Friday, January 16, 2015

My tennis blog on Tennis Frontier

From now on, my tennis blog will be on Tennis Frontier. Tennis Frontier is a tennis site with news, blogs, and a discussion forum. My latest tennis blog post is about the expectations for Stan Wawrinka's 2015 season.

I will continue writing about other sports here in this blog.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2014-15 Alpine Skiing World Cup approaching the halfway

The 2014-15 Alpine Skiing season is approaching its halfway, which also means classic races: men in Adelboden, Wengen, and Kitzbühel and women in Cortina d'Ampezzo and St. Moritz. Here I review some skiers' performances this season.

Men


The men's overall World Cup is becoming a two-man race between three-time defending champion Marcel Hirscher and Kjetil Jansrud. That is like the title fights between Hirscher and Svindal in previous years, Hirscher collecting big points from the technical events and the Norwegian collecting big points from the speed events. Hirscher took the overall lead with his Zagreb slalom win and also the projected final points show he is on the way to the overall title. Of disciplines, giant slalom has been better than slalom for him this winter. The tougher competition in slalom and last years' best giant slalom skier Ted Ligety's weaker performances may have accounted for that. In giant slalom, Hirscher leads the World Cup by 74 points ahead of Ligety whereas in the slalom World Cup, he is on the second place but only four points behind the leader Felix Neureuther.

Kjetil Jansrud has been the best speed skier since last February's Olympics where he won gold in super-G and bronze in downhill. This winter he has dominated speed disciplines, four wins and only one missed podium in seven speed races. While his leads in downhill and super-G standings aren't impossible to catch, I can't see anybody with the consistency needed to beat Jansrud for those titles.

As for the overall title fight, it will be tight as long as those two equally dominate their parade disciplines. Combined races can play a big role here. Hirscher will probably do only the Kitzbühel combined as instead of downhill it has super-G. But he has a great record from SG+SL combined, always in top 5. Jansrud will probably do both Wengen and Kitzbühel but he doesn't have as good a record from combined as Hirscher has. Still, his best combined result is from last winter when he was fourth in the Olympic combined, so he has potential. Another chance for Jansrud to gain points on Hirscher is in giant slalom. Unlike Hirscher, Jansrud has a decent third discipline. He has been three times in top 15 this winter but if he could improve to top 10, it would help him. He is a skier with potential in giant slalom as seen in around 2010 when giant slalom was his best discipline and he won Olympic silver in it. Of course, also Hirscher can try to get some points from super-G but he races in super-G very seldom.

Felix Neureuther leads the slalom World Cup, despite the back problems he has had. I don't think he is as good a slalom skier as second-placed Hirscher but Neureuther has been more consistent and finished all slaloms on podium. I think this title will depend on Hirscher's form. If Hirscher can bring his best, he will inevitably win it but if he has bad races and Neureuther remains consistent, then Felix has a huge chance for the title. Giant slalom has been more difficult for him this season than last winter when he even won a giant slalom in Adelboden. But even with his current results, he is well in contention to make the podium in the overall World Cup.

One of his main contenders for the third place in the overall is his countryman Fritz Dopfer who is consistently having good results in slalom and giant slalom. But Dopfer still needs a bit something to win races. Another contender for those Germans is the speed specialist Dominik Paris. While he is yet to win a race this winter, he has four podium finishes in seven speed races. Moreover, he is still young and I expect him to win discipline titles in downhill and super-G in the future. But I can't see him ever as a contender for the overall title; he would need a third discipline in his repertoire.

Another still young skier whose results I have been pleased with is Matthias Mayer. His downhill Olympic gold seemed like a one-race wonder but the results after it are making it justified. While he is "only" sixth and fourth in downhill and super-G standings and yet to win a race this winter, his two second places show he is a real deal. He is already ready to win races as the Olympic downhill and the final downhill in Lenzerheide last year showed but he isn't yet ready to fight for the discipline World Cup titles. But in the future I can see him as a strong contender for the World Cup titles in speed disciplines. He also has some giant slalom skills as shown by the sixth place at the Olympics, so I think he could be a Jansrud-like overall title contender in the future; strong in speed disciplines, decent in giant slalom.

Ted Ligety and Alexis Pinturault are skiers often mentioned in the overall title speculations. I am losing my faith in Ligety ever winning it. This is yet another winter when he can't do much outside giant slalom. He can have some good slalom runs but finishing two slalom runs has been difficult for him this winter. He won the World Championship super-G two years ago but he doesn't seem able to be a consistent top skier in super-G. And this winter he has been having a mediocre giant slalom season by his own standards. A win and two second places isn't bad but he is already 74 points behind the leader Hirscher. He must start beating Hirscher to successfully defend his giant slalom World Cup title.

Pinturault is a skier who I think has the skills needed to win the overall World Cup. He can be a top skier in slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and combined. Who knows if he even becomes a real all-round skier doing also downhill? But he needs consistency. Giant slalom has been his best discipline this winter and he also has a podium from super-G. But he has finished only one of the four slaloms, wasting lots of points. Aside from a slim chance for the giant slalom title, his aim for the rest of the season must be just to win races and secure top 3 in the giant slalom World Cup. He is still a young skier so he has years left to battle for the overall title.

And few words about my favourite Carlo Janka. After some worse seasons, at the end of the last season, it looked like he is breaking back into the top 10. But his performances haven't really improved from last winter. Actually, his downhill results have been worse than last winter but his giant slalom has improved from the last winter; in the 7th-place finish in Beaver Creek, he had the fastest second run. The promising thing in that is that the World Championships are held on the same slope. Maybe his best chance for glory this winter will be there. Also, I am eagerly looking forward to the Wengen weekend where he has an impressive record of one win in both downhill and combined as well as a total of six podiums in 11 starts.

Women


On women's side, Tina Maze seems to be on the way to the overall title. She is consistently getting good results in all disciplines. Still, it may be hard for her to win any discipline titles as she doesn't dominate any discipline, almost all disciplines have some better skiers than her.

Last year's overall champion Anna Fenninger seems to be in trouble in her attempt to defend the title. She doesn't do slalom like Maze does plus she is ahead of Maze only in giant slalom points. Giant slalom looks like her best chance to win a World Cup title this winter. In the overall World Cup she seems to be on the way to the second place. She is currently third, behind Mikaela Shiffrin but there are lots of speed races remaining which should get her past Shiffrin, as seen in the projected standings.

Lindsey Vonn has made a great comeback. She is back dominating downhill and also doing well in super-G. The super-G points don't tell a lot yet because there has been only two races. Because of the retirement in Val-d'Isere, Vonn is only on sixth place. But her second place in Lake Louise impressed me so much that I expect her to be a contender for the title, like I expect the current points leader and last year's champion Lara Gut to be. As Vonn hasn't done technical events, she has no chance for the overall title though. Currently she is seventh but like in Fenninger's case, the speed races will bring her close to a top 3 finish.

Giant slalom looks like the most interesting title fight. The top 6 are within 100 points from the leader Eva-Maria Brem. One of those is Mikaela Shiffrin who won her first giant slalom in the first race of the season in Sölden. After that she didn't get good results in either giant slalom or even in his parade discipline slalom. But now that she has found her form, she is again a strong contender in giant slalom and the big favorite in slalom. Frida Hansdotter is still leading the slalom World Cup but I see her chances to win the slalom title very slim. I think she would need Shiffrin having bad races, Shiffrin is so clearly the best slalom skier on women's side.

Predictions


I am not going much against the projected standings. For men I say 1) Hirscher, 2) Jansrud, 3) Paris. For women I say 1) Maze, 2) Fenninger, 3) Vonn. I put Vonn ahead of Shiffrin because I believe she can get more than 40 points per race in super-G which is her current average.

Then to disciplines. On men's side, I say Jansrud will win both downhill and super-G and Hirscher will win both slalom and giant slalom. On women's side, I say Vonn will win the downhill and super-G titles and Shiffrin will win the slalom title. Giant slalom feels hardest to predict. I pick Fenninger, she was back in form in Kühtai.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014-15 Four Hills Tournament preview

The New Year is coming close and it is the time for the Four Hills Tournament. I am already eagerly looking forward to it. The last ski jumping season was a pleasure to watch with so many jumpers able to succeed, and this season seems just as good. That makes predicting the tournament winner very hard.

Austria has a winning streak since the 2008-09 tournament. But Austria's dominance in ski jumping has ended. The best Austrian in the World Cup is Michael Hayböck on third place. He is having a solid season with four podium results and is still to miss the top 10. He is one of the favorites.

Last year's winner Thomas Diethart has been badly out of form this year and can't be expected to repeat his victory. Two-time Four Hills Champion Gregor Schlierenzauer has one win and one second place from this season but there have also been some mediocre results that he can't afford at the Four Hills.

Anders Fannemel is the current World Cup leader. After a brilliant start to the season, the last weekend in Engelberg was worryingly his two worst competitions of this winter. If he can return to the level he was earlier this season, then he is fighting for the title.

I think the most impressive jumper of the season has been Roman Koudelka. Three wins, one second place, and only once out of the top 10 (11th in the 1st Lillehammer competition). He is only two points behind Fannemel in the World Cup standings, despite missing the competitions in Nizhny Tagil. He is my favorite for the Four Hills title.

After winning almost everything else in the sport, Simon Ammann is still in the quest of his first Four Hills title. Apart from the 1st Lillehammer competition in inconsistent win conditions, he has always been in the top 10, including two wins in Kuusamo. He had some excellent jumps last weekend in Engelberg, so he has a good chance to win that elusive title this time. But the opponents are strong.

The biggest hopes for the other host country, Germany, seem to be Severin Freund and Richard Freitag. Freund has had a solid start to his season but to win the Four Hills title, he need to start beating others. Freitag didn't start the season so well but had an excellent weekend in Engelberg with a win and a fifth place.

These are some but not all of the jumpers able to win the Four Hills title. The best Japanese, Noriaki Kasai, Daiki Ito, and Taku Takeuchi, skipped the last two weekends, so their form is hard to predict. Kasai started the season well and shared the win in the 2nd Kuusamo competition plus was third in the first competition there, with Ito on the second place.

Other jumpers capable for good results include Peter Prevc, Jernej Damjan, Anders Bardal, and Stefan Kraft. Kamil Stoch's form is a huge question mark. Last winter's World Cup champion and double Olympic gold medalist injured his ankle just before the season started and Oberstdorf will be his first World Cup competition for this winter. That is far from an ideal situation before the Four Hills.

So, this Four Hills Tournament seems hard to predict. My favorites are Koudelka followed by Ammann, Hayböck, and Fannemel.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Olympic Agenda 2020 approved

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the Olympic Agenda 2020. The recommendations of the agenda include reducing the cost of the games and improving their legacy as well as some ethical recommendations.

One of the recommendations was allowing to have some sports organized outside the host city and in exceptional cases outside the host country. That would enable more use of existing venues. I hope the compactness of the Olympics doesn't suffer a lot from that. In my opinion, all sports should be within a reasonable distance from the host city, say three hours by car, unless there are some geographic reasons, like sailing far from an inland host city. I am fine with having some sports outside the host city, as long as there remains a clear main host city, hosting most important sports like athletics, swimming, and basketball. Though, in the case of team sports played in multiple arenas, I think also other sports than football could have matches in different cities around the country. For example, in the case of ice hockey, it doesn't always make sense to have two hockey arenas in the host city but another round robin group could be played in another city with an existing hockey arena.

As for allowing having sports outside the host country, I think it is a good decision. If a host city is situated close to a border and there is some existing venue right behind the border, it doesn't make sense to build a new venue to the host country. Yet those venues abroad should be within a reasonable distance. Again, I think something like three hours by car should be the maximum. And there should be no visa requirements between the countries where the games are hosted.

Another recommendation aimed to cut the costs is to move from a sport-based to an event-based programme. Instead of capping the number of sports, the number of events will be capped as well as the number of athletes and coaches. The organizing committees are allowed to propose additional events to their edition of the Olympic Games.

I am not so sure capping the number of events and athletes is a better way to prevent the costs increasing than capping the number of sports. To fit the new limits, athletics and swimming may need to drop some events off. I don't like the idea of dropping triple jump and race walking off as they are distinguishable events within athletics. Besides, I doubt reducing the number of athletics and swimming events reduces the costs a lot, the athletics and swimming venues are still needed. I think reducing the number of sports and thus the number of venues needed would cut the costs more effectively. As for the organizing committees being allowed to propose events, it enables having sports of local interest but I don't like the idea of adding sports only for one Olympics. I would prefer a stable Olympic programme with new sports being aimed to become permanent Olympic sports.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Projected Alpine Skiing World Cup standings explained

I have added the projected Alpine Skiing World Cup standings to my blog. It is a different perspective to the overall World Cup standings. The actual standings can be distorted by the uneven number of races in different disciplines. The projected standings show how many points the skiers will have at the end of the season if they score points at the same rate as earlier in the season. Surely this isn't the perfect way to present the World Cup standings, for example this doesn't take injuries into account. And Henrik Kristoffersen winning all 11 slalom races to finish the season on overall third place is an unrealistic assumption. But surely it is fair to assume Felix Neureuther will finish the season higher as 18th overall where he is ranked now due to the small number of technique races. 7th, as in the projected standings, seems more likely. One thing to remember is also the combined races that can't have been included to the projected standings.

A quick look into men's standings shows two men above others, Kjetil Jansrud and Marcel Hirscher. Jansrud is the only man to have made the podium in all speed races whereas Hirscher is the only man to have made the podium in all technique races. Jansrud leads as he has more wins and has scored points in three disciplines. Still it would be way too early to say he has the title in bag, even if he doesn't get injured. Both Jansrud and Hirscher will have bad races and the one with less bad races seems like the one to win the title.

Of course, it is still too early to predict the final standings. Pinturault can be strong in slalom, giant slalom, and super-G. If he begins to succeed constantly in all of them and get wins, he can win the overall title. But as the projected standings show, he must improve from how he has performed this season. Of course, he has no slalom points in the projected standings as he got no points from Levi. With more races the projected standings will get more accurate.

On women's side, Tina Maze is way above others. She is the only one who can constantly get high points in all disciplines. It is yet to be seen what Lindsey Vonn can do in technique disciplines; if she succeeded there, she could join the title battle. A big mover in the projected standings is Lara Gut who is only 12th in the actual standings, due to more technique than speed races. If she can keep on scoring points in speed races like in Lake Louise, she can fight for the third place in the overall World Cup.

Friday, November 28, 2014

2014 ATP World Tour review

The 2014 ATP season has finished so it is time to have some review of the season. Novak Djokovic ended the season as the World No. 1. He wasn't way above others and managed to win only one Grand Slam tournament but nobody else could play on such a high level all year long.

Roger Federer finished the season as the World No. 2. That surpassed the expectations after the poor 2013 season. He played more often at the net and it worked for him. He won five titles this year, including two in the Masters Series. He also finally got his name to the Davis Cup trophy when Switzerland won it for the first time. But, despite having had the second-best season of all players, he couldn't win a slam. He isn't anymore way above the rest of the field, and players like Cilic or Gulbis have the abilities to beat him when they are in form. What I found promising was that he got better at the end of the season, but that can also be explained by faster surfaces on the second half of the season.

This season saw the end of the domination by the usual Big Four. Stan Wawrinka started that by winning the Australian Open. Title at the Monte Carlo Masters proved he isn't a one-tournament wonder. But his season had lots of everything. The lowpoint was a first-round loss at the French Open as well as the loss streak after the US Open. Quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the US Open were respectable performances but his game lacked the magic there was at the Australian Open and Monte Carlo. But he found his form again at the end of the season, making the semifinals at the World Tour Finals and winning impressively a singles and a doubles rubber in the Davis Cup final.

Marin Cilic was another first-time Grand Slam champion this year. He won the US Open with very impressive tennis. He dominated the semifinal against Federer and won it in straights. The final against Kei Nishikori was a one-sided affair. Three consecutive long matches surely didn't help Nishikori but Cilic was in an excellent form. Still, Cilic couldn't establish his status as a top player the same way as Wawrinka did. He won four titles in total but besides the US Open, Wimbledon quarterfinal was the only time he made it that far in a slam or masters.

Kei Nishikori reached this year the level that he is a serious threat to anyone on the tour. I think his two most memorable matches this year were the Madrid Masters final and the US Open semifinal. Kei had found a great clay form and won the Barcelona 500. After that he made the Madrid Masters final and was leading it against Rafael Nadal with a set and a break. But then an injury cost him the second set and the title as he was forced to retire at the beginning of third. In the US Open semifinal, he beat the World No. 1 Djokovic in four sets. Unfortunately he still couldn't win a masters or a slam but he finished the season at a career-high rank of 5. If he stayed healthy next year, he should be able to do that next year.

Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov were players who made the long-awaited breakthrough to the top 10 this year. They both did reached their first Grand Slam semifinals at Wimbledon but losses to Djokovic and Federer showed they still need to improve.

Talking about Nadal only now shows what a poor season he had by his standards. He missed most of the second half of the season due to injury and health issues but even until then, he was playing the worst season since his breakthrough on the tour. There were more players than before who were able to trouble and even beat him.

Andy Murray was even bigger a disappointment. He never looked like a top player during this season. As a sign of his poor performances, he wouldn't have made the World Tour Finals without playing and winning some smaller tournaments after the US Open. And once he made the Tour Finals, he won only one match there.

And some words about one of my favorites, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. After the summer 2013's knee injury, Tsonga couldn't reach his former form. 2014 was full of mediocre results and he won only one title. But that title gives some hope. It was at the Toronto Masters, beating Djokovic on the round of 16 and Federer in the final. That showed he still has the abilities to succeed. I hope he can play more often like that in 2015. And of course that he will have fully recovered from the elbow injury that ended his Davis Cup final by the beginning of the season.

What I liked this year was unpredictability and new players succeeding. That was very refreshing after years of Big Four domination. But what I didn't like was only two players having truly great seasons as a whole. Those were Djokovic and Federer to a lesser extent. The other good players had fluctuations in form or injuries. My wish for 2015 is that some of the younger guys can succeed with that kind of consistency. If Nishikori could have a season without bigger injuries, I believe he would be a consistent top player, what he was already at the end of 2014.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 Davis Cup Final preview

The ATP World Tour Finals last week were a big disappointment with predictable results, slow surface not providing attractive tennis, and the final being a walkover. But there is still one big event of 2014 left, the Davis Cup Final which will hopefully be more interesting. France will be hosting Switzerland on indoor clay. Until last Saturday, I would've said everything looks fine for Switzerland. Federer was playing excellent tennis and Wawrinka had found his lost form. But Federer has injured his back and there are reports about Federer and Wawrinka having had some conflict after the Tour Finals semifinal. For sure those controversies don't do good for the team spirit but I am even more worried about Federer's back. Without Federer, it would be hard for Switzerand to get the needed three points.

As for France, Tsonga seems like an obvious choice for singles. The other singles player could be the French No. 2 Gael Monfils but they could also pick Richard Gasquet who played well in the Davis Cup semifinal on clay. France will probably need a singles player also in doubles. Tsonga/Gasquet won the doubles rubber in the semifinal so they might be the best option. But if they want to rest either of these, they might pick Benneteau to doubles.

Switzerland has also a dilemma around doubles. Whether to play with Federer/Wawrinka or rest Federer and play with Chiudinelli/Wawrinka, like in the semifinal? Or even rest both Federer and Wawrinka and play with Chiudinelli/Lammer like on the first round? Switzerland have better chances in singles, so resting makes sense but is risky if they aren't 2-0 after Friday.

The first day looks like it will be Monfils or Gasquet vs. Federer and Tsonga vs. Wawrinka. Assuming Federer's back is OK, he should win. The other match can be trickier to predict. Wawrinka should be the favourite but Tsonga seems like the better player under pressure. Given Wawrinka's promising form at the Tour Finals, I give this to Stan, but Jo can be just as good as Stan.

Doubles is hard to predict. Federer/Wawrinka can be a good team but France should have a good team, too. If Federer or Wawrinka rests, then I give this to France.

The final day seems like it is Tsonga vs. Federer and Monfils or Gasquet vs. Wawrinka. On paper, that should be two points for Switzerland but with Wawrinka's fluctuations in form, you never know. Tsonga is a player who has beaten Federer on clay but Federer is the favourite. If France want to win the title, they had better lead before Sunday.

My prediction is that Federer will finish it for Switzerland in the fourth rubber. But if he isn't healthy, then France will win.