia in Spain is for the moment an infant, England really have a small pool of ‘world class’ players with Wayne Rooney perhaps the only established one.

Wilshere still talks about getting to optimum fitness following almost two years on the sidelines, Tom Cleverley is struggling with shedding the hot prospect tag and living up to the pun in the family name while Joe Hart’s gloves have betrayed him in recent times.

Daniel Sturridge is a big hope, but Danny Welbeck’s more of a flickering hope. Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon are as good as they can be annoying, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have aged, Gareth Barry pretty much so as well. So, 19 year old Ross Barkley? Alongside a Phil Jones if he manages to stay fit over a sustained period?

Only position on the field England can actually boast of credible and consistent (performance wise) options is at left back but three grains of rice will never be enough to feed a famished Lion… and it’s the Three Lions being written of here.

Apart from all that, when majority of the best players or managers in your league are foreigners (including the nearby Scots and Irishmen; Northern and Republic), it does not matter just how world and Martian class your academy is when you don’t have same standard of coaches or even managers.

Indeed, that they’re getting regular time in their native leagues is helping youngsters in rival nations as Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, there’s more to it than the obvious. A proven blueprint; in suitable tactics, techniques and coaching is what England needs more than a world class academy or a quota system in favour of ‘Englishmen’.

Right now however, the Three Lions – native and naturalised – have gone a step closer to qualifying for Brazil 2014 following a 4-1 win over Montenegro on Friday night, in the first of their final two crucial World Cup qualifying matches.

Now with 19 points, England is a point ahead of Ukraine that ended Poland’s faint hopes of top spot or even a playoff spot in a 1-0 win in Kyiv. England can therefore be a bit confident of getting qualification in Tuesday’s trip to face Poland.

Belgium meanwhile have qualified for Brazil 2014 as a brace from Romelu Lukaku earned the Red Devils a 2-1 win at Croatia and open an unassailable eight point gap for the Belgians who last made a World Cup appearance in 2002.

Croatia will be content with getting a playoff spot while Wales, that beat Macedonia 1-0 in Cardiff on Friday, will host the happy Belgians on Tuesday in a pseudo-testimonial for Craig Bellamy after the Cardiff City winger announced he’ll retire from national duty then.

Elsewhere, Russia got a 4-0 win from their trip to Luxembourg to effectively get the qualification ticket after second placed Portugal was held to a 1-1 draw by the Israelites in Lisbon, a result that put Russia three points and ahead of the Portuguese who must now win by a seven-goal margin at home to Luxembourg and hope Russia lose at Azerbaijan to get automatic qualification. Otherwise, Cristiano Ronaldo and co can settle for their guaranteed playoff spot already.

Four nations will battle for one playoff spot in Group B, as second placed Bulgaria’s 2-1 loss at Armenia allowed the latter and two other nations to equal or come within a point of them.

Denmark was held to a 2-2 draw by already qualified Italy to go level on 13 points with Bulgaria while Czech Republic came within a point of the duo thanks to a 4-1 win at Malta, ahead of Armenia on goal difference.

Denmark will be favourites to get the playoff spot as they host Malta on Tuesday, while Bulgaria on their part host Czech Republic and Armenia visit the Azurri needing a win and other results to go their way to get that playoff spot.

Sweden got a playoff spot from Group C in a comeback 2-1 win at home to third placed Austria after a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired second half with Germany sealing qualification from that group with a 3-0 win at home to Republic of Ireland.

The already qualified Netherland’s demolished Hungary 8-1 as Robin van Persie became the Dutch side’s all-time leading scorer with a hattrick on the night, while Turkey got a 2-0 win at Estonia to maintain second place with 16 points ahead of Romania that also has 16 points following a 4-0 win at Andorra.

Turkey will get the playoff spot in that group if their result at home to the Netherlands on Tuesday is not bettered by Romania who host Estonia, while Hungary with 14 points must get a big win from their match against bottom side Andorra and hope Turkey and Romania lose to get the playoff spot.

In Africa, Nigeria’s Super Eagles will visit Ethiopia on Sunday in a first leg match of the final qualifying round on the continent. Before then, Senegal will face Cote D’Ivoire in Abidjan on Saturday without the uninvited Demba Ba while Ghana host Egypt on Monday.

Finally in the Nigeria Premier League, Kano Pillars took a big step towards defending their league title after beating title rivals Enyimba 2-0 in Lokoja on Wednesday, going top of the league as a result.

Should Pillars go on to win the league, they will have only a month to prepare for a second title defence after the League Management Company announced on Thursday that the 2013/14 season will kick off in the penultimate weekend of November. Next season will also see the return of special matches on Friday evenings as the league calendar steadily returns to normal.

My weekend begins now however, bringing us to the end of this post. On this day in 1962, the Second Vatican Council holds, 92 years after the first. And in 1582, the day does not exist in Italy, Spain, Poland and Portugal due to the implementation of the Gregorian calendar.

Today also is the International Day of the Girl Child, the 38th anniversary of tv show Saturday Night Live, the birthday of former rapper MC Lyte and actresses Contance Zimmer (Entourage, House of Cards) and Joan Cushack (Shameless). Best wishes to them and everyone celebrating today.

Have a pleasant weekend.

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During the Week: of Shocks, Withdrawals, Tax Evaders & More


In a week that witnessed more withdrawals from it than bank customers at an ATM (please don’t sue me), Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer must be wondering how it would have been better to be on the withdrawal bandwagon rather than suffering rare and embarrassing defeats.

First was world number five Nadal, brimming with a champion’s confidence having just won his favourite Grand Slam, the French Open, a record eighth time on the back of losing just two matches since making a return from a long term knee injury, fell to a player ranked 130 places below him at that point… worse still, in straight sets.

Steve Darcis’ shock 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 win in the first round paved way for an equally shocking defeat in the second round as world number two Roger Federer, after winning the first set, ended up losing 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-5) 7-5 7-6 to 116th ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky.

And to make their losses as frustrating as humanly possible, Darcis withdrew from Wimbledon with a shoulder problem (side effects of beating a hard hitter like Nadal) while Stakhovsky, in the very next round after beating Federer, lost 6-2 2-6 7-5 6-3 to Jurgen Melzer. Would Melzer have beaten Federer? We’ll never know.

The shock losses spilled into the women’s section with third seed Maria Sharapova losing in straight sets of 6-3 6-4 to Michelle Larcher De Brito while French Open semifinalist Sara Errani was bundled out earlier in the first round.

Those shock exits, coupled with the withdrawals of Jo Wilfred Tsonga (who was down two sets to one when he did, go figure), Marin Cilic, Radek Stepanek and John Isner in the male section as well as Viktoria Azarenka in the female means that – much as they would want you to believe otherwise – the path to the final is much less perilous than originally would have been (at least on paper) for top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams as well as Britain’s shining hope Andy Murray… maybe David Ferrer too.

As to claims that the playing surface is to blame for the diluge of withdrawals, organisers of the third slam on the calendar stated “The factual evidence, which is independently checked, is that the courts are almost identical to last year, as dry and firm as they should be, and we expect them to continue to play to their usual high quality”. Simply put, ‘quit whining and get on with it’.

So we move on from the grass surface of SW19 to the grass at Brazil where Spain will face the host nation in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup after edging out the Italians 7-6 on (well taken) penalties following a goalless 120 mnutes; much better than last time both met at the final of the Euros last year where the Spaniards ran out 4-0 winners.

This final, which is the very fixture anticipated by all from the start of the Confederations Cup, will be a major test of how good or otherwise the Brazilian team is ahead of next summer’s World Cup just as it would inevitably serve as a stage to see what Neymar can pull off against pretty much the players he will play with and against when La Liga kicks off for the 2013/14 season.

As for Spain, it’s a chance to fare much better than the third place finish they managed at the last Confederations Cup in South Africa as well as extend an unbeaten run of matches that has been since November 2011 when England beat them in a friendly.

Spanish fans will also be looking out for their U20 national side vying for the World Youth Championship in Turkey, having just made the first knockout round there by finishing top of Group A with nine maximum points ahead of France, Ghana (who have a slim chance of qualifying as one of the best third placed countries) and the United States.

Nigeria’s Flying Eagles are also through to the knockout round after finishing Group B in second place with six points, a point behind Portugal, after beating South Korea by a lone goal in their final group match on Thursday. And as it stands, Nigeria may well be the only African nation left competing after the final round of group matches in Groups E and F are played later today.

For one, Egypt, without a point, need a big win against England in Group E to either qualify or at least keep England from doing so for Ghana’s sake, just as Uruguay must be beaten by table topping Uzbekistan in Group F to aid Ghana’s cause while also sealing their (the Uzbek’s) qualification.

Murky, twisted situation that but no where as murky as Silvio Berlusconi’s situation with the law in Italy, after a ruling by three judges in a case of sleeping with an underaged girl found him guilty, sentenced him to seven years in prison and also banned him from partaking in politics… but there’s a catch.

Apparently, Berlusconi, who is the owner of Serie A giants AC Milan, was sentenced to four years in prison last year after being convicted of tax evasion but hasn’t served a minute in prison. Why? An appeal process must be completed in both cases (yes, the man has appealed) and due to the multiple stages involved in the appeal process, it could take years before being settled.

Hence, Berlusconi may well never serve jail time for his convictions. Lionel Messi on his part, would also likely not serve jail time over the tax evasion allegations levelled against him recently in Spanish court after agreeing to pay an amount between €15m and €21m to the tax authorities there. So not only are the Spaniards winning on the field of play, they also are in the court and more so against a No. 10 touted as the best ever. Tough world.

Likely tougher for those who will face Juventus next season, especially in the Serie A, after the league champions completed the deal to bring Argentine forward Carlos Tevez over from oil rich Manchester City in a £7.6m steal that could rise to £12m… still a steal of a deal for Juve.

Other players that have or will be moving include Andrei Arshavin who returned to Zenit St. Petersburg after the expiration of his contract at Arsenal, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet who joined Liverpool from Sunderland, Chelsea’s Marko Marin who will spend next season on loan at Sevilla, Lille’s Dimitri Payet who will sign for Olympique Marseille next week and Isco who will be Carlo Ancelotti’s first signing (per se) from sorry Malaga.

Malaga have now lost manager Manuel Pellegrini to Manchester City and Isco to Real right after losing Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal to Arsenal in the last year. Heap on the ban from UEFA competitions due to not meeting certain Financial Fair Play regulations and you can’t but feel sorry for a modest side that made the Champions League quarterfinals last season.

A bit of sympathy too for Red Bull driver Mark Webber who announced during the week that he would quit Formula 1 at the end of this season to join Porsche’s new sportscar programme and will compete at the LeMans 24 hour race with them.

Webber had been in the midst of a controversial team ‘bust-up’ this season, when teammate and world champion Sebastien Vettel ignored team orders and overtook Webber at the Malaysian grand prix. Vettel apologised soon after, only to then state that he would do same if both drivers were in the same situation again.

While Webber would deny that incident isn’t responsible for his decision to quit the sport, all indications point to it really, more so after it was confirmed that he received offers from at least one top team to join them next season. For the moment, that’s about it with the roundup from the week.

On this day in 1880, France annexed Tahiti and probably annexed every ounce of the latter’s footballing talents along. And in 2007, Apple Inc. released its first mobile phone, the iPhone.

Happy birthday to gospel singer Don Moen (63), pop singer Nicole Scherzinger (35), Argentine football midfielder Ever Banega (25), French football midfielder Yann M’Vila (23) and the young doctor Obinna Nnewuihe (20-I really can’t tell you). Best wishes to him and everyone else celebrating today.

Have a pleasant day wherever this post meets you.

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