Archive for December, 2011

Written by Rod Crowley: Predicting the likely outcomes of Ladies Tennis these days, certainly with any degree of certainty is becoming increasingly difficult. Retirement, injuries, attrition and even age have taken their toll on those players who had established themselves as among the best in the world in recent years.

Players such as Henin, Kuznetsova, Dementieva, Pierce and even Venus Williams are no longer around or are fading fast from the world stage. Their potential replacements, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Marion Bartoli and  Dinara Safina have all come and gone backwards since leaving a top list of thoroughly decent players but no real supreme champion among them.

Of course Serena Williams is still there but for how much longer? She missed much of 2011 through illness and although she reached the final of the US Open she was no match for the current number six in the WTA world rankings, Sam Stosur of Australia. Stosur of course was winning her first Grand Slam title emulating the first Grand Slam wins of Li Na who won the French Open in May and Petra Kvitova who triumphed at Wimbledon in July.

Belgian Kim Clijsters a player who has clearly benefitted by the loss of so many of her early career rivals did win the Australian Open in January giving her a fourth Grand Slam title. However, she got herself injured at the French Open where she lost in the second round and has hardly been seen since, missing out on both Wimbledon and the US Open. It is interesting to note that Clijsters now sits at number 13 in the world one place behind Serena.

Of course 2012 will start with the world number one Caroline Wozniacki still looking for her first Grand Slam crown. She will get her first opportunity in Melbourne at the Australian Open in January, and knows that to justify her position at the top she really does need to win. Clijsters is said to be fit again and will defend her crown while Serena will come to the tournament as the favourite to win her fifth Australian Open title.

We must not of course forget Maria Sharapova, who consolidated her comeback last year by finishing at number four in the world. She is also a past winner at the Australian Open, taking the crown in Melbourne in 2008 and was also runner up there to Serena in 2007.

Sharapova was always considered to have the potential to be one of the ‘greats’ of the game, especially after her stunning victory over Serena in the final at Wimbledon in 2004 when she was only 17 years old.

However, injuries, setbacks and contractual differences all led to her never quite realising this potential and she is still looking to add to the three Grand Slam titles she has already claimed. She did reach the final again at Wimbledon this year but was beaten in straight sets by Kvitova. She should be a major force on the circuit in 2012 but whether or not she will get back to her absolute best remains to be seen.

If there is one player who could take the woman’s game by storm it is indeed Kvitova, but she will need to learn consistency, something that her game has been lacking for some time. For instance, following her Wimbledon success she was promptly knocked out of the US Open in the first round. She certainly has the game to be a number one player and will start the New Year as the official number two.

World number three, Victoria Azarenka is another player thought to be a potential ‘Grand Slam’ winner, but so far she has failed to reach a final, although she was a semi finalist at Wimbledon. She wins regularly on the tour itself and has an outstanding game that should be good enough at the very top, all she needs to do now is prove it by claiming a first ‘Slam’ in 2012.

The 2012 year could well see a repeat of 2011 with four different “Grand Slam” winners and a new world number one, but who they will be is anyone’s guess

Written by Rod Crowley: Whether he wants the job on a permanent time basis or not, Stuart Lancaster will be the first man to be seriously considered by the RFU as the successor to recently resigned Head Coach, Martin Johnson. The 42 year old has been given the job of caretaker Head Coach for the 2012 Six Nations tournament which, if successful, will at the very least put him on the shortlist for the job on a permanent basis.
Lancaster, who coached an England XV back in June in their victorious game against the Barbarians, has also been in charge for the last ten games of the Saxons, England’s second team, impressively winning nine of them as well as lifting the 2010 Churchill Cup. Prior to that he had been Head of Elite Player Development at the RFU appointed following a successful two year stint between 2006-08 as Director of Rugby at Leeds.
Specialising on offence, Lancaster will be taking charge of the backs as well as England’s overall strategy during the Six Nations. He will be assisted by Saracens first team coach, Andy Farrell and will leave the job of scrummage coach in the hands of Graham Rowntree, who is the only member of Johnson’s coaching team to remain in post.
Certainly there is plenty to be excited about with this new set up, particularly as Lancaster is a hugely respected figure within Rugby Union while Farrell is working wonders at Saracens currently and Rowntree came out of England’s disastrous World Cup campaign with a huge amount of credit.
England fans will obviously want to know at the earliest what players from Johnson’s World Cup squad will be included in Lancaster’s Six Nations plans but he is known to be very keen on backs such Ugo Monye, Shontayne Hape, Ben Foden and Chris Ashton, whilst in the forwards he will be keen to give prop Alex Corbisiero a chance and is said to be in favour of replacing Lewis Moody as both captain and open side flanker with Northampton’s outstanding Tom Wood.
Team discipline on and off the pitch will be huge issues for Lancaster, who is known for his fiery nature and his attention to detail. He is also a very good motivator who uses the well known ‘stick and carrot method to great effect. One to one meetings with all the players will become a feature of England training in which he leaves players under no doubt of the job that they have been selected to do. He is also a coach that likes nothing more than getting on the pitch to practice with the players and he is not frightened to mix it within reason.
His first match in charge will be the Calcutta Cup encounter with Scotland on February 4th, followed by a trip to Rome before taking on Wales at Twickenham. Their fourth game will come in Paris against Rugby World Cup runners up, France before playing the final game of the tournament against Ireland at Twickenham on, of all days, St Patrick’s Day, March 17th. 
After making the World Cup Final, it is France who are the favourites in the six nations betting to win the tournament at odds of 2/1. Wales, who reached the semi finals are second favourites to win at 11/4 with England rated a 10/3 chance ahead of Ireland (13/2) and Scotland (25/1) and whilst they may have their work cut out to prove doubters wrong, the England players aren’t a bad collective of players and if rejuvenated under the guidance of Lancaster, then a challenge Six Nations would not be a surprise.

Written by Rod Crowley: There are very few boxing fans anywhere who would disagree that the Amir Khan v Lamont Peterson fight for world light-welterweight championship was a cracking encounter. There are however, many who would disagree with the outcome which awarded the American Peterson the verdict by majority decision after 12 thunderous rounds and in somewhat controversial circumstances.

It was certainly a decision that will divide opinion with the first salvo being fired by Khan himself who stated at the end of the fight that he thought he was fighting both Peterson and the referee, Joseph Cooper. He may of course have a point but his constant pushing and holding infringements cost him two in rounds seven and 12 and although he had Peterson of the deck in Round One, it was not enough on at least two of the judges’ cards to redress the balance.

It is certainly true that Khan was the better boxer, his dazzlingly speed and accuracy at times had a mesmeric effect on Peterson but the American showed far more determination, spending plenty of time chasing the back-peddling Khan around the ring. It was probably this more than anything else, that swayed the judge’s decision but he also hurt Khan with a number of jaw trembling upper cuts, followed by overhand rights and a host of hefty blows into the solar plexus that forced Khan to continually retreat.

Peterson also had a very vociferous home crowd behind him in Washington DC, which brings into question the match making qualities of Khan’s handlers. The fact that Khan lost in what was a very commendable voluntary defence of his two world crowns was bad enough but to lose them in the home town of his opponent was either a show of extreme boxing arrogance or match-making madness but it was a decision that certainly had a significant influence on the outcome of the fight, whether it was the support, the bias of judges or a combination of both.

It makes one believe that the Khan team underestimated Lamont Peterson, it was obvious to most that Peterson is not only a decent fighter, beaten only once which came at the hands of Timothy Bradley for the WBO Light-Welterweight title exactly three years earlier, a title that Bradley still holds. They also failed to appreciate that Peterson had never been stopped and although not the biggest puncher in the world, he has great timing. However, an even more important fact that Khan’s people forgot to acknowledge is the fact the Peterson is a Washington DC folk hero and he was going to be no pushover on home soil.

Peterson’s success in the Boxing ring is seen as a genuine “rags to riches” story that the folks of DC love to hear about and it is why they have adopted him as one of their heroes. A fight in DC therefore, in hindsight, is one that Khan’s team must be questioned about.

That said, Khan in fact started the bout very well and possibly could have won it in the opening round. He had Peterson down twice, although the first of those was ruled a slip by the referee, there was however no doubt about the other. The dogged Peterson was up quickly and although bamboozled by the speed of Khan’s fists, held on grimly until the bell sounded.

After that, the fight effectively became a brawl, with both men connecting regularly with Peterson able to bring Khan down to his level. Each time he struck Khan on the chin, Khan began to anger the crowd by showboating and taunting. It was as if he was trying to make the point that his renowned “glass jaw” that was so brutally exposed in his first round knock-out defeat by Breidis Prescott three years ago, had somehow metamorphosed into granite. Nonetheless, Khan stayed on his feet throughout the 12 hectic rounds but to little avail come the final bell.

The three judges scored the fight 113-112, 113-112 for Peterson and 114-111 for Khan, a majority decision for the American, made good by the two deducted points. 

Peterson was quick to confirm that he would be delighted to give Khan a re-match next year sometime but whether or not that happens and particularly whether it takes place in Washington DC or not remains to be seen. Team Khan will not be underestimating Peterson again!

By Rod Crowley: The 2011 “Race to Dubai” reaches its conclusion this week with the Dubai World Golf Championship at the Jumeirah Golf Estates and at the end of the four days, there will be two champions crowned, firstly the winner of the tournament itself and the 2011 winner of the “Race” itself, which was previously known as the European Tour Money list, will also be decided.

It is even possible that the same golfer could be crowned both! The event is only open the top sixty players on the tour and with $10,000,000 up for grabs in prize money, including $1.6 million to the winner, a competitive end to the season is guaranteed. 

Twelve months ago, the Race to Dubai was won by Martin Kaymer but it was Sweden’s Robert Karlsson who won this final tournament.

Having played most of his golf on the US PGA Tour this year, Karlsson only managed to qualify in 42nd place which means he is well out of contention of topping the money list whilst Kaymer, although consistent form on the tour in 2011 is currently in third place he is unable to overtake the current leader, Luke Donald.

Donald has also played much of his golf in the States this year but his performance have seen him establish a comfortable lead at the head of the Race to Dubai having earned €3, 856,394 from just 12 tournaments! World number one, Donald, also finished top the money list on the US PGA Tour and could become the first man in history to win both the American and European Tours in the same season.

His consistency has been truly remarkable with four wins and a host of high placed finishes, which has kept him at the number one spot in theworld golf rankings for most of the year even though a major win still eludes him.

Fittingly, the only man who can leapfrog Donald in the Race to Dubai is the current world number two, Rory McIlroy, who will need to win the final tournament this weekend and hope that Donald does not make the top ten. Any other outcome would result in Donald winning.

McIlroy has also had a remarkable year, the highlight being his record breaking victory at the US Open in June, earning the 22 year old a first “Major” and huge acclaim in the process.

There are many golfing commentators who believe that McIlroy can reach the same heights that Tiger Woods has done and the Ulsterman heads to Dubai on the back of a great win in Hong Kong last weekend and is the favourite amongst bookmakers to win but Luke Donald is also amongst the front runners.

Luke Donald, who suffered the loss of his father recently, during the same week as his wife gave birth to their second daughter, only returned to playing last week.

He was one of 12 golfers invited to compete in the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City but could only manage seventh place, leaving some questioning his frame of mind and current form. However, he knows what is on the line this week and he will be surely be in determined mood to deny McIlroy his slim chance of finishing ahead of him.

Winner for the second successive year in Sun City was Lee Westwood, who in the process broke the course record with an amazing third round of 62. He too has been in terrific form for most of the year which has secured him, along with Donald and McIlroy, in the top three in the world golf rankings.

Westwood won both the tournament and the Race to Dubai in its inaugural year in 2009 and although he is too far behind Donald this year to top the list, he still poses a major threat to both Donald and McIlroy in the tournament.

Former Brazilian captain Socrates had died in hospital when being admitted for food poisoning after eating a meal at a hotel. The hospital then placed the midfielder in intensive care after it was discovered he had suffered septic shock resulting from an intestinal infection in which bacteria from an infection seeps into the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body.

The idol of the 1982 World Cup had been rushed to hospital on Thursday, it was the third time Socrates has been taken to hospital since August when he spent nine days there due to a digestive haemorrhage caused by excessive drinking.

Socrates who racked up 60 caps for his country scoring 22 goals, played for Brazil at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

The bearded, lanky Socrates, a leading player of his era played alongside fellow midfielder Zico.

Socrates spent most of career at Brazilian side Corinthians, with spells with Botafogo, Fiorentina, Flamengo and Santos, while in 2004 he famously came out of retirement at the age of 50 to make a one-off substitute appearance for English lower-league side Garforth Town.

By Peter Wells: In a weekend full of intriguing rematches its undeniable that Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito is the biggest of the lot. The controversy of the last fight won’t be settled after this fight but it will defiantly die down a bit.

The first fight I remember very well, and not for all the same reasons as everyone else. After watching the build up to Ricky Hatton-Floyd Mayweather, I had suddenly fallen for boxing. I then brought my first Boxing Monthly magazine and there was a preview of Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito. I watched all the build up on HBO and was shocked when I saw that Margarito had won the next day. It’s hard to imagine that that was over 3 years ago now.

I was even more shocked when I watched Mosley-Margarito on Setanta Sports and saw Toni annihilated the way he was. But it all came clear later when it was announced that Antonio Margarito was caught with illegal padding in his hand wraps. It left him and trainer Javier Capetillo banned for a year in America, but the reminder will last forever.

HBO 24/7 was solely built on the hand wrap scandal and whether or not Margarito used those hand wraps in their first fight. Watching the fight though shows it was more to do with Margarito’s resilience and continual pressure that stopped Cotto, he was out on his feet at the end and all it needed was a few solid punches to finish him off. Illegal hand wraps or not I feel the conclusion of that fight would have been no different.

This fight though could be a lot different, Cotto seems to have moved on better, picking up the WBA Light Middleweight title. Both have lost to Manny Pacquiao since but Margarito’s defeat which was over a year ago seems to have had more effect.

Still Antonio’s all pressure style will cause Miguel problems all over again. Cotto can get a large lead by round 7 but then Margarito will come back, and at 153lbs his punches could be very effective. Cotto may hit the deck late on but if he survives could sneak a very tight decision.

By Peter Wells: You have to give it to Brandon Rios, after failing to make the weight yesterday, he still for now wants to carry on with the fight. By the time you read this the fight could be off and this preview will be completely irrelevant, but for now it is still on. Brandon has already been stripped of his WBA Lightweight title but may lose a lot more if John Murray defeats him tonight.

I hadn’t gave John much of a shot when first reviewing this fight but now it becomes a chance he can’t miss. Brandon Rios will come out like the warrior he is and taking out Murray early may be his best bet. Murray will make him miss early and when the time is right and Rios starts to slow down, John can step it up and force a stoppage in 8 rounds or less.