Friday, January 13, 2012

Favourites for the Australian Open

The 2012 Australian Open is rapidly approaching, and the first grand slam of the year always leads to a great debate about who could win.

Unlike the other three slams, there is little indication about player form, some players choosing exhibition tournaments as a warm-up.

On the back of the draw, now is a good time to look at the standout players.

Defending champion, top seed and world number one Novak Djokovic must start as the favourite in the men’s draw.

You can almost count the number of matches he lost last year on one hand (an incredible six), racking up three grand slams and five masters’ titles.

However, there have always been questions over the Serbian’s fitness, and his form certainly suffered at the end of the 2011 season.

It will be almost impossible for Djokovic to repeat his feat and, playing in his first tournament of the year, he could struggle to live up to expectations.

Just behind the world number one, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray are all in with a shout of lifting the title should Djokovic fail.

World number four Murray has had an excellent start to the season, teaming up with coach Ivan Lendl to win the Brisbane Open, and the two-time finalist is in the sort of form that should see him through to the final rounds.

Nadal and Federer played in Doha, both reaching the semi-finals.

Nadal looked unsure of himself in losing to Frenchman Gael Monfils, while Federer pulled out of his semi without hitting a ball.

This will raise questions over the Swiss’ fitness, but expect him to produce the goods on the day.

As for Nadal, his fans will be concerned about his form, but his fighting spirit should see him go deep.

It will be a massive shock if the title goes to anyone outside the top four, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the resurgent Juan Martin del Potro have very good chances of causing an upset or two.

Also, keep an eye out for young Austrailan Bernard Tomic.

The 19-year-old is ranked inside the top 40, and could very easily cause an upset or three, especially with the raucous Australian home support behind him.

The women’s draw, as always, is more open in terms of contenders.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki is unlikely to win her first grand slam, as a wrist injury is putting question marks against her participation.

Despite her consistent form, even fully fit, she lacks the weapons to finish off the big-hitters.

But there to take her number one ranking will be second ranked Petra Kvitova.

The 2011 Wimbledon champion will become number one at some point throughout 2012, and more grand slam titles are a certainty.

She seems to thrive on pressure situations, and although her form dipped in the latter part of 2011, she should be there to lift the title.

Victoria Azarenka, the world number three, is a rapidly improving player, her wide range of skills unmatched by most other players on the tour.

She won the pre-Open tournament in Sydney, beating some top players along the way.

Despite facing a tricky Heather Watson in the first round, she should be expected to reach her first grand slam final.

Elsewhere, 2011 runner-up Li Na is displaying the form that won her the French Open title last year, while Serena Williams and defending champion Kim Clijsters should never be ruled out.

Anything can happen at a grand slam, and new fan favourites tend to emerge after heroic performances on the court.

But what is sure is that the battle for the top rankings wil

Amir Khan granted rematch against Peterson

Amir Khan was granted a rematch against Lamont Peterson on Friday after the World Boxing Association found there were "multiple irregularities", including questionable refereeing and an intrusion during the scoring.

Khan lost his WBA and IBF belts to Peterson on a split decision after being docked two points for pushing in the December 10 fight and he later also questioned the presence of a "mystery man'' distracting judges at ringside.

The fight will be staged again within 180 days after the WBA concluded the December contest was "riddled with controversy as a result of a plethora of anomalies."

"In its resolution mandating the rematch, the WBA went out of its way to note that, under normal circumstances, it would not disturb the discretionary function of a referee,'' the organisation said in a statement. 

"However, in this case, because of the multiple irregularities, it was necessary for it to order the rematch.''

"I can go out there a second time and prove to my fans I could have won it the first time"

Amir Khan

It marks a victory for Khan's camp, which has spent a month protesting the outcome. The British fighter said "April or May could be a good date for us.''

"I want to get that rematch and beat him,'' he told Sky Sports. 

"I can go out there a second time and prove to my fans I could have won it the first time.''

The WBA said it was "questionable'' why referee Joseph Cooper docked Khan two points for "something for which points are almost never deducted'' and did not count a knockdown.

Video also emerged earlier this month - highlighted by Khan's camp - showing the presence of a "mystery man" distracting judges at ringside and then next to Peterson and his team as they celebrated the victory in the ring.

He was later identified as Mustafa Ameen but his appearance was unauthorised and he "seemingly communicated with fight officials throughout the fight,'' the WBA said.

"As further cause to order the rematch, the WBA also pointed to Mr. Ameen's apparent intrusion into the scoring process as well as possible discrepancies between the score sheets of the two sanctioning organisations and the local athletic commission,'' the WBA statement said

Azarenka slams home her ambition in Sydney

Victoria Azarenka emerged as a big noise for the Australian Open by winning the Sydney International title on Friday while beaten opponent Li Na asked her supporters to stop shouting during matches. 

"Maybe they think I'm stupid so they coach me," defending champion Li said after her 6-2 1-6 6-3 loss to Belarus's world number three at the Ken Rosewall Arena. 

"But I would like to say I'm not stupid.

"I can play very good tennis. I think if they come to see more tennis they will know not to shout. It is something I
couldn't change. I don't have to listen to what they say. I have to focus on my tennis."

"Maybe they think I'm stupid so they coach me"

Chinese no 1 Li Na

Any hopes Azarenka had of sneaking quietly into the Australian Open with a low profile and the focus on Denmark's world number one Caroline Wozniacki, Czech Republic's number two Petra Kvitova, French Open champion Li and serial headline act Serena Williams, disappeared. 

The 22-year-old, who has a reputation for grunting on court, will be seen as a serious title threat when the first major
championship of the year begins at Melbourne Park on Monday. 

After ripping through the first set, she faded in the second before breaking her opponent at 4-3 and then serving for
the match. 

Azarenka had started the week revelling in the attention focused on the battle for the top ranking between Wozniacki and Kvitova, sneaking through the draw and receiving the bare minimum of publicity. 

Perfect warm up

With nine of the top 10 women in the world playing in Sydney in a virtual dress rehearsal for Melbourne, Azarenka's win will have made her rivals sit up and take notice. 

"It brings a lot of confidence," she said. 

"But it's going to be a new week in Melbourne, a new tournament, so for me it's going to be starting from zero. I'm
glad the way I played here through those battles that I went through, so I've really tested myself before a big event.

"I'm just going to try to keep going the same way with the same attitude, the same way I'm playing. There is nothing really better than I could have done this week."

Li Na could not fend off the advancing Azarenka who looks in good form going into the first major [GETTY] 
On Li's supporters in the crowd, Azarenka said: "How many Chinese people are in the world? You know what? I just want to play the way that the crowd will start to love me. That's the thing." 

She refused to nominate her favourite for the Australian Open, but hinted it might be her: "I think it's your job to predict and my job to deliver." 

Li's failure to defend the title meant her ranking will dip from number five to number six on Monday. Australia's Sam Stosur will move from sixth to fifth despite her first-round loss to Italian Francesca Schiavone in Sydney. 

Asked whether losing in Sydney meant she would win in Melbourne, Li grinned. 

"I wish. I mean, this is a really good wish. I don't think anything went wrong in the match. It was a very good final. I
think both players showed their best tennis on the court. I don't think anything is wrong with my game," she said.

"I have nothing to worry about. I made the final last year in Melbourne so I think I should be okay.

Centurian Warner questions Indian resolve

Australian opener David Warner questioned India's resolve after slamming the equal fourth fastest century in Test cricket on a horror opening day for the tourists in the third Test in Perth on Friday.

Warner reached his hundred off 69 balls and did it in style, clouting debutant paceman Vinay Kumar for his third six of the innings.

The Indians, down 2-0 in the series and needing to win both remaining Tests to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, were routed for just 161 off 60.2 overs after being sent in to bat.

Australia then raced to 149 without loss at stumps, with Warner unbeaten on 104 and Ed Cowan on 40 for Australia to trail by just 12 runs.

The openers scored at better than six runs an over against an impotent Indian bowling attack and Warner questioned India's commitment.

"I was looking at my strike-rate and thinking this isn't Test cricket, this is something different"

Australia's David Warner

"In my mind, they are bowled over already," he said.

"They have to work out how they can play outside India."

Warner's prodigious hit was the second-quickest ton at Perth's WACA Ground, behind Adam Gilchrist's 57-ball blitz against England in 2006.

It capped a miserable day for the tourists with Sachin Tendulkar's quest for an elusive 100th international hundred again delayed after he was dismissed for just 15.

"I didn't even realise when I was on 80-odd I had only faced 40-odd balls and I was actually shocked," said Warner, who has now scored two centuries in five Tests.

"I was looking at my strike-rate and thinking this isn't Test cricket, this is something different. But that is how I approach the game."

The only setback was when he was struck around the left ear by Umesh Yadav on 80, the left-hander looking groggy as play was held up for several minutes after he sought treatment from the team physio.

But when play resumed he clubbed the next two balls for four and took just seven more deliveries to sprint to his second Test ton.

Hanging on to hope

Virat Kohli, who topscored in the Indian innings with 44, said it was bad toss to lose, but denied the cause was lost.

"Early on it was seaming around a bit, but as the day progressed it got better to bat on," Kohli said.

"They might come out tomorrow and lose wickets in clusters, you never know what might happen."

The Indian tail again showed little appetite for the contest as the tourists lost their last six wickets for just 30 runs.

The rejuvenated swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus continued his fine season and took his series tally to 19 wickets with four for 43, while Peter Siddle claimed three for 42.

It was another inept batting display by India's ageing top order, with Virender Sehwag out for a four-ball duck and misfiring Rahul Dravid making just nine, while Tendulkar looked in superb form but also went cheaply.

Having played two elegant straight drives in the first over he faced, Tendulkar was deceived by a delivery from recalled paceman Ryan Harris that nipped back trapping him leg before wicket.

Fan favourite Simeone dreams of La Liga glory


Appointed as head coach of Atletico Madrid in December, Argentine Diego Simeone faces a tough challenge with a club who have struggled after the departure of some of their best players. 

However, former Atletico Madrid player Simeone is dreaming of a brighter and more successful future. 

Matt Rumsey reports for Al Jazeera.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Magpies track Morrison

Newcastle have made an enquiry about Manchester United youngster Ravel Morrison.
Press Association Sport understands there has been contact between the two clubs over the 18-year-old midfielder, who is out of contract at the end of the season.
No talks over a new deal have so far taken place and should no offer materialise, he would be able to leave the club on a free transfer, although United would be entitled to compensation of around £300,000. However, it is understood the Magpies' interest is yet to go any further than that initial enquiry.
Wythenshawe-born Morrison has three senior United appearances to his name, all of them in the Carling Cup.
But while hugely talented, he has had his problems off the field and last season pleaded guilty to two charges of witness intimidation.

Rogers disagrees with Ramsey

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers does not believe Aaron Ramsey should expect to be consulted over the recruitment of the next Wales manager.
Wales captain Ramsey, 21, said earlier this week he was disappointed that he and other senior players had not been contacted by the Football Association of Wales (FAW) over their search for a successor to Gary Speed, who died in November.
"I do not think they (the players) need to be asked, it's the job of the FAW," said Rodgers.
"Aaron is entitled to have an opinion, he is the captain of his country, but the FAW will make their appointment. My point is I did not know you had to ask a player about an appointment.
"Aaron is a wonderful talent so I am not being derogatory. He gave an opinion and that's credit to him, but I did not know a player had to be asked about an appointment."
Arsenal midfielder Ramsey, who will face Rodgers's Swansea side in Barclays Premier League action on Sunday, had earlier posted on his official Twitter account: "Firstly I would like to clarify my point.
"I used the word disappointed for a reason. We have just lost our manager and leader through a tragedy and not footballing reasons.
"For that reason I would have thought they would have contacted the players to hear what we thought would be the best way forward to continue our recent success on the pitch, in which we have been building for the World Cup qualifiers for the last 11 months with a clear view.
"With regards to being badly advised in my comments, I am a grown man and captain of my country, to which I care deeply about the future of Welsh football. I wasn't advised by anyone and nor would I need to be.
"I gave an honest answer to a specific question and everything I said was done with my best intentions, hence the fact I am willing to stand behind my beliefs and not leave my comments nameless."

Tevez future remains up in the air

The future of Carlos Tevez has been thrown into more confusion after talks between AC Milan and Manchester City officials broke up without reaching agreement just hours after Inter Milan withdrew from the race to sign the South American.
Tevez is still in Argentina, having effectively concluded he has no future at City since the furore over his non-appearance during that infamous Champions League game against Bayern Munich in September. Inter and Paris St Germain had both expressed an interest in signing Tevez but AC Milan have been front-runners for some considerable time.
It seemed a matter of when rather than if a deal would eventually be done, although hopes of a speedy resolution were dashed when City refused to yield from their present position of being unwilling to entertain any kind of loan for the 27-year-old.
However, with further negotiations planned for Thursday afternoon in London, when asked if Tevez will join AC Milan, Inter president Massimo Moratti said on the club's official website, "I believe so. That's football."
But within hours, the London talks had ended amid reports that a deal between Milan and City was off.
As Blues officials have strongly countered, it was impossible for a deal to be off because there was never actually one in place to start with. Indeed, City have been left bewildered by the whole process which, as far as they can see, is fairly straightforward.
With no loan moves being entertained, a stance unlikely to change at present, the club will happily talk to any suitor willing to offer what they view as a fair market value for one of the world's best forwards.
Evidently, Tevez's present status has not done much for his valuation. However, as he is tied to a contract that does not expire until 2014, City believe they have plenty of power, even if efforts to get Tevez back to Manchester will not be increased until the transfer window has closed.
Despite Thursday's developments, it would be a major surprise if Tevez was still a City player at that point.
As City found out during their failed attempts to sign Brazilian superstar Kaka from the Serie A giants three years ago, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani is an astute footballing politician. Having placed such store by trying to attract Tevez to the club, Galliani is unlikely to just give up when there is so much time left to do a deal.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Danny Care is dropped by England for Six Nations campaign


Serena Williams pulls out of Brisbane with ankle injury

Serena Williams  
Williams was one game from victory when she rolled her ankle
Serena Williams suffered an injury scare ahead of the Australian Open as an ankle injury forced her to withdraw from the Brisbane International.
The American, 30, fell heavily during a rally when serving for the match against Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.
She recovered to close out the match 6-2 6-4 but hobbled from the court, and later confirmed she will not play Daniela Hantuchova on Thursday.
Williams had initially been optimistic of being fit for the quarter-final.
"I'm anticipating it'll be OK," said the 13-time Grand Slam champion after her match.
"My initial thoughts [are that] I'm thinking I can play on. But at the same time I don't want to stress it out right now.
"I'm just going to play it by ear and see how I feel when I wake up in the morning."
Williams beat Chanelle Scheepers in round one on Tuesday - her first match since she was fined for an outburst in September's US Open final defeat against Sam Stosur.
Australian Stosur, the top seed in Brisbane, disappointed home fans with a surprise 6-4 6-2 loss to Czech Iveta Benesova.