If you’re not remotely interested in Wimbledon or the Tour de France, the two biggest competitions on offer this week, you might as well skip to the end or turn off. It’s one of those days again!
It was the men’s quarter-finals at Wimbledon yesterday and Andy Murray did what he’s best at – getting stroppy and winning. The world #4 had a shaky time in the first set, annoyed by both the audience and his own carrier bag that had swept onto the court. Although the Scot is constantly moody and arguing with himself, I don’t blame him on this occasion.
Wimbledon, at least how I see it, is a dignified tournament, the jewel in the ATP’s crown. It’s filled with tradition, stuffy organisers and the fresh feeling of sitting outdoors in the great British summertime. Of course, that last point usually translates to sitting in the rain, wondering if the roof’s going to shut. In recent years, however, it seems to have turned into a bit of a spectacle. The crowds are getting a tad used to Murray reaching the semis and they’re getting a little complacent. Whilst they’re still cheering the Brit on (or deriding him as ‘Scottish’ if he fails), they seem to forget it’s one of the four (or five) biggest tournaments in the tennis calendar. The pressure on these athletes must be immense, even more so for Murray in front of his home crowd. So, when the Wimbledon faithful begin dicking around, starting half-hearted Mexican waves and yelling “Come on, Tim!”, you have to wonder why he bothers. Apart from the hefty prize money, of course.
The match started badly for Murray, although he didn’t play particularly badly. Spaniard David Ferrer was always going to be a tough opponent and the top-ranked men are practically on top of each other in the rankings. Ferrer took the first set despite a late fightback from Murray. The match continued to be close for the remainder of the four hours, with three of the four sets ending in tie-breaks. Murray will take heart from narrowly escaping being two sets down and that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a brilliant player who has also made the semis, didn’t have the best game of his life against Mardy Fish. He now has supposedly the best chance of his career to reach the Wimbledon final for the first time, but he’ll have to perform a miracle to overcome the winner of the Djokovic-Federer game.
Elsewhere, Jon Marray (similar name, different game), the Sheffield-based player has made it into the semi-finals, making him the first British doubles player in 35 years to do so. The feat is made more remarkable when you learn that he hasn’t played much tennis with partner Frederik Nielsen. Both players are waiting to see which of the two American pairs they will face for a chance in the final. Colin Fleming is also through to the third round of mixed doubles along with Su-Wei Hsieh of Chinese Taipei. The Scot and his team-mate will face fellow Brit Laura Robson and Dominic Inglot.
Who said British Tennis was in a bad way? Ignoring pretty much the entire women’s game and the majority of men’s tennis, that is…
Who’d be an athlete?
It’s around three weeks until the start of the Olympic Games and there are still competitions going on before it. Fortunately, as host nation, Team GB received plenty of automatic berths into a variety of events, so we won’t have to scrabble around for those last few places. However, just because it’s an Olympic year doesn’t mean all other annual events shut down. The 2012 Tour de France entered its fourth day yesterday and Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish was one of the favourites for the flat sprint. However, just a few kilometres from the finish line, the Brit was forced to swerve towards a pile-up and ended up falling off his bike at great speed. He was badly shaken up after the crash, but was fit enough to get back on his vehicle and finish the race. His main protector, Bernie Eisel, took a worse beating and required stitches above his eye.
Team GB will be relieved that one of their top medal hopes hasn’t been incapacitated, but he isn’t the only fear. It was reported yesterday that marathon runner Paula Radcliffe has picked up an injury and is worried that she won’t be fit for the Games. Again. Phillips Idowu is still struggling for fitness this season and has barely completed a competition. Daniel Sturridge is a doubt for the football competition. Then you have the athletes who have outright missed out on selection for their sports, despite having qualified at another time. The likes of Jenny Meadows has been overlooked for the 800m, on the day that she was granted gold for a previous competition in 2011 after the Russian winner was disqualified.
I can just imagine that there may be some more athletes that miss out on the games at the last hurdle and it isn’t a pretty picture. Dai Greene has a Diamond League fixture this week. Horses competing at the World Equestrian Festival could end their riders’ hopes in an instant. If we’re going to achieve the advanced medal target UK Sport are after, we need a fully-fit squad in the best of form. I’m not entirely convinced we can do it.
As mentioned, Mark Cavendish crashed out of Stage 4 of the Tour de France, putting him well back in the pursuit for the green jersey. Bradley Wiggins fared better and remains just seven seconds behind the yellow jersey.
There are no more British juniors left at Wimbledon. 2011 runner-up Liam Broady was one such casualty, although he was out-performed by Luke Bambridge. Wildcard Katy Dunne lost in the girls event to qualifier Nigina Abduraimova, ending a disappointing tournament for the youngsters.
It wasn’t much of a day for cricket yesterday as England’s third one-day international against Australia was a washout. Play was delayed for 4 hours in the hope that 28 overs a side could be played. However, despite gaps in the showers, the pitch never dried out enough and the game was abandoned. With only two games left in the series, England are assured of at least a draw, although they no longer have the possibility of a 5-0 whitewash to move them to the top of the rankings. Scotland’s game against Canada was also postponed.
England’s rugby league team were completely overpowered by the Exiles in the second International Origin match of the year. Despite starting well and only conceding one more try than their foreign opponents, they were undone by Brett Hodgson’s four goals. The series tie meant that the Exiles retained the trophy once again.
The group stage of the Six Red Championships Snooker Championships in Bangkok came to an end yesterday, with at least one shock. With four out of each group’s six players able to qualify, England’s Peter Ebdon narrowly missed the cut by only winning two of his games, with a frames difference of -4. He was joined by Nick Jennings, Stephen Maguire, Marcus Campbell and Martin Gould. In better news, Mark Selby and Lee Walker both topped their groups by winning all five games, with Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Lee and Ricky Walden also comfortably making the Round of 32 amongst several others. (At the time of writing, the Last 32 has just ended, with Bingham, Higginson, Morgan, J. White and S. Davis all crashing out)
FIBA’s Basketball European Championships for Small Countries Group Stage ended in a grudge match between Scotland and Wales, yesterday. Scotland had the most realistic chance of progressing to the semi-finals but were narrowly beaten 75 points to 76 by their fellow Brits. The result didn’t do either of them any favours and it was left to Malta and San Marino to claim their places. The two nations now enter a mini-league with Gibraltar to see who claims the 5th-7th spots. Scotland and Wales have already played one match and they have a day off today.
There’s a squash competition going on! The Victoria Open continued yesterday, with three British hopefuls aiming to reach the quarter-finals. In the women’s competition, Wales’ Deon Saffrey overcame Brazilian sixth seed Thaisa Serafini 11-9 11-4 11-9 in a close game. It wasn’t such good news for England’s Chris Tasker-Grindley and Scotland’s Greg Lobban who both crashed out in the second round.
The World Equestrian Festival is the last major championship before the Olympic Games and Great Britain will have been delighted to win a medal yesterday. Nick Skelton, riding Big Star, is entering his sixth Olympics this month and had the perfect preparation by winning the 14:15 Prize of Europe. Skelton took the €15,000 prize in Britain’s only victory of the day. His nearest British rival was Michael Whitaker, who could only muster 31st place on Viking.
Europa League Qualifying First Round:
Kuopion Palloseura v Llanelli
Cefn Druids v Mypa
Bangor City v Zimbru Chisinau
Cliftonville v Kalmar FF
Crusaders v Rosenborg
Scotland v Canada
Ireland v Afghanistan
Nottinghamshire v Yorkshire (t20)
Alstom French Open
Mark Selby v Graeme Dott
Judd Trump v Hossein Vafaei
Dominic Dale v Tom Ford
Barry Hawkins v Shaun Murphy
Joe Perry v Ricky Walden
Stephen Lee v Mark Davis
Tour de France Day 5
Speedway Elite League:
Birmingham v Coventry
Swindon v Lakeside
Redcar v Ipswich
World Pool Team Championship:
Chinese Taipei v Great Britain
World Equestrian Festival
International Rifle Competition Tirol in Innsbruck, AUT