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The jury is currently still out; however, they are formulating and deliberating a verdict on one Andrew Murray.  The defence came in with some last minute evidence marked exhibit W14 9EQ.  For the win at London’s Queens Club was a real statement to the tennis world….or was it?

 

The weakened field at the new Aegon Championships – due to the injury to Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer taking a week off, Novak Djokovic playing elsewhere, and smattering of the other top 10 players meant it was no real test for the fiery Scot.  Indeed the only time he broke sweat in the tournament was to sign all the over-sized tennis balls.  The main attraction of a Murray vs Roddick final was snatched away by a cruel twist of fate and ankle in the semis.  The big serving American had shown a real resurgence, new confidence in his ground-strokes, better movement and fitness following his weight-loss regime brought in by his new coach Larry Stefanki.  The final that should have been would have been a real examination of the World Number 3s’ credentials; as it was, we were merely treated to some good old-fashioned propaganda at the hands of the BBC.

 

There is no disputing the talent, skill, fitness, energy, strength and determination of Andy; murraydespite my tone I am an avid fan of all he has achieved, and delight in the way he rubs so many of the establishment, hierarchy and his fellow professionals up the wrong way.  I think that the current top four in the world are the best group there has been for some time, and to break into this exclusive club and cement his place would be the greatest British sporting achievement of recent years had the success of the Summer 2008 Olympics not been so great. 

Still the pressure and expectation heaped on his young shoulders by the media and public is far worse than any dip-in-form or niggling injury that may betide his preparations for the big one.  The screams and Union Jacks will be at fever-pitch for the whole time Andy is within sight of the new centre court beams at SW19.

The problem with Wimbledon other than all the pressure and expectation is plainly the fact the best players in the world come out to win.  The main contenders will all be there thinking they can win, but who will walk away champion?

 

Rafael Nadal: Reigning World Number 1.  Defending champion, holds the Australian Open and various Masters and smaller titles and holds the record with Bjorn Borg for 4 consecutive French Open titles. 

Not only did he win the greatest final ever seen, current World Number 1 Rafael Nadal is a bull and a bully on the court.  He can out fight and out-last any opponent.  His full western-grip forehand with lasso style follow through enables him to pull off near-impossible winners and outrageous angles.  The saving grace for Andy Murray here is his knee injury which has forced him to withdraw.

Roger Federer:  World Number 2. 5 time consecutive winner at Wimbledon, French Open Champion and reigning US Open champion; he also holds the record with Pete Sampras for most Grand-Slam titles(14) and stands alone with the most consecutive Grand-Slam finals(10).

Finally broke his jinx at Roland Garros, will undoubtedly surpass Sampras’ haul of 14 and  widely regarded as the best player ever.  Roger Federer has more class than the entire education system on these British Isles; not only is he truly a king on the tennis court, where mere mortals look for celestial guidance when in his presence,  he is  an active UNICEF ambassador and speaks fluently in three languages and has a basic grasp of another three .  Federer is clearly the favourite for the title and Murray will not look forward to meeting him in the final should he make it that far.  The lesson he received at Indian Wells last year must still haunt Murray and would certainly creep into his head should they meet.

 

 As for the rest of the field, many will flatter to deceive and show great promise; the names to look out for at the All England Club include:

  • Novak Djokovic
  • Juan Martin del Potro
  • Andy Roddick
  • Fernando Verdasco
  • Marin Cilic
  • Ivo Karlovic

 

Will Andy Murray win Wimbledon?  I’m sorry to say no, not yet.  This will be Roger Federer’s year, and along with it, his place in history as the Greatest Ever.

 federer

 CAS

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Well what a sporting week! For those of you who need a recap, here we go:

  • Rangers claimed the Scottish Premier League from a limp Celtic.
  • Newcastle and Middlesbrough were relegated to the Championship.
  • Burnley won promotion to the Premier League.
  • Paul Casey won the BMW championship at Wentworth to rise to world number 3.
  • Floyd Mayweather Jnr. wows London with his class in the build-up to his latest fight(and victory).
  • Leinster win the Heineken Cup against Leicester in Edinburgh.
  • Brawn GP and the resurgent Jenson Button win in Monaco to increase their strangle hold on Formula 1.

We were certainly spoiled for action this week, but I want to discuss the end of another great season in football, and specifically a real achievement in these boom and bust days.

Fulham are undoubtedly one of the smaller teams in London, they have a small, historic stadium on the banks of the Thames.  Money has been tight since the boom days of Jean Tigana and Chris Coleman, so where has this club come from to finish 7th in with the billionaires of the Premier League and just how was it done?

Fulham are actually the oldest professional football team in London, originating in the 1890s. The club quickly switched to Craimagesven Cottage, where it has remained, despite the attempts of many an owner. The club has never had the highs of many of its neighbours, and indeed has had more than its fair share of dark days. The club has been close to folding more times than deserved, with the value of its location being deemed higher than its role in the community.
But in recent years the club has been rejuvenated under the stewardship of the often deservedly maligned Mohamed Al Fayed. He took over the club in the late 90’s when the club was again on the brink of obscurity, and they haven’t looked back.
Enough with the history lesson, on with current affairs. Fulham are in Europe, finished in their highest ever position in the Premier League, and have the 2008/2009 Manager of the Year.

Roy Hodgson took over the club in late December 2007, they had won 2 games in 20 attempts; he dragged the sinking club gasping and gulping for air to the safety of the shore, and survival in the Premier League.  Fueled with some remarkable results – not least the 3-2 victory away at Manchester City, Hodgson gained the adoration of the fans and plaudits from the footballing world.  Since then Roy has taken Fulham up to the heady heights of the inaugural Europa League and well into the top half of the league.

HodgsonThis is not the first success story of this “old-school” football man.  Roy is probably best know for his time at F.C Internazionale Milano and the Swiss national team.  He started his managerial helm in Sweden at Halmstads in the mid seventies, and has gone on to manage 14 clubs and countries, mainly in continental Europe.  But the turn-around he has performed in West London has to be the Jewel in the Crown.  A club spent-out on previous managers, has quietly risen through far “bigger teams” into a much coveted European place.  Shrewd in the transfer market with signings like the fragile Messrs Johnson and Bullard and the revelations Murphy, Pantsil and the exceptional Hangeland(From his previous club Viking), Hodgson has taken the club by the scruff of the neck and installed a belief in football, not long-ball.  Training techniques, sport science, priceless tactical and man-management knowledge have come in and an air of confidence and belief surrounds the Cottage. 

Whether the glamour of European football is enough to keep the star performers, and entice real quality to the banks of the Thames, will, I’m sure have a real bearing on next season.  But there is no doubt in the class of this multi-lingual, master pundit, tactician and motivator, and his ability of managing at the top level at the youthful age of 61.  On this evidence he beats the old master(Sir Alex Ferguson) and the young pretender(David Moyes) to the Manager of the Year 2008/2009.

 

CAS