2016 Year in Review: Has the “Old Guard” Finally Fallen?

Change is inevitable. Sometimes it happens quickly (remember Pokemon Go? Me neither), sometimes slowly (I’m sure the Browns will be good one of these years), but it always happens, and after what can generously described as a leisurely pace, change has finally come into full effect on the ATP tour.

That’s because while the guys winning the majors and masters remain the familiar faces, that next tier of players which for so long provided a buffer from any prospective up-and-comers has completely eroded. David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and (to a lesser extent) Richard Gasquet have long been the gatekeepers for others attempting to break into the upper echelon, but after an underwhelming 2016 it seems they’ve been almost entirely replaced.

In 2015 that foursome had 10 titles between them, in 2016 3 (Gasquet 2, Berdych 1), with none above 250 level. The highest-ranked is Berdych, clinging onto his spot inside the top 10, while Tsonga, Gasquet and Ferrer are 12, 18 and 21 respectively. It’s not exactly a colossal drop-off, but in a sport that is so delineated by the haves and the have-nots, it’s evident this is as far from grand slam contention as they’ve been in a very long time. When names are tossed around now of who might break out in the near future, the talk is of players like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, and Dominic Thiem.

Simply because Ferrer, Berdych et al have been there so long it might seem like something of a surprise this happened – at least this quickly – but the truth is, this is a fairly routine transition in men’s tennis. The still impressive results and freakish longetivity of Roger Federer has obfuscated a historical trend that top-ranked players tend to drop-off quickly in their 30’s (Ferrer himself being one of the few exceptions), with Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian and Juan Carlos Ferrero being some of the more well-known recent examples.It’s not just declining athleticism either, as simple wear-and-tear begins to add up, and when you’ve been going deep at slams and masters for nearly a decade as the FBTG foursome has, inevitably that takes a toll that can’t be fully repaid.

What’s more is that for the guys who aren’t quite as good as a Federer, even the slightest decline can hit much harder. Declining athleticism is always going to impact players as reliant on it as Tsonga and Ferrer, but even for Berdych and Gasquet, losing a half-step can be enough to pull you back to the fold. Balls that were once there to be smacked are now there to be merely returned, with worse movement making it harder to find that perfect position – it may only be a margin of centimeters, but it’s enough to make a difference. In turn, with old legs the physical cost to maintain their spot can rise to a point that isn’t always worth paying. If it was just a question of healthier eating, more gym work and tougher post-match recovery that’s one thing, but what also of motivation? Unlike fellow senior citizens Federer and Wawrinka, they have no guarantee their games are good enough to win majors in the first place, and they’ve already had superb careers. If holding onto a top-8 spot requires a greater off-court commitment than they’ve ever had to give before, can we really blame them for not giving it?

That said, by no means are any of the four gatekeepers “done” as quality tennis players, but at the very least, the distance between the summit and the old folks’ home has become equidistant. It doesn’t even mean they’re done winning titles, but their previous role has already been filled – namely by Nishikori and Raonic – and those spots will be only harder to regain assuming the continued improvement of young players like Thiem, Nick Kyrgios (assuming his head remains screwed on straight) and Sascha Zverev, all of whom have already proven a handful.

Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga and Gasquet well-and-truly are who they are at this point. Still good enough to mix-it-up with the top 20, but any hopes of gaining grand slam glory are decidedly behind them. How long they’ll persist in their current state of decline is anyone’s guess, but 2016 proved that decline is finally here. Their time at (or near) the mountaintop may be over, but with the careers they’ve had and the money they’ve made, I doubt they’ll be losing any sleep over it.

World Tour Finals: Round-Robin Winners and Losers

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic on top of their groups, who would’ve guessed it?

On a scale of probability, the world nos. 1 and 2 finishing on top has to rank somewhere between a Gael Monfils brain implosion and a Rafa Nadal undie-tug. Neither man has been perfect, but with their consistent quality, neither has to be, and its left the other six to fight over scraps.

That said, the round-robin games have been by no means farcical. Firmly in the midst of the transition phase away from the Federer-Nadal era, this week’s events have been something of a “State of the Union” for men’s tennis, as the question of who can keep the sport aloft gets ever more urgent.

In that respect, the question of who have been “winners” and “losers” in London doesn’t just come down to the scoreboard. Who succeeded? Who failed? Read on to find out.

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Losers: The Old Guys

A three-time slam champion in Stan Wawrinka and a debutant in Gael Monfils, it’s safe to say London didn’t go to plan for either man. Both men alternated between world-class shotmaking and some head-scratching play when they could least afford it. Against Dominic Thiem, Monfils had played some absoluting scintillating tennis to take it to three sets, only to throw it away with three double-faults at 4-5 and hand the Austrian the match. Taking out fellow slugger Marin Cilic in two tiebreak sets, Wawrinka couldn’t maintain his level against the grind-it-out style of Kei Nishikori and Murray, being comfortably handled when the quicker indoor courts should’ve helped him. Both will have plenty of time to sit back and reflect in their rocking chairs now.

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Winner: Dominic Thiem

He may not have made it out of his group, but Thiem made a fine account of himself in his WTF debut. His first set-tiebreak win over Djokovic was exactly the sort of scrap he has to win if he wants to move further up the standings – although the final two sets of that match (0-6, 2-6) showed the 23-year-old still has much further to go. He bounced-back nicely in his match with Monfils, before receiving a lesson in indoor hard-court tennis from Milos Raonic. Still, to walk away with a scalp in his first go-around, and having boosted his shot-making reputation in his first taste of prime-time tennis has to be worth a significant amount of confidence.

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Loser: Marin Cilic

A listless tournament for the Croat, who having proved 2014 was no fluke, could only manage two sets against a Nishikori who had already secured his spot in the semis. A career best no. 7, it’s hard to see how he goes any higher when these are the names he’ll have to face to do it.

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TBD: Nishikori and Raonic

The two “middle-aged” players among the eight, making it to the semis is impressive, but will be entirely coloured by what they do now they’re there. Neither has shown the sort of form this week that would indicate they’re ready to knock-off the Big 2, but should they pull it off, they have to be considered legitimate major-contenders in 2017.

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Winner: Finals Ticketholders

And yet, with the week staying well on-script for Djokovic and Murray, all signs point to the two meeting in the final on Sunday. Djokovic in particular has been heartening, as after his slip-up against Thiem, seems to have played his way into some form. Dropping only three games against alternate David Goffin was to be expected, but his 7-6, 7-6 win over Milos Raonic saw him withstand the very best the Canadian had to offer, displaying the sort of defensive brilliance that makes him such a headache. On the other side, the supposedly tougher group has failed to trip-up Murray, albeit after having survived an epic three-setter against Nishikori that could’ve easily gone against him. Having handled Wawrinka so easily the Scot should have no problem in his semi with the pace of Raonic, while in Nishikori, Djokovic will have a semi’s opponent who will allow him to work his way into his service games and should be at a disadvantage when lines start getting painted.

The prediction

Djokovic d. Murray

Not having played since their final at Roland Garros in June, there’s an awful lot of uncertainty hanging over this matchup. Will Murray’s new offensive mindset be a difference maker? Or does the match hinge on Djokovic’s form? With a 24-10 head-to-head record Djokovic has the advantage historically, while his finish to the round-robin stages seem to indicate he’s finding his footing. There’s no denying Murray is playing exceptional tennis, but it did just take him over three hours to put away Nishikori – who like Djokovic doesn’t rely on accelerating points and can take away much of his advantage counter-punching – meaning all things considered the Serb has to be a slim favourite, but a favourite nonetheless.

A week that has so far been as intriguing for what we’ve learned about the new state of tennis in 2016, Sunday looks set to return us to more familiar confines. Maybe Raonic or Nishikori can spoil the party, but it’s impossible to bet against Murray and Djokovic the way they’re currently playing. The matchup we’ve been waiting for is nearly upon us – get your popcorn ready.

The Strange Life and Times of Nick Kyrgios

It’s been an interesting week for Nick Kyrgios. On Sunday, he beat Belgian David Goffin in a highly entertaining three-set encounter to take the first 500-level event of his career in Tokyo. He entered the Shanghai masters with his first top-15 ranking, and had a fantastic opportunity to gain major ground in the race for the top 8 to London. All signs pointed to Kyrgios’ star on the rise. Then the Mischa Zverev match happened.

To say Kyrgios tanked would be a bigger understatement than saying Donald Trump is struggling to appeal to women. A second round encounter against the world no. 110, this wasn’t a case of him not showing up, as much as it was him trying his hardest to get out of there. You’ve seen the “highlights” by now – lollipopped serves, wild swings, conceding points before they were over – in a career already with multiple on-court low points, it has to be his lowest yet, and it’s only compounded by the promise he showed in Tokyo.

Kyrgios’ 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory on Sunday really was a fascinating match. Goffin plays a game that is, for better and worse, everything Kyrgios’ is not – he plays frenetic defence, chasing everything down while Kyrgios never really gets off the attack, his serve is merely useful while Kyrgios’ is a true-match saving weapon, his backhand is lethal while Kyrgios’ is the weakest part of his game, and his forehand, while good on the attack, can’t compete with the heavy topspin Kyrgios’ bludgeoning technique gives him on every ball. Goffin could very well have won that match, but Kyrgios simply didn’t allow him to.

The first set was all Goffin. The Belgian was brilliant at extending rallies, getting enough depth on his groundstrokes to keep Kyrgios pinned behind the baseline, while forcing him to hit to the Belgian’s favoured backhand side, where he could step into the ball and use it to paint the sidelines. The break seemed inevitable, and right on time at 3-3, Goffin found his rhythm blunting the Kyrgios serve, which combined with his baseline advantage was enough to break and take the set. The match was on the Belgian’s racquet… so what changed?kyrgiostokyo

Basically, Kyrgios found the rhythm to match his talent. His hand-eye coordination is otherworldly, and that means he doesn’t need to up his level, or his effort, he just has to start middling it to win matches. He served his way out of jail a ridiculous amount of times (including five break points-saved at 1-1 in the 2nd set), while those same lengthy rallies that would end with a Goffin backhand would now come down to forehand exchanges, and the Belgian simply had no answer to Kyrgios’ brutal topspin. It was still very close, but while Goffin’s continued doggedness brought him plenty of momentum-changing opportunities, Kyrgios’ fearlessness allowed him to take control more-often-than-not.

Had Kyrgios not imploded in Shanghai three days later, this piece would’ve entirely been about the good he’d shown in lifting that trophy. It was a match that showed just how damn talented the bloke is, which makes it so disappointing that he overshadowed himself with his antics against Zverev. It’s just so nonsensical. He’d beaten no. 29 Sam Querrey in the first round a day earlier, so it wasn’t like he had made a conscious decision to immediately bail on the tournament, and had fatigue just caught up with him, he wouldn’t have been the first player to pull out of a match under such circumstances. The only “good” explanation – besides match fixing, which if true is kind of genius in a so-crazy-it-could-work kind of way – is that he still has days where he doesn’t feel like playing tennis, and that’s a big problem for someone who plays it professionally.

Kyrgios has spoken in the past of his love-hate relationship with tennis, and performances like Wednesday’s would seem to confirm that this is far from a job he enjoys. The thing is, it’s actually okay to not want to play, and more importantly, he doesn’t owe it to any of us to reach the sort of expectations the Tokyo title implies. He can work as hard or as little as he wants to, it’s his life, and as an individual sport, he has no professional obligations in that regard either. The obligation he does have however, is when he actually steps onto a court in front of paying customers, to at least try to give a good account of himself. He clearly doesn’t understand that when he does these things, people don’t get the time or money back they’ve already invested. The fans and media aren’t out to get him, he’s the one slagging them off, of course they’re going to be angry.

There’s no denying that given what he’s accomplished already – Two grand slam quarterfinals before his 20th birthday, wins over multiple top-10 players, a top 15 ranking at 21 – it will be disappointing if winning a 500 is the peak of his career, but it’s understandable if Kyrgios doesn’t share those concerns. The same can’t be said for the anger he’s received after Wednesday. Between competing and withdrawing he somehow came up with another option that hurt everybody (except maybe Mischa Zverev), and ruined all the good he did on Sunday. He’s already one of the sport’s premier entertainers, it would be so easy to appreciate – if not like – him with just a marginal change in his approach. Will that happen? Now? Soon? Ever? Who knows? Such is the enigma of Nick Kyrgios.

The Colts Have Royally Screwed Andrew Luck

The Indianapolis Colts are a case study in disappointment. Five years into the Andrew Luck experience, the team languishes at the bottom of the laughably-shallow AFC South with a 1-3 record, having just blown a game in England to the equally hapless Jacksonville Jaguars. Even this early in the season, it’s obvious Luck can’t hope to carry the entire team on their shoulders, such are the Colts’ deficiencies, and at age 27, supposedly entering his prime, he might be doomed for another lost season.

In February 2011 the Green Bay Packers captured their 17th NFL championship. At the helm was another young quarterback who, while not quite the can’t miss prospect Luck was, had long been anointed the future of his franchise. Three years after he had become the Packers’ starter, the team had surrounded him with enough key pieces – namely Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Josh Sitton, Greg Jennings, A.J. Hawk and Charles Woodson – to help him realise his potential. Obviously that QB was Aaron Rodgers, aged also 27.

It might seem like just yesterday teams were trying to out-sabotage themselves for Luck, but the stark reality is Luck is very much at the “win now” point of his career. He’s now the same age as Rodgers was when he won his first Super Bowl, and it’s not like Rodgers’ age was an outlier either. Ben Roethlisberger was 23 when he won his first, and 26 he led the Steelers to his two second, while Tom Brady had three by 27 – Luck’s other perennial benchmark, Peyton Manning was the only one older, aged 30 when he won his first.

Given the state of the Colts right now, Manning might not be the only franchise QB of theirs left hanging. Case-in-point was their week 4 game against the Jags in London, an embarrassing 30-27 loss where the Colts really only came alive in garbage time. Luck was sacked six times on the day, barely mustering any yardage while the game was still in the balance, while his defence couldn’t keep Mr. Garbage Time himself, Blake Bortles out of the endzone. It encapsulated everything about the Colts that explains why Luck is so stranded, and it’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Speaking on Friday Colts GM Ryan Grigson tried to use Luck’s massive $140 million contract as an excuse for why he hasn’t added any pieces, but that doesn’t excuse his poor drafting. The Colts have had five years to surround Luck with talent, and have almost nothing to show for it. Hell, all seven of their 2013 picks are already off the roster! Good teams build through the draft, and their atrocious statistics –28th in defensive DVOA (per Football Outsiders), 29th in pass defence and 26th against the run, 3.9 yards per carry, and a league-worst 15 sacks conceded – can’t be explained away by one sizable contract.

If the Colts were smart, they’d have left Chuck Pagano in England, but more importantly, locked Grigson in the Tower of London. Ray Rice has a better chance of returning to the Ravens than Luck does of turning this ship around. Forget being competitive, with the hits Luck is taking the Colts are seriously risking shortening his career, right when he’s supposed to be entering the prime of it. But as long as Grigson remains at the helm, and is allowed to pass the buck as he did on Friday, don’t expect anything to change. The career arcs of Rodgers, Roethlisberger and Brady show that the future is now for Andrew Luck and yet sadly, he’s still waiting.

Swiss Timing vs Father Time: Federer at 35

Looking back at Roger Federer’s 17 grand slam victories in this week, where he celebrated his 35th year of existence, the 2005 US Open final is certainly one of the most memorable. Playing at his absolute apex, the Swiss faced off against one of the most decorated superstars in modern tennis – eight-time major champion Andre Agassi. With six titles to his name already, the 24-year-old Federer was a considerable favourite against Agassi, who – 19 years after his first appearance at Flushing Meadows – had clawed his way through the draw to reach the last final of his storied career. At a disadvantage for if not skill, then certainly mileage, Agassi was able to shock the crowd through the first three sets, stealing the second (and very nearly taking the third) with a mix of sublime counter-punching and dogged defence from the baseline. It was incredible to watch, as for only a few hours Agassi was Agassi again, and despite his age you truly felt he could pull the improbable off. Then the fourth set happened, and the American came crashing back to Earth as his body gave out and Federer steamrolled him. Even though he would play for one more year, it marked the last time Agassi was truly at his best. A perfect coda to his career, when that match took place, Agassi was 35.

And so as Federer now celebrates the same milestone, I wonder if he’s thinking about that match, and the man who starred across from him. Just as Agassi was, now Federer is the veteran presence, and just like Agassi was in ’05, finds himself staring down the barrel of retirement, while simultaneously clinging to the hope for one final slam.

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It’s been four years since he last won, at Wimbledon, but what kept him going – and tennis fans hoping – was that he almost certainly had those four years to get number 18, after professing his goal of competing at the Rio Olympics right after London 2012. With the recurrence of the knee injury that sidelined him after Melbourne, that’s now officially dead in the water, so how much longer can we hope to keep him for? After all, his real fight isn’t to regain that glory of old, but to hang onto what he has left – namely his perch in the top four.

If his latest Wimbledon sojourn showed us anything of Federer, it’s that he can still be just as captivating and competitive, yet equally frustrating as the consistency of his game continues to fray. Particularly against Cilic and Raonic, his game was less instant-offence and more easy bake oven – never out-hitting but doing juuust enough out-manoeuvring to keep his head above water until finally in the fifth set against the latter, he lost it completely. It was an exhilarating two weeks for Federer fans, but just as Agassi realised in 2006, that run may very well have been the Swiss’ last hurrah.

Up till this point, Federer’s entire career has been an anomaly. No man has won as many slams, nor dominated the rankings, nor displayed the artistry that he has, and only the great Jimmy Connors can match him for longevity – albeit not at quite the same level of success. If anyone can come back at 35 and win another major title it’s Federer, but my head says it’s a bridge too far. In the end it shouldn’t matter, he’s already the greatest, everything past #15 was a bonus, including a post-30 journey that gave us his undoubtedly best Wimbledon title, and a run at the top that has seen him not only continue to better his contemporaries – Roddick, Hewitt, Nalbandian, Ferrero, Gonzalez – but decisively outlive them. Unfortunately, as his body starts to fail him, this year’s run at Wimbledon might end up being his ’05 US Open, and that’s a reality tennis fans will have to come to terms with. As of right now, Federer intends to return for 2017, all we can do is enjoy whatever he has left, whatever that turns out to be.

How Low Can You Go? The Dire State of Caribbean Cricket

There are few constants in modern cricket. The best team. The best player. Warnie’s face. All are in a constant state of flux. Unfortunately, there has been one constant – and not just of recent times, but for the past 15 years – and that is that the West Indies have been entirely disappointing.

It actually seems kind of incredible now that the West Indies – who have a combined population of less than 10 million – was not only a cricketing superpower, but the dominant force for the first two decades of the modern era. They won the first two world cups in ’75 and ’79, set a then-record 11-test winning streak in ’84, and were a factory for legendary players with the bat or ball. To see what the Windies have become in falling to an innings defeat to Australia on Saturday, you’d think they spent the past several decades figuring out just what “cricket” is.

The thing about the Windies that makes this fall from grace so painful is that it’s the one team that all cricket fans want to be successful. The game is simply better for it. Their teams were full of dynamic players – from Sir Viv to Marshall to Ambrose to Lara, the game evolved as they did. Everywhere they went, they won over the crowds, as it was just impossible to deny the allure of that Caribbean flair – their voices, their style and yes, their black faces in a sport that had long been a white man’s domain – it was all so different, so exotic, so cool, and came at the perfect time. We love the Windies for the men on it as much as the cricket they play, hell, if there’s one thing even recent Windies players haven’t lacked, it’s personality.

So where have all those players gone? Honestly, I can’t give you a good answer. All I could think about in the wake of their latest defeat on Australian shores was a similar scenario six years ago, albeit one that had a particularly bright silver lining, as a 19-year-old Adrian Barath scored a debut century amidst his team’s innings defeat. And while three years later he was out of test cricket, if only for a short while, we had hope. More recently, we’ve seen glimpses from the likes of Kemar Roach and Jason Holder, but the former has failed to grow as a bowler, while Holder is now burdened with a captaincy that is just as likely to adversely affect his game as it is to grow it. Certainly, those responsible for player development in the Caribbean have a lot to answer for.

It’s not just how they develop players though, it’s also the resources they have to work with, and in this respect, no nation highlights a need to share the riches of the game’s “T20-isation” like the Windies. Obviously there’s the mercenaries who have essentially abandoned their country for an endless feast of shortest-form cricket, like Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, but it’s hard to blame them given just how small the revenue base in the Windies is compared to places like India and Australia. More than any others, those two countries have been able to keep pumping money into the longer form of the game, because they have the T20 money to do it with. If the ICC is serious about keeping cricket a world game, it’s time it took charge of its two biggest leagues, and sent at least a portion of the profits they generate back to the rest of the Test-playing nations. It’s the only way to avoid cementing what is an already increasingly stratified financial landscape that the Windies loses out from.

Cricket is at its best when the Windies are good. It really is that simple. No team captures the imagination like them, with an identity that is so different from the other test-playing nations that makes it easy to cheer for them. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since we’ve had anything to cheer about. Will that change anytime soon? God only knows.

Kawhi Leonard is Making “The Leap”, and The Warriors Should be Worried

At 22-0 to begin the season, it seems there’s little that can stop the Golden State Warriors. Besides the ever-present risk of injury, the only well-known, concrete threat to the team is the twin-cannons of Lisa Ann (SFW, I promise). But then there’s the San Antonio Spurs who, despite getting bounced by the Clippers in the first round of last year’s playoffs, look reinvigorated thanks to the transcendent play of their 6’7 swingman, Kawhi Leonard.

Thanks to the Warriors absolutely ridiculous run of basketball over the past 18 months, Leonard – and the Spurs themselves – have been able to somewhat return to their familiar position away from the spotlight of mainstream media and fandom. Even though the Spurs winning the 2014 finals with Leonard as MVP wasn’t enough to keep them there, although it’s possible to see why, as that team endured some growing pains last year in transitioning its focus away from the aging Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan triumvirate, culminating in a first round exit in May 2015 at the hands of the dangerous-but-volatile LA Clippers.

Come December, it’s safe to say Leonard and the Spurs are finally back. The team sits second in the league at 17-4, while Leonard has cemented his spot as a top-5 player in the league. Particularly with the new additions of David West and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs are primed for another deep playoff run.

So what’s changed since May that has made this Leonard – and therefore the Spurs – as dangerous as they’ve ever been? Essentially, he’s found the offense to match his defense – which is saying a lot for the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year.

The obvious stat first, Leonard is currently leading the league in three-point percentage at bang-on 50%, while taking four attempts a game. Sure that’s not Steph Curry territory, but it is Kyle Korver territory, who is shooting 42.9% on .6 more attempts – for a guy who shot 34.9% last year, I’d say that’s pretty damn impressive.

Beyond the threes, and the associated bump in scoring from 16.5 to 21.6, Leonard might be the most the most balanced scorer in the game. His attempts on shots closer than 10 feet, pull-ups and catch-and-shoot are 35.4, 33.1 and 29.9% respectively – compare this to someone like Paul George, who shoots an overwhelming 47.5% of his shots off the dribble. Essentially, defending Leonard has got exponentially harder when he can make you pay just as much without dribbling as he can when navigated through the low post.

On top of that, the defense is somehow even better. Last year, Leonard’s opponents shot 44.2% when he was guarding them, this year, it’s an incredible 36.1. You’d have a better shot getting a thoughtful answer from his coach Gregg Popovich than you would scoring on Leonard himself.

If Leonard keeps that defense up, it’s sure to dramatically alter the texture of any Spurs-Warriors series. His defensive prowess will essentially cancel out the offensive input of whoever he’s guarding (being either Curry, or his partner-in-crime, Klay Thompson), while the Dubs’ defensive specialist Andre Iguodala will be forced to play Leonard similarly straight-up with his newfound shooting prowess, opening up a host of one-on-one matchups across the board. So while you certainly can’t say the Spurs would be favourites against the currently undefeated Warriors, it’s certainly possible to call it a draw.

And that’s the thing, as fun as it is to see the Warriors carve their way through the league’s regular season, come playoff time we all want to see them pushed to the absolute limit in their pursuit of historic levels of greatness. Kawhi Leonard may not be the small forward we were expecting to stand in our way, but as of right now, he’s our best – if not only – hope.

Must-watch Power Rankings: The Athletes Worth Making Time For

If you’re anything like me, you’re time is precious. You’ve gotta get 10 hours of sleep every day, eat five solid meals, and spend a good six hours planning on getting any work done. That doesn’t always leave enough for sports. Thankfully for you, I’ve put together a comprehensive power ranking of the athletes that are appointment viewing right now. Each guy on this list is doing something totally unique and totally fascinating in their respective sport right now – whether that’s through absolute domination, transcending father time, or straight-up revolutionising their sport (maybe in future editions of these rankings we might get lucky and get another mid-90’s Mike Tyson too, in which case you’re watching to see if he tears another ear off) all are in their own way worth making time for, so read on.

  1. Steph Curry, NBA (Golden State Warriors)

The whole reason I’m writing this list right now. There’s not a shot he doesn’t like, and not a shot that doesn’t like him. He makes the three look easier than betting on Charlie Sheen being the recipient of last week’s Hollywood HIV rumours. He can get hot anywhere, anytime, and even in a “quiet” game he’ll have at least three moments where he launches just Ron Artest-level dumb three pointers that have no right to go in, except they do. He was league MVP last year, and he’s now passed LeBron James for the title of “best basketball player in the world” – no easy feat.

  1. Gennady Golovkin, Boxing

If there was a real-life Ivan Drago, except personable, it would be Golovkin. At 34-0 with 31 KO’s (including a record 21-straight), the Kazakh is on his way to cleaning out the middleweight division with a combination of lethal punching power, innate boxing ability and an iron jaw. If you want an idea of just how scary this guy is, know that ex-WBC champ Miguel Cotto forfeited his belt knowing that if he’d have beaten Canelo Alvarez this weekend, he would’ve had to face Golovkin, who holds the interim title. He just spent the better part of eight rounds rearranging IBF champ David Lemieux’s face, and will now get to do the same against Alvarez in a PPV that is actually worth buying.

  1. Neymar & Luis Suarez, Football (Barcelona)

It’s kind of crazy to think that the best footballer in the world right now is on Barcelona, and isn’t Leo Messi, but that’s exactly where we find ourselves. Of course I cheated here and lumped his two strike partners together, but since the Argentine went down, the pair have been equally ridiculous. Case-in-point, they just made Real Madrid look like bloody Scunthorpe United with three of Barca’s goals in their 4-0 victory on Saturday. Messi or not, these dudes are scoring for fun right now.

  1. Novak Djokovic, Tennis

Arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, Djokovic is putting the finishing touches on his second three-slam season, and simply looks a class above right now. Part tennis player, part slugger, part contortionist, the Serb is worth watching if for just his return-of-serve alone. No one wins more points he has no right to than Novak Djokovic.

  1. Conor McGregor, UFC

Entering 2015 it was hard to tell if McGregor had merely talked his way into the UFC’s spotlight, but he’s shown since that he certainly deserves to be there. After putting himself on featherweight champ Jose Aldo’s radar with a knockout of Dennis Siver in January, the Irishman went and bulldozed Chad Mendes – the same Mendes who had given Also one of the toughest fights of his career – to prove he has the striking to back up his soundbytes. Aldo vs McGregor on December 12 is set to be the biggest fight of the year, in any combat sport.

  1. Todd Gurley, NFL (St Louis Rams)

Like Adrian Peterson, except younger and with a clean criminal record, Godd Turley has set the world on fire in the first five games of his NFL career. With the Rams’ absolutely putrid quarterback play, he’s been almost the entirety of their offense, carrying the team with a mix of speed, vision and power that no one could have expected this soon, given his ACL injury a little over a year ago. If the Rams’ QBs can stop sucking, and/or fire Jeff Fisher, Gurley’s the one guy who could leap well up this list.

  1. Roger Federer, Tennis

No one’s made a living off leaving fans speechless quite like Roger Federer, and he continues to do so at the age of 34, if just for the fact he’s still trucking in the top 3 while all of his contemporaries (Roddick, Safin, Hewitt, Ferrero, etc) are history. The way he’s adapted his game to fit his limitations has been remarkable, and the brand of hyper-attacking tennis he’s playing is just as entertaining as it was five years ago.

  1. Tom “Tim” Brady, NFL (New England Patriots)

Another old dude who shouldn’t be on this list, but has been equally incredible at an equally advanced age. While Peyton Manning is trying to find a whole-body donor on the black market, Brady is as good as he’s ever been. Through nine games this year, he’s got 24 touchdowns against 3 interceptions, which would seem borderline criminal if the NFL wasn’t, you know… the NFL.

  1. LeBron James, NBA (Cleveland Cavaliers)

The reason the greatest basketball player of the last twenty years is this far down the list is because he’s had a relatively inauspicious start to the 15-16 season, but the reason he’s on it at all is because of how abso-frickin-lutely incredible he was in carrying the Cavs during the NBA finals back in June. Nearly 31, LeBron’s learnt to measure his outbursts of brilliance, but don’t be surprised when we get a reminder very, very soon.

  1. Russell Westbrook, NBA (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Westbrook is Bestbrook. It doesn’t matter whether he shoots 10/30 or puts up a triple-double, every Thunder game with Russ is an experience. Will he launch contested 20 footers? Will he miss easy looks to Kevin Durant? Will he perform a singular feat of athletic brilliance? He’ll probably do them all. And when it’s all over, he might just go off on the press. Gotta love the Brodie.

 

So that’s it for the first “must-watch” power rankings. Expect these to be updated as necessary – could be months, could be days. If LeBron goes ballistic, I’ll let you know, likewise, if Dez Bryant looks ready to murder Greg Hardy, I’ll give a heads up. These are your ten for now, so get watching!

Captain Lleyton to the rescue? Not so fast.

Hewitt-Federer-tw-700x450The general consensus with Lleyton Hewitt’s appointment as Australia’s Davis Cup captain seems to be that he’s the man who can finally reel in our young knuckleheads. But if there’s any man who knows the importance of embracing their inner dickhead, it’s Lleyton Hewitt.

Back in August, Australia’s “next great hope” Nick Kyrgios made headlines for informing Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka of his eskimo brotherhood with fellow Aussie Thanassi Kokkinakis in the middle of a match at the Montreal Masters. Coincidentally, this came just after Hewitt had entered into an ongoing mentorship role with the 20-year-old, who has had a history of on-court tantrums.

The hope at the time, as it seems to be now, is that Hewitt, having had a similar attitude problem at the same age, would be a calming influence on Kyrgios, getting him focused back on playing the sort of tennis that got him to two slam quarterfinals as a teenager.

Instead, Kyrgios seems about as temperamental as ever. About as unapologetic over the Wawrinka incident as Usher is for unleashing Justin Bieber on the world, Kyrgios proved determined to show he hadn’t learnt his lesson with three code violations in seven days between the Japan Open and Shanghai Masters. If Hewitt was to have an effect in the wake of Montreal, shouldn’t we have seen some improvement by now?

The explanation for why we haven’t is actually pretty simple: Hewitt isn’t interested in reigning Kyrgios – or Bernard Tomic for that matter – in at all. He actually alluded to this in his statements on Monday, where he acknowledged that Kyrgios has to “be who he is to a certain extent”, and why not? It certainly worked out well for Hewitt.

Winning the US Open in 2001 at the age of 20, Hewitt backed up that victory and his newfound number one ranking with a Wimbledon title in 2002 and another year-end finish in the top spot. This happened to coincide with his rise as one of world sport’s most disliked athletes – a tag he was still carrying around in 2006. And while Hewitt has certainly mellowed out in recent years, it doesn’t change the man he was when on top of the tennis world.

It seems like many Aussies are waiting on Kyrgios and Tomic to have the sort of “road to Jericho” moment that happened to another temperamental tennis prodigy, Roger Federer, but such a personality change is the exception – not the rule – as Hewitt’s own youthful success clearly shows. Looking not just at Federer, but Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, it’s easy to forget that the even-tempered, selectively-passionate approach doesn’t work for everyone. Hewitt’s job here isn’t to give Kyrgios and Tomic and smack across the head as much as it is to push them in the right direction, helping them find their own balance between focus and passion. If he does manage to pull that off – and that’s a big if – the results could be extraordinary.

Motorsport Monday: Rosberg Repeats in Monaco as Hamilton Throws a Tantrum

For all the glamour and prestige associated with the Monaco Grand Prix, it’s usually not a very exciting race. The winner starts where he finishes, we see a safety car or two, and Prince Albert II gets to pretend for just one day that he’s one of the homies. Thankfully 2014 turned out to be different, as the usual on-track procession played second-fiddle to the disharmony at victors Mercedes, where a once-friendly rivalry looks set to spill into civil war.

So let’s get straight to it, and recap the stories that made for an enthralling weekend in the principality.25051

Mercedes Continue to Dominate as Intra-Team Rivalry Boils Over

If there’s two things that are obvious in 2014 about Formula 1, it’s that you can’t help but like Daniel Ricciardo, and Mercedes have the constructors championship in the bag. Now normally when the writing’s on the wall this early in the season, F1 fans have to go fishing around for a narrative to keep things interesting, because we know who’s going to get the driver’s as well. This year is different however, as the dominance is complementary to the turmoil surrounding one Lewis Hamilton.

A quick recap of Hamitlon’s weekend in Monaco:

On Friday, he remarked that “the hunger was different” between himself and Rosberg, as he came “from a not-great place in Stevenage”, while the German “grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things”. Shots fired.

On Saturday, he was beaten to pole in controversial circumstances as Rosberg’s off at Mirabeau caused yellow flags, negating any attempt to beat his teammate’s time. Afterwards Hamilton asserted he “was on the pole lap”.

Prior to the race on Sunday, during Martin Brundle’s pit walk, Niki Lauda revealed Hamilton had caused something of his own ‘multi 21′ situation in Spain as he had intentionally ignored orders given to both drivers not to use a certain engine setting on his car. After the race Hamilton apologised to Rosberg, who accepted. After Saturday’s qualifying Rosberg had done likewise to Hamilton, who did not accept.

The race itself was the usual irritable Lewis, but a bit more so after something got caught in his left eye. He managed to hold on for second.

Post-race was as frosty as frosty could be. Hamilton refused to acknowledge Rosberg on the podium, and made a veiled dig at his teammate in his interview with Benny Cumberbatch, remarking “fortunately we didn’t make any mistakes” with a big ol’ smirk on his face. In the paddock interview with Natalie Pinkham, he continued to distance himself from his teammate, insisting the pair were not friends (Rosberg later insisted they were) — it should be mentioned the pair have known each other since they were first teammates at 13.

grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things
Read more at http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes/motorsport/story/159475.html#L6yhoZvrdxtiTqpF.99
grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things
Read more at http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes/motorsport/story/159475.html#L6yhoZvrdxtiTqpF.99
grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things
Read more at http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes/motorsport/story/159475.html#L6yhoZvrdxtiTqpF.99
grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things.
Read more at http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes/motorsport/story/159475.html#L6yhoZvrdxtiTqpF.99
grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things.
Read more at http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes/motorsport/story/159475.html#L6yhoZvrdxtiTqpF.99
come from a not-great place in Stevenage
Read more at http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes/motorsport/story/159475.html#L6yhoZvrdxtiTqpF.9
come from a not-great place in Stevenage
Read more at http://en.espnf1.com/mercedes/motorsport/story/159475.html#L6yhoZvrdxtiTqpF.99

Now some may say this is a story of two drivers who must face the reality that achieving their goals means going directly through the other, and that’s what’s souring their relationship, but that’s not true. This is all about Hamilton. He has to win. It really is that simple. Ever since he came into the sport in 2007 he’s been heralded as the next great driver, and it’s a title he wants as much as the British media wants to bestow it upon him. If he doesn’t win this year, he’ll have lost in the best car he ever had, to the least successful teammate he’s had outside of Heikki Kovalainen. There’s literally no excuses, and that’s why this exceptional 2014-version of Hamilton is so combustible. Hamilton has always been something of a whiny bugger behind the wheel — he’s not exactly adept at hiding his dissatisfaction over team radio, but that’s not exactly unique among F1 drivers. It’s his off-track mind games — the “we’re not friends”, the “I’m hungrier than him”, and the absolute refusal to believe Rosberg’s pole-securing mistake in qualifying was indeed an accident are products of a man who is feeling the heat like he never has before. If this ends in some sort of Prost/Senna fracturing, it’s because Lewis Hamilton took it there.

Marussia Score Points — Yes, I’m Not Kidding and Yes, Points Plural

Among all the tracks on the calendar, the Circuit de Monaco has long held a reputation for being something of a fertile ground for unlikely happenings among the… less-heralded of the F1 fraternity. There’s something magical about those narrow city streets that has seen such luminaries as Oliver Panis and Jarno Trulli record their sole F1 victories, and the worst team in the sport’s history — Andrea Moda, make their only ever appearance on a race grid in 1992. Whatever it is, it struck again yesterday as the Marussia of Jules Bianchi managed to achieve a ninth-place finish, earning the team it’s first two points in F1 after 82 (38 as Virgin, 44 as Marussia — all manged by the same group, Manor Motorsport) tries. If you saw the celebrations in the garage after the race yesterday, you might be forgiven for thinking they’d won the constructor’s title, but trust me, they weren’t being excessive. As it stands, Marussia are ahead of both Caterham and Sauber in the constructor’s standings, which considering the former’s futility should almost guarantee them the final paying spot in the standings. In most cases, the difference between 10th and 11th would be negligible, but in F1, it’s worth tens of millions of dollars, and could be just the boost needed to keep the team alive.

Who said Monaco was boring? Not this year.

Next time: Canada, June 6-8. Expect fireworks.