Lucas Pouille punctures Andy Murray’s comeback in Cincinnati.

The 24-year-old Frenchman defeated the double Wimbledon winner in three sets. 

Andy Murray’s comeback hit another bump in the road after defeat to Lucas Pouille in the first round of the Western & Southern Open.

Cincinnati is well known for being home to the famous Graeter’s Ice Cream, but unfortunately for Murray, his hopes for a decent tournament ahead of the US Open melted quickly in the Ohio sunshine.

It was his first appearance on court since pulling out of the Citi Open two weeks ago and rustiness showed as the former world number one began timidly against a fresher Pouille.

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Will Andy Murray compete at Flushing Meadows after this defeat? (Image Credit: ROB CARR/GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/tennis/article-andy-murray-loses-in-cincinnati-clearing-way-for-roger-federer/)

Whether he was still recovering from those titanic matches in Washington, or changed his approach, something wasn’t quite right from the outset. His serving was not up to scratch during the opening set, as he recorded six double-faults. He was broken three times by his French opponent, who closed out a comfortable first set 6-1 within 29 minutes.

The one positive the Scot could take from a lacklustre opening set was that he was winning the majority of points from the long rallies. However, Pouille hadn’t needed to get out of second gear and looked well on course to end the contest quickly.

But where most players would capitulate in such a situation, Murray rallied. His performance levels improved during the second set, and the roles were quickly reversed. The 31-year-old broke the 16th seed, before holding serve to take a 2-0 lead. The former world number one only made three unforced errors, and won more points on his first serve as he raced to take the second set 6-1, as the match went to a decider.

The tables then turned once again. Murray started the final set nervously and double-faulted the opening point, before being broken by a resurgent Pouille desperate to make amends for a poor second set.

Missed chances then cost the 31-year-old the match. He failed to convert a crucial break point before falling 3-1 behind. Despite saving a match point at 5-3, Murray was helpless as his French opponent served out the match to claim a 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 win.

Whilst this defeat will disappoint British fans, it was a first victory over Murray for Pouille at the fifth attempt.

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Lucas Pouille enjoyed his first career victory over Andy Murray. (Image Credit: USA TODAY via. https://www.ouest-france.fr/sport/tennis/tennis-lucas-pouille-s-offre-andy-murray-au-1er-tour-cincinnati-5922128)

The Frenchman has been a regular on the ATP Tour this season, with this being his 17th competition in 2018. Whilst he is gaining more experience on court and slowly climbing up into the world top 20, the 24-year-old can still be a loose canon on the court.

His performance against Murray showed why. His game heavily revolves around speed, and this can sometimes effect the accuracy and precision of his shots. Where he was clinical in the opening set, he lost composure during the second and mistakes began to creep in.

But he held his nerve in the final set, and found his range once again to hit some impressive winners. Pouille hit a total of 40 in the match as he defeated the former world number one in an hour and 53 minutes to book his place in round two.

Murray is not scheduled to play again until the US Open at Flushing Meadows, which begins on the 27th August. He now has four tournaments under his belt after missing a year out with a hip injury, but there is much that needs improving still – especially his serving.

He may take up a wildcard at the Winston-Salem Open next week after this defeat, but it will depend on whether his body can cope with another tournament just one week before the gruelling five-set matches at the final Grand Slam of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

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The story behind: AEK Athens

Celtic will be looking to overcome revitalised Greek outfit AEK Athens as they continue their bid to qualify for the 2018/19 Champions League group stages.

The two sides meet in the third qualifying round on Wednesday evening with the first leg taking place at Celtic Park (kick-off 19:45).

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Image Credit: AEK.GR via. https://www.aekfc.gr/newsdetails/aek-platanias-51596.htm?lang=en&path=-1710522554.

While most British fans will know plenty about the Bhoys – many can be forgiven for not knowing a single thing about their opponents.

AEK – who dominated Greek football in the 1990s – are looking to put the difficulties of the past decade behind them. After a couple of years in the lower tiers of Greek football, the Athens-based outfit secured their first Superleague title for 24 years last season. It’s been a roller coaster ride for their supporters, and victory over the Scottish champions would solidify the notion that the Club are heading back towards the good times once again.

Here’s a closer look at their rise, fall and rebirth.

Formation and early years

AEK Athens – nicknamed Kitrinomavree (The Yellow-Blacks) or Dikéfalos Aetós (Double-Headed Eagle) – were founded in 1924 by a group of Greek refugees from Istanbul in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War.

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An early image of the AEK Athens side from the 1920s. (Image Credit: AEK.GR via https://www.aekfc.gr/newsdetails/1924-2015-91-chronia-aek-ta-kalytera-einai-brosta-mas-45109.htm?lang=en&path=-502960559.)

The Club’s popularity rose significantly throughout the 1920s, with AEK seen as a positive symbol for immigrants in the city. Another factor was the influence of their first President Konstantinos Spanoudis, a known associate of the Greek Prime Minister at the time, Eleftherios Venizelos.

In 1928, AEK broke away from the Greek Football Federation (EPO) alongside fellow sides Panathinaikos and Olympiakos to form an alliance known as POK. They would organise friendlies against each other and other European Clubs rather than participate in domestic football. However, the conflict ended a year later in 1929, and they all re-entered the EPO.

They won their first Greek Cup in 1932 after beating Aris Thessaloniki 5–3 in the final. They then went on to win the league and cup double in 1939 – before retaining the league title a year later.

European football achievements (1968-2003)

Celtic fans will need to be aware that of all the Greek sides to have competed in Europe, AEK Athens have been one of the most successful.

In 1968-69, they became the first Greek club to make it through to the European Cup quarter-finals under the guidance of Serbian coach Branko Stanković.

During the 1977-78 season, AEK beat Dynamo Moscow, Derby County, Red Star Belgrade and QPR as they made it through to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, before being eliminated by eventual winners Juventus.

The Club then became the first Greek side to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League in 1994-95 after beating Rangers in the qualifying round. In 2002-03, AEK went through the group stages unbeaten – drawing all six games in a group that included European giants Real Madrid and European regulars AS Roma. Despite failing to come out of the group, their courage and positive performances won many admirers.

Nikolaidis becomes AEK’s saviour

The Club began to struggle off the field at the turn of the century. In 2004, Boyhood fan and star player Demis Nikolaidis was reportedly assaulted by then President Makis Psomiadis’ bodyguards. He left the Club on a free that summer, before Dušan Bajević resigned as manager due to the hostility shown to him by AEK supporters.

Nikolaidis formed a new supporters’ club in 2004 and following strong backing, bought the Club and became President. He managed to clear the outstanding debt the Club owed the Greek judicial system, thus saving the Club. His passion drove crowds back through the turnstiles, and they once again qualified for the group stages of the Champions League in 2006-07. The Greek side just missed out on qualifying for the last 16, but did manage to beat eventual winners AC Milan on an infamous night in Athens during the group stage.

Court case controversy and relegation

In 2008, AEK finished the Greek Superleague in first place. However, they lost the title to rivals Olympiakos due to a court decision in the Piraeus club’s favour. AEK had been found guilty of fielding an illegible player earlier in the season, and the decision sparked outrage. It all went downhill from here for AEK, as the club’s financial problems worsened due to the Greek economic crisis.  

With a lack of resource, the titles began to dry up for AEK, and when fans stormed onto the pitch in 2013, the Club were docked three points and condemned to relegation for the first time in their history.

Regeneration and return to the top

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AEK Athens won the Greek Superleague last season. (Image Credit: FINANCIAL TRIBUNE via. https://financialtribune.com/articles/sports/85899/shojaei-s-aek-athens-celebrates-league-title.)

AEK decided that summer to self-relegate themselves and start again from scratch in the third tier of Greek football. The move proved to be a masterstroke, with back-to-back promotions secured (including an undefeated season in the Greek Football League).

In their first season back in the top flight, they won the Greek Cup (a first trophy since 2010-11) and secured European football with a third-placed finish, they however lost the subsequent Europa League qualifying match to Saint-Etienne.

Last season saw the Club qualify for the group stages of the Europa League – their first appearance at this stage for six years. They went through the group stage unbeaten – including two 0-0 draws with AC Milan, and qualified for the round of 32. In April they secured their first title for 24 years, solidifying their return as one of Greece’s biggest football clubs.

Current squad – players to watch

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Former Barcelona defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy. (Image Credit: SDNA via. http://www.sdna.gr/news-english/article/372158/dmytro-chygrynskiy-return-action-after-6-8-weeks.)

Marinos Ouzounidis joined the Club as manager in May, following the departure of Manolo Jiménez. He won the Cypriot title with APOEL in 2007 but has yet to win another honour since.

AEK have lost some of their key players this summer, but Argentine loanees Lucas Boyé and Ezequiel Ponce could cause Celtic’s defence problems if given the opportunity, whilst Ukrainian centre back Dmytro Chygrynskiy used to be on Barcelona’s books.

Striker Marko Livaja netted eight times for the Greek side last season, whilst 24-year-old goalkeeper Vasilios Barkas is considered one of Greece’s future stars.

Notable former players and managers

Jack Beby: A former English goalkeeper who played for Leicester City and Bristol Rovers – managed the Greek side between 1948-1951. He introduced professional standards, which had never been seen in Greece before – including shirt numbers and the WM (3-2-2-3) formation used frequently in Britain at the time. AEK enjoyed success with Beby at the helm as they won the Greek Cup in 1949 and 1950.

Dimitris Papaioannou: all-time goalscorer and record appearance maker. He scored 234 goals in 480 games for AEK Athens.

Kostas Nestoridis: The striker went on to score 141 goals in 226 appearances for AEK Athens and formed a devastating partnership with Papaioannou through the late 50s and early 60s.

Thomas Mavros: One of Greece’s greatest ever strikers and a goal machine, Mavros scored 174 goals in 277 appearances between 1976-1987.

Dušan Bajević: He is one of the most controversial figures in the history of the club. He was a successful player, loved by AEK’s fans, who gave him the nickname “Prince”. He featured 106 times for the Greek side, scoring 65 goals before going on to manage the club on three separate occasions. During his first spell as manager, he won three consecutive league titles in 1992, 1993 and 1994.

Stylianos Manolas: The defender spent the entirety of his club career at AEK Athens, making 447 appearances for the Club between 1974-1998. He captained the side during their most successful period in the 1990s.

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Brazilian legend Rivaldo in AEK colours. (Image Credit: ARIS MESSINIS/GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/event/athens-v-salzburg-uefa-cup-76788495#/s-rivaldo-celebrates-after-scoring-against-salzburg-during-their-uefa-picture-id76905733.)

Rivaldo: The Brazilian legend spent a single season at the Club, scoring 12 goals in 35 games.

So to sum it up…

With 31 domestic honours to their name, AEK Athens may not be as easy an opponent as some Celtic fans expect. The defending Greek champions have a history of upsetting the odds in Europe and will be determined to do that again by winning this tie. After many years of hurt, this could be the fairytale ending for AEK Athens supporters and Greek football as a whole.

Imperious Roger Federer easily through to second round at Wimbledon 2018.

The defending champion comfortably breezed past Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 on Centre Court.

Blue skies, hot temperatures, and freshly picked strawberries smothered with cool cream…that can only mean one thing; Wimbledon 2018 is finally upon us.

All of the courts looked like seas of emeralds on day one. The grass, which has been finely kept under maintenance over the last year, looked immaculate ahead of the opening matches. The crowds flocked in, with many heading to Centre Court to see the one man that has lit up the tennis scene over the past two decades.

Roger Federer – a man that has such a great affiliation with this tournament – will once again be the favourite to lift the trophy in two weeks’ time. This is his 20th appearance at Wimbledon since winning the Boy’s Singles in 1998, and he will be looking to match Martina Navratilova’s record of nine single’s titles. The defending champion suffered a shock defeat in the Halle Open Final as part of his preparations for this Grand Slam, but he is too experienced and too wise to let that affect his confidence.

It has now been 10 years since that infamous final against Rafael Nadal; the man that many predict will provide the biggest threat to the Swiss. Both have won the last six Grand Slams between them (Federer: Australian Open 2017, 2018 and Wimbledon 2017. Nadal: French Open 2017, 2018 and US Open 2017) and both are the current world number one and two.

With the Spaniard not on court until tomorrow, it was down to Federer to throw down the gauntlet.

He began his title defence against Serbian Dusan Lajovic, the world number 58 in the world rankings. The two also met in last year’s competition, with the Swiss comfortably coming through on that occasion in straight sets.

This match was almost a carbon copy. It took Federer only a short amount of time to find his rhythm and ranges before securing a double-break on Lajovic. The Swiss was relaxed, comfortable and always in command of the court, and won six games on the bounce to take the opening set 6-1 in just 20 minutes.

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Federer was only on court for 79 minutes as he progressed to round two. (IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS via. http://www.dnaindia.com/sports/report-roger-federer-opens-play-on-centre-court-as-wimbledon-2018-starts-in-glorious-sunshine-2632304)

 

Federer continued his dominant performance in the second set. The variety of serves and shots he produced were just too good for his Serbian opponent – as it began to look like a practice match. Lajovic had lost nine games in a row to the Swiss, but did manage to end the rot halfway through the second set. By that point Federer was in cruise control anyway, and served out the second set 6-3.

The third set lacked intensity. Federer had reserved his energy knowing his job was pretty much done. Lajovic offered nothing in reply. He stuck by it but ultimately got himself into the match at too late a stage to scare the number one seed. Federer served out the match, which he’d won in just 79 minutes.

It may have ended up being a Monday afternoon stroll in the summer sun for the Swiss, but Federer will be expecting tougher tests to come. This was however another warning shot to his rivals – showing them all that even at 36, he is still as hungry to win as ever.

The events that took place during West Ham United’s heavy defeat to Burnley showed that the atmosphere around the club has now gone beyond toxic.

Two seasons ago West Ham United finished seventh in the Premier League and qualified for Europe under the guidance of Slaven Bilic, in what was their final campaign at the infamous Upton Park. 

There was a sense of optimism in and around the club during the summer of 2016 ahead of their move to the Olympic Stadium. The directors and supporters both felt that this was the beginning of a historical period for the Hammers – visioning a team containing a plethora of talent that would challenge in and around the top six.

Fast forward 24 months and Bilic has now gone – replaced by an uninspiring David Moyes, with the club languishing dangerously above the relegation places.

A lack of incomings in the January transfer window, a ever-extending list of injuries and players severely underperforming have all played a part in the team’s dismal form of late.

The Hammers have won just one of their last seven league matches, been knocked out of the FA Cup by League One side Wigan Athletic, and have conceded 11 goals in their last three outings.

So for some, yesterday’s 3-0 heavy home defeat to Burnley was the final straw.

Some dissatisfied fans ran onto the pitch, whilst others headed towards the directors box to voice their discontent. Joint chairman David Sullivan is said to have been hit by a coin thrown by an angry fan, whilst team captain Mark Noble got caught up in an unpleasant tussle on the half-way line with another.

These unsavoury actions confirmed that the atmosphere in and around West Ham has gone beyond toxic.

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Mark Noble clashes with a supporter on the pitch during West Ham’s 3-0 defeat to Burnley. (Image Credit: REUTERS via. http://metro.co.uk/2018/03/10/chaos-west-ham-furious-fans-invade-pitch-mark-noble-floors-one-7377117/)

Whilst I understand fans wanting to voice their opinions and wanting to protest against how their club is being run, yesterday crossed a line. The havoc that occurred will have done nothing to stop the team from sleepwalking towards the trapdoor.

West Ham’s record at London Stadium since moving to their new home has been appalling to say the least, but the players need their fans to stick by them on a matchday, not riot both on and off the pitch.

You could hear it in Noble’s post-match interview that the crowd trouble had a terrible effect on them. Why would anyone want to play in claret and blue when the stadium suddenly becomes a war zone after the team concede a goal.

Credit must go to Burnley. Their staff and players allowed young home supporters to sit on their bench, away from the chaos. What were West Ham’s bench doing at that time? Twitching their thumbs and wondering how it had all come down to this.

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Burnley allowed young supporters to get away from the chaos. (Image Credit: TWITTER via. https://twitter.com/GaryLineker/status/972520613523968006)
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Meanwhile, West Ham’s staff try to focus on the game amid protests surrounding their technical area. (Image Credit: DAVID KLIEN/REUTERS via. https://in.reuters.com/article/soccer-england-whu-bur-noble/soccer-west-ham-launch-probe-into-crowd-trouble-at-london-stadium-idINKCN1GN03U)

The Football Association have condemned the crowd disturbances and have said they will be in close contact with the club to make sure that similar events never reoccur.

Could the Hammers be forced to play their home matches behind closed doors? Potentially.  That would be something nobody associated with West Ham wants, and something that could further hinder any chance of them retaining their top flight status.

Moyes’ men face a crucial six-pointer against fellow strugglers Southampton in three weeks’ time at London Stadium. During these next 20 days or so, everything has to be done to make sure nothing like we saw against Burnley resurfaces.

It was a day where the home supporters had initially gathered to commemorate the life of club legend and World Cup winner Bobby Moore before kick-off. But by full-time a dark mist had quickly descended in and around the stadium.

I wonder what the late great Moore would have thought of yesterday’s events?

Dreams of playing the likes of Milan, Madrid and Lyon on big European nights are now long gone, and instead replaced by thoughts of travelling to the likes of Middlesbrough, Millwall and Barnsley in the Championship. This is quickly becoming a realistic future for West Ham United, should nothing radically change both on and off the field.

A look back at the life of Sir Roger Bannister (1929-2018).

The world of athletics has today been grieving following of the death of Sir Roger Bannister. 

Bannister, who passed away at the age of 88, became the first man to run the mile in less than four minutes.

His time of 03:59.4 instantly gave him legendary status within the sport.

His story is one of perseverance, redemption and ultimately much joy and happiness. He inspired generation upon generation and was often looked up to as one of the great pioneers of British athletics.

Tributes have poured in from some huge names – including IAAF President Lord Seb Coe – to commemorate Bannister’s life as both a runner and for his work as a world renowned neurologist.

Here’s a look back at the glistening career of one of British sport’s biggest stars.

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Sir Roger Bannister (1929-2018). Image Credit: AP via. http://metro.co.uk/2012/07/25/back-sir-roger-bannister-to-light-the-olympic-cauldron-the-tipster-508200/.

Bannister was born in Harrow on 23rd March 1929.

He took up running at the age of 17 and was considered to represent Great Britain at the 1948 Olympics in London, but at the time he didn’t feel ready to compete at such a high level.

He was subsequently inspired by the games and set himself a target of competing at the next Olympics, hosted by Helsinki, four years later.

However, things didn’t go to plan for the Brit in the Finnish capital.

Bannister scrapped through his 1500m semi by finishing fifth, before ending the Olympic final fourth and out of the medals.

Feeling down, deflated and defeated after his disappointing result, Bannister almost gave up with athletics. But after taking a two-month sabbatical, he instead gave himself a new goal: to become the first person to ever run the mile below four minutes.

Using his own cleverly devised training programme, his times showed significant improvements throughout 1953 and early ’54.

The historic moment took place on 6th May 1954 at Iffley Track in Oxford, where he finished six hundredths of a second clear of four minutes. Scenes of celebrations followed, but they were to be short-lived.

Finland would once again came back to haunt him as fierce rival John Landy broke his world record run just 26 days later in Turku with a time of 03:58.0

The rivalry between the Briton and Australian led to one of the most anticipated mid-distance races in history at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.  Built up as the ‘Miracle Mile’, Bannister would end up triumphant on this occasion, with a personal best of 03.58.8.

A bronze statue of the two racers can still be found in the Canadian city.

Towards the end of 1954, Bannister retired from athletics and was awarded a CBE 12 months later for his contribution to the sport.

Following retirement, he focused on studying in Medicine, and went on to become a successful neurologist. He felt his 40 years practising in neurology was a more important and more significant acccomplishment in life than his achievements on the track.

Bannister was knighted in 1975, and also became the first chairman of what is now known as Sport England.

In 2002, the British public voted in a poll conducted by Channel 4 that Bannister’s sub-four minute mile was 13th in the list of  ‘100 Greatest Sporting Moments’.

In 2011, Bannister revealed he was suffering with Parkinson’s Disease in a interview with the BBC, and he died peacefully surrounded by his family on 3rd March 2018.

RIP Sir Roger. You will be surely missed.

 

MLS 2018: Despite his disastrous tenure at Aston Villa, Remi Garde is still quite a coup for Montreal Impact.

When Remi Garde left his position as Aston Villa manager in March 2016, his managerial reputation was in tatters. 

The 51-year-old Frenchman won just two of his 20 league matches in charge of the Villans, which culminated a win percentage of just 10%. It’s the lowest of any Aston Villa manager in the club’s history.

Yet, his unveiling as Montreal Impact’s fifth head coach in seven years is still quite a coup for the Canadian outfit and for the MLS in general.

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Remi Garde takes over at Montreal on a three-year-deal. (IMAGE CREDIT: AP via. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-5064263/Ex-Villa-boss-Remi-Garde-named-Montreal-Impact-manager.html)

 

Before his disastrous spell at Villa Park, Garde had worked up a rather impressive CV. As a player he won at least one trophy at every club he played for- including a Premier League title with Arsenal in 1997-98.

The former Lyon, Strasbourg and Gunners midfielder also saw success follow him in his early coaching career.

Garde took over from the dismissed Claude Puel at Lyon in 2011. During his time in charge of Les Gones he won two trophies – the Coupe de France and Trophèe des champions.

This resulted in him being linked to some of the biggest jobs in football – including a possible return to the Emirates to replace his mentor Arsene Wenger.

Whilst his ill-fated tenure at Villa has probably seen that opportunity fade away for Garde, the manager’s job at the Villans was at the time a poisoned chalice.

The club were rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, and the players at the club lacked the desire the 51-year-old demanded. A promise of January signings by Randy Lerner never materialised into nothing more than false pretences. You could therefore say that he had no chance of turning the fortunes of the club around.

It may surprise some that he’s decided to move halfway across the world for his new managerial venture at Montreal, but his appointment may prove to be shrewd bit of business by owner Joey Saputo.

The main issue will be the longevity of this partnership between Garde and Impact.

Montreal have a reputation in the MLS to hire and fire head coaches on a consistent basis. The 51-year-old becomes the franchises’ fifth in just seven seasons, and may need to get off to a strong start in order to keep the board happy.

On the other hand, the temptation and the glamour of European football could sway Garde back across the Atlantic Ocean should he do well in Canada. He only lasted at Lyon for three years before leaving for family reasons. Neither party likes to overstay their welcome.

The Frenchman is another recognisable manager to have joined the MLS in recent seasons as the league’s appeal continues to gradually grow. Former Barcelona and Argentina boss Tata Martino became head coach at Atlanta United last year, with Bob Bradley returning to the league to take charge at new franchise Los Angeles FC.

Garde has had all winter to prepare his team ahead of their opener against Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend. A key signing he has brought in is that of former Inter Milan midfielder Saphir Taïder to help bolster the midfield.

Last year was one to forget for Impact, with a ninth place finish in the Eastern Conference and 17th overall. But if Garde can find that formula that saw him win trophies with Lyon, he could make this Montreal side a real force in the league and regular post-season contenders.

Something that will surely have a positive impact on his dented managerial career and help him recover that early reputation of being one of the best in the business.

 

 

 

 

 

Footballer Gerard Pique is showing his business ambitions with plans to reform tennis’ Davis Cup into an 18-nation extravaganza, but his proposal needs some finishing touches.

Hours before lining up for Barcelona in their La Liga match against Girona last Saturday, Gerard Pique gave a presentation to the International Tennis Federation proposing a radical change that could make or break the men’s game. 

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Pique and his company Kosmos have entered a partnership with the ITF. Image Credit: https://tribuna.com/fcbarcelona/en/news/1669524/

“Together we can elevate the Davis Cup to new heights by putting on a must-see World Cup of Tennis Finals featuring the top nations and top players,” said the 31-year old footballer, who for a long time has had entrepreneurial ambitions he plans to pursue now and long after hanging up his boots.

The Spaniard, with the backing of Barcelona shirt sponsors Rakuten, is set to cough up an investment of £2.2 billion – spread over a 25 year period – to help transform the Davis Cup into an 18-nation extravaganza.

This would mean the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could all  compete for up to £14.1 million in prize money as part of the revamp set to take place next year.

Pique is a huge tennis fanatic. The proud Catalan tries to get to as many events in his native Spain as possible, which even includes throwing himself into the lion’s den by visiting rival city Madrid to watch the sport he adores. Now he plans to help it reach new heights.

The World Cup of Tennis Finals – which would take place over the course of a week in November – is both his and the ITF’s answer to prolong the sport’s historic men’s team competition as a major global sporting event.

For many the change is needed. The Davis Cup has been stuttering at late and needs to be regenerated into something that will get people talking about it again.

A final meeting is scheduled for August in Orlando, USA to decide whether to finalise the proposal. A two-thirds majority is needed to give the new tournament the green light.

The format of the new competition would follow a similar set-up to that of many World Cups in other sports, with an initial round robin (six groups of three) followed by a knockout phase (quarter-finals, semi-finals and final). The 16 World Group nations will automatically qualify for the finals, with a further two places up for grabs.

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Pique has played in 265 matches for Barcelona. Image Credit: AFP via. https://www.hindustantimes.com/football/gerard-pique-extends-fc-barcelona-deal-till-2022/story-htc31UfLMWxzuFU0nqsloK.html

Pique may see this as the new big thing for tennis, but there are still question marks about one or two aspects of the Spaniard’s proposed blockbuster.

One of the greatest aspects of the Davis Cup was the home and away ties. Playing on different surfaces and either with or against a home crowd provided every nation with a different challenge at every round. Having the World Cup located in one place could hinder that.

This new competition could therefore follow the example of others World Cup and have a different host each year. With countries bidding for the Finals, it could help grab fans attention and generate that level of excitement knowing that the tournament was coming to your home city.

With 18 nations taking part you’d expect around 100 tennis stars to be involved in the week-long event. Normally it’s only during one of the Grand Slams where you’d have the opportunity to see all your favourite players in one place. This again makes it appealing for countries who aren’t home to one of the four major tournaments and can accommodate so many fans and athletes to bid for the competition.

To host something of this magnitude costs a lot of money though, and with Japanese company Rakuten pledging their allegiance into the project, there is a good chance that the World Cup will take place somewhere in Asia.

Another issue would be player participation. The exhausting ATP Tour season and gruelling Grand Slams already make it a demanding calendar for the stars. Injuries have hijacked the sport’s biggest names in recent years, with many of the top players deciding to finish their season in October so that they can fully recover and recharge the batteries.

The Davis Cup has had a constant struggle with this problem in recent times, with only two of the current top 10 in the rankings taking part in the first round of the competition earlier this year.

The money may be an enticing incentive for the players, but you’d feel that more will be needed to get the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray fully on board and extend their seasons by another couple of weeks.

Pique has also got to think about sustaining the competition past it’s initial phase.

You’d assume that for the first couple of years people will flock into the arenas to see this new competition.

However, should the World Cup fall on it’s head and not provide the entertainment or the big names it intends too, attendance numbers could stutter. The WTA Finals is a prime example of this. The climatic showstopper for the women’s tour is moving to Shenzhen in China next year after spending four years in Singapore. Unfortunately, the tournament failed to entice the locals to come and watch. The Spaniard will have to keep things fresh to keep the interest going.

It won’t be perfect from the very first moment and it will take getting some adjusting too. But Pique has seemingly provided himself to the ITF that he can make this huge change a successful one.

Ambitious projects such as these aren’t new to the Barcelona defender. For years the 31-year-old has voiced his support for Catalan independence – which was won in a referendum back in October. He even said he would step down from Spain duties should his opinion cause a disturbance within the Royal Spanish Football Federation. He has already played a part in creating a new chapter for Catalonia, now he was ready to do the same again for men’s tennis.

Juventus First Team Review: A beautiful insight into Italy’s most prestigious football club.

Netflix have released the first half of episodes in a six-part series following the Italian giants during the 2017-18 season. WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS 

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Image Credit: https://readysteadycut.com/2018/02/16/review-first-team-juventus-part-one-2018/

“Juventus uses it’s past to define it’s future.”

Football club documentaries haven’t exactly been successful in the past. Just look at 2012’s Being: Liverpool.

However, Netflix’s new documentary “Juventus: First Team” is a beautiful insight into Italy’s most prestigious football club. After watching the first three episodes (the rest will be released in the summer), you’ll find yourself understanding the club’s philosophies and ethos. It’s a real eye-opener that is stunning to look at and easy to absorb.

Focusing on the first half of the season, episode one introduces the team and their recent achievements – six successive Scudetti and three consecutive Coppa Italia’s. However, these honours are overshadowed by failures in the Champions League, with two final defeats in the last three years. The club’s aims are simple: more silverware.

We learn during the pre-season how the culture of the club centres around it’s fans. The players see their supporters as family members- making it a tight bond between the two. Six straight wins to start the campaign makes the opening 40 minutes a rather upbeat viewing.

But the show isn’t shackled by Juventus wanting to portray themselves positively, as we see in episode two. The documentary also delves into the struggles and setbacks the club and the players faced whether that be form, pressure or injuries.

Gigi Buffon features heavily in this, which is no surprise given his legendary status at the club and the fact he is nearing the end of his career. Retirement is a question brought up almost every time he is on screen, and it’s interesting to watch as he and others throughout Italy discuss when he should call it a day and what he plans to do next.

The documentary also sometimes shifts away from Juventus and onto other subjects- such as Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals in Russia this summer. Much of the side that lost to Sweden in November’s play-off play for Juve, so seeing them in the aftermath was a nice change of direction, and didn’t feel like an unnecessary distraction away from the main focus point.

We are treated to beautiful cinematography of Turin and the Allianz Stadium, making the city look as bright and vibrant as ever. The football pitch looks like a sea of emerald gemstones and really stands out on the screen.

There is a fine balance on and off the field, with unprecedented access to Massimiliano Allegri’s training sessions in Vinovo, the stadium facilities and player’s homes.

We learn a lot about Allegri and his management style. The Italian is very psychological and is constantly talking about mentality. During his training drills, he is always reminding the players to be focused and to think like the opposition, which we see quite evidentially as they prepare for a defining match against Napoli.

Current and past players such as Claudio Marchisio, Gonzalo Higuain, Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedved provide us with powerful and insightful interviews that help not only portray Juventus Football Club, but also the joys and struggles of being a professional footballer.

The series isn’t perfect though, and there are scenes that do seem to have been put in for commercial reasons and to fill time. Obviously it’s interesting to see the players doing what they are obligated to do in their contracts, but these segments just seemed to have been put in for the sake of it and without any real meaning.

This is not a history lesson either. After the opening five minutes the focus is very much the present. If you were hoping to find out more about Juventus’ past, then this won’t be where to find it.

The one issue that was frequent throughout is the subtitles. They have a tendency to jump around the screen, whilst introductions of interviewees come in mid-way through a sentence, making it difficult to read and understand at times.

Above all though what helps makes this series tick over is the fact that it hasn’t been plain sailing for Juventus this season, making the narrative much more tense than it could have been had the show been constructed two or three years ago.

If you are a football fanatic that’s fascinated by the day to day life at a famous football club, than this is the show for you. It may even be one that defines the future making of football documentaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chung Hyeon: The Korean making history at the 2018 Australian Open.

Suwon is a province just outside Seoul in South Korea with a estimated population of 1.2 million people. In the heart of it you’d find a street which is named after former PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United footballer Park Ji-Sung. Suwon is where he grew up before going on to represent his country at three World Cups. Park is one of the greatest sportsman to ever come out of South Korea, but now Suwon has another local hero to cheer: Chung Hyeon.

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Chung Hyeon at the 2018 Australian Open. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/908131/Australian-Open-2018-Hyeon-Chung-Andy-Murray)

The 21-year-old tennis sensation became the country’s first Grand Slam semi-finalist after beating Tennys Sandgren in their quarter final clash at the Australian Open. Chung is the youngest player to make it through to the final four since Marin Cilic in 2010, and the lowest ranked player to achieve the feat since Marat Safin in 2004.

It’s been a memorable run for the unseeded Korean. He defeated another fast rising star in Alexander Zverev in round three, before getting the better of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the last 16.

Now he will be preparing for a semi-final against not just the defending champion, but the greatest player of all-time in Roger Federer. If the dream is to continue, Chung will have to produce the best performance of his young career to stun both the second seed and the world.

But if you asked any tennis follower whether he deserves to be in this position, then you’d get a unanimous yes.

The world number 58 has made a steady rise up the rankings since turning professional four years ago. Before that, he performed admirably in the junior tour. In 2013, he came runner-up in the Wimbledon boy’s singles, and reached as high as world number seven  in the junior rankings.

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A young Chung in the 2013 Wimbledon Boy’s Singles final. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES/JULIAN FINNEY via. http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Hyeon+Chung/Championships+Wimbledon+2013+Day+Eleven/v-99_h_WS5o)

In the year he turned pro, he won the Bangkok Open – his first Challenger tour event, and in 2015 he broke into the top 150. Chung received a wildcard for the Miami Open (a prestigious Masters tour event), where he reached the second round. Two more Challenger titles beckoned in April, which resulted in him climbing into the top 100.

Chung’s rapid rise up the rankings coincided with his first taste of Grand Slam tennis at Wimbledon in 2015, where he lost in the first round to Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Later that year he would win his first Grand Slam match at the US Open, defeating James Duckworth to set up a second round meeting with fifth seed Stan Wawrinka. Despite losing in straight sets, Chung showed his potential by taking the Swiss to a tiebreak in each set.

The Korean – then just 19 years old – won the ATP Most Improved Award after climbing over 120 places to world number 51 by the end of 2015.

More progress was made last year. Chung defeated Frenchman Gael Monfis on his way to the semi-finals of the BMW Open in Munich before getting to the third round of the French Open.

The Korean qualified for the Next Generation ATP Finals in Milan last November and went on to win the competition- defeating Andrey Rublev in the final.

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Chung lifting the ATP Next Generation Finals trophy. (Image Credit: AFP via. https://sports.ndtv.com/tennis/next-gen-atp-finals-hyeon-chung-beats-andrey-rublev-to-clinch-title-1774515)

Chung’s performances have been a welcome surprise for the many who have pondered how the sport will look when the likes of Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer retire.

For years, men’s tennis has been a monopoly controlled by four (or five) players – Federer, Murray, Nadal and Djokovic (and arguably Wawrinka).

Now they are coming towards the end of their careers, it’s good to see that young players – such as Chung – are rising through the ranks and look ready to step into the big shoes they leave behind.

Whatever happens in his semi-final, it has been quite the journey for Chung. I imagine the people of South Korea are immensely proud of their new hero, and will be hoping that he can become the country’s first Grand Slam champion in years to come.

People have already compared Chung and Murray in terms of playing style and being a beacon of hope for their respective nations. The 30-year-old Scot has had the weight of the British public on his shoulders since bursting onto the scene over a decade ago. Now it could be the 21-year-old’s turn to carry the hopes and dreams of South Korea in major tournaments going forward. Time will tell if he can handle all the attention and all the pressure to succeed.

Perhaps in 20 years’ time the city of Suwon will have another street named after a local sport star, one that currently has an extremely bright future ahead of him.

Australian Open 2018: Talking points (Day Six and Seven)

The first week of this year’s Australian Open concluded with one of the matches of the tournament. Here is a look back at the weekend action before we enter the business end of the competition.

The favourites for the men’s title power through 

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Novak Djokovic receiving treatment. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/907374/Novak-Djokovic-injury-treatment-medical-timeout-Australian-Open)

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic made it into the fourth round after both won in straight sets on Saturday.

Defending champion Federer defeated Richard Gasquet 6-2 7-5 6-4 as the Swiss continued to dominate down under.

Gasquet failed to break the second seed until the third set by which time the match was as good as over.

Djokovic suffered an injury scare during his 6-2 6-3 6-3 win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

The Serb had treatment on his lower back and leg early in the second set and struggled throughout the match. He had saved numerous break points before getting over the line, but the scoreline was slightly flattering for the 30-year-old.

Halep still on for maiden Grand Slam

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All smiles from the world number one after a gruelling contest. (Image Credit: AFP via. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/australian-open-simona-halep-result-schedule-draw-next-round-lauren-davis-a8169441.html)

World number one Simona Halep saved three match points as she managed to just about overcome unseeded American Lauren Davis in an epic encounter.

The Romanian – a two-time quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park – needed almost four hours to defeat the world number 76.

With one set a piece, both players gave it their all in the decider, which lasted 142 minutes. Halep saved the match on three occasions before serving out for a 4-6 6-4 15-13 win.

The contest equalled the longest ever in a women’s singles match at the Australian Open, and could hinder Halep’s quest for a first Grand Slam title should she not be able to recover fully ahead of her fourth round match against Naomi Osaka.

Fourth seed Alexander Zverev is out

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Zverev waves goodbye to another Grand Slam. (Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES via. https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/907377/Australian-Open-2018-Alexander-Zverev-Hyeon-Chung-Rafael-Nadal)

The German is tipped to be a real star in the men’s game for years to come, but the 20-year-old struggled against the unseeded Hyeon Chung.

Zverev was two sets to one up against the world number 59, but fell to a dramatic 5-7 7-5 2-6 6-3 6-0 defeat.

Despite his world ranking of fourth, the German is yet to make it as far as the fourth round in any Grand Slam. Perhaps a little bit more experience of the longer format will help the young man fulfil his potential.

Grigor Dimitrov battles past home favourite Nick Kyrgios

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Grigor Dimitrov wins epic encounter. (Image Credit: AP via. https://www.iol.co.za/sport/tennis/dimitrov-ousts-kyrgios-to-reach-open-quarters-12837050)

The Bulgarian is the man most likely to upset the big names in the men’s draw and the third seed showed his mental nerve to power past Kyrgios 7-6 7-6 3-6 7-6.

With the Australian crowd fully behind their man, neither Dimitrov or Kyrgios could claw away from their opponent. Both the first and second set went to tiebreaks, which were won by the Bulgarian.

Kyrgios, who hit 36 aces throughout the match, rallied the crowd with some excellent tennis. The 17th seed deservedly got himself back into the match with a 6-3 win in the third.

You could sense the nerves of both players in the fourth set, but Dimitrov produced some excellent stuff to win a third tiebreak of the match to set up a fourth Grand Slam quarter final appearance.

Kyle Edmund making huge strides after fourth round win

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Kyle Edmund is through to the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the very first time. (Image Credit: SKY SPORTS via. http://www.skysports.com/tennis/news/12110/11216605/kyle-edmund-defeats-andreas-seppi-at-australian-open-to-reach-maiden-grand-slam-quarter-final)

 

The Briton will face Dimitrov in his first ever Grand Slam quarter-final on Tuesday after coming back from a set down to beat Italian Andreas Seppi.

Edmund won 6-7 7-5 6-2 6-3 and hit 25 aces on his way to a famous victory.

The world number 49 has really come on leaps and bounds since last year’s French Open, and is now just the second British man to make it to the last eight in Melbourne since 1985 (the other being Andy Murray).

His next opponent will be a massive step up on his past three, but it will be one that he will be looking forward to.

Edmund goes into the quarter-final match with nothing to lose and the chance to showcase his ability against the best the game has to offer.

A career high ranking will follow the tournament, one that the 23-year-old will remember for the rest of his life.