Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sporting Picks of 2011, Part 2 - July 3rd

All England Championships, Mens Final; Wimbledon; Novak Djokavic beat Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3

Serbia's Novak Djokovic won his first Wimbledon title and proved himself the best player in the world with a stunning win over Rafael Nadal.  Djokovic came through 6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3 to end Nadal's reign as Wimbledon champion, before overtaking the Spaniard as world number one on Monday.  It was his 50th win in 51 matches and his fifth win over Nadal this year.  He becomes the first Serbian man to win Wimbledon, his third Grand Slam title after two Australian Open victories.

Just when we were getting used to the possibility that the King (Federer) was dead, long live the King (Nadal).  Djokovic came along and had one of the all time great years in Tennis history.  From the start of the year until the end of the US open, Djokavic lost only one match (the French Open semi to Federer), amassing the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – to add to his Australian Open win in 2008.

This match makes it into the list for three reasons.  Firstly because for the first time since 2004, neither Nadal or Federer held the number one ranking in the world.  Djokovic’s semi final win over Jo-Wilfred Tsonga was enough to take him to number one.

Secondly, because of Wimbledon’s stature in the game this win acted as confirmation that Djokavic had reached the level attained by Nadal & Federer in previous years.  Indeed, this win was probably at that point Djokavic’s best performance.  Djokavic’s break in the twelfth game of the first set acted as the catalyst as Djokavic then bombarded Nadal with winners throughout the second set.  Nadal did come back in the third, but faltered in the fourth when Djokovic broke straight away and would break Nadal again before winning the match in the fourth.
The last reason is that this Wimbledon felt like the start of the changing of the guard.  Federer failed to make the quarter finals for the first time since 2002, while Nadal showed that we wasn’t as infallible as people thought he was when he won 3 out of the four Slam titles in 2010.  Indeed up until the semi final Nadal seemed to be on cruse control.

If it is the start of the changing of the guard, then the rivalry between Federer and Nadal will be in its last days (at the highest level at least).  However the rise of Djokavic means that the end is not yet in sight for Mens Tennis latest golden age.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Sports Picks of 2011, Part 1 - May 28th

56th European Cup Final, Wembley – London: Barcelona 3, Manchester United 1

"Barcelona delivered a masterclass to inflict another Champions League final defeat on Manchester United as Lionel Messi inspired an emphatic victory at Wembley.  Manchester United's hopes of emulating their first European Cup final success here against Benfica in 1968 foundered as Barcelona deservedly repeated their win against Sir Alex Ferguson's side in Rome two years ago.  The pattern of an entertaining game bore an uncanny resemblance to events in the Stadio Olimpico in 2009 as United started with optimism and intent before being swamped by Barcelona's brilliance."

The problem with modern sports reporting is that every win is instantly translated into hype and hyperbole.  Every once in a while though a performance comes along that makes it difficult to separate the hype from the truth.  It is true that Manchester United made exactly the same mistake that they did in the 2009 final, in going in with a 4-4-1-1 formation, it is also a possibility that Barcelona would still have won had Manchester United gone into the game with an extra midfielder.  However the hype surrounding Barcelona’s win does seem over the top.

What Barcelona did do was provide proof, if it were needed, that they are the dominant force in European football at the moment.  Both Vidic and Ferdinand, international defenders, looked lost trying to track Messi playing in what had been dubbed the “false 9” position (ie, a player who’s starting position is as a forward, who vacates that position to take up a separate position).  Once Barcelona took control of the midfield, Messi (below, celebrating his goal) dropped back to run at the United defence, providing space for Rodriguez and Villa to move into, from the flanks.  The problems come in trying to place this Barcelona side into the pantheon of great European sides.

On the one hand, they have won three European Cups in five years, and would have won three in a row were it not for Jose Mourinio’s tactics in the semi final last year.  The second win defined both the Barca tici-taka style and the Spanish national side’s tici-taka style that took them to their maiden World Cup win.  This Barcelona side, and the players who form the nucleus of the Spanish national side, have re-invented possession football for the 21st Century and re-defined the pressing game.

On the other, the best European sides have retained the European Cup.  The last side to achieve that feat was the AC Milan side that featured the Dutchmen of Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten.  Liverpool won back to back European Cups in 1977 and 1978, while Ajax and Bayern Munich dominated the early Seventies by winning 3 in a row each.  Going back further Inter Milan won back to back European Cups in the mid Sixties, as did Benfica, who supplanted 5 in a row champions Real Madrid.  The point is that to truly be considered one of the great European sides, this Barcelona side needs to retain the European Cup.  After all, good though the Juventus side that had David’s, Del Piero & Zidane was, the road-block to greatness was that habit of loosing at the final hurdle (twice, in 1997 and 1998).

Yes, Barcelona’s performance in winning their fourth European Cup was exceptional, which is why they are on this list.  Remember though they are still a wee bit to go until they can be considered one of the greats.  Assuming of course that Guardiola survives the three year rule that is.

Monday, 2 January 2012

First Footing 2012

Firstly can I wish all the readers of this blog a Happy New Year!

Secondly, blogging will be a wee bit light just now.  I am working on my sporting picks of 2011 just now.  These will appear soon.

All the best for 2012