From The Archives
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Sharapova and Djokovic career grand slams
History beckons this weekend for two players who’ve had rather different trajectories in the tennis game but who’ve consistently shown hearts of steel, fostered undoubtedly by their unique journeys.
With her father pushing her like an army sergeant from an early age, then having to move to a foreign country at 13, mental toughness was perhaps always going to be a striking trademark of Sharapova’s. And when the Russian damsel became the youngest ever
champion in 2004, aged 17, it seemed a dominant force had been born.
It was. For a while.
|Maria Sharapova after beating Petra Kvitova|
However, since her comeback in 2009, Sharapova, in typical fashion, has fought back with vigour, winning seven singles titles to bring her career total to 26. And after her French Open semi-final win over Petra Kvitova on Thursday, Sharapova is top of the women’s rankings once again. An even bigger prize awaits today. This afternoon she faces surprise Italian Sara Erani in the final looking to become only the tenth woman to achieve a Career Grand Slam – winning the Australian, French and US Open as well as Wimbledon.
Women’s tennis is still crying out for a leader of the pack and consistent rivalry at the top, something which hasn’t been seen since the gradual fall-off of the Williams sisters.
I have never been Sharapova’s biggest fan because of her screaming, but you can’t discredit her heart. And a firing world number one can only be good for the women’s game.
Djokovic also had to leave home very young moving to
at 14 for
his tennis apprenticeship. Djokovic also briefly considered representing Germany Great Britain instead of his native . Good
thing he didn’t, he might not have won half the grand slams he has now… just
ask Andy Murray. Serbia
Djokovic has developed into the most complete player in tennis, indeed famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri even goes as far as to say Nole is the most complete player of all-time. I believe Djokovic could have won the French Open last year. I believe, however, that he had done a bit too much leading up to Roland Garros, winning epic finals in Rome, Madrid, added all the incredible success he had enjoyed at the beginning of 2011. He then left himself too much to do in last year’s semi against the venerable Roger Federer, going two sets down, and that was that. He was just too tired.
This year is slightly different. Yes, he has had some marathons at this Roland Garros championship but he will be fresh, especially after a relatively easy clash, for a grand slam semi-final, yesterday against Federer. He will have to be. He is going up against the greatest clay court player of all-time and the greatest competitor tennis has ever seen.
Rafael Nadal knows how to win on any given Sunday, and on clay he is in his element. It’s a very tough final to call. But I don’t see Djokovic winning though. The King of Roland Garros won’t be dethroned this year.
Miami Heat v Boston Celtics, Game 7
Miami versus Boston is the game everyone is talking bout in the basketball world. And it should be a cracker. I remember Kevin Garnett saying after a Boston comeback win over the Orlando Magic in January that the game had been a “bar fight”, and basically that the Celtics loved it. He was very pumped. And that is what the Celtics are all about.
They are warriors, they know the battle and they love the battle. Their record, thus, over the last five years has been truly phenomenal.
|Rajon Rondo, Superstar|
James is the most freakishly talented athlete there’s probably ever been, even though Usain Bolt might have something to say about that. He’s been producing some seriously crazy numbers in these playoffs. And yet there will always be doubts over his big-match temperament until he captures that first ring.
My problem with Miami has always been that they haven’t won enough battles. In the regular season they were regularly losing the games I considered to be big games, with a notable exception being a 98-93 home win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in April.
Having one of the league’s best regular season records is all well and good, but at the end of the day its winning when it matters that counts.
Euro 2012 kicked off with a bang last night, with a drama filled opener between co-hosts Poland and the always plucky Greece, and then an exhibition by Russia, against the Czech Republic, that has some touting Dick Advocaat’s team as a serious dark horse for the whole thing. Certainly they will progress from this group. But beyond that it is hard to say. Perhaps the weather and the conditions may favour them in a way; they are used to the Eastern Europe breeze, so you can’t count them out. And these are the Euros after all – a competition known for its surprises. Nevertheless, for the big prize I would still favour Spain; they are always the safe choice if I’m putting my house on the line.
Germany are the other serious contender in my book, Die Nationalmannschaft – the team that is always there or thereabouts at big tournaments.
Bafana Bafana post-Mosimane starts today against Botswana. Somehow many South Africans still believe they can beat the Zebras easily. That’s certainly what the press was saying last week before the Ethiopia game; six points were the minimum requirement from Bafana’s first two 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers.
Botswana, however, are a resolute team and will sense an opportunity to create some history this afternoon. Beating South Africa is still a major fillet for African teams, especially Southern African teams, as they are regarded as the undisputed powerhouse in this region. South Africans don’t seem to realise this, and expecting park walks, especially away from home, is a very fanciful if not naïve notion.
I thought Pitso Mosimane had done a super job with Bafana Bafana until the 0-0 fiasco against Sierra Leone. Even then he deserved another chance, I thought. South Africa generally played well throughout the campaign. And as I always say, there are few teams I’d rather watch for entertaining football. Spain, Argentina, the old Brazil, the orange Netherlands, Bafana… and Egypt, those are my international benchmarks.
The problem with Mosimane, from my point of view, was some of the pronouncements he made which got him in trouble in the end. The tone prior to the Ethiopia game was certainly quite worrying, almost dismissive of the East African side as an opponent. This perceived arrogance to me was his downfall as it heightened the already unrealistic expectations placed on Bafana. And this attitude will continue to Bafana Bafana’s downfall unless it is curbed, or least matched by swagger on the field of play.
The Mighty Boks
Better late than never they say. Heyneke Meyer finally is the Springbok coach.
We could be talking of South Africa as the double World Champions right now, such is the strength and depth of talent in this generation, and the confidence and respect the Boks had generated after winning the 2007 World Cup. Let’s make it clear that this is the finest generation of top-class rugby athletes South Africa has had, certainly since re-admission, and by all evidence it is getting better.
Today’s game against England is the start of the Meyer era and as expected he has by and large gone with the most experience he could have.
I am very excited to see François Steyn at inside centre though. I believe that it is his best position – he is a bit too crazy for flyhalf or fullback… long range drop-kicks and all that. I furthermore believe Steyn is the finest inside centre in the world, even better than Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams, and Jamie Roberts. The big boys in that position; no pun intended. He has been since so South Africa won the 2007 World Cup.
|Frans Steyn at last year's World Cup|
Eben Etzebeth is a beast-child. With the old Bulls duo of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha gone, you would think the Springbok lock combination of the future will be that of the Stormers’ Etzebeth and Andries Bekker. However, with Bekker ruled out of this series with injury, it is a chance for Juandre Kruger to stake his claim for serious consideration.
Heinrich Brussouw out of the 32-man squad completely is a bit of a surprise for me. The man is phenomenon. His Cheetahs teammate Coenie Ootshuizen has also superb at tighthead prop in Super Rugby and he may be slightly aggrieved to only be on the bench. Nevertheless it is a great team.
My favourite rugby coach in the world, Nick Mallet, said England will be organised and very dangerous, pin-pointing their scrum and ‘pressure defence’ as two of their main strengths. England, Mallet said, will also try to frustrate South Africa, making discipline imperative.
This is an England team that has made massive strides under new boss Stuart Lancaster after a lacklustre 2007 World Cup. There is a fresh belief and a breath of fresh air after the dictatorships of the last five or six years.
It always interesting how the referee officiates the contact point, the breakdowns, rucks and mauls, but even with that, the mighty Springboks should be too strong for England.
Finally, Lesotho v Sudan…
We sign off on a sour note. Yes, Likuena. After a 7-0 loss to Ghana last week Likuena are back in Lesotho and looking for the reprieve of home comforts as they welcome Sudan. The weather it is has been pointed out could aid Lesotho in today’s World Cup qualifier at the Setsoto Stadium. It has been bitterly cold in Maseru – as is the norm in Lesotho at this time of the year – and rainy too. We will need much more than the weather though. This is a top Sudan team, as I have pointed out before; in my opinion, certainly a top 15 side on the African continent. Sudan were superb at the recent Afcon – athletic, quick, physical, skilful – and it was just naivety on that sort of stage which cost them in the end.
Sudan, we should also realise, has one of the top domestic leagues on the continent while several of their players are now plying their trade overseas.
If Sudan can beat Lesotho tomorrow, I would go as far as to say that I can see Sudan topping this group of death, ahead of Ghana and Zambia (and Likuena), and making it to the final round of World Cup qualifying.
But Lesotho is at home and after the shenanigans of last week it is a chance to restore pride. Plus there’s celebratory mood in Lesotho after the smooth elections we had. And like that old Madiba magic for South Africa, it would be great if we had some Tom Thabane magic.
Anyway, we are at home, and at home we should always win.
- Malome Thabiso, Mokhotlong
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Three players will make their Test debuts for the Springboks on Saturday in the first Test against
England at Kings Park in . Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth, Bulls lock Juandré Kruger and Sharks flank Marcell Coetzee have all been included in Heyneke Meyer’s first ever starting XV as Springbok coach. Durban
|New faces... Kruger, Coetzee and Etzebeth|
A fourth uncapped player, prop Coenie Oosthuizen of the Cheetahs, has been selected on the bench.
Both Etzebeth and Coetzee are still young enough to play Under-21 rugby.
“Eben, Juandré, Marcell and Coenie have all put up their hands this season and I know they can succeed at Test level,” Meyer said when naming his team this afternoon.
Only nine players that played in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final against
last year have been included in the starting line-up. Australia
“I have faith in the players and the ball is now in their hands to show they have what it takes to perform constantly at this level as we enter a new Springbok era,” Meyer said.
Meyer also announced Bismarck du Plessis as vice-captain to Jean de Villiers “We’re fortunate to have a strong leadership core in Jean,
and, if he gets replaced, Adriaan Strauss,” he said. Bismarck
The starting XV boasts a combined total of 458 Test caps. Meyer said the newcomers in the squad all deserved their places following some great displays for their franchises in this season’s Vodacom Super Rugby championship.
“Although the team is quite young, we still have some experience across the starting XV. The balance in the team is right in the way we want to play against
and we’re looking forward to the first Test of the season,” Meyer said. England
This weekend’s Test will be followed by matches in consecutive weeks in
Johannesburg and . Port Elizabeth
Springbok team to face England
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Frans Steyn, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8.
Spies, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Juandré Kruger, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Beast Mtawarira. Pierre
Substitutes: 16. Adriaan Strauss, 17. Coenie Oosthuizen, 18. Flip van der Merwe, 19. Keegan Daniel, 20. Ruan Pienaar, 21. Pat Lambie, 22. Wynand Olivier.
|Springbok captain Jean De Villiers|
• Jean De Villiers will equal Jaque Fourie’s record of most capped Springbok centre. Fourie is the current record holder with 58 appearances at centre. De Villiers needs one try to reach 20 career Test tries for the Springboks.
• Bryan Habana is
’s most capped Springbok wing with 73 Tests and also most experienced player in the squad with 74 Test caps. Habana is the Springbok top try scorer with 40 career tries in Tests and all were scored as a wing. South Africa
• Habana also holds the Springbok record for most career tries in Tests against
with six. He has played in eight Tests against England , together with Frans Steyn, the most of any player in this squad. England
• Morné Steyn shares the Springbok record for most tries in Tests as a flyhalf with Joel Stransky and Piet Visagie - they have all scored six tries in the No 10 shirt. He also holds the record for most points in a match at this venue when he scored a try, conversion and eight penalty goals for a total of 31 points against
in 2009. New Zealand
• Steyn needs 10 points to surpass Naas Botha’s 40 career points at this venue. Percy Montgomery is the record holder with 73 career points at
. Three penalty goals will equal Percy’s career record of 11 penalty goals at this venue. Mr Price Kings Park
• Pierre Spies will become
’s most capped No. 8, surpassing former Bok captain Gary Teichmann, who is equal with Spies on 42 caps. Spies also holds the record for most Test tries as a No. 8, with seven. South Africa
• Frans Steyn is the only player that has played in all seven consecutive wins against
England since 2006 and, together with Bryan Habana, the only other player in the squad with eight Test caps against . England
• The Castle Incoming Tour of South Africa by
England is the first three-Test tour to this country by a single nation since 1996 when played three Tests after the conclusion of the Tri-Nations series. New Zealand
• The Springboks have won their last seven consecutive Tests against
. England England’s worst run against any country is nine consecutive losses against . New Zealand
England’s last victory against was in 2006 at Twickenham (23-21). South Africa South Africa won their last Test against , also at Twickenham, in 2010. England England’s last victory in South Africa was in 2000 in when they won 27-22. Bloemfontein
South Africa v England, – 17:00 Durban
South Africa v England, – 17:00 Johannesburg
South Africa v England, – 17:00 Port Elizabeth
Springbok 32-man squad
Zane Kirchner (Bulls), JP Pietersen (Sharks), JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls), Jean de Villiers (Stormers, captain), Wynand Olivier (Bulls), Francois Steyn (Racing Metro/France), Bryan Habana (Stormers), Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), Bjorn Basson (Bulls), Morne Steyn (Bulls), Patrick Lambie (Sharks), Elton Jantjies (Golden Lions), Francois Hougaard (Bulls), Jano Vermaak (Bulls), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster/Ireland).
Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Coenie Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Werner Kruger (Bulls), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Flip van der Merwe (Bulls), Franco van der Merwe (Lions), Juandre Kruger (Bulls), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks), Willem Alberts (Sharks), Pierre Spies (Bulls), Ryan Kankowski (Sharks), Keegan Daniel (Sharks), Jacques Potgieter (Bulls).
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
|Eish! Pitso Mosimane|
Pitso Mosimane has been sacked as coach of Bafana Bafana.
The last straw, it seems, was
South Africa’s 1-1 draw with in Bafana’s first 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier on Sunday. Ethiopia
The game at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium had been seen as a new start for Mosimane and Bafana after the disappointment of failing to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.
However, in the end, Bafana had to rely on a 77th minute equaliser from Katlego Mphela to salvage a point against a side ranked 138th in the world.
It was the seventh game in a row without a win for Bafana and Mosimane’s fate was sealed at an executive meeting of the South African Football Association (Safa) last night.
Assistant coach Steve Komphela will now take charge of
South Africa’s next two matches – a crucial World Cup qualifier against Botswana in Gaborone on Saturday, and an international friendly against Gabon in later this month. Johannesburg
“Drawing in the last 15 minutes of the game (against
) made us realise we had to act now,” a Safa statement reads. Ethiopia
The statement, issued early this morning, says Safa held an Emergency Committee meeting yesterday “to evaluate the performance of Bafana Bafana as a direct result of the first 2014 World Cup qualifier between
South Africa and held on Sunday”. Ethiopia
It says the Emergency Committee “considered the reports that were tabled at the meeting and mandated Safa vice-president Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana and the Ceo of Safa Dr. Robin Petersen to hold an urgent meeting with Mr. Pitso Mosimane to discuss the matter”.
This meeting was held at the Royal Marang Hotel in Phokeng near Rustenburg and during it “both parties agreed to part ways amicably in the best interests of both the country and the national team”.
More from Safa’s statement:
“The Association will be indebted to Mr. Mosimane for the work he has done for Safa since his appointment as head coach of Bafana Bafana and we wish him well in his future endeavours.”
|The high point... beating Egypt at Ellis Park|
“This Association wants to place on record that Mr. Mosimane is the only coach that has assisted Safa by donating a portion of his salary in the pursuit of the development agenda of the Association which included assisting the ex-professional football players to attend the coaching course that is currently on-going at Safa House,” Safa president Kirsten Nematandani said.
Ceo Petersen is quoted in the statement as saying: “We appeal to the nation to also support the caretaker coach, the technical team, the players and the whole team going forward. We have entered into a crucial period of World Cup qualification and we will need all hands on deck to ensure this country gets to
in 2014, as well as perform admirably at the 2013 Afcon tournament that we will host”. Brazil
Moroka Swallows coach Gordon Igesund has been tipped to take over as Bafana coach on a permanent basis. Further details are expected from Safa later in the day.