Tennis

Players who can win the Australian Open

The first tennis Grand Slam of the year is fast approaching as the world’s top players battle for glory. Ivan Smyth picks the men in contention to lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.

  1. Novak Djokovic

The Serbian enters this tournament as the favourite after an outstanding end to his 2018 season. The number one ranked player in the world returned from injury to win Wimbledon and the US Open. He suffered defeat in Doha last week, losing to an inspired Roberto Bautista Agut. The 5-set format suits his game and it is hard to see many players who could potentially upset the 14-time Grand Slam Champion. He is aiming to win a record seventh Australian Open title and he will have a major say in who reigns supreme in two weeks’ time.

Novak Djokovic
Can Novak Djokovic win a record seventh Australian Open title? Photo By: PA
  1. Roger Federer

The 20-time Grand Slam champion comes in to this tournament in impressive form after helping Switzerland secure the Hopman Cup. He was undefeated throughout the competition where he defeated Cameron Norrie, Stefanos Tsitsipas and rival Sascha Zverev. Federer is tied with Djokovic and Roy Emerson (who won six titles from 1961-1967) on six Australian Open victories. He struggled towards the end of last season but if he is physically fit then he can create further history.

Roger Federer
Can Roger Federer win three titles Australian Open titles in a row? Sourced Via: Sky Sports
  1. Marin Cilic

It seems like now or never for the 6ft 6in Croat to claim an elusive Astralian Open crown. He is a Grand Slam champion after winning the US Open in 2014. He reached the final last year where he lost out to Roger Federer in a classic final. The 30-year-old reached three Grand Slam quarter finals and helped Croatia to win the Davis Cup in 2018. The fast courts Down Under suit his hard-hitting game and nobody would begrudge him another Slam. He faces a tough first round against Bernard Tomic, but he can go deep once more.

 

  1. Rafael Nadal

The 32-year-old Spaniard will always enter a Grand Slam among the favourites. He has been disrupted by injuries since losing to Novak Djokovic in an epic semi-final at Wimbledon. He has yet to play a competitive game in 2019 which is far from ideal preparation. The 2009 Australian Open champion faces a tough draw in which he may have to face Alex Di Minaur, Kyle Edmund, Kevin Anderson, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to win his 18th Grand Slam title. It would be one of his most impressive Grand Slam victories if he could achieve the feat. If anyone can do it then Nadal can.

Rafael Nadal
Will Nadal win the first Grand Slam of the year? Photo By: Getty.
  1. Sascha Zverev

The talented German has yet to progress beyond the quarter final of a Slam. The 21-year-old is one of the biggest prospects in the game, but he needs to serve big and improve his forehand. Since 2005 only two players outside of Djokovic, Federer or Rafael Nadal have won the Australian Open. Zverev may well be the best bet to break those player’s hold on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. He has not yet progressed beyond the third round of this competition, but he beat both Djokovic and Federer and the ATP Tour Finals last November.

  1. Karen Khachanov

The Russian is an outside bet to win his first ever Grad Slam title. His big serve and large forehand are well suited to the Australian courts. He defeated four top 10 players to win the Paris Masters last November: John Isner, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic. The no.10 seed has not progressed beyond the second round in this tournament before, but he should rectify that stat this year. He can beat any player on his day.

 

The Australian Open runs from 14-27th January. It promises to be a fantastic tournament with plenty of top-quality action in the men’s and women’s draws.

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World Cup Final Talking Points: France and Croatia vie for glory but who will win the ultimate prize?

France and Croatia will face off on Sunday to win the World Cup. It is a final that not many predicted. France were expected to go deep while Croatia were dark horses but due to them flattering to deceive in previous tournaments, no one was sure how well this Croatian team would do. Here are the talking points ahead of the biggest game in these players lives.

World Cup Trophy
Who will get their hands on the Jules Rimet trophy? It’s anyone’s guess at this juncture. Photo By: Getty

Revenge for 1998

France beat Croatia 2-1 in the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup. It was Croatia’s first World Cup as an independent country and their achievement in reaching the semi-final made them cult heroes. They took the lead when striker Davor Suker slotted home after a wonderful assist. France replied instantly and with twenty minutes to go Lillian Thuram got his second and sent France on their way to winning the World Cup. Can Croatia avenge this loss?

France v Croatia 1998 World Cup
France celebrate their semi-final victory at the 1998 World Cup. Who will emerge victorious this time? Photo By: Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport

Can France’s attackers shine?

Strangely France are in a World Cup final but there are plenty of question marks surrounding the team. Their defence has grown in stature and has been excellent, barring the Argentina game. Their attack however has not been as consistent with the French public questioning Deschamps’ system of play. Antoine Griezmann stood up against Uruguay while Kylian Mbappe has been more consistent. Olivier Giroud has not had a shot on target so far. Who will be the one to step up and seize the opportunity?

Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe has scored three goals at the World Cup. Can he score one more? Photo By: Getty

Fatigue

This has been a long competition for both teams – especially Croatia as they have gone to extra time in their three knockout games and penalties in tow of those (against Denmark and Russia). Many believed Croatia would tire against England but in fact they were the fresher team and that is why they won through. France are more disciplined without the ball but will their young squad struggle towards the end of the game. Fatigue could decide this game.

The Midfield Battle

Luka Modric has been outstanding for Croatia in the midfield and he will face his toughest test to date against Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. Ivan Rakitic could be vital in helping Croatia winning this key battle. Pogba and Kante were outstanding against Belgium and if either team can gain control in this sector then they will be World Champions.

Luka Modric Croatia
Will Modric be celebrating Sunday evening? Photo By: AFP

Nerves

No player in either team has played or been involved in a World Cup final. Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic and Griezmann have played in Champions League finals while others have played in Champions League knockout games. Those games are filled with pressure but this game is the biggest game in each of these players lives. A mistake or lapse in concentration could decide what promises to be a close game.

Good luck to both teams and lets hope for a classic World Cup final. It promises to be a cracker.