Sunday, January 31, 2010

"He is the king, he is the master"

In displaying the most unique combination of brutality and elegance, Roger Federer dismissed both Britain’s and Andy Murray’s Australian Open hopes by lifting his 16th grand slam title. The score in many ways is deceptive as Murray was anything, but ordinary. Federer, though at times lifted his game to dizzying heights of brilliance, heights which, perhaps have never been reached by any other player in the history of the game. After having broken Murray early in the opening set, Federer suffered a temporary stutter with Murray breaking back, but with the Scot serving at 3-4, Federer wrestled the initiative back by producing a brand of ruthlessly imperious tennis that we have now almost come to expect from him. He followed a glorious backhand down the line with a sumptuously hammered forehand winner to give himself the edge in the first set, which he consolidated in typically authoritative fashion in the following game to take the set, 6-3. Federer tends to up his game in the biggest of stages and the first set in particular was testament to this outstanding talent that he possesses.

Having zipped ahead, Federer was never going to let go of the initiative and the second set exemplified some of his remarkable qualities that sets him apart from the rest. Serving with venomous efficiency and by producing stupendous angles on his ground strokes, he infused a sense of urgency to his game, which left Murray, literally gasping for breath. I have always felt that Murray uses the geometry of a tennis court to better effect than any other player, but on this day, Federer was quite simply matchless. Murray came into the match with a definite strategic plan of playing more towards Federer’s backhand, but with Federer in such sublime form, Murray’s tactics were rendered insignificant.

The third set finally saw Murray exhibit some of the form that he had produced en route to the final, only to be thwarted both by his own inadequacies in finishing of the big points and the sheer brilliance of Federer. Murray broke Federer’s serve and raced to a 5-2 lead, but the Swiss maestro fought back splendidly and took the set to a tie-break, which he won 13 points to 11, but not before Murray had spurned several wonderful opportunities. An inevitably pessimistic response is sure to follow Murray’s loss, but there were moments in the game, when Murray showed us exactly why he is so highly regarded. He would do well not to be overly disheartened by the loss, as it was more a case of Federer’s genius than his own frailties, which tipped the game convincingly in Federer’s favour. I am sure the world will witness Murray picking up a few grand slam triumphs as he certainly has the game to do it, but as for this final, it merely reconfirms the fact that Federer is perhaps the greatest of all time.

Friday, January 15, 2010

On Clarke, Vieira and the Title Race

There are few better sights in world cricket at the moment than watching Michael Clarke in full flow. The last couple of years have seen Clarke fulfil some of his remarkable potential by combining enterprising stroke play with superb temperament. Without losing any of the exuberance that he possessed as a young cricketer and without curbing any of his natural instincts, Clarke has added tonnes of steel to his batting and has matured into one of the finest batsmen in the world. His century against Pakistan at the Bellerive Oval contained a beautiful blend of pleasing drives and sumptuous cuts and in the process exhibited a form of refined elegance which is rarely seen in today’s T-20 crazy days.

Watchful at the beginning of his innings, Clarke slowly unleashed the full range of his strokes and together with a resurgent Ponting, Pakistan’s attack was put to the sword in typically ruthless fashion. Clarke was particularly splendid against Danish Kaneria, using his nimble feet to dazzling effect, never for one moment allowing the leg spinner to settle into any form of rhythm. In many ways, this innings of Clarke’s, exemplifies his journey as a cricketer, which has seen a brash young talent transformed into one of Australia’s most trusted and responsible batsmen. By adding method to his flair, Clarke has developed into a batsman of supreme international repute and the years to come could see Clarke realise the full value of his outstanding potential and take his place amongst the pantheon of cricketing greats.


Patrick Vieira’s signing is viewed by many as a gamble, but it’s a gamble worth taking in my opinion. Manchester City are in desperate need of leadership and someone like Vieira is just the kind of commanding presence that City requires to take them up the ladder. Vieira may be past his prime and may be incapable of donning the ‘box to box’ role that he once performed with marvellous vigour for Arsenal, but he still brings with him an abundance of experience and undoubted nous, which are qualities that City are certainly lacking at the moment.

Vieira’s physical prowess often overshadows his composure on the ball and his metronomic passing ability, which are attributes that put him together with Roy Keane at the summit of the best midfielders that the Premier League has witnessed. At the moment, with Carlos Tevez in exceptional form, all looks merry for City, but when the going gets tough, having someone like Vieira in the line-up is likely to do more good than harm. I believe the signing represents a win-win situation for the club, considering that they have only temporarily loaned Vieira and therefore possess the option of releasing him at the end of the season if his performances fail to match up to Mancini’s lofty expectations.


The title race this season has probably been the most open ever in Premier League history, but its more a product of the increasing mediocrity amongst the bigger clubs than a case of any drastic improvement from the others. Of course the likes of Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have shown a definite advancement, but the performance of the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool have unquestionably dropped. Liverpool’s plight has been well documented and there is little left to be said about the scale of their tremendous decline. With Gerrard, Torres and Benayoun picking up new injuries and with scant funds available for any significant purchases, there may well be no light at the end of the tunnel for Liverpool. Chelsea may be top of the league and may have showcased reasonable consistency, but the evidence of their form over December and the loss of Drogba and Essien to the African Cup of Nations, would suggest that Chelsea’s best form is probably past them and that they are far from the potent force that many believed they are at the start of the season. Manchester United have done little to alleviate the loss of Ronaldo and strangely seem to be incapable of any creative invention on the field. To go with the terrible injury crisis at the back, Ferguson seems to be stuck in some sort of new found conservatism, which has seen the United attack looking woefully blunt and incapable of unlocking even the most pedestrian of defences.

Arsenal are perhaps the only club amongst the so-called big four who have moved up a notch this season and the signing of Thomas Vermaelen, represents a rare success for Wenger as far as signing central defenders is concerned. The likes of Alexandre Song, Aaron Ramsey and Bacari Sagna have all been quietly impressive and with the belief and emphasis that is laid on attacking play, Arsenal have not only been the best side to watch this season, but have also been the strongest. The Gunners haven’t lost any of their fluidity in attack and have solidified significantly at the back, but there is far too much football left this season, to state with any level of confidence that they are best placed to lift the title. The coming months of football are sure to make fascinating viewing, but I only hope there is an improvement in the quality of football to go with the astonishingly open title race.