British Tennis: Thriving not just Surviving

Great British tennis is in possibly the best position it has been since the days of Fred Perry. The Davis Cup win this year over Belgium was an achievement that has drawn attention to state of the tennis.

Other than of course the hero and messiah of British tennis, Andy Murray there are three other men that are fighting fit for the country at singles level.

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Andy Murray kisses the Wimbledon trophy after beating Novak Djokovic

Here are the three in numbers:

Kyle Edmund
Age: 20
Best Grand Slam Finish: French Open 2nd Round (2015)
World Ranking: 102

James Ward
Age: 28
Best Grand Slam Finish: Wimbledon 3rd Round (2015)
World Ranking: 155

Dan Evans
Age: 25
Best Grand Slam Finish: US Open 3rd Round (2013)
World Ranking: 185

KYLE EDMUND
Kyle Edmund and James Ward both competed in the Davis Cup final and Dan Evans competed in the semi-final and was still awarded a medal after the resounding 3-1 win.

Kyle Edmund’s young career has started brightly after having been dubbed the ‘golden boy’ of Great Britain following his junior Grand Slam wins in the USA and France a few years ago.

His most recent title that is before winning the Davis Cup was the Copa Fila in November. Edmund’s performance in that tournament as he beat Berlocq gained him the final place in the Davis Cup team over Daniel Evans.

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Kyle Edmund

The British number three has been given a place in the upcoming Australian Open which starts next month following the withdrawal of Gasquet.

His Davis Cup performance in itself was a superb achievement, the fact he took two sets off Belgian number one Goffin before he ran out of steam was a wonderfully powerful display.

The Australian Open is a big chance for the young British star to prove himself on the big stage. The Grand Slam tournaments are a massive step up even from a Davis Cup final.

JAMES WARD
The 28 year old British number four had a good 2015 with two big wins over marathon match winner John Isner. This included a first round Davis Cup win.

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James Ward

With James Ward also managing to qualify for all but one of the Grand Slams in 2015 says a great deal about the player he is. The French Open which he missed out on he qualified for in 2014 for the first time.

James Ward had a wonderful Wimbledon campaign and he opened the tournament well advancing to the third round for the first time in his career.

Vasek Pospisil was his opponent and the Canadian number two was made to work for his victory in a five set epic, Pospisil advanced all the way to the quarter-final.

DAN EVANS
The British number five although not a feature of the Davis Cup final team was a vital part of the previous rounds with a huge win in the semi-final.

Evans is a powerful player and offers a lot with his right handed forehand being a really potent weapon. His 2013 appearance in the 3rd round of a Grand Slam looked promising. Now though it looks as though that may have been false hope but the 25 year old is still progressing.

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Dan Evans

His win in Knoxville was not quite enough to usurp either Edmund or Ward to play in the final but he still produced a quite sublime tournament in the United States which will aid his development.

With Wimbledon just over six months away it looks like British tennis is in a very good place, especially on the men’s side.

British Men’s Rankings (Top 5)

  1. Andy Murray
  2. Aljaž Bedene
  3. Kyle Edmund
  4. James Ward
  5. Dan Evans
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Eddie’s New England

The appointment of Eddie Jones and this new revamped idea of England and how this no holds barred, shackles off style of play will be employed echoes the promises of Stuart Lancaster we had four years ago.

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Eddie Jones was appointed following England’s disappointing World Cup.

The same old promises, the same sense of excitement among self proclaimed rugby connoisseurs, this fresh English approach, the supposed way forward. How does this ‘new age’ differ from the corporate, professional, emotionless, jargon loaded monologue we were fed four years ago?

The first big difference is the fact we have a rugby mad coach at the helm. This is no longer the schoolteacher and his pupils. Eddie Jones breathes rugby and has success in the sport running in his veins his teams have dominated headlines in three of the last four World Cups.

In 2003, Australia hosted a great tournament from an English perspective, Australia also made the final. A very tough semi-final encounter against the All Blacks was possibly the best game I had seen Australia play over the course of the tournament. They won at a canter.

2007 saw Eddie Jones with another finalist, this time though he won with Jake White’s Springboks and Eddie Jones had his revenge over England. This was a side that dominated rugby with players like Habana, Du Preez and Smit all now recognised as some of the best players to have graced the game.

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Bryan Habana in action for South Africa at 2011 World Cup.

This year Jones once again showed what his teams can do on the global stage with Japan. They announced themselves in England in dramatic fashion securing their first World Cup victory over South Africa. Inspired by the likes of Ayumu Goromaru, Fumiaki Tanaka and Michael Leitch saw them go on to also beat Samoa and USA, only losing to Scotland.

Despite this impressive record indeed winning more games than England they failed to qualify for the quarter-finals due to bonus points. That went down to the final game of the pool as Scotland scraped past Samoa to secure a place in the last eight.

These three wins were impressive in themselves, most importantly the win over South Africa a feat England have failed to achieve over the past four years. Eddie Jones had masterminded a win over one of the greatest rugby nations on the planet it was quite some feat for the Brave Blossoms and one that will live long in the memory.

Eddie Jones also elevated national Japanese players to new heights despite former coach John Kirwan’s desire to make it a Japanese Barbarians sort of team with little national identity.

Tanaka is plying his trade with the Highlanders in New Zealand and fullback Goromaru is due to play for the Queensland Reds when the 2016 Super Rugby season begins and his name is being muttered in hushed tones to replace Leigh Halfpenny at Toulon when the Welsh maestro leaves either to return to Wales or to link up with former Cardiff coach Dai Young at Wasps.

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Goromaru scored a try against South Africa.

Eddie Jones has been handed arguably the biggest job in world rugby right now to a premature fanfare. So let’s stop the corporate, professional talking and stop the speculation about where England will be in four years. Stop all the reflection on the past and why it didn’t work out for Lancaster. It’s time to see what England can do and that starts with Scotland on 6th February.

England Six Nations Fixtures

06/02/16, Scotland, Murrayfield
14/02.16, Italy, Stadio Olimpico
27/02/16, Ireland, Twickenham
12/03/16, Wales, Twickenham
19/03/16, France, Stade de France

Number of New Stars Promising for England

England have a number of young players in wonderful form and recently Henry Slade, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson have had people within the game purring.

This weekend two more backs hit the scene competing for places, Ben Spencer of Saracens reminded of the class he possesses but rarely gets to show due to the depth at his club.

The scrum-half was blinding. His kick over the top to send Ashton over was masterful you could even argue perfect.

Vision like that is something you cannot teach. A quick look up after a clever break was all Spencer needed to send his winger away.

He added to this with a try of his own. This was created by his fleeting feet and made him stand out.

In the later Twickenham game there was one teenager who stood out. London Irish centre Johnny Williams was outstanding and scored a brace in a game which showed very little positive for the Exiles.

Williams has an excellent record recently with four tries in just three games bagging two tries in the Challenge Cup with one each against Grenoble and Agen.

The centre has only just turned 19 and has a number of age grade appearances for England.

The speedy centre’s tries were not that straight forward either, they were quite sensational. The strong fending and bravery of Williams makes him a very exciting prospect.

The fact that every weekend a new name is popping up as a potential England candidate is only promising for the game in this country.

Spencer and Williams are sure to be around for years and if they can continue their current form there is nothing to stop them being England stars.

Why Wawrinka Can Win Wimbledon

We have broken the Wimbledon men’s singles into the final 8, in that final 8 are the top 4 players with Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Wawrinka all playing tomorrow.

Wawrinka may be 4th in the world but with a French Open victory under his belt and that ability to rattle the best tennis player over the last 3 years which is undoubtedly the Serb, Novak Djokovic he has a real chance of winning his 1st Wimbledon title. Yes, grass is very different to the hard courts and clay that Wawrinka has won major titles on before but the grass doesn’t seem to be bothering the Swiss player so far this year. Djokovic and Murray both have been put under huge amounts of pressure.

Novak Djokovic after winning Wimbledon last year.

Novak Djokovic after winning Wimbledon last year.

Murray’s game against Italian Seppi was looking a very different game before the medical break taken by Murray after he lost 6 games in a row following Seppi’s earlier time-out. Djokovic was rattled by Kevin Anderson in his 4th round tie and looks like he could face some stiff competition if he does come up against Wawrinka in the semi-final.

The only other top player that hasn’t been rattled is his countryman and the greatest tennis player of his generation Roger Federer whose grace and air of authority make him a pleasure to watch every time he takes to the courts especially at Wimbledon a place that he loves and the crowds paying him back with a huge amount of support. John McEnroe said that wherever Federer goes it must be “like he’s in front of a home crowd.” Not a surprise when you see the mild mannered, polite gentleman talk to the media.

Federer practising during the 2012 Olympics.

Federer practising during the 2012 Olympics.

Wawrinka will fancy his chances and back himself to beat Djokovic again if he gets the chance, who’s to say they will both make the semi-finals. Nothing is guaranteed that is something we’ve certainly seen so far this year with the women’s draw as Jelena Jankovic knocked out holder Kvitova and Nadal being beaten in the second round.

Wawrinka is destined for greatness his win in Melbourne last year was the start of a surge from the Swiss player who has forced himself into the top 4 and is sure to be a contender at the US Open later this year and of course the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London in November. His victory in Paris showed his ability to beat players that would have been well fancied pre-match which saw him make history at Roland Garros. It wouldn’t be wise to bet against him now, in the form of his life and closing in on Federer as the Swiss number 1.

Wawrinka after his French Open win.

Wawrinka after his French Open win.

Wawrinka’s route to the final isn’t an easy having to face Gasquet and then either Djokovic or Cilic depending in that other quarter-final. However I am certain Wawrinka would rather face Djokovic than Federer or Murray who are in the other side of the draw. Wawrinka knows how to manipulate the Serb and really make him feel uncomfortable on court.

Wawrinka has a massive opportunity and this week could define his career over the next decade and which players dominate the majors over the coming years. It is a vital week not just for Wawrinka but the sport in general.

Latin Dancing

Latin America, the home of the salsa, a dance full of passion and flair much like that of Barcelona’s invincible strike force. A trio that boasts in my opinion the greatest player of all time Lionel Messi, skilful and trickmaster Neymar and goal scoring glutton Suarez. A frontline lethal in front of goal and a force that has taken Barcelona to the Spanish treble, with triumph over their Madrid rivals in La Liga, dispatching of Bilbao in the Copa del Rey and a Champions League win to write themselves into the history books, Barcelona are thriving.

Messi the trickery of a magician, aim of a sniper and daring of a stuntman, he just epitomises talent. The Argentinian has been sensational all season and made huge contributions to this Barcelona team as they grow into becoming greats of the beautiful game from goalkeeper to the deadly 3 forwards. The greatest player of our generation has the ability to silence tens of thousands of people within seconds he can take the Nou Camp from a state of utter despair into ecstasy and a dreamland filled with the shouts of joyous fans that have come to watch their heroes. You watch Lionel Messi take the field and the reaction that precedes the demagogue as he leaves defenders trailing in his wake as he dances past defenders.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring a goal for Barcelona.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring a goal for Barcelona.

Neymar what to say about the Brazilian trickster, only a few years ago the Brazilian forward was plying his trade in his home country before moving to arguably the greatest club in the world. He went from a Brazilian league that is short of international class to training among Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and Alves a team that contain many stars that have won the World Cup, the Euros and everything else there is to win. He now has that swagger that is definitive with the Barcelona squad, that reputation that comes with being a player at the super club. Undoubtedly brilliant, deceptively influential without Neymar you doubt Messi or Suarez would be as effective in scything open Europe’s best defences as German champions Bayern Munich found out all too well in the semi-final.

Neymar celebrates a goal for his native Brazil.

Neymar celebrates a goal for his native Brazil.

Luis Suarez, the striker that couldn’t stop scoring for Liverpool has come to Barcelona and when you thought that Barcelona couldn’t get any better the Uruguayan hitman added another attacking outlet to the Spanish giants, and it’s not just goals that the former Liverpool forward brings it’s service to his other Latin American counterparts in this wonderful dance that is why Barcelona are the best in not just Europe but the world. Suarez had this art at Anfield and was providing the opportunities for England forward Sturridge to score. At the Nou Camp this art has developed and his masterpiece is greatly appreciated by the thousands that watch the Uruguayan win their blessed team trophies with relative ease.

Luis Suarez celebrates a pivotal goal against rivals Real Madrid.

Luis Suarez celebrates a pivotal goal against rivals Real Madrid.

A club awash with history and former stars, they have had an unbelievable year first capturing Suarez then winning all they had to win and in doing so raising up this trio as the greatest strike force football has to offer. There’s something quite romantic about the Latin American style of football, the trickery, the beauty, the individual brilliance, one thing is for sure Barcelona’s place as the best team in Europe is assured…until August that is.

Bath Must Take Chance to Take Place at Europe’s Elite Table

Bath Rugby, a club steeped in history much like their opponent in Saturday’s semi-final Leicester Tigers. Bath have finally got their wish with their first home semi-final in the Premiership and it seems as though the cash of millionaire Bruce Craig and the recruitment of Mike Ford is paying off.

With Bath’s playmaking stars of George Ford and Jonathan Joseph have been stars for not only Bath but also England. Add to that a deadly cocktail of Anthony Watson, Kyle Eastmond and Semesa Rokoduguni and the power of skyscraper Matt Banahan and you have a backline most clubs would die for. The entertaining and potent backs have racked up 72 tries and have only lost one league game at home this season and that was to Northampton Saints during an international window that meant Bath were missing key players, of course Northampton were as well but without Bath having a real back-up for the Premiership player of the year George Ford they struggled to get any go forward.

Matt Banahan  making a break against Mogliano

Matt Banahan making a break against Mogliano

Bath have also developed a pack that are nasty something every pack needs, a pack that could rival the pack that contained players like Borthwick, Grewcock, Mears and Humphreys but now Bath have players like Louw, Attwood and Burgess and of course Bath’s standout forward this season. Australian number eight Leroy Houston who won the most recent forward of the month award. With their first choice tight five they have driven some of the best packs in Europe into the ground such as Toulouse and Glasgow. Having had NRL convert Sam Burgess turn his hand to being a flanker has only added to this vicious pack as Sam Burgess showed powering through the Gloucester defence to score last weekend.

Sam Burgess has been a revelation at flanker

Sam Burgess has been a revelation at flanker

Bath Rugby now have a shot at winning the title when they take on Leicester Tigers at the Recreation Ground. Last time Leicester came to play their bitterest rivals at the Rec Bath thumped the Tigers 45-0 in a thrilling contest when the lethal backs tore apart a rather mediocre Leicester defence in a powerful, absorbing display which showed what this red hot Bath side are capable of.

Bath have not won the league title since 1996 when professionalism was at a primal stage in it’s development following this transformation in 1995. Leicester have reached the play-offs ten times a record. The Tigers often roar into the play-offs and will not be an easy task for this Bath side. Bath have a huge chance this year to take their place as on of Europe’s elite by winning the most competitive league in the world.

Bath the only side with a clean bill of health in the play-offs and they have a home semi-final as the season comes to a close. The West Country side have also played the best brand of rugby out of the top 4 and have shown how powerful and precise their forward pack can be. They also now have a maturing fly-half whose inconsistency of last term a now just a memory as he marches his team around the field allowing the Bath forwards to get the ball rolling before the brilliant fly-half unleashes the tricky footwork of Joesph, the pace of Watson or the power of Banahan as defences can only look on.

George Ford scores against Scotland.

George Ford scores against Scotland.

Why England Need To Look South

The three best opensides in world rugby right now, David Pocock, François Louw and Richie McCaw, all three of which ply their trade in the Super 15. They are what us here in England would class as a ‘classic’ 7 or ‘southern hemisphere’ openside.

We have a ready made man to join the three best in the world that man is the Toulon flanker, Stefan Armitage who has been one of the rouge et noir’s star players over the past few seasons as they have become European powerhouses. Unfortunately England continue not to pick the flanker due to England’s selection policy of only picking players based in England.

You only have to look at the Premiership though to see that we need a southern hemisphere style 7. The top 4 teams at the moment all have a player in that mould, Calum Clark at Saints, Burger for Saracens, Louw at Bath and Julian Salvi at Leicester, while current England captain and opened Chris Robshaw’s Harlequins languish in 8th. At Harlequins they have another option much like Armitage, Luke Wallace who in November made the breakdown a living hell like Michael Hooper and David Pocock can for opposition.

It may be time for Chris Robshaw to move on, the man has had his day, and yes his commitment to the cause in unquestionable, as a leader, captain and role model he is second to none but as a 7?

The World Cup is just around the corner and Lancaster would be foolish not to select the Harlequins flanker as his captain for this World Cup or would he? With 2 of the finest opensides in the world David Pocock and Sam Warburton lying in wait in the group stage it could be tough for Captain Chris. Pocock is not alone as a great Australian 7 they also have Michael Hooper who has been Australia’s choice as of late due to Pocock’s injury nightmare.

It is high time Lancaster used the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause on selection policy and brought Steffon Armitage into the World Cup squad, he doesn’t have to start the Toulon flanker but if Robshaw is having rings run round him by Pocock or Warburton they will need an alternative and that alternative should be the Toulon openside.

Well Lancaster it’s up to you but England are going to need to adapt and bring in an ‘old school’ 7 at some point whether it’s now or after the World Cup is a question only Lancaster can answer.