Posted by Barrie on Sunday, 31 May 2009

Rafael Nadal's unbeaten run ends at Roland Garros

Robin Soderling became the first person to beat 4-time defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal today.

The Swede, seeded 23 in this year's tournament, previously never got this far in a Grand Slam before, played his way and controlled the rallies, pulling off several tremendous winners.

Soderling took the opening set 6-2, but order appeared to be restored at the beginning of the second set when Nadal broke early. Anyone thinking Nadal was going to take the following three sets comfortably was mistaken. Soderling didn't give up in the second set and broke back in the 10th game eventually taking the set to a tie break. The Swede crumbled in the tie break, allowing Nadal to to tie the match up.

Whilst Nadal wasn't at his best, Soderling wasn't to fall apart after the second set. Continuing his aggressive game that had the world number 1 deep behind the baseline and unable to dictate the rallies, there was an ever-increasing sense that something special could be on the cards. An awful service game from Nadal lead to a break and Soderling didn't crack under pressure, and Nadal couldn't crack his serve, holding to love in the 10th game, to take the third set 6-4.

A close fourth set went to a tie break. Robin Soderling was dominant this time, with some winners down the line and Nadal unable to keep up in the rallies. Soderling got to a 6-1 tie break lead and took his 2nd match point to stun the Philippe Chatrier crowd. Soderling was joyous and even threw his winning racket into the crowd.

Robin Soderling goes on to the quarter finals to face the winner of the Nikolay Davydenko-Fernando Verdasco match.

In other tennis news today, Andy Murray beat Marin Cilic in straight sets. The world number 3 will face the flying Fernando Gonzalez in the quarter finals who breezed past Victor Hanescu this morning. The defending women's champion Ana Ivanovic went out in straight sets to Victoria Azarenka, and Dinara Safina thrashed Aravane Rezai 6-1 6-0 after losing the opening game.

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Posted by Barrie on Thursday, 28 May 2009

Brave Dokic retires in second set

Jelena Dokic was forced to retire during the second set in her 2nd round match with world number 4 Elena Dementieva this evening, after taking the first set with some comfort.

Dokic, who looked serious about her comeback in January when she made it to the Quarter Finals of the Australian Open with her fellow countrymen giving her great support, which included a victory over Caroline Wozniacki. She hasn't competed in many tournaments since, and had picked up just 1 win before the French Open and twice lost to Wozniacki since. But she played very well in coming from a set down to defeat Karolina Sprem in the opening round, 3-6 6-1 6-2.

Today, she look dominant in the opening set against Elena Dementieva, winning it 6-2 against the Olympic Gold Medalist. She went a break up early in the second set, 2-1 before a back injury in the following service game caused her problems and allowed Dementieva to break back. A long stoppage followed as Dokic went for treatement and when she eventually came back was in tears. She continued to play on gingerly, clearly struggling with her movement and distraught, but somehow managed to break Dementieva's serve for a 3-2 lead. Whilst Dementieva wasn't forcing her injured opponent to move much for the shots, Dokic's struggle became too much after she was broken again and Dementieva held her next serve without resistance for a 4-3 lead in the second. Dokic retired straight after that and Dementieva along with Dokic's coach tried consulting the upset player who looked on course for round 3 not long before.

Elena Dementieva goes on to face Samantha Stosur in round 3. In other tennis news today, number 2 seed Roger Federer came from 5-1 down in the third set to beat Jose Acasuso 7-6 5-7 7-6 6-2, whilst Juan Martin Del Potro, Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick went through in straight sets. Venus Williams had to face match point before defeating Lucie Safarova 6-7 6-2 7-5, whilst Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki all had comfortable victories.

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Posted by Barrie on Monday, 25 May 2009

Top 5 Premier League Players 2008/09

With hundred's of players to choose from in what has been another fantastic Premier League season, I've picked my top 5 performers of the season:

5.Mark Schwarzer (Fulham)
Over the summer, then-35 year old goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer left Middlesbrough after 11 season's there to play for Fulham who had narrowly avoided relegation the season before on a free transfer after his contract expired. He also turned down moves to Bayern Munich and Juventus as they didn't promise him first team football. What could have been a disastrous end to his career, it turned out to be a fantastic move. Schwarzer has played fantastic this season, saving 80% of shots faced (most in Premier League), keeping 15 clean sheets as part of the Fulham defence that was the main reason for Fulham's successful season that saw them finish 7th and quality for Europe. Schwarzer has been the best value-for-money signing this summer and a deserved top 5 nominee.

4. Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Frank Lampard has had his critics over the years, most-notably when playing for England. But when it comes to Chelsea, Lampard always delivers and was-again provided the goods this season. Double figures in terms of league goals again, this time with 12. No one in the Premier League had more assists than Lampard (10), and he played well under both Scolari and Hiddink, which is something that can't be said of too many Chelsea players. A top player in all competitions, was part of the side in their unfortunate Champions League semi final defeat, he will be playing in the FA Cup final next weekend, looking to win a trophy this season. He is the driving force of Chelsea's attack and isn't afraid to shoot, consistently delivering the goods. Unfortunate not be on the player of the year shortlist, but Frank Lampard makes it at number 4 on my list.

3.Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't made everyone's top list this season, on the sole basis of his incredible performance last season. 2nd top scorer in the Premier League this season with 18 goals from midfield, with some goal of the season candidates in the Champions League. He came into this season injured after being linked to Real Madrid. United became nearly unstoppable when he returned as he became an integral part of their dominant side that is looking to win their 5th trophy this season when they face Barcelona in the Champions League final on Wednesday night. Whilst his diving and strops are the ugly side to his game, you can't deny the talent this kid has. No one has been able to keep Ronaldo quiet this season, and the media will be hoping he doesn't go quiet in the summer when his transfer rumour to Real Madrid gets in full flow again. Ronaldo is a worthy candidate for player of the year, and makes number 3 on my list.

2.Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Despite injuries and even a legal battle disrupting him this season, Steven Gerrard has still produced the goods again for Liverpool this season. No one is a bigger MVP to their team than Gerrard. He is the driving force in the Liverpool side and is sorely missed when he isn't there. Disrupting other team's attacks, whilst being the provider and scorer of many goals this season, as ever. Gerrard put in another fantastic performance this season and was a vital part of the Liverpool side that gave Manchester United some competition in the Premier League this season, and a big part in their 4-1 victory at Old Trafford. Football legend Zinedine Zidane claimed Gerrard was the best player in the world earlier this year and Gerrard has given him every reason to make these claims.

1.Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
Whilst football is often about the attacking side of the game, with most of the “stars” being attacking players and most the awards going to them also, Nemanja Vidic is a defender that has received a lot of credit this season, being nominated for the PFA Player of the Season award. A solid defender who's partnership with Rio Ferdinand helped set a Premier League record 14 clean sheets in a row, forcing goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar into relatively few saves during a lot of those games. His temperament is his only downside, that saw him sent off in the Club World Cup final for elbowing an opponent, and was also sent off in both games against Liverpool this season. Fernando Torres is the only player to have got the better of him this season and no one beats him in the air. An absolute rock in their defence and United certainly wouldn't have kept 24 clean sheets this season without him. A deserved winner of any award this season is Nemanja Vidic.

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Top 5 Premier League Managers 2008/09

Sir Alex Ferguson won his 11th Premier League title last week, whilst Tony Pulis done a fantastic job with newly-promoted Stoke City in his first season in the top flight. Harry Redknapp, Gianfranco Zola and Guus Hiddink all deserve a mention, but here are my top 5 manager's of the 2008/09 Premier League season:

5.David Moyes (Everton)
Criticised for the big-money signing of Marouane Fellaini on the final day of the transfer window and a slow start to the season that included being dumped out of the UEFA Cup by Standard Liege before the group stage, David Moyes has since lead his Everton side to 5th spot and a place in European competition again. They have also made it to the FA Cup final next weekend, despite numerous injuries to key players that forced him into played Tim Cahill as a loan striker. Yakubu's been gone for most of the season, James Vaughan and Louis Saha have struggled with injuries too, but Moyes got the best out of loan-signing Jo after he looked like a flop at Manchester City. Phil Jagielka earned himself an England cap after a great performance in a strongly-built defence that kept 17 clean sheets this season. David Moyes gets the best out of his players, and has overcome all the injuries and fielding of a lot of youngsters in another great season.

4.Rafael Benitez (Liverpool)
Apart from the bitching at title rival Alex Ferguson and refusing to congratulate his title success as he acted like a little schoolboy, Rafael Benitez has produced a great performance from his Liverpool side this season that saw them lose just 2 games (albeit to Tottenham and Middlesbrough). The doubles over Manchester United and Chelsea, and undefeated against Arsenal show what this team is capable of. Drawing at home to the likes of Stoke, Fulham and Hull ultimately cost them making a serious challenge for the Premier League title, but if this summer isn't taken up by the rumours of signing Gareth Barry again and the board signing Robbie Keane behind his back then maybe Liverpool can challenge next season. As for this one, trophyless it may be, Rafael Benitez is still a deserving number 4 in my list.

3.Tony Pulis (Stoke City)
Few expected Stoke City to stay up this season, no one could have expected them to beat Arsenal and finish 12th. Paddy Power ruled them out after a 3-1 defeat to Bolton on the opening day of the season, but Tony Pulis stuck to his long ball and long throw tactics and picked up points over teams that failed to deal with this. At the end of the season, his team were able to place some good football also and pick up more valuable victories, including 10 points from 12 against teams in and around the relegation zone near the end of the season that ultimately lead to survival. James Beattie turned out to be a shrewd January signing, whilst Abdoulaye Faye turned out to be a bargain as a £2,250,000 signing in the summer; a rock in their defence and someone who Newcastle badly needed. Sam Allardyce has even tried to sign him for a 3rd time in his career since. Next season will be even tougher for Stoke as more teams find out their style of football, but whether they can outplay Stoke next season will remain to be seen. As for this season, hats off to Tony Pulis for a fantastic performance.

2.Roy Hodgson (Fulham)
Some will argue Roy Hodgson should make number 1 on this list. I was one at the start of the season thinking Fulham would be on their way down, after narrowly avoiding relegation last season and the amount of players that had come into the club in the 12 months before. His last job in English football was at the end of the millennium, where he'd taken Blackburn Rovers from UEFA Cup to bottom of the league before being sacked, paying big money for flops like Kevin Davies and Nathan Blake. No one could have seen what was to come. He settled the squad and built it round a solid defence with new signing Mark Schwarzer being in goal and Brede Hangeland being the rock in a defence that kept 15 clean sheets. They were a big reason why the Premier League broke its record for the most goalless draws, picking up 8 of them. They finished 7th and qualified for next season's Europa League despite just 3 wins on the road this season. Roy Hodgson's experience in Europe should help Fulham, although they will need to expand their squad to compete in all competitions. Don't expect them to be the most exciting team in Europe next season but don't be surprised to see Roy and his side to perform well.

1.Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
There's nothing more to be said that hasn't already been said about Alex Ferguson. Taken his 11th Premier League title this season and with arguably the best squad he's ever had. Another slow start from his side again this season, they turned things around in the new year when they went on an 11-game winning streak and kept a record-breaking 14 clean sheets in a row. He will lead his team out in the Champions League final for the 3rd time in his career on Wednesday night, having won his previous 2. Whilst Rafael Benitez got the better of him head-to-head, Alex Ferguson got it right over the whole season. Already won the Charity Shield, Club World Cup and Carling Cup before the Premier League, only losing to Everton on penalties in the FA Cup, it has been a dominating season by them and will be capped off perfectly if they win the Champions League. Other teams can't compete with the talent that Ferguson has brought in and nurtured, but whilst they may not need to bring anyone in over the summer they still need to fight off Cristiano Ronaldo's link to Real Madrid and the Carlos Tevez affair. This season has been one of Ferguson's finest.

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Posted by Barrie on Sunday, 17 May 2009

Looking foward to Roland Garros

The second Tennis Grand Slam of the year starts in a week's time as the tennis spotlight goes to Paris France for Roland Garros, the French Open.

An unpredictable tournament, with many of the top seeds falling off because of the difficulty to play on clay for many players.

World number 1 Rafael Nadal dominates on this surfact, and has won the last 4 tournaments, 3 against Roger Federer. But Nadal comes into this tournament having lost to Federer in the final of the Madrid Masters today which must raise doubts to some punters. Whilst I do expect Nadal to overcome this defeat and go on to win the French Open, the 4/11 odds on him winning are pretty poor. He'll have a week's rest now after looking fatigued at the end of the final earlier today.

Roger Federer is 8/1 joint-second favourite having just won his first title of the year and beat nemesis Nadal for the first time since 2007. Novak Djokovic has looked good on clay recently, narrowly going out to Rafael Nadal in 3 sets in Madrid; he is also available at 8/1. World number 3, Andy Murray, who has improved his game on clay this year is available at 16/1 to win his first Grand Slam. He has victories over Nadal, Federer and Djokovic this year, but I can't see him winning this tournament.

On the women's side, Ana Ivanovic is defending champion, having beat the now world number 1, Dinara Safina in straight sets, ending Justine Henin's 3 year reign after she retired shortly before the tournament. Ivanovic has only had 2 matches on clay this year, losing in the 3rd round of Rome to Agnieszka Radwanska. She is 16/1 8th favourite, and is not going to defend her trophy! Dinara Safina is deserved favourite at 5/1, having won her last two tournaments, in Rome and Madrid. I'll be having a few £ on her. Safina has started to show some consistency of late, having been a liability in previous years. She was runner up here last year and runner up to Serena Williams at the Australian Open earlier this year. Miss Williams is 8/1 4th favourite, but comes into this tournament on poor form and a knee injury, although you should never write a Williams sister off! Her sister, Venus is 12/1 to win here, but also comes into this tournament on poor form and has never won this Grand Slam before. Jelena Jankovic is joint-2nd favourite with Svetlana Kuznetsova who has found her form again of late (despite her 2nd round exit in Madrid). They are at 7/1.

Be sure to check out our pro tennis tipster's French Open tips during the competition, I assure you he's very good and experienced at this and is expecting to make many £1,000's during this tournament!

In other tennis news today, Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters, Andre Agassi and Tim Henman tested out the new Wimbledon court equipped with roof for the first time today, which went down a success. Highlights of a tie break in a mixed doubles match can be found at the BBC.

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Posted by Barrie on Monday, 11 May 2009

Serena Williams pulls out after 1 set of Madrid Masters

After losing the first set to Francesca Schiavone 6-4, Serena Williams quit the match saying she needed to protect her knee... and finances.

Serena Williams hasn't won a game since losing the Sony Ericsson Open final to Victoria Azarenka where she struggled with her movement in that match due to her knee injury. She has lost to Klara Zapkopalova, Patty Schnyder and now Francesca Schiavone since.

Serena claimed that she would be fined $75,000 by the WTA if she didn't turn up, although this was just a case of her not understanding the rules, as the WTA wouldn't have fined her for not playing because of injury, as long as she turned up and done her behind the scenes obligations. She lost the world number 1 spot last month to Dinara Safina.

Whilst some will say $75,000 is nothing to the 10-time Grand Slam winner, but I can understand her protecting her finances, regardless of how much money she has made in the career. Who would want to give up any money that easily?

This whole little outburst, was stupid and needless from Miss Williams and I'm sure she'll look back on it with a little regret. But hopefully now she can rest and recover in time for Roland Garros in two weeks time.

In other tennis news today, Andy Murray officially became the first ever British player to rank in the top 3 as he overtook Novak Djokovic. Both Murray and Djokovic are competing in this week's Madrid Masters.

Richard Gasquet will not be playing due to his suspension for testing positive for cocaine, but the Frenchman has claimed his innocence and will fight his suspension.

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Posted by Barrie on Thursday, 7 May 2009

Who was at fault for Chelsea's Champions League exit?

After getting what they wanted at the Nou Camp, a 0-0 draw, Chelsea played for a 1-0 on Wednesday night in the second leg against Barcelona, and had what they wanted after just 10 minutes thanks to a wonder strike from Michael Essien.

After that Barcelona had a lot of possession, but failed to test Petr Cech thanks to Chelsea's stern defence. They had numerous penalty claims turned down. Whilst one was a dive from Drogba, another where he was tripped, that don't often get given, there were 2 handballs there that the referee, Tom Ovrebo just ignored like it wasn't an offence, the last coming in the 93rd minute that had Michael Ballack chasing him up the field shouting at him. No other ref would have let him get away with that either, that would have been a yellow card, but this referee didn't seem to have a clue.

Whilst the referee can't be accused of being ordered by Michel Platini, after his soft sending off of Eric Abidal mid-way through the second half, this referee struggled to keep up with the demands of to Champions League semi final standards, if Champions League standard at all. Is it just me, or is this often the case with Norwegian and Danish officials? The world of football misses the likes of Anders Frisk, Lubos Michel and even Pierluigi Collina would have given the correct decisions on Wednesday night.

Speaking of Anders Frisk, it is pathetic to hear once again that Chelsea "fans" have been giving Mr Ovrebo death threats. That's not on. Poor refereeing or not.

Chelsea had an extra man for the final 25 minutes and failed to capitalise on this. Even before the red card, Drogba missed a simple chance by scuffing his left foot attempt at Victor Valdes. And when they went a man up they didn't seem to want to put the game away. Of course this is Hiddink's style, a risky one, especially playing against Barcelona. And it backfired. A sliced clearance from Michael Essien lead to Andres Iniesta's strike from 20 yards into the top corner in injury time to book a place in Rome to meet Manchester United in this year's Champions League final. Regardless of the penalty claims they had, they could have attacked a bit more to seal off the game.

Chelsea players were understandably distraught after the game, and I can understand Didier Drogba's outburst at the end of the game that has got everyone talking. Whilst being renowned for his play-acting on the field, Drogba is a determined competitor and his emotions were clearly runing high at the end of the game. He's bound to get a fine and maybe even a suspension now from UEFA, but from a football fan's point of view I've got a little more respect for him after this incident, and from the media's point of view, they enjoyed it.

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Posted by Barrie on Sunday, 3 May 2009

Birmingham seal promotion on final day of Championship season

Whilst the final relegation place was settled at half time today, with Norwich City trailing Charlton Athletic 3-1 (final score 4-2), and Barnsley level at Plymouth that they were never going to lose (winning 2-1 in the end), Birmingham played an end-to-end second half with Reading in a match they won to confirm their second spot and automatic promotion to the Premier League.

Birmingham City went into half time 1-0 up thanks to a goal from Keith Fahey. They deserved their half time lead. When Kevin Phillips made it 2-0 on the hour, they were looking comfortable until they switched off and conceded a Marek Matejovsky goal straight after. Reading pressed for an equaliser in the final 30 minutes, and Birmingham tried getting a 3rd on the counter. Neither happened as Birmingham ran out 2-1 winners and secured promotion. Reading will now face Burnley in the playoffs, whilst Preston North End face Sheffield United after they scrambled a 2-1 victory over Queen's Park Rangers on the final day which included clearing a shot off the line in stoppage time. Cardiff City started the day in 5th needing just a point to secure a playoff spot, but a 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday means they will be in the Championship next season. They miss out on playoffs on goals scored to Preston; a team they lost 6-0 to just a few weeks ago, when just a consolation goal in that game would have seen them in the playoffs looking at hindsight.

I was surprised with Wolves winning the league this season. Coming into it, I thought they'd be fighting for a playoff spot, but their attacking style of football, with Championship top scorer Sylvan Ebanks-Blake has seen them rack up the most wins both at home and away in the table and have been worthy winners under Mick McCarthy. But for a little slip up in February, with a few key players out injured, they've been solid.

Alex McLeish has come under a bit of stick this season, with one of the strongest squads on paper full of highly-rated Championships strikers, but haven't been as commanding as was expected coming into the season. Their defence, which conceded a league-low 34 goals this season has been the base of their promotion campaign. It was highly fitting that Kevin Phillips scored the goal today that confirmed their promotion; a player who hasn't played as many games as he wanted too this season, but a true professional who looks after himself, and is celebrating his second-successive promotion, after winning the league with rivals West Bromwich Albion last season. Whether he is McLeish's plans for next season we'll have to wait and see. He has an eye for goal but doesn't have the pace of the Premier League game.

The playoffs are always exciting and unpredictable. Although it's been a while since we had a classic final, with 4 of the last 5 finals finishing 1-0. Their are 4 top Championship teams in the playoffs this year, with pre-season favourites Reading, in-form Sheffield United and Preston, and Burnley who have had a great run in the domestic cups this season also taking part.

The 3 teams relegated from the Championship, Charlton Athletic, Southampton and Norwich City have all played Premier League football in the last 4 years, will be in the 3rd tier of English football next season. More proof of how unpredictable the football world is...

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