As the tennis caravan rolls on to the grass courts of England the focus will continue to be on the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Yes, even Nadal for besides his 12 titles at Roland Garros, the supremely athletic and fiercely competitive Spaniard has also won two Wimbledon titles.
Those days are gone when a great champion could win at the French Open but could not repeat the feat at Wimbledon with the surfaces being so different. It was also the other way around. All-time greats like Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors who won several Wimbledon titles between them never won the French Open. Other all-time greats of a similar period – the 80s and 90s – won the French Open several times but came a cropper at Wimbledon among them Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander and Jim Courier. Before the current trio who have won all four titles between them it was the peerless Swede Bjorn Borg who proved his versatility in the 70s and early 80s by winning six French Open titles and five consecutive Wimbledon titles. About the only exception in the 90s was Andre Agassi with the flamboyant American winning all the four titles.
But in the new millennium since the dominance of the Big Three started with Federer winning the first of his Wimbledon titles in 2003 he, Djokovic and Nadal have performed the feat of winning all the four Grand Slams. It’s really quite amazing to think that for the last 16 years the Big Three along with Andy Murray have totally dominated at Wimbledon. Federer has won the title eight times, Nadal and Murray twice each and Djokovic the defending champion four times.
And while all this speaks volumes of the skill and durability of these players it is also a reflection on the younger players who have not been able to challenge them at Grand Slams even as they have been winning ATP Tour events. The best of the current lot are the trio of Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem who for the last two years has finished runner-up to Nadal at Roland Garros. On grass though it would appear that Tsitsipas and Zverev have the better chance and in fact the 20-year-old Greek seems pretty anxious to break the monopoly going by his recent statements. Tsitsipas has spoken of it being a time for change of guard at Wimbledon and has spoken of himself and Zverev as being potential champions at the all England club next month. He said he hoped there would be a new name on the trophy with Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt in 2002 being the last man outside the Big Four to triumph at Wimbledon.
English pacer, James Anderson, who is not part of the ongoing Ashes Test series due to injury, feels that pitches in the series have been more suitable for Australia than the host nation like it was against India, last summer, where England reigned supreme to win the five-match Test series by a margin of 4-1. England are trailing the Ashes series by 1-2 with one Test remaining to be played at the Oval. Australia have already retained the Ashes series.
"I think they've (pitches) probably suited Australia more than us," he said. "I would have liked to have seen a bit more grass but that's the nature of the game here. When you're selling out - like Lancashire selling out five days of Test cricket - it's hard not to produce a flat deck but, you know, that's one of the frustrations from a player's point of view. We go to Australia and get pitches that suit them. They come over here and get pitches that suit them. It doesn't seem quite right.
"I thought they were good pitches here against India [last year]. I thought they weren't green seamers but I thought they suited us more than India. We as a country don't use home advantage enough. When you go to Australia, go to India, Sri Lanka, they prepare pitches that suit them. I feel like we could just be a little bit more biased towards our own team," added James Anderson, who has scalped 575 wickets in 149 Tests.
One of the reasons why the Indian team is performing admirably in international cricket is because there are any number of talented youngsters around ready to take over whenever the seniors strike a poor patch, are injured or out of favour. Hanuma Vihari is a case in point. Playing six batsmen in the Tests against West Indies would normally have seen the inclusion of Rohit Sharma at No 6. But Hanuma Vihari was given the chance instead and grabbed it with both hands. Suddenly the player on the borderline is now a cert in the middle order.
Against South Africa the middle order wears a settled look with Vihari being preceded by Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. There is a question mark over the opening batting however with neither KL Rahul nor Mayank Agarwal being among the runs in the two Tests against West Indies. To be candid there is little to worry about. Prithvi Shaw should be back ere long and there are two ready young contenders for the opening slot in Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill. The former a 21-year-old left hander has a commendable first class record averaging almost 40 with a highest score of 273 and has been a consistent run getter for India A against both West Indies A and South Africa A. Just last week in the second ODI against South Africa he exhibited his swashbuckling approach in no uncertain terms hammering 55 off just 24 balls with five fours and four sixes to steer his team to a two-wicket victory with an over to spare in a truncated game.
Gill of course has been in the news for some time for all the right reasons. He averages almost 75 in first class cricket with a highest score of 268. The 19-year- old right hander is acknowledged to be one of the finest talents in the country and he too has been in excellent form against West Indies A and South Africa A. His unbeaten 204 in the third `Test’ against West Indies about a month ago was a brilliant knock scripting an amazing recovery – from 50 for four to 365 without further loss sharing a 315 run partnership with his captain Vihari.
Yes, it would appear to be a good idea to draft in a youngster or two at the top of the order in the Tests against South Africa which marks the beginning of the 2019-20 season.
Even Rafael Nadal is of the view that the reign of the Big Three cannot last much longer. In an interview a few days ago he was quick to point out that ``I am 33, Novak (Djokovic) is 32 and Roger (Federer) is 38. The younger players are bound to take over any time.’’
Well, that may come about in the future, or even in the near future but in the meantime is still the Big Three who are calling the shots. Nadal’s triumph in the US Open was the 12th successive time one of the Big Three was winning a Grand Slam title. The last player outside the trio to triumph in a Grand Slam was when Stan Wawrinka won the US Open title in 2016. Since then Federer has won the Australian Open in 2017 and 2018 and Wimbledon in 2017, Djokovic has won the Australian Open in 2019, Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019 and the US Open in 2018 and Nadal has the won the US Open in 2017 and 2019 besides emerging triumphant at his favourite French Open in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The challenge from the younger brigade is getting stronger but while players like Daniil Medvedev, Stafanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem are capable of rising up in the rankings, winning ATP Tour tournaments including the Masters 1000 and the year ending ATP Tour finals when it comes to the Grand Slams these are still the monopoly of Messrs Djokovic, Nadal and Federer who continue to occupy the first three positions in the ATP rankings.
At the US Open for a while it appeared that the monopoly could end following the retirement of Djokovic during his fourth round match against Wawrinka due to injury and with Grigor Dimotrov eliminating Federer in the quarterfinal. But Nadal the only remaining survivor of the Big Three did not falter and saw to it that their Grand Slam reign would continue.
Despite their advancing years the feeling is that they will continue to dominate at least in 2020 simply because their nearest young challengers have a rather erratic record in Grand Slams. At the US Open for example Tsitsipas and Thiem exited in the first round while Zverev lost in the fourth round. Fifth ranked Medvedev gave indications of what could come about in the near future by making it to the final and stretching Nadal to five sets before going down. But then he hasn’t made much progress in the other Grand Slams and that goes too for the likes of Tsitsipas and Zverev. Thiem had made it to the French Open final twice losing each time to Nadal but then he is a clay court specialist and is unlikely to make any impact in the other Grand Slams. This year Thiem also lost in the first round at Wimbledon.
Kevin Pietersen is not someone who minces his words. Now, he has gone berserk on England's left-arm spinner, Jack Leach, whose eyeglasses antics have been a major talking point ever since he partnered Ben Stokes in England's historic Headingley Test triumph.
Leach was again on course of helping his side draw a game out of a dire situation at Old Trafford but unfortunately for him and England, he got out on 12 off 51 on the final day of the Test and after that, Australia got rid of well set Craig Overton to win the Test and retain the Ashes.
Former England skipper, Kevin Pietersen, who had troubled relations with his teammates during his playing days, wrote for Betway that, "It's doing my head in that a bloke who's supposed to win games for England is becoming a laughing stock. You've got people in the stands taking the mickey out of him, wearing masks and fake glasses. Commentators are talking about his Specsavers deal.
"England are losing an Ashes series and he's only taken eight wickets at 30 in three Test matches. It doesn't look like he's troubled anyone. It just annoys me. I don't want to see the crowd talking about how funny he is, or how funny that run was, or Specsavers. I want to see him producing on the field and I want to see him winning matches for England with his bowling," he added.
"So what does he want to be remembered as? Does he want to be remembered as this funny guy who can hold a bat, or as a match-winner for England?" the former England skipper asked.
It's indeed strange as far Team India is concerned when it allows someone like Rohit Sharma to sit on the bench in Test cricket. A player of Rohit's quality needs to be utilised to the fullest. This is also because at the moment, youngster Prithvi Shaw is out with a doping ban sentence. And KL Rahul faltering since the start of 2018 in a grand manner.
India need someone strong and solid to open the show with Mayank Agarwal. And there's no one better than Rohit who opens for the team in limited-overs cricket. The senior cricketer is also backed by stalwarts like Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag to feature in the team more consistently. So far the Indian team management has abstained from the same. However, with the three-match Test series coming up against South Africa, Team India should change its approach.
India cannot have Rohit Sharma sitting on the bench at Rahul’s expense. Rahul needs to be dropped given his trajectory in the last 15 Tests. That’s a long time to get the act right. Also, too much pressure also falls on India’s middle order. India cannot keep favoring Rahul here and harming the opportunities of others. Someone like Rohit needs to be backed for a few Tests. Rohit has been a pioneer in limited-overs cricket and one should allow him to use that form and confidence into Test cricket.
He did well in Australia earlier this year and what many pundits and fans want to see is Rohit getting that backing in Test cricket. Also since, 2017, Rohit Sharma hasn’t got the opportunities. However, the talismanic batsman has scored 401 runs in six Tests. He averages a healthy 50.12 with a best of 102*. In the two Tests that he played at home, he averages 217.00. His best was of 102* against Sri Lanka.
India should have someone like Rohit with world-class attributes more often in the longest format. With South Africa visiting India next, this is a huge chance to look at Rohit and give him that freedom to excel. This will benefit one and all. With the ICC World Test Championship on, India will hope to derive the maximum in the 2019-21 cycle and boost their chances of winning the trophy,
For that, you need a match-winner like Rohit to come in and settle those nerves. Things should be decided in terms of merit and Rohit offers more substance on the field than Rahul. India cannot afford to be stagnant and use the same resources that have failed.
The upcoming T20Is and Tests against South Africa for the Indian cricket team is expected to be hard-fought series and there is a lot at stake. In the Tests, it is the ICC World Test Championship in fray. As far the T20Is are concerned, both teams will be wanting to build well for the ICC World T20 in 2020. One expects both sides to give its all and try to stake a claim in the series. Also, the presence of several big names make things more interesting. There will be several players on focus besides certain aspects of team combinations, approach to the game and the mental battles on offer. One such player for whom this series will be utmost crucial is Hardik Pandya. Here we analyse the same.
Pandya was handed a rest from the tour of Caribbean post the ICC World Cup 2019 in England and Wales. The idea was to ease the pressure and have him fresh for the big series against the Proteas. Pandya hasn't had a defining time of late especially with issues on and off the field since September 2018. He had a strong IPL 12 campaign and a decent World Cup show. To be a premier all-rounder, India need to have their main man going on full song and delivering in crunch situations. So far, Pandya is far from being the finished product. Therefore, there is work to do in terms of setting himself and producing consistent displays for the side. Pandya needs to realise his potential and deliver.
In the Test team, Pandya's place isn't guaranteed at the moment. India are likely to opt for two spinners and two pacers to have a crack at South Africa. With Hanuma Vihari taking his chances at number six and the ability he carries to roll down a few overs, also lessens the possibility of Pandya walking into the side. Therefore, when he does get the chance, he needs to take it and show his credentials. Pandya hasn't quite got going in Tests and that's also a worry. In the T20Is, Pandya will fit in despite the team having several other contenders. So producing a strong run of results across the three games will have Pandya in a happier space.
He hasn't played much cricket for Team India in the last one year and therefore a fresh start is required. He needs to be simple in his approach and get the basics right. SA are a top team and you want your best performers to stand up tall and deliver. That's why the series is highly important for someone like a Pandya.
Steve Smith is a genius who has taken control of Test cricket like nobody else. The run-machine has made a solid impact in helping Aussies retain the urn after they won the recently concluded fourth Test match at Old Trafford in Manchester. Smith was defiant and amassed scores of 211 and 82 to be the major difference for the side. After the Test, both captains acknowledged the brilliance of the magician. He is different class and that what hooks one to Test cricket. Smith is ranked the number one batsman in the ICC Test Rankings for Batsmen and he deserves every bit of the recognition.
The impactful Smith was bossing the Test scenario before being handed a 12-month ban for a ball-tampering scandal in March 2018. He rose from the very low in his career and came up all guns blazing in the Ashes 2019 series which was his first since the 12-month ban in Test cricket. The format is something that's tailor made for the right-handed batsman. He can score runs at will and not just that. The ability to convert fifties into hundreds makes him the best in business. When you look at his Ashes 2019 scores, the lowest score by the champion batsman in 82. Besides that he has scores of 144, 142, 92 and 211. He has batted in just five innings after missing Day 5 of the second Test and subsequently the third Test at Headingley due to a concussion.
To be able to make a comeback and then score a double century is something extraordinary. Smith averages more than 65 in Test cricket and that itself is a testament to his greatness. In the ongoing Ashes, he has notched 671 runs already and leads the show by a big margin. His consistency and ability to forge partnerships are strong attributes. These qualities make him above the other three in the Fab 3 group comprising of Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root.
Also, it's the impact Smith has. In 2017-18 Ashes he top scored for Australia and helped them win 4-0. Now in this series it's his runs that made the difference. So his contributions come to a winning cause for a side that is dependent on him in that middle order. There is a certain sense of responsibility and belongingness in Tests that Smith carries. He is a special talent and we need to celebrate his batsmanship and the aura that comes with it.
Seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher has been admitted to a Paris hospital to be treated with cutting-edge stem-cell therapy, according to a French newspaper.
The Paris hospitals authority, citing France's strict medical privacy rules, said it could not comment on the report in Le Parisien that Schumacher was admitted under tight guard to the Georges-Pompidou hospital for transfusions of inflammation-reducing stem cells.
The newspaper said the 50-year-old German, who suffered a near-fatal brain injury in a 2013 skiing accident in the French Alps, was expected to be discharged on Wednesday.
His long-time manager, Sabine Kehm, had no comment.
Two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson says he will take the rest of the 2019 season off as he continues to recover from a right knee injury.
The hard-serving South African hasn't played in a tournament since losing in the third round of Wimbledon in July, and pulled out of the U.S. Open because of his knee problems.
He said on Twitter that he will not play again until next year. In a statement, Anderson said: "I have spoken with my team, consulted with doctors, and we have decided that the best course of action is to take the rest of the year off and prepare for 2020. This will give me enough time to undergo more rehab processes and get healthy."
The 33-year-old Anderson was the runner-up to Rafael Nadal at Flushing Meadows in 2017 and to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year.
An Iranian woman detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a soccer stadium to watch a match has died after setting herself on fire upon learning she could spend six months in prison, semi-official news outlets reported Tuesday.
The self-immolation death of 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari has shocked Iranian officials and the public, becoming an immediate hashtag trend across social media in the Islamic Republic.
It also comes as FIFA is working with Iranian authorities to overcome a ban on women entering stadiums for men's games, a ban in place since the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution. FIFA wants the issue resolved before Oct. 10 when Iran — the top-ranked team in Asia — hosts its first home World Cup qualifier against Cambodia.
FIFA said Tuesday it was "aware of that tragedy and deeply regret it."
"FIFA convey our condolences to the family and friends of Sahar and reiterate our calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure the freedom and safety of any women engaged in this legitimate fight to end the stadium ban for women in Iran," FIFA said in a statement.
Khodayari died on Monday at a Tehran hospital after suffering burns across 90% of her body. She had been on a respirator since dousing herself with gasoline in front of Tehran's Ershad Courthouse on Sept. 2, according to the Iranian news website Rokna, which publishes in Iran with government permission.
She had just learned she could be tried by a Revolutionary Court in Iran and be put in prison for six months, her father told the website.
Sao Paulo police say they are indicting Brazilian model Najila Trindade and her former partner over her rape allegation against soccer star Neymar.
Police said they indicted the model for procedural fraud, slanderous denunciation and extortion.
Her former partner Estivens Alves is accused of disclosing erotic content, which was then published online.
Trindade went to Sao Paulo police to accuse Neymar of raping her at a Paris hotel in May. Neymar denied the accusation and said their relations were consensual.
Prosecutors officially closed the investigation against Neymar earlier this month, citing a lack of evidence against him.
The Associated Press doesn't name alleged sexual assault victims unless they make their identities public, which Trindade did in several interviews.
Inter Milan chairman Steven Zhang says the principle of non-discrimination is "embedded in the DNA" of the club, after a widely criticized response from ultras fans to striker Romelu Lukaku being racially abused at a game.
Lukaku, who is black, was targeted with monkey chants by Cagliari fans this month after the Belgium forward scored a penalty kick.
A group of Inter fans later suggested such apparent abuse is not racist in Italy, and was a tactic they also used to unsettle opposing players.
Inter's Chinese chairman says the club's inclusive history makes him believe that "a lot of fans, when they did it, the intention was not bad."
Zhang says soccer is "not for violence, it's not for racism" and can be a force to educate people around the world.
The 28-year-old official spoke with reporters at a European Club Association meeting after he was elected to the 246-member group's executive board.
England's scoring form was on display again in European Championships qualifying. So was Cristiano Ronaldo's.
England made it four wins out of four in Group A with a 5-3 win over Kosovo and Ronaldo netted four goals in European champion Portugal's 5-1 away win at Lithuania.
On a night of heavy scoring, it took the five-time Golden Ball winner's international tally to a whopping 93. Ronaldo might well hit the century mark before next year's tournament, considering Portugal still faces Lithuania at home and twice plays lowly Luxembourg.
"I'm going through a good phase, but the team has been playing well too," Ronaldo said. "I'm enjoying this moment not only because of my goals, but also because of the team's performances in recent years. I just have to keep helping the team."
Striker Harry Kane moved onto a more modest 26 for England, whose fans got a jolt when midfielder Valon Berisha put the visiting side ahead after just 35 seconds.
They were soon reassured by Raheem Sterling's equalizer and Kane's latest goal for England, both inside the opening 20 minutes at St. Mary's Stadium in Southampton on a rare occasion England wasn't playing at Wembley Stadium.
By halftime fans had been treated to five home goals, including 19-year-old winger Jadon Sancho scoring his first two for England.
But the second half proved more inspiring for Kosovo's fans as they witnessed a mini-comeback, with Berisha enjoying a memorable night with a fine second goal curled into the top corner. Kane could have netted a brace, too, but saw his penalty saved by Arijanet Muric.
World Cup winner France labored at times against a well-organized Andorra side in a 3-0 home win, with Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann missing a penalty for the second straight qualifier.
After Kingsley Coman found a way through in the first half, center half Clément Lenglet and substitute Wissam Ben Yedder added goals after the break.
South Africa will enter this particular series against India as the clear under dogs not only because India have the upper hand in home conditions but also, because South Africa have been undermined by their own performances in the recently concluded ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 which will have dented them and spurred them on in equal measure.
The only consistent factor about South Africa seems to be in the fact that Faf du Plessis continues to captain the Test team. As virtually the only member of the team who has a seasoned number of years under his belt, he is the best man to lead the team from the doldrums of the World Cup into a stiff contest in the hot bed of cricket. Additionally although short on collective team experience, Faf has a few usual suspects in his line up in the form of speedster Kagiso Rabada who claims to have learnt from the debacle of the 2015 tour and is raring to go.
The biggest drawback for South Africa will hurt in the fact that Faf du Plessis could use the vital experience of the prolific Hashim Amla. The opener who scored nearly 10000 runs in Test cricket from 124 Tests and scored twenty-eight Test centuries, announced his retirement from international cricket after the World Cup. In doing so, he has left a huge void at the top of the order which South Africa will find hard to fill. Amla’s temperament, versatility and ability to score runs will be sorely missed.
As far looking at the cup half full is concerned, the tour of India is more of an orientation rather than a litmus test. South Africa will enter the contest with their expectations measured given that they have revised their structure of hierarchy in the think tank.
South Africa could spring a surprise in the fact that there could be some pressure alleviated as a result of this change at the top of the think tank in the team director, Enoch Nkwe. It will be interesting how South Africa approach this tour with a different mind of having a team director for a coach at the top of the hierarchy.
South Africa have bolstered their team with spinners. Keshav Maharaj is expected to be supported by Dane Piedt as well as a newcomer in Senuran Muthusamy. Although the trio will have their work cut out for them against the Indians batting on homegrown pitches, a lot will rest on their ability to read, revise and improvise quickly, particularly with not a lot of experience in the batting line up.
South Africa is in danger of allowing their problems from the ICC Cricket World Cup to precipitate into the Test series. There has already been enough controversy as their experienced spearhead, Dale Steyn, who, after missing the world cup through, claimed to be fit for the tour of India while Cricket South Africa have alleged that the aging fast bowler has not quite recovered yet from the injuries. Faf had raised concerns about the workload of Rabada and a lot will rest on the youngster’s ability to sustain pressure on the unyielding sessions of what is expected to be a gritty test in favour of India’s batsmen playing on home turf.
South Africa have a few young faces, including at least a couple of players set to make their debut. Expectations will be muted given that this will be a different outfit from the one that toured and lost their last series in India. With Quinton de Kock and Faf now taking on the fair show of responsibility in the absence of the likes of Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, it will be interesting to see how South Africa’s batting withstands the pressure of India’s spin attack as well as an in-form Jasprit Bumrah.
India are undoubtedly in a dominant position going into the South Africa’s tour of India. With South Africa probing to find new ground to sink their feet into after their diabolical World Cup appearance, it will be up to India to press home the advantage.
Not only are India playing to home advantage but also, they have sufficiently warmed themselves with the two Test series in the Caribbean. Although the quality of the opposition may have a few holes punched in them, there is little doubt that the exercise after the Indian Premier League and the ICC Cricket World Cup would have been just the appetizer to whet Virat Kohli and his men for the Test cricket season ahead. It should stand India in good stead.
Although eyebrows were raised when India picked Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin as the team’s lead spinner in the first Test, Jadeja backed it up with results that would suggest that India are looking to hammer home the advantage of employing spin against South Africa’s relative inexperienced batting line up.
With Jasprit Bumrah bringing home the firepower with pace, India have the requisite firepower in their armoury in their lineup. With Kohli himself eager to score some heavy runs to kick off this season and eager to upstage Steve Smith at the top, it could become a battle of the minds. Not an uncommon situation for the prolific batsman.
Although it would appear, on paper, that India could have an easier time against South Africa, the chinks in India’s armoury lie at the very top of the order. With KL Rahul struggling once more on the tour of the Caribbean, India’s opener’s slot could become a musical chair situation once more. Although India operated a haphazard strategy when playing Rohit Sharma home and away on Test tours, one wonders whether Rohit has inspired enough to make a contention in the Test team by making a case for the opener’s slot. Either way, the opener’s role would be a gambling slot.
The tour of the Caribbean emphasized once more of having a valuable, patient, dogged middle order to pull India out of perilous situations into one of power. With Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari showing appetite to keep India’s backbone steady, backing both, the temperament and their ability to score valuable runs, India are well complementing Kohli’s tenacity and belligerence with defiance down the middle.
Although India have generally played to home advantage situations, they have shown susceptibility to be thrown off their game by the opposition’s own ability to exploit the conditions. With India having an open slot as far as the opener’s slot is concerned, India are going to have to be strategic about how they go about picking their top order because they do not want to open the gate at the top of the field and allow the opposition to make inroads.
Although Rishabh Pant has shown an eager willingness to learn on the job, on a wobbly wicket, with constant comparisons drawn to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Pant could be put under pressure if the game changes in favour of the visiting team. Marshalling the young troops will be Kohli’s challenge while ramming home the advantage.
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