Monday, July 29, 2013

Is it over for Roger Federer?

That is the title of a thread on an internet forum, started after Roger Federer lost the Australian Open final in 2009. Of course a five-set loss in a slam final wasn't the end of Roger's time on the top of the game. Instead he has returned twice to World No. 1 after that and won four slams. But now that question arises again. And this time Federer hasn't even lost a slam final, instead his streak of Grand Slam quarterfinals since Wimbledon 2004 has ended.

2013 has been a bad year for Federer. He started the year with a decent performance at the Australian Open where he reached the semifinals but lost to Andy Murray in five sets. After that his results have been mostly disappointing and getting worse as the year goes on. Rome final and Halle title have been his best performances after the Australian Open, and neither of those were too impressive performances after all. And after reaching the final on clay in Rome, Federer was struggling to keep his quarterfinal streak alive already at the French Open. It took five sets for Federer to beat Gilles Simon on the fourth round, only to get beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in three sets.

Then came Wimbledon. After the not-so-impressing title in Halle, Federer took an easy win over Victor Hanescu on Wimbledon's first round. But then he got outplayed by Sergiy Stakhovsky on the 2nd round and his quarterfinal streak had come to an end. After Wimbledon Federer added Hamburg and Gstaad to his schedule and made a switch to a larger racquet. But results of those events were disappointing; a semifinal loss in Hamburg to Federico Delbonis and a 2nd round loss in Gstaad to Daniel Brands, both of them players Federer should routine.

But why is he playing so badly? For sure his performance has declined because of his age. But that doesn't explain why he was the World No. 1 just a year ago and now struggling to beat players even outside the top 100. His back has troubled him over the past year; he had back issues already last year when he won Wimbledon. But he played well last summer and his performances have started to drop after it. Maybe reaching Sampras' record of weeks as the No. 1 was his big goal and he hasn't been as motivated after that. And maybe the bad losses have taken away some of his confidence and given his opponents more confidence, he isn't anymore such an unbeatable opponent.

But is it now over for Roger? I wouldn't yet say so. He will probably never again return to World No. 1, his performances are declining with his age and his back issues seem persistent. But his best game cannot have gone away in a year. If he can play his best game, he can still win even slams. But falling from the top 4 makes it hard for him; he may face top 4 players already in quarterfinals. Having to win three top 4 players seems difficult for him; he seems to struggle to recover even from one long match. So getting back to top 4 would be important for him if he is still to win slams.

If Roger makes semifinals at the US Open this year and plays a competitive match against a top 4 player, then I believe he can really win one more slam. But I cannot see him winning many more slams anymore. Maybe two if he finds a good form at Wimbledon and manages to keep it until the US Open. And very difficult to see him winning three or more. But that would be 20 slams in total then, a good number to retire at. Unfortunately that seems too difficult to reach.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thoughts about Sauber and the Austrian GP

For change I write about Formula One this time. The financial problems of Sauber are a sad thing for me as they are one of my favourite teams. They are a privateer team and one of the few teams competing still with their original name. But unfortunately it's financially hard for smaller teams to compete in F1 these days.

A good thing is that Sauber has secured sponsorship from Russian companies. And it was great to hear there won't be ownership changes. But Swiss SonntagsZeitung reports the Russian companies will pay 470 million Swiss francs (i.e. €380 million). That's a lot of money from sponsorship, and probably gives those Russian companies a lot of power at Sauber. They have already announced Sergey Sirotkin, whose father is leading one of those companies, will drive for Sauber next year. And SonntagsZeitung reported the CEO Monisha Kaltenborn will be replaced. Hopefully this isn't a start of a Russian invasion at Sauber. We remember Renault and Virgin switching their licence's country because of their partners, hopefully Sauber won't switch to a Russian licence. And even if there were some ownership changes in the future, hopefully the team will remain as Sauber. Yeah, that's quite unlikely in case of a takeover but the team would lose much of its identity if it became Force Russia or something like that.

Then some words about the return of the Austrian Grand Prix. It's great to get one more European race as Europe is the cradle of F1 but the number of races in Europe has decreased in the last years. Red Bull Ring isn't really my favourite track but I can find one good thing in its return to calendar. Most new circuits are quite similar with each other but Red Bull Ring would be quite unique. Maybe a different nature of a circuit would enable some surprising results.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Some thoughts about doping

Sunday was a sad day for track and field athletics as for example Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell were caught from doping. Or actually it was a great day, dopers were caught. The sad day was when they competed doped.

But does it make sense to fight against doping? Is doping really such a bad thing? Come on, doping is cheating only because it's banned. If it weren't banned, doping wouldn't be cheating, only trying to improve one's performance.

In my opinion, the weakest argument against PEDs is that they are expensive and not available for everybody. There are also legal but expensive ways to improve one's performance, for example the CVAC pod used by e.g. Novak Djokovic and the altitude tent used by e.g. cross-country skiers.

Another argument against PEDs is that they reduce the importance of the athletes' skills. But there are already sports where the equipment plays a big role; improved racquet and string technology has changed tennis, and skis can play a big role in skiing. So why would PEDs by any different? Well, one argument against them is their adverse health effects. But do athletes need this kind of protection; we've seen there are dopers anyway? And in 1990s and early 2000s cycling, one needed to use PEDs to succeed. And some sports like Alpine skiing require risking one's health to compete.

But the biggest reason why I'm against the use of PEDs is really that improved fitness reduces the importance of skills. We can see that already in tennis, even though there haven't been at least reported doping cases. The slowed-down surfaces have given an advantage for the fittest players with great defensive abilities. The skilled shotmakers have a hard time if they can't defend well and a player needs to be strong to hit through the defense of the fittest players. Tennis used to be a game where you needed to have great skills and sufficient fitness; nowadays you need to have great fitness and sufficient skills. PEDs would make the game even more about fitness and strength at the expense of skills. And I really don't want that. Yeah, I said there are also other things that take away the importance of skills. And yes, for example in tennis I wouldn't be against more regulated equipment, but that's another story.

But it's up to the sports associations to keep sports free of doping. Doping would enable a longer competition season which would be good for the business. And doping would enable even greater records, so there are reasons why sports associations might be keen to allow the use of PEDs and cover up doping cases. And of course, a doping case is negative publicity for the sport. Still, there was something positive in the doping cases of Gay, Powell, and four other athletes. It's good to see that the international athletics federation doesn't cover the doping cases of big names. Hopefully most other sport associations would do the same, but I'm sceptical about it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

My review of Wimbledon 2013

The Wimbledon Championships of this year are now over. After all the upsets, the tournament still ended with a final between No. 1 and 2 seeds, where Andy Murray became the first British player to win men’s singles Wimbledon title since Fred Perry in 1936.

I really enjoyed the first week with its upsets. The first upset happened already in the first day when Belgian Steve Darcis defeated the recent French Open champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets. This was already the second early loss for the two-time Wimbledon champion Nadal, last year he lost to Lukas Rosol on the 2nd round. And even when he made Wimbledon finals, he often had some tight first-week matches. Maybe it’s lack of grass court matches, or maybe it’s because the fresh grass is faster making things harder for defensive players like Nadal. This year he really wasn’t well prepared for Wimbledon, he played only one exhibition match on grass before Wimbledon and he had played only one tournament outside clay this year, and that was on a slow hard court. And maybe the knee was troubling him, all we can say is that Darcis played better than Nadal that day. Unfortunately Darcis had to withdraw from his 2nd round match as he injured his shoulder in the match against Nadal.

Wednesday of the first week produced then even more upsets. Women’s 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova was defeated by Portuguese Michelle Larcher de Brito. Sharapova fell multiple times during that match, and slippery courts caused controversy during the first week of the tournament. In the same day as No. 3 seed Sharapova lost, No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka had to withdraw from her 2nd round match because of the knee injury she sustained on the 1st round on the slippery court. There were also many other players who had to retire or withdraw from their matches that day, and slippery surface had caused at least some of those injuries. The grass was obviously unusually slippery as usually there aren’t as many falls at Wimbledon. But also the modern game is to blame. Most of the season is played on hard courts or clay which are easier surfaces for footing. Maybe a longer grass season would help players with their grass movement but it also comes to the playing style. For example, Federer’s game relies less on defending, and you see him hardly ever struggling with his movement on grass.

The biggest upset of that Wednesday, and maybe the whole tournament, was Sergiy Stakhovsky beating seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. I must say I like and admire Federer. His game is so beautiful and also so effective. And he’s the most successful tennis player ever. And he had reached 36 Grand Slam quarterfinals in a row before Wimbledon so a loss to Stakhovsky would end that streak. Still, I was rooting for Stakhovsky in that match. I’m a bit tired of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray winning almost everything. I like Federer the most of those players, still I want somebody else to succeed for a change. Stakhovsky had a good first set, but after he lost it in the tiebreak, I was afraid he would lose his faith in winning, what happens so often when lower-ranked players play against big names. But Sergiy was able to keep his level high and beat Federer in four sets. It was also nice to see successful serve-and-volley tennis what you don’t see too often on today’s slow surfaces.

The 2nd week wasn’t as great as the first week, at least in my opinion. And that happens often in slams. With the exception of Federer, today’s best players’ game relies a lot on good defence, and we don’t see so many offensive players on the second week of slams. My best memory from the second week is Sabine Lisicki making the women’s final. She is always great on grass and in the four years she had played at Wimbledon, she had beaten three times the reigning French Open champion. And she did it also this year when she beat the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion Serena Williams. Unfortunately her first Grand Slam final was very difficult for her and she couldn’t win the title. Still, it was great to see Marion Bartoli winning the Wimbledon title. She may not have the most beautiful playing style but she’s an excellent grass-courter, as seen in 2007 when she beat Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams, and Justine Henin before she lost the final against Venus Williams.

My best memory from men’s second week was Jerzy Janowicz making the semifinal. He maybe didn’t have the most difficult draw as both Federer and Nadal from his draw quarter lost early but he was still able to take a set from the eventual champion Murray. I like his game a lot, he is a tall guy with a lot of power but he has also skills. And he’s the most successful youngster on the ATP at the moment, he has a Masters final and a Grand Slam semifinal unlike Grigor Dimitrov or Bernard Tomic.

Novak Djokovic-Juan Martin Del Potro semifinal was probably the most memorable match of the second week. Djokovic had been very impressive and yet to lose a set before the semifinal. Neither Del Potro had lost a set before the semifinal but he had a knee injury. Still, despite that injury DelPo was able to play on a great level and take the match to the fifth set. But, as great tennis it was, I wouldn’t call it great grass tennis. Classic grass tennis was seen in Federer-Stakhovsky match where Stakhovsky played serve-and-volley game. Djokovic-Del Potro was played mainly from the baseline and I’d call it classic hardcourt tennis. But yeah, players said some years ago that Wimbledon’s grass is nowadays already slower than US Open’s hard courts. So also the game played on Wimbledon’s grass has become more like the game played on hard courts.

Hopefully Del Potro can keep this level for the US Open which he won in 2009. But I’m starting to think Wimbledon has become big-hitting DelPo’s best slam. Last year he had a tight three-setter semifinal against Federer at the Olympics on Wimbledon’s grass and he beat Djokovic in the Olympic bronze match in two sets. But at the hard courts of US Open, Djokovic beat him in straight sets. The US Open’s surface has been slowed down after DelPo’s 2009 title and it’s hard for him to beat well-defending players like Djokovic there. Faster grass courts give him a better chance for that.

The men’s final was a bit anticlimactic for me. Two well-defending baseliners aren’t a classical Wimbledon final line-up. But that’s what you get in today’s tennis with slowed down surfaces. You may like this match-up if you like long rallies but I prefer offensive players going for winners. Of these two guys, I slightly prefer Djokovic’s game and I prefer his personality. But another Wimbledon final loss would have been heartbreaking for Andy. And luckily for him it didn’t happen, and Brits finally got a men’s singles Wimbledon champion, 77 years after Fred Perry.

Hello all!

Welcome to read my sports blog. Tennis, Formula One, and Alpine skiing are my favourite sports and I will probably write a lot about them. But I am also interested in other sports and will write about them, too. One of my particular interests is the business of sports, and I will probably write quite often about business-related things.

I am from Finland but decided to write in English in hope of more readers. If most of the readers are from Finland, I may later switch to writing in Finnish.

Best regards,