Perennial nearlyman. Solid backhander. Secondbest in Switzerland. Australian
Open champion. Stanislas Wawrinka’s stunning display this Sunday morning to wrestle
only the second Grand Slam title since 2005 out of the hands of tennis’ ’Big Four’ players
(Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and his opponent at Melbourne Park, Rafa
Nadal) will go down in history as one of the most composed performances ever,
cementing the 29yearold’s legacy as Grand Slam winner and victor over some of tennis’
best players of all time. His fourset victory over Nadal followed a stunning fiveset defeat
of threetime reigning champion Djokovic and a hardfought semifinal victory over Croat
Tomas Berdych, like Wawrinka a firsttime semifinalist in the tournament. In doing so,
Wawrinka became the first man in a generation to beat the top two seeds en route to a
Grand Slam victory.
It was gravely unfortunate that Wawrinka’s victory came at the expense of a
visibly struggling Nadal, who seemed troubled by a back injury from the second set
onwards. Sections of a disgruntled crowd couldn’t contain their irritation as Wawrinka too
struggled to keep focus in an extended injury break. His rhythm was completely offset in set three
as Nadal (perhaps buoyed by painkillers) pushed back to take set and really test the mettle of his
opponent. Despite nineteen unforced errors in the previous set, the Swiss managed to hold his
nerve and clinch the fourth set in an astonishing final.
Despite Nadal’s injury woes, there is no asterisk next to Wawrinka’s victory, and nobody
watching the game could claim that the world number eight (pretournament) deserved anything
but a win after his scintillating form in the first set. At times, Wawrinka looked unstoppable, and it
would not be in the least bit absurd to claim that he could have vanquished a fully fit and fighting
Nadal. In taking out Djokovic in the quarters, he proved his credentials, and the events of the final
proved that he is no onetrickpony. Today is about a longawaited Grand Slam victory for a new
force in tennis, and Nadal’s injury should remain a footnote to that. Wawrinka coped better than
most with the Spaniard’s fast forehand and took excellent advantage of the best weapon at his
disposal: a nearunparalleled backhand. He overcame his mental demons in a demonstration that
should be remembered as trumping Nadal’s own efforts and giving the new Swiss in town the
‘Happy Slam’ and a reason to be cheerful.
The introduction of Twenty20 leagues such as the Big Bash and the Indian Premier League
have given an incentive for the cricketing elite to concentrate on the shorter forms of the game.
Prospective test match players now often choose to line their pockets by playing in front of cricket
mad nations and boycott participation in the domestic County Championship.
Alex Hales, the world’s highest ranked Twenty20 batsman, has once again excused himself from
county action in order to further his IPL accomplishments, adding to a brand valued at $3bn in
In light of recent results, this is a cause for concern. Following a 5-0 whitewash in the Ashes series,
there was hope that some dignity could be salvaged in the shorter form of the game. However,
England have still not achieved a single victory down under and are experiencing their worst winter
under Flower’s management. The failing side continued to disappoint as they snatched defeat from
the jaws of victory last Friday at the Gabba.
Setting a total of 300, hope for a change in fortune was rekindled. A strong bowling performance
from the tourists saw Australia stalling at 244-9 with just 6 overs left. Yet an impressive 10th wicket
partnership launched by James Faulkner ended any chance of defeating the home side.
Faulkner, a member of the IPL’s Rajasthan Royals, smashed 25 runs off his last 7 balls, ending on
an unbeaten 69 and contributing to the highest successful run chase the ground has ever seen.
The IPL is now entering its 7th year and following a contract adjustment by the ECB; England team
members are permitted to participate in the competition from its start until 13 May. After this point
they are required to begin preparations for the summer series versus Sri Lanka. This period would
usually be used to train with county sides which retains a focus on the longer form of the game.
There have been signs that the IPL has taken a back seat in the eyes of certain England
professionals. Jos Butler and Ben Stokes have showed an intention to put their international
careers first by declining the offer of IPL stardom. This action has not been provoked by any public
message from coach Andy Flower and will hopefully encourage more to prioritise their international
reputation over cash.
England’s youngsters will forever be tainted by failure, says Alex Tyndall:
One by one, the English “golden generation” is being put out to stud. One by one, the poster boys for a generation of English international mediocrity are shuffling down the tunnel, into a sharp grey suit and onto the pundit’s couch.
Since the 2002 World Cup, international tournaments have been greeted almost universally by the English faithful with bullish optimism followed quickly by flabbergasted despair. Some of the best English players ever to grace the sport have faced up to the challenge of international competition and been found wanting. This is a legacy of disappointment that threatens to be bequeathed directly to the new talent emerging in the international ranks.
England had eight players making an appearance on the 15th who have never been to a World Cup before. In 2018, these could be the players forming the backbone of an England side. I wonder how much hungrier to perform and impress they could have been if their first World Cup campaign had ended in disappointment. Their qualification charge for 2018 could have been their chance to put the frustrations of a generation to bed and make their mark as a new, fresh England squad.
Instead what I find is a group of undeniably talented youngsters becoming part of the same rumbling frustration that has haunted England’s international fortunes for years, the new blood being paraded alongside the last-chance veterans of years of disappointments.
In all likelihood this will be the last World Cup campaign for Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and, if he ends up on the plane, Ashley Cole. They are undeniably among the greats to wear the England shirt but there is no room for nostalgia in football. I simply worry that the England jaunt to Rio next year will be a wistful look back at what might have been rather than a more hopeful sight of things to come.
The World Cup will provide valuable experience, says Rob Snell
Had England failed to record back-to-back victories in their final World Cup qualifiers last week then Roy Hodgson would have had much more to worry about than the fallout from an ill-judged remark about monkeys. Instead, relief swept through the nation: England are going to Brazil next summer. Why then, is there still a pocket of doom-mongers think it would be better for our long-term prospects if we stayed at home?
The first result of a failure to qualify would have been the sacking of Roy Hodgson. Although not a man associated with much flair or panache strategically, the fact remains that Hodgson is still unbeaten in competitive games with England. More importantly, though, Hodgson has actually phased in a number of younger players, just not in the abrupt manner that saw Andre Villas-Boas lose the dressing room at Chelsea: his hybrid of youth and experience is only going to benefit the younger players in the longer term, not hold them back.
The most frequent criticism of England is that we “need to be more like Spain”. The English stereotype, they say, is an outdated and inferior breed on the international scene and small, technical players who can play neat passing triangles are the way forward. It is better, they think, for England to avoid the usual quarter-final heartbreak and to set ourselves a longer term target, namely Qatar 2022. This is completely wrong on two levels.
Firstly, the argument that missing out on Brazil would have triggered the footballing revolution that England is crying out for is a total overstatement – evidence suggests that the need for change and development has already been recognized, with the recently appointed FA Commission being one sign that the tide is changing.
But if we try to alter our whole dynamic and make ourselves look like Spain or Germany then we will always be one step behind and our long-term prospects will be no better. By all means, incorporate different cultures into our modern game, but completely overhauling our system will also destroy the positive and uniquely English qualities that we so pride.
Indeed, the argument that England has a lack of talent coming through the ranks is largely a fallacy, with Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kyle Walker and most recently Andros Townsend emerging talents. There are never going to be 11 new world class players emerging every season, and there doesn’t need to be. What these young players need is experience, and that is where the argument that England would be better off staying at home this summer falls down completely.
Long-term excellence can only be achieved with shorter term improvements, and it doesn’t take a genius to realise that it’s much more beneficial for the England players to be playing in a stadium next to the Copacabana beach this summer rather than sunbathing on it.
Tune into BBC One at around 13:30 this Satruday and you might get a bit of a shock. The Millennium Stadium, so iconic in recent years for the enviable success of the Welsh national side, is hosting a very different event. There is just as much passion, just as much skill, and even more hits: the league boys are in town. For many ‘down south’, it may sound like a well kept secret, but the Rugby League World Cup kicks off in style this weekend. Here are five reasons you shouldn’t miss a minute.
1.) Veritable Venues: From Langtree Park to Limerick, from Warrington to Perpignan, the World Cup is everywhere. 28 matches are occurring at 21 different stadiums, up and down the country and even abroad. The World Cup is a great opportunity to visit grounds at the very heart of rugby’s heritage, as well as swanky new stadiums.
2.) Big Names, Brilliant Brothers: The World Cup is evidently going to be graced by the very best players ‘league has to offer, but a big draw is the return of cross-code sensation Sonny Bill Williams to his original sport. The Heavyweight boxing champ and much idolized ‘offload-king’ may also renew his rivalry with England star Sam Burgess, one of three brothers in the England squad.
3.) It’s Affordable: A tour around Wembley Stadium costs £16. A ‘double header’ ticket for both semi finals of the Rugby League World Cup is as cheap as £20. If you need any more context, in football terms that’s £60 cheaper than the cheapest Champions League Final Ticket.
4.) No Dead Rubbers: The tournament’s unique format, which sees the top eight teams in two pools each providing three quarter-finalists, is designed to minimize one-sided contests. It certainly bodes for some tantalizing group-stage contests, including England against Australia and New Zealand against France.
5.) No Guarantees: Australia boast the tournament’s best record, having won an astonishing nine titles from a possible 13, while England will hope home advantage brings them their first win in the tournament.
It’s fast, its unpredictable, there are 28 games, 14 teams. There will only be one winner.
Mark Twain once said that “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” Now, that quote has probably been used to encourage/force you to do any number of things, like that extra shot that led to that incident at Junction that you’d prefer not to remember twenty years from now, and to make you feel guilty about the things you didn’t do, such as that incredible travelling opportunity you passed up on to, erm, stay at home negotiating with your siblings for control of the remote.
There is, however, no doubt that getting involved in sport is one of the most worthwhile things you can do in your time at Oxford. Whether it be at a University or College level, playing or reporting, Oxford sport offers a unique opportunity to make friends, stay fit, and expand your horizons beyond simply your degree. Looking back on your time at Oxford twenty years from now, it’s likely that it is the sporting memories, whether it be winning a trophy, an unforgettable social, or a lifelong friend, that will be among your most treasured.
This week sees the launch of The OxStu’s online guide to sport in Oxford. Over the summer we got in contact with loads of the sports clubs offering opportunities to get involved. What became clear early on was the sheer variety of sports that we, as students, have to choose from. Whether it be that sport you always wanted to try out but never got round to it (water polo?), to one that you saw at the Olympics and became instantly hooked (Modern Pentathalon?), to ones that you may never have heard of (Aikido?), there will be an Oxford sports club for you. From Karate to Quidditch, Clay Pigeon Shooting to Krav-Tardement, there’s no excuse not to pick a sport, head down to a training session, and have a go.
Speaking to the various clubs, what quickly became clear was the passion they all had for their particular sport. Whether it involved leaving at 7am in the morning to go to Kent for a 24-hour race, as the motorsport team did lastweekend, or battling against a rival university for a hard-fought win, as the Rugby Men’s Team did against Trinity College Dublin, it was clear that no-one we spoke to regretted their decision to take up University sport.
Equally clear was their eagerness to get new faces on board. What struck us when reading the various blurbs that the clubs sent in was how playing their game was only one part of what they enjoyed about University sport. As frequent an occurrence as dates of training sessions and prior requirements were comments about socials, about the fun, about the opportunities for socialising outside training and matches. University sport has never simply been about winning and losing. It’s about the trip to the pub after training, the end-of-season curry, the sense of solidarity as you all blast out “Three Lions” in the college bar.
Yes, these sports involve a big time committment. And you’ll have to meet new people, and try new things, and maybe even push yourself out of your comfort zone. But isn’t that what university is all about? Most of the sports we asked stressed that they were eager to accept people of any ability, whether you’ve got any prior experience or not. There’s nothing more fulfilling than trying something new, whether it be running, hitting, shooting, swimming, pedalling, steering, or lifting. University sports clubs are some of the most welcoming places you will ever find, and they are all desperate for new faces.
And for those of you not blessed with any sporting talent, you can always report on it. Here at the OxStu we’re always on the lookout for new sports reporters, whatever your interest be. It was great to see so many of you at Freshers’ Fair, and if you missed us just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So get involved, have a go, and don’t feel intimidated. Trust us, you won’t regret it.
Flicking through the sports channels during the holidays, I stumbled across a competition known as the Mosconi Cup. Fleetingly interested, the information button told me that it was a trans-Atlantic pool tournament analogous to the Ryder Cup. As a keen fan of both the institution of the Ryder Cup and playing pool, I spent most of the day watching my new discovery, becoming increasingly enthralled by it. Exciting as the competition was however, it got me thinking: why is pool such a popular sport to play but has its biggest event consigned to the graveyard slot on Sky Sports 4? Snooker, the game most similar to pool, has successfully transported its appeal to primetime BBC 1, so much so that the World Championships are one of the only protected terrestrial events left. So what are the barriers that continue to prevent pool from doing the same?
It’s an extremely tough question, to which I can think of two main answers. The first is that pool is simply a lot easier than other sports. Compared to snooker, the pockets on a pool table are larger, the table is substantially smaller and the cushions are a lot more forgiving. Indeed, we’ve all experienced the sensation of the table “sucking” the ball into the pocket. Although pool still requires a reasonable amount of skill, the nature of the sport means that the gap between world class players and people who play the game down the pub is relatively small. Pool is just someone using a stick to hit a ball into a pocket. This is true, but football is just a person kicking a ball around and football attracts unbelievable worldwide appeal. The difference perhaps is that there are skills that only a professional player could execute on a regular basis. We’ve all had the enjoyable sensation of “7-balling” another pool player, but not many of us have scored a Wayne Rooney-esque bicycle kick. If I, a pooling amateur at best, can do all the things that it is possible to do on a pool table, then why should I bother to watch someone else do it? The sad reality is that pool is rather predictable and pedestrian to the spectator.
The point remains however, that snooker regularly attracts an audience of millions, and the fundamentals of the sports are broadly the same. In snooker however, the aforementioned larger table and smaller pockets do create a huge skill divide between the two sports. The emphasis on meticulous positional play rather than risky bank shots combined with the added complication of navigating differently coloured balls at different times means that professional snooker players are far above and beyond the ordinary Joe.
On a good day, I could clear four or five balls on a pool table with some regularity, but the chance of me clocking up a break of more than fifteen on a snooker table is slim. The majority of the nation would probably label watching snooker and pool as equally boring, but for ardent snooker fans the differing skill element must be the difference in terms of keeping snooker in a primetime TV slot and consigning pool to the scrapheap.
Perhaps a slightly less important reason for the lack of TV audience that pool receives is that its growth didn’t mirror, and wasn’t partly down to, the rise of television itself. The popularity of snooker grew exponentially as the cult of television exploded into the family living room, and subsequently reaped the long-lasting benefits of this. Indeed, my gran could even recall the irony of attempting to watch snooker in black and white. In contrast, although pool far outdated television, innovations such as the Mosconi Cup, which attempt to switch the emphasis onto the crowd atmosphere seen in televised darts, only came into effect during the 1990s. Therefore, pool simply isn’t synonymous with television in the same way that snooker and football are. This in turn means less money for advertising and sponsorships and less chance to grow the game.
Walk into any pool hall and the pool tables will be packed, with the solitary snooker table sitting unused in the corner, but the fact remains that pool simply isn’t associated with television. Without wishing to demean the skill level of professional pool players, who would undoubtedly thrash me in a game, the reality remains that Ronnie O’Sullivan is a household name whereas his pool equivalent David Archer was unknown to me until this winter. The gap between the novice and the pro is nowhere near as vast compared to other sports, and the majority of the population associate pool with a bit of pub fun rather than serious televised competition.
There is something stirring at Anfield. A feeling that hasn’t been around since the time when Mr Benitez was in charge. After a solid start to the season, Liverpool are in second place coming out of the international break, level on points with league leaders Arsenal. Crucially for all Reds fans, there is a six-point gap between themselves and Manchester United. The future is starting to look an altogether different shade of red.
Perhaps, but this is Liverpool we’re talking about. Ever since Rafa’s last disastrous season in 09-10 which finished in seventh place and no Champions League football, the club has been an ‘also-ran’ in the League. Roy Hodgson was awful. Kenny Dalglish brought back nostalgia and wasteful spending. There’s been a welcome change of ownership too, albeit one that took place solely on the far side of the Atlantic. Brendan Rodgers seems to personify the professionalism of the young football manager and he’s definitely improved both the team and the mood on Merseyside, but how long can the feeling that Champions League qualification is there for the taking last?
With a squad like this one, not very long. Six teams finished above Liverpool last season and, possibly with the exception of Everton, all have squads with the quality-in-depth to put Rodgers’ squad to shame. In the only game Liverpool have lost so far this season, against Southampton back in September, the manager turned to a half-fit José Enrique, Spanish youth import Luis Alberto and speedy kid Raheem Sterling to overhaul the one-goal deficit. When faced with the ignominy of a 1-1 draw to Norwich, José Mourinho turned to his bench and found Eden Hazard, Willian and Samuel Eto’o. Manchester City and Tottenham also have great strength in depth. The Liverpool squad is almost without injuries at the moment and it’s clear that after the first team start picking up knocks, Rodgers is going to find himself with some tough decisions.
There’s another problem too; one of miscalculation. Liverpool have so far beaten Stoke, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Sunderland and Crystal Palace. With the exception of their great rivals, it’s quite possible that all of those teams will finish in the bottom half of the league. Liverpool got 43 points against the bottom ten teams last season, and only lost three times in all those games. Against the top half, they were plagued by draw after draw after draw, and finished with only 18 points.
December is going to be a crucial month for Rodgers. Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea all offer chances for big statements, but with two trips to London and only one game at home, it’s difficult to see the Reds coming up trumps.
It’s not that the first team isn’t good enough to challenge the big boys. There has definitely been improvement there compared to last season, especially in defence. The team has received a real makeover since Rodgers took over and looks much the better for it but there’s no back up. If you’re a Liverpool fan, it’s too easy to see a tired team with one of SAS missing – Suárez’s disciplinary record is another issue – getting trounced at White Hart Lane and then again two weeks later at Chelsea.
Further “unacceptable” performances like the one against Southampton will inevitably follow until it looks like improving on last year’s seventh place is going to be an achievement as Martínez’s Everton go from strength to strength. I really, really don’t want to say this, but Liverpool aren’t going to finish fourth this season. Didn’t we all know that anyway?
Most Manchester United fans are unlikely to take many positives from their recent 4-1 defeat to rivals Manchester City, but the buoyant performance of Wayne Rooney was certainly one. Indeed, Rooney played like the Rooney of old, producing a display much more reminiscent of the fresh-faced teenager who burst onto the Premier League scene at the age of sixteen than the 27-year-old man who, by his own admission, “struggles to walk for the first half an hour” when he gets out of bed.
By and large, the Rooney of the past three years hasn’t been as good as he should have been. Apart from a revival in form partly sparked by the sublime overhead kick back in 2011 and a haul of 27 league goals the following season, Rooney has stumbled from a dismal World Cup campaign in 2010 to sitting on the bench during that fateful night against Real Madrid. More instructive than anything perhaps, is the fact that Chelsea’s rumoured summer bid of £25 million for a player who should be entering the peak years of his career was almost identical to the amount Manchester United paid Everton for Rooney at 18-years-old.
Rooney’s performance against City however, was everything that his performances in the past season in particular have lacked. His pinpoint consolation free-kick aside, we saw a leaner and more mobile Wayne Rooney who seems to have regained that extra yard of sharpness using his superb touch and passing range to once again set the tempo of United’s attacks. An energetic jewel in an otherwise abject exhibition of Moyes’ United, Rooney worked tirelessly to get in between the lines, pressing City without the ball and looking to threaten on goal with it.
Regardless of whether or not he is happy at Old Trafford, this is a World Cup year and both England and Manchester United desperately need the old Rooney back. England’s qualification is on a knife edge and a moment of quality from Rooney could easily be the difference between automatic qualification or two more trademark Roy Hodgson draws. For a player whose best international tournament remains Euro 2004, Rooney needs a performance befitting the forum of Brazil to secure both his national and international footballing legacy. In the shorter term, a United midfield badly lacking creativity will rely heavily on both Rooney and Robin van Persie to drag them into the top four, let alone regain their title.
If you’d asked supporters to name their top five Premier League strikers midway through last season, the sad reality is that Wayne Rooney would have been fourth or fifth on the list, if at all. This is a player who has been consistently very good for a very long time, rise to the occasion for club and country this season and Rooney will finally be recognised as the great player he’s always been expected to become.