Archive for May, 2009

Rafael Nadal Defeated At Roland Garros – The Tennis World Shakes

May 31, 2009

As the minutes passed, the audience in the tribunes of Philippe Chatrier court grew and grew until there was not a spare seat in the house.  Murmurs circulated around the tennis complex.  Crowds outside the stadium stopped, all fixated by the events on the big screens. 

The tension mounted; could this really be the day?  Is this really happening? 

17:53 CET: Rafael Nadal is defeated by Robin Soderling, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, in the fourth round of the French Open. 

It is being called one of the greatest upsets in Grand Slam history; arguably the greatest sporting upset of the decade. 

The tennis world momentarily stopped.  The clay court world as one knew it ended.

Nadal has literally dominated the clay courts of Roland Garros for 4 consecutive years. Since his debut in the first round in 2005 when he was a mere 18 years old, he has never lost in his clay kingdom. Ever.  

A 31-0 match winning streak. Before this match, he dropped only seven sets in total at the French, the last time being in the 2007 final against Federer where Nadal won in four.  

This match against Soderling was only the first time that Nadal has lost 2 sets at the French Open, let alone 3. A record-breaking match in all respects. 

Indeed he does not just have dominance at Roland Garros. Including this defeat, Nadal has lost 4 times on clay in the past 4 years. He has won 4 consecutive French Open titles, 5 consecutive Monte Carlo titles and 4 Rome titles.

Many said that he couldn’t be beaten, that he could only get better. 

Moreover, there were many records riding on this tournament for Nadal. A chance to equal Borg’s 5 consecutive Roland Garros titles; a chance to surpass Guillermo Vilas’ 41 consecutive set streak; all quashed as a result of the scintillating Swede and his blitzing groundstrokes.

Soderling is currently ranked 25 in the world.  He is more favoured to indoor events due to his thunderous serve; he is also known for his cool off-court manner and on-court mental fragility.  

Certainly, a player of which Nadal should be no more afraid than the rest of his opponents. 

Add to this mixture the previous animosity and results between the two opponents, however, and you have an extremely volatile concoction, ready to explode at the slightest hint of ammunition. 

The two played at Wimbledon in 2007, in a match which lasted five days in total because of consistent rain delays. At one point, apparently annoyed by Nadal’s time-wasting between points, Soderling started to imitate the Spaniard, picking at his pants, touching his socks, you know the sort of thing.  

Since then, Nadal has purposefully dominated all their encounters, the latest in Rome culminating in the tellingly one-sided result of 6-0, 6-1 to Nadal. 

In this match, however, Nadal was not at his lethal best – but it was not a match thrown away by an ill-prepared champion, nor by a champion filled with hubris or contemptuousness for his opponent.  

Soderling was a revelation, deploying an apposite power game that left the great man scrambling, gasping, sighing, and finally bowing his head in defeat.

Aces, net play, screaming forehand winners both down the line and cross-court; a high ratio winner to unforced error count underlined the Swede’s successful and sedulous attacking game. 

A typical first-set-only attack was expected after the 34 minute, 6-2 beating, a set resembling that of many lower ranked players determined to make an impression on their rivals before fading out.  

Many high ranked seeds in the draw have suffered first-set losses before dominating their opponents – but this was a sustained, pumped-up and vigorous attack on the strongest of opponents.  

Nadal would win in 5 sets, surely? There is no way he could loose; he could come back from anything; he is one of the strongest players mentally on the tour. Yet… in a tantalizing final set tiebreak, the Swede reigned supreme.  

The most poignant element: Nadal expected a pen with which to sign the camera as he walked off the court, as is tradition for the winners at the end of each match.   Instinctively, he searched for one as he left; he didn’t know how it felt to loose on Court Philippe Chatrier. 

A result of this prodigious magnitude means that countless more hypotheses and predictions about the future of this year’s French Open—and about next year’s clay court season—will be posed. For now, let us be content with the sublime performance that has just been witnessed. 

A match for the history books.  That is becoming quite a theme with Nadal.

(Published on Bleacher Report; May 31st 2009)


Archive: Rafael Nadal – Closing The Gap To Become Tennis’ Most Influential Star

May 31, 2009

Roger Federer has been holding the ropes for a long time.  

Despite traditional Swiss secrecy, it is clear that he has consistently topped the tennis money list with an estimated 2008 annual income of $35.1 million from tournaments and endorsements.  He is ranked 11th on Sports Illustrated’s 2008 ranking of the top 50 earners in sports.

According to insiders, No. 1 player Rafael Nadal didn’t make the cut last year, making approximately $15 million from on and off court activities. Despite claiming his fourth French Open title, the Wimbledon Championship, and the 2008 Olympic Singles Gold in Beijing, not to mention other ATP Tour tournament titles, he’s not up with the big ones just yet.  

In at least one rivalry with Federer—earning power—he’s the one currently lagging behind.  

Nevertheless, this could be the catalytic year of change—both on and off court—for this rivalry.  After winning his first Wimbledon title and the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, Nadal signed deals with three corporate sponsors—including Mapfre SA, Spain’s largest insurer—bringing his endorsement total to nine. 

As he achieves more and more victories, he lures bigger sponsors. He counts L’Oreal SA, Banco Espanol de Credito, Inter Parfums Inc., and Babolat, among others.

It is not just in national markets where his brand is being developed. Marketers consistently use Nadal for promotions in Spain. But now Nike Inc, which is also the main sponsor for Federer, is repackaging him for a broader international audience. 

From last year’s US Open and officially from January this year, Nike has removed the pirate pants and sleeveless tops that have formerly been synonymous with the Spaniard, replacing them with more traditional shorts and polo tops.  

Nadal is uniquely marketable due to his symbiosis of humility and warrior-like power.  Off court, his long locks, brown eyes, and shy nature entice journalists and fans. On court, his explosions of power and strength mesmerize hardcore sports nuts. He is a safe rebel—the right mixture of ruggedness and respect.  

He has a connection with the youth of today with his high intensity and cool, youthful image. During practices, the sounds of his shots and his grunts echo throughout the stadia and across the courts. He attracts a crowd wherever he goes.  

Nadal is on his way to becoming a truly global brand. If he can continue in the same victorious manner for many years, then he will be the new Federer and David Beckham with his worldwide appeal and sporting successes.  

This is in direct contrast to his humble professional tennis beginnings. In his breakout year as a professional in 2005, Nadal won the Mercedes Cup final in Stuttgart, Germany, and with it a $50,000 Mercedes SLK 200 Kompressor car. To celebrate, he climbed his sweat-soaked body into the car and drove it a few yards.  

Just like Nadal’s tennis life, his income is also a family affair. Nadal lets his father, Sebastian, manage his money with the help of a financial adviser. 

The product of a modest, close-knit family, Nadal is taking a disciplined approach to his earning potential.  

He comes from a family of small-business owners. His family owns companies ranging from windows and restaurants to cafes and schools, all based in and around the island of Mallorca. Rafael intends to invest predominantly in real estate, hotels, bars, and restaurants.    

Nevertheless, he is adamant that the game of tennis and winning tournaments is most important. This should place him in a good standing for the coming years of dominance.  

Nadal refuses to let endorsements distract him from improving his game. He has already stated that too many endorsements mean too many training days away from the court—more work in an already jam-packed, 11-month season.  

Still, Federer will not let his title slip by so quickly. Speaking Swiss German, German, French, and English, he is a valuable commodity in a truly global sport. Famed for his fashion sense as well as his artistic tennis style, he has become good friends with the likes of Anna Wintour, editor of US Vogue, and has secured endorsements from Rolex, Gillette, Mercedes, and NetJets.  

He also maintains a traditional image, liking to keep links to his native country though endorsements with Swiss companies. He is currently ambassador for the likes of Jura, Nationale Suisse, and Rolex.  

Of course, the international sponsorship market—especially for long-term, blue-chip deals—is flat at the moment. Despite possible injuries, everyone knows that Nadal is a dependable entity who will return wholly advantageous results.  

Babolat has recently signed a 10-year deal with him; Nike is also banking on many more years with Nadal.

He is also maturing—his coach has allowed him one guilty pleasure, a $270,000 Aston Martin DBS, the same car driven by Daniel Craig’s James Bond in the recent movies. 

With his combination of a modest family, athleticism, youth, and humility, Nadal will shatter many more records. 

Soon, he may be the No. 1 tennis moneymaker as well as No. 1 in world rankings; but only when the time is right for Uncle Toni.

(Published on Bleacher Report; May 6th, 2009)

Archive: David Nalbandian Is Talented, But Doesn’t Perform Well On The Grand Stage

May 29, 2009

David Nalbandian once again showed his immense talent and gifted touch in his three set thriller against the current world No. 1, Rafael Nadal, in the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last week. 

This was Nalbandian’s first loss, and first loss of sets, to Nadal in all their meetings, their most recent being in the 2007 BNP Paribas Masters Paris Finals, ending in an emphatic 6-4, 6-0 win for Nalbandian. 

But, yet again, this recent match ended in a big-match defeat for Nalbandian, a trend that has carried throughout his professional tennis career. 

Nalbandian, when his game and mind is in good order, performs excellently on all surfaces —grass, clay and hard courts.  A former Wimbledon finalist, he lost to Hewitt in one of the most lopsided finals ever’ in the 2002 Championships, suggesting his unfortunate incapacity to perform on a grand stage. 

Following this, he disappeared from the upper echelons of the tennis stratosphere, only to shockingly reemerge and display his talent in the 2005 Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, playing stunning tennis in the final against an injured Roger Federer. 

Nalbandian, ultimately winning 6-7, 6-7, 6-2 6-1 7-6, was heaped with praise and then expectation for similar results and upsets the following year.  Nevertheless, this did not occur. 

In fact, Federer, one of the tennis greats, used to struggle with Nalbandian and his skills, illustrating just how powerful a fully operational Nalbandian could be. 

Nalbandian won the Junior US Open title against Federer in 1998 and in the period 2002-2004, when Federer was striving to reach the peak of the professional game, Nalbandian won their first five consecutive meetings comfortably. 

Their matches have always been, and perhaps will continue to be, epic—but, of course, only when Nalbandian gets into an attacking frame of mind. 

His excellent passion and skill was further demonstrated, more recently, in his blistering end of season run of results in 2007; in the Masters Series tournament in Madrid he beat Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and then Roger Federer consecutively in a run to the title—he was only third player since 1994 to beat the Top 3 players in same tournament.

The following week, he once again got the better of Nadal and Federer, again winning a coveted Masters trophy. 

He became the first player to defeat No. 1 Federer and No. 2 Nadal twice in a tournament en route to his two titles and first player to beat both in an ATP final, dropping only one set (to Federer) in the Paris tournament. 

This late surge enabled him to climb from number 25 in the world to finish in the top 10, at number 9; nevertheless he just missed out on a place at the 2007 Tennis Masters Cup.  There is no doubt that the other participants may have been relieved over this outcome!

So what is it about Nalbandian’s game that hurts the top players so frequently and so deeply? 

Taking the ball early, on the rise, combined with a lethal flat, hard, fast shot proves difficult to counteract by even the quickest, most agile movers on the tour. 

His clean strike and accurate placement of the ball, combined with his double handed backhand (notably producing winners down the line) make his groundstrokes powerful and effective from all corners of the court. 

Even Nadal finds this combination tricky to overcome; the recent Indian Wells display was a case in point.  Nadal looked practically sluggish, off-balance and wholeheartedly confused as to how to win a single point against Nalbandian during the majority of the match. 

It appears that a change in coach and team are the catalysts for Nalbandian’s upsurges in success.  Before his 2007 wins, he hired a new coach, Martin Jaite, to give him a refreshed outlook on his tennis game. 

Equally, before his run to the quarterfinals and match-up with Nadal at Indian Wells, he joined with former ATP professional from Argentina, Luis Lobo, and fitness trainer Mariano Seara. 

There is also a question of Nalbandian’s dedication to tennis. He is extremely passionate about rally driving and even partnered the professional driver Marcos Ligato and created the Tango Rally Team, which competed at the Rally World Championships in Andalgala, in northeast Argentina, in 2007. 

He was not expected to get into a car, but he drove a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and lost a knockout round against fellow Argentine and would-be champion Alejandro Cancio, who defeated Ligato in the finals. 

Clearly there is a conflict in interest for Nalbandian, who needs to decide where to fully dedicate his energy. 

So, when shall we see Nalbandian resurface in the latter stages of a tennis tournament again?  Perhaps when he’s recovered from this loss, hired yet another Argentinean coach and has finished with another dose of rallying and general miscellany—or perhaps next week in Miami. 

One thing is for sure—we’re all looking forward to the result of that tournament, when it comes.

(Published on Bleacher Report; March 22nd 2009)

Archive: Masters 1000 Tournaments – The Toughest Test?

May 26, 2009

Tennis Masters Series tournaments have been a vital part of the ATP tour for many years. 

First called the Championship Series in 1990, then Super 9 in 1996, then Masters Series in 1999—they are now remodelled for the 2009 ATP World Tour, renamed as Masters 1000 events.  

The nine tournaments across the world—Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, Canada (alternating between Montreal and Toronto), Cincinnati, Shanghai, and Paris, in chronological order—form the backbone of the 11-month, worldwide, and multi-surface men’s tennis tour.  

This year the jewel in the crown, the World Tour Finals, will be based in London at the unique O2 arena.  A culmination of the year’s eight best tennis players and best ATP events, the Finals always produce excitement and drama as the world’s best fight it out for the year end championship in front of thousands of fans.  

Not only do these prestigious tournaments form the basis for the ATP’s schedule, they pose some of the toughest tests for players.  The majority of the events have a 64-man format—yes, the top eight seeds receive a bye in the first round, meaning there are only 56 players—but from Wednesday until the final Sunday—five rounds—it’s play everyday, for everyone.  

Moreover, the restricted drawsheet, combined with the current immense breadth and depth of skill and talent within the top 50, even 100 players, means that each and every match for all players are potential upsets.  

Seemingly they form a test to rival even the Slams, which are played out over two weeks (with almost always one full days’ rest between matches).

Of course, Slam matches are best-of-five sets, adding to the endurance element of these most illustrious championships (and the need for one day’s rest!)—but often in the first few rounds, top players outclass their much lower-ranked opponents.  Not so in Masters events with the three set ‘sprints’ against often evenly-matched opponents.    

Of course, this is excellent for fans and sponsors alike.  Arguably no other type of tournament offers such value for money; from the first day, players like Marat Safin, Stanislas Wawrinka and Mardy Fish, joined later in the week by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, mean that there are enticing match-ups proceeding on every court.  

Additionally fans can get up close and personal with all the top players during practice—again, the short duration of each tournament ensures that most players will practice every day.   

Consequently the tournaments are lucrative for sponsors and broadcasters—even in current difficulties, corporate sponsors are lining up to endorse Masters events.

BNP Paribas, already headlining the BNP Paribas Masters Internazionali BNL d’Italia and Monte Carlo Masters, has this year acquired the BNP Paribas Open Indian Wells, formerly the Pacific Life Open, as one of its principal tournaments. 

The lucrative nature of the events mean they have also been the most contentious.  One only has to look at the 2008 lawsuit between the ATP and the organisers of the former Hamburg Masters Series event to see how important the tournaments are to sponsors, cities and fans.  

Hamburg, annoyed that their Masters clay tournament was to be relegated to a 500 event in order to make way for a richer, more modern clay event in Madrid, accused the ATP Tour of violating antitrust laws and creating an ‘illegal cartel’, with Hamburg to be used as a ‘minor league’ event, unable to attract elite players, and subsequently loose vital revenue.

In this landmark battle, the ATP won; this year, the third and final clay court Masters event of the year is in a new complex in Madrid (from May 11-17).  

Currently, Andre Agassi is the title-leader, with 17 to his name.  Can Rafael Nadal—or Roger Federer—soon equal or surpass this?  They hold 15 and 14 titles respectively.

All in all, it is fair to say that the Masters 1000 events offer a world-class tennis experience for players and spectators. They may not have the prestige, or endurance and hype, of Grand Slam events—but they certainly have huge importance in players’ fight for tennis supremacy.  

You’d be a fool to miss the action.  

(Published on Bleacher Report: May 9th 2009)

Where Does Value Come From?

May 23, 2009

Moral philosophers differentiate intrinsic and instrumental value.

Intrinsic value involves things that are good in and of themselves, such as beauty, truth, and harmony.

Instrumental value comes from things that facilitate action and achievement, including awareness, belonging, and understanding. 

Economic value is rooted in worth and exchange. It is created when finished products and services have more value – as determined by consumers – than the sum of the value of their components.

Today, the world revolves, not around original knowledge and awareness, but around distributing the knowledge of others for economic value.  The world of communication, both physically and metaphorically, has metamorphosed from the era in which Nietzsche, Habermas and even Kuhn spread the meaning of value, opinion and knowledge. 

 The manner in which one can access millions of sources, can search through almost unlimited information and determine its significance and can communicate with a global audience is changing the definition of how intrinsic and instrumental value are measured in today’s society.

The notions of exclusivity of information and sources that provide new and original knowledge are being stripped away by contemporary communicative developments and the idea that absolutely everyone can analyse, critique and demonize everything. 

True understanding is less important; conversely availability and constant awareness of morsels of news are imperative in today’s interconnected, interdependent and demanding world.

Beauty and harmony are being suppressed by the flux and fluidity of daily life.  Beauty is agonomical, irrelevant.  There is no time to create and imagine; only produce. 

As an example, today ordinary adults can observe and report news, gather expert knowledge, determine significance, add audio, photography, and video components and publish their content far and wide (or at least to their social network) with ease.  There are few long-lasting or tangible achievements in the thickening cloud of often trivial and inconsequential writing that surrounds us. 

A paradox – an interchangeability between individuals.  The value of elements so intrinsic to intellectual self-expression and technological progression have been reduced to a homologous structure, all for economic purposes. 

This may sound positive; but where is the hunger and thirst for original thought and for the acquisition of specialised skills; the desire to mature, develop, evolve?  There is a cheapening of beauty and understanding, an extraordinary sameness and simplicity on an ever-increasing scale.

If value is to be created, everyone must contribute their own thought, emotion and feeling to add both intrinsic and instrumental value to our lives.  There should be no need, nor expectation, to follow the banality of contemporary life and the lonely, impersonal and dispassionate manner in which we believe we must operate.

There is nothing more necessary than truth, and in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value.  With truth comes value – and value must be nurtured in our lives. 

It was Einstein, a ‘scientific philosopher’ of his time, who stressed that knowledge must continually be renewed by ceaseless effort, if it is not to be lost.

We must embrace new technologies and new social structures and with them the economic opportunities that arise.  However simultaneously we must strive to nourish the elements which have allowed us to progress to this point in our evolution, our engagement with and thirst for knowledge and value – for the unrelenting beauty of real truth is that there is nothing more necessary and free.

Is Britain Sinking Deeper Into Economic Troubles?

May 21, 2009

A new financial report signals that Britain is still in the depths of economic turmoil and will not recover from the downturn soon. 

The Standard and Poor (S&P) rating agency, the benchmark index for traders, have concerns over the government’s deteroriating finances and its limited ability to lift the debt burden in the short to medium term. 

The S&P lowered its outlook on Britain from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’, prompting the British Pound to fall against the dollar and stocks and bonds to decline in global markets. 

‘Even assuming additional fiscal tightening, the net general government debt burden could approach 100 percent of gross domestic product and remain near that level for the medium term,’ the S&P report noted. 

According to the S&P, Britain is in danger of loosing its AAA rating, the highest credit rating standard.  The rating assesses the credit worthiness of a corporation’s debt issues and is a key financial indicator to potential investors of debt securities such as bonds.

Members within the AAA category are considered prime grade and safe for investors, with a technical credit risk of almost zero, for example government bonds.  Needless to say, this basic definition has been somewhat manipulated due to the unprecedented events in the credit crunch.

If Britain were to loose its top-level credit rating, it would be more difficult for the government to raise money through bond sales and make it more expensive finance its increasing debt burden, adding to its economic troubles. 

Britain would be the fifth country in Western Europe after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, to have its credit rating lowered.  Even for governments, it is much more difficult to raise than to decline in investment grading, suggesting that if a change in rating were to occur it would have possible long-lasting and detrimental effects to the government’s ability to raise capital. 

Nevertheless, Britain’s latest bond auction of £5 billion on Thursday was well received.  This was a relief to the government and market analysts after a similar sale in March failed.  Moreover other renowned ratings agencies, such as Moody’s and Fitch, have not altered their view on Britain’s prospects. 

The money that the government has borrowed, now hoping to be returned through bond auctions, was intended to help Britain escape the worst aspects of the recession but the spending program has also burdened the government with the highest debt level since World War II.  It’s budget deficit reached £8.5 billion, in April. The Treasury said that it expected the deficit to reach £175 billion, or 12.4 percent of gross domestic product, this year. 

Although successful bond auctions may help to recuperate credit and provide the government with fiscal relief in the short term, it is debatable whether the erosion in the government’s financial base will return to a safe level in a suitable timeframe. 

If this were not to be the case, necessary government spending may have to be reduced, further disadvantaging those in the country that are suffering the most economically. 

Currently it seems that there is no way for the government to escape economic volatility without encountering further uncontrollable and problematic consequences for the British financial system and British citizens. 

With Gordon Brown facing a General Election next year, one hopes – if only for his party’s sake – that further fiscal problems can be appropriately managed, if not entirely avoided.

An Open Field And High Expectations For All Players At Roland Garros

May 21, 2009

If one had asked any tennis commentator or fan for the name of the Men’s French Open Champion at the start of last week—or indeed at any time in the past year—one would have been hard pushed to find any name but Rafael Nadal uttered in complete confidence.

Yet the 15th Masters Series win and 58th title overall for Roger Federer in last week’s Madrid final against Nadal—in straight sets and in little over an hour—has somewhat shaken the predictions for the imminent Grand Slam.  

Next Sunday in Paris, the French Open begins. Federer’s victory in Madrid has given at the very least a little hope that Nadal’s fifth successive win on Phillipe Chatrier court is not done deal.   

Moreover the latest triumph may have done wonders for Federer’s confidence; but on the other hand, as the tennis world heads for his majestic palace, has it really damaged Nadal’s? Only time will tell. 

The draw is yet to be decided, but what about other hopes on the men’s side?

Juan Martin Del Potro is emerging to become a true threat to all players, including the Big Four, on all surfaces. His recent win against Andy Murray in Madrid and victory over Nadal in Miami demonstrates his ability to step up to the highest level. Can he produce similar results in a Slam? 

Similarly there is Fernando Verdasco, a player who has finally been able to assimilate all his talent and mental clarity. The combination of his improved fitness regimen and new mental outlook will surely enable him to defeat many of his opponents in brutal best of five-set matches.  

Nevertheless, his contest against Nadal in Rome was of epic proportions, with long, punishing rallies and powerful stokes; yet in a repeated matchup in Madrid, he failed to present the same sort of determination. Which Verdasco will appear in Paris? 

Ernests Gulbis, a young star yet to make significant inroads into the highest echelons of the men’s tour, made an excellent run to the quarterfinals last year, only to fade into the background of the tennis scene in recent months.  Perhaps this will be his time to shine again?  

There are plenty of appealing French players to keep the home crowd excited. One wonders how far the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon and Paul-Henri Mathieu can go—clay is perhaps not the best surface to display these players’ skills. Gael Monfils is France’s best hope for a homegrown champion. 

Other intriguing contests to look out for on the men’s side?  There are plenty. With the deep talent in the men’s tour, long, hard-fought matches may materialise from the opening rounds involving players such as David Ferrer, Nikolay Davydenko and even Ivan Ljubicic.   

Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 French Open winner, has been awarded a wild card. Can he cause any extreme upsets?  Probably not, but it will certainly be interesting to see how he fares when he is pitched against players from effectively a different tennis generation.   

Certainly the latter stages of the tournament will be prodigious. The draw could make all the difference for the winning chances of the top-ranked players.  

Who may play each other in the semifinals?  If there are no upsets along the way, will it be No.1 rank versus No.3—Nadal versus Novak Djokovic, certainly an anticipated tussle—or Nadal versus Murray, leaving the tightest duel on the other side of the draw for Federer and Djokovic?

The weakest link is possibly Murray, who has yet to prove true clay-court credentials and may not even reach the semifinals, adding yet another dimension to events.  

Arguably the crucial distinction between semifinal lineups could make all the difference for the Championship result.   

The women’s Championship is, seemingly as always, much harder to call. One cannot look past Venus and Serena WIlliams heading deep into the tournament, as they always do in slams—yet clay has notoriously been a weak spot in their impressive arsenal.  

Dinara Safina, the current World No.1, is fresh from a win in Madrid last week—clearly she is in good form on clay. Equally, who can forget last year’s epic battles with Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva in the quarterfinal and semifinal respectively, where she saved dozens of match points and turned the matches around?

Clearly the French Open means a lot to this young star and with the women’s field so open, she is a great contender for the title.  

Caroline Wozniacki, now ranked No.9 in WTA rankings, is an impressive young player that has a great chance to make considerable impact. After her run to the Madrid final, she withdrew from this week’s Warsaw Open with a lower back injury, but one hopes that this is only a precautionary measure in preparation for Paris.  

What about the likes of Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic? The latter pulled out of Madrid with an inflamed right knee, but she is certain that there is no danger to her French Open prospects and the defence of her title. Will the electric atmosphere and importance of a Slam change these ladies’ attitudes and results, helping them to escape their malaise?  

Tennis fans should be excited. We have a great fortnight of tennis ahead.

Can Roger Federer’s Wish Be Granted On The Roland Garros Clay?

May 20, 2009

If one had asked any tennis commentator or fan for the name of the men’s French Open champion at the start of last week—or indeed at any time in the past year—one would have been hard pushed to find any name but Rafael Nadal uttered in complete confidence.

Yet the 15th Masters Series win and 58th title overall for Roger Federer in last week’s Madrid final against Nadal—in straight sets and little over an hour—has been met with surprise and jubilation in equal measure across the tennis world, somewhat shaking the predictions for the next Grand Slam.  

Next Sunday in Paris, the French Open begins—and Federer’s victory in Madrid has given at least a little hope that Nadal’s fifth successive win on Philippe Chatrier court is not a done deal.   

Hyperbole aside, Federer’s chances may not be as great as some would like to believe. 

The same optimistic rumours circulated two years ago when Federer snapped Nadal’s 81-clay match winning streak by beating him triumphantly in the Hamburg Masters Series Final (the event which preceded the French Open and has now been replaced by Madrid). 

As has been the case for four consecutive years, Nadal pushed all fears aside with a four-set win over Federer in the Championship final.

At least Federer can draw from the fact that he stopped yet another Nadal clay-court streak with this latest tussle, marginally improved his head-to-head record and ranking points difference against Nadal, and, once again, stopped Nadal’s hopes of winning all three clay-court Masters events in one season.  

Federer has no doubt gained some confidence in his game and, most crucially, in his mind, which will with all hope release some of the previous months’ tensions and fears in time for Paris. Mental fitness plays arguably the biggest role in tennis—especially in matchups with Nadal—so perhaps this clay-court victory will strengthen Federer’s soul.   

“I’m sorry that I spoiled the party,” Federer said to the Madrid crowd during his prizewinner’s speech. Yet will there be an even bigger party to spoil—and a gargantuan shock to uncover—in the coming weeks?

Could this really be the year in which Federer completes the career Grand Slam? 

Of course, Nadal has other plans. Tellingly, in his last press conference, he boldly stated: “Roger earned this victory, but I wasn’t 100 percent. This tournament has no meaning for Roland Garros.”

This latest victory may have done wonders for Federer’s confidence; but on the other hand, as the tennis world heads for his majestic palace, has it really damaged Nadal’s?  Only time will tell.

(Published on Bleacher Report; 19th May 2009)

audioBoo Boosted By Stephen Fry: Is It The New Twitter?

May 19, 2009

audioBoo, the iPhone audio blogging service, has a famous new member, Stephen Fry, dropping sound-bites into the ever-expanding blogosphere.  Is he going to make it a new blogging phenomenon, in parallel with his famous support of Twitter?

Fry is one of Britain’s biggest Twitter advocates – and his immense popularity means that he is currently has 500,000 followers – but more recently he has also been using the iPhone application audioBoo to chart his day to day travels and experiences in an audio format.

audioBoo is an application that was launched in March 2009.  It lets the user record short messages (called ‘Boos’, with 3 minute recording limits) on his or her iPhone and subsequently post them online, through the audioBoo application, for others to hear. It’s fast, it’s fun, and Fry is backing it.

Can the spoken word beat Twitter for ease of use and convenience?

One can certainly fit more than 140 characters into a short voice clip, but the audioBoo application only works on iPhones, limiting its functionality and availability for use away from a computer for many. 

It is also perhaps sometimes unsuitable to talk out loud – the written word is silent and private (well, private between oneself to the whole world wide web…).

Like Twitter however, Boos are embeddable in websites (and links to individual boos can be created and posted on facilities such as Twitter) and one can subscribe to users’ Boo feed through iTunes.  One can even add the location of Boos via the iPhone’s GPS system.

But the real appeal of audioBoo over Twitter for Stephen Fry?

“For one thing I’ve come out without my reading glasses”.

Expect audioBoo to become the next web phenomenon amongst the shortsighted soon.

The Extent Of The Expenses Fallout

May 18, 2009

It is a story that has ‘shaken Westminster to its foundations’ and which continues to lead most news bulletins and broadsheet front pages.

Even after The Daily Telegraph finishes publishing its sensational headlines and salacious details of the British MP expenses scandal, there is no doubt that the story will keep running and running.

Voters are angry.

The centre of Britain’s governmental and ruling system, in a democracy where everyone is supposedly equal, is failing.  It is rotten to the core.  How can it advise other external agencies to act and how can it criticise their policies when its own perilous foundations have been exposed and ridiculed in full view of the public? 

Even worse in the short term, however, is the fact that UK-wide European and English local elections are imminent, due to take place next week.

The conventional wisdom is that smaller parties not represented at Westminster – and so untouched by this week’s stories – might benefit, to the detriment of the major parties that have been so heavily featured in negative press in recent days.

A YouGov poll suggests that the UK Independence Party’s support in the European poll stands at 15%, only five percentage points short of Labour’s standing.

Nevertheless this is just data from one short-term poll.  More information will be needed to come draw firm and long-lasting conclusions.  Still, there is little doubt that the expenses row will have a dramatic impact on the political futures not just of individual MPs but also their parties as a whole.

Yet is this just another case of media over-exposure and overreaction?  Many commentators, while agreeing that this latest slew of scandalous activities needs to be addressed, claim that one should stop the growing obsession with individual lives and look at the bigger picture. 

Voters, newspapers, television and radio programmes and political analysts should concern themselves primarily with the manner in which politicians conduct their true job – that is, looking after the public interest in terms of health, education and crime.

While many voters say that they feel angry and betrayed by their representatives, the majority echo the sentiment that the expenses story is purely a journalistic made-up frenzy and not a big deal in the long term. 

It is certain that this latest story is yet another blow to the credibility of MPs and their profession.  Nonetheless it should not cause people to lose faith in politics and to be put off voting.  We do not vote for the political system – we vote for those individuals that we believe will do what is right for the nation – and in reality that is all that matters.