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 Taking Points as Spain, Portugal, Uruguay and Russia Progress

The World Cup saw top class goals, plenty of drama and plenty of talking points. Here I pick the main talking points from yesterday’s action.

VAR

VAR played a large role in last night’s action as Spain were awarded a last minute Iago Aspas goal despite it being initially ruled out for offside. Iran were awarded a late penalty in their 1-1 draw after a VAR review. This penalty seemed to be harsh as the Portugese defender could do little to avoid the handball. Cristiano Ronaldo was yellow carded after a VAR review when Iran were demanding a red. VAR has caused more drama and it did not enjoy the best of evenings.

Portugal v Iran VAR
Referee Enrique Caceres awarded two penalties using VAR. Photo By: Getty

Penalty Record

This World Cup has seen a new penalty record created. In 2002, 18 penalties were awarded but that record has been broken as Cristiano Ronaldo was awarded the 19th penalty in Russia. Iran were awarded penalty number 20 as VAR has made a profound impact on the number of penalties awarded. One suspects there will be more penalties and more talking points as we approach the knockout stages.

Ronaldo penalty miss v Iran
Ronaldo was awarded the 19th penalty at this World Cup – surpassing the total of 18 in 2002. Photo By: Getty

Spain need to improve

Spain drew 2-2 with Morocco as they have not been beaten since losing to Italy at Eur 2016. La Rojas looked suspect in defence as Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta got mixed up to gift Morocco their opening goal. Gerard Pique was fortunate to not be sent off for a two footed tackle while David De Gea was forced to make one on one saves. Spain’s defending from Morocco’s second goal left a lot to be desired while they struggled to create clear chances in attack. Plenty of work for Fernando Hierro to do.

Uruguay can go deep

Uruguay enjoyed an easy 3-0 win against Russia as they comfortably sealed top spot in Group A. La Celeste have a rock solid defence and an experienced goalkeeper while Lucas Torreira anchors their midfield. The strike partnership of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani is a formidable one as both got on the scoresheet yesterday. If they can overcome Portugal then they have every chance of reaching their first World Cup final since 1950.

Cavani celebrates
Cavani celebrates his first goal at this World Cup. Photo via Sky Sports

Reality Check for Russia

Russia had enjoyed an excellent start to their World Cup campaign with wins against Saudi Arabia and Egypt before they were easily dismissed by Uruguay. The Russian public have gotten behind the team but they simply did not have the quality to match Uruguay. They missed the few chances they had while they were punished for sloppy defending. They will need to improve to challenge Spain but there is still hope for them after Spain’s performance yesterday.

Golovin
Bend it like Golovin. Photo By: Getty

Egypt have been woeful

Egypt finished pointless in Group A as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia yesterday. Mo Salah put the Pharoes ahead but their second half performance was poor as the Saudis took control. Egypt had no other threats in attack besides Salah as the Liverpool man was closely watched. He scored both of Egypt’s goals in this World Cup but his teammates have done little win in a campaign they will want to forget.

Anything can happen at this World Cup

Last night’s action showed that this World Cup is the most unpredictable in recent memory. Iran were inches from topping the group and knocking Ronaldo and co. out while Spain struggled in a game they were expected to win. Russia are the lowest ranked side in the competition but they qualified with a game to spare. None of the favourites have raised their game and that is why this World Cup promises much more drama.

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