Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: December 2004

Tennis – year in review

Shamelessly plugging the day-job, <a href=”http://news.ft.com/cms/s/32a6ed7a-4c5b-11d9-835a-00000e2511c8.html” target=”_new”>here is my tennis 2004 review on FT.com</a>. (Actually, I probably can’t reproduce it here due to copyright and all that.)

End-of-year awards (well everyone else does them)

<B>Personality of the year: Andrew Flintoff.</B> Forget all that BBC stuff. As a sports personality, Freddie is on another level. He is a personality in every sense – a character, a laugh, a serious competitor, an entertainer. His play is exhilarating. He contributes with both bat and ball. Freddie’s record over the past 18 months is not just superb in a statistical sense, but he has lifted England to another level. His confidence seems to have infused into the team. He plays cricket for his mates, and for his country, with real pride. Easily the sports personality of the year.<br /><br /><B>One-off performance of the year: Danny Williams.</B> Even a washed-up Mike Tyson is a pretty formidable prospect. All those face-tattoos, and the thought that you might not leave the ring with all your ears would be enough to scare most fighters off. Danny Williams is no champion heavyweight. The phrase “journeyman” could have been invented for him. But his performance against Tyson, whilst not boxing at its best, was still the performance of a lifetime. <br /><br /><B>Overall performance of the year: Roger Federer.</B> 2004 was, with the exception of the Kuerten match at the French Open, perfect. 11 titles, including 3 slams, 3 masters and the season finale. And not one of his rivals came close to beating him. Only Agassi took him to 5 sets. Hewitt, Roddick and Safin were his nearest challengers, and they were given a pasting. He made the game look ridiculously easy, and did it all without a coach. <br /><br /><B>Flop of the year: Paula Radcliffe (plus a mention for David Beckham)</B> Why hadn’t she run the Marathon course before? What was she doing? Why did she even try the 10,000? Radcliffe went from our big medal hope to a great British loser in the space of a few days. it was embarrassing. Perhaps there was a medical reason. Perhaps she should take steroids like most of the others. If she finishes her career without an Olympic title, it will be a massive pity. The other big flop has been Beckham. He had a mediocre Euro 2004 (as did many so-called Gallacticos), and keeps missing penalties. Sloppy.<br /><br /><B>Comeback of the year: Paula Radcliffe.</B> So, another marathon. A tight race and a sprint finish. All eyes on Paula – will she even make it to 20 miles without a little cry? As she pointed out herself, it doesn’t make up for the Olympics, but it’s a damn good victory in it’s own right. A lot of pride was restored in that race. Perhaps Beijing may turn out ok.<br /><br /><B>Slump of the year: Tiger Woods.</B> No-one is scared any more. Woods hasn’t won a major title for ages, and isn’t number one in the world. He is by no means an ordinary golfer, but neither is he setting the standards for the rest.<br /><br /><B>Retirement of the year: Nasser Hussein.</B> Talk about a way to leave. 103 not out, at Lords, hitting the winning runs in a test match. I can’t think of a better retirement in sport, except for Pete Sampras at the US Open of 2002. Nasser always played the game on his terms. England’s new found resolve and winning mentality is mostly his work. It was fitting he should leave the game on his terms as well. <br /><br /><B>Team of the year: Arsenal.</B> They may have lost their invincible aura, but Arsenal’s 49-match run makes them the team of the year by a country mile. The quality of football was at times better than anything that observers could ever remember. Chelsea may have stolen their title by May, but Arsene Wenger’s team has set the standards that other teams will be aspiring to for several years<br /><br /><B>Celebration of the year: Kelly Holmes.</B> the moment when she realised that she won the 800m was pure joy and I defy anyone not to get hairs standing on end, even just watching the replay. Wonderful. <br /><br /><B>Newcomer of the year: Andrew Strauss (plus a mention for Mark Cueto).</B> The step up to international sport is supposed to be a big one. Well, Andrew Strauss hasn’t noticed. Three centuries in his first eight tests, a stack of runs and hardly a soft dismissal in sight. He has made it all seem so easy. The ashes will be a real test, but by then he should have already amassed 1000 runs and a few more centuries. Mark Cueto has also slotted into the rugby team with such ease that Ben Cohen must be kicking himself. Tries against South Africa and Australia were taken with confidence and aplomb. Fantastic start.<br /><br /><B>Pointless effort of the year: Brian Lara.</B> 400 not out might be a wonderful score, but when the series is dead and buried it’s a bit late. Nice for your average, though. <br /><br /><B>Tantrum of the year: Indiana Pacers basketball team (plus a mention for Arsenal).</B> Fans may give you stick, but they are paying your wages at the end of the day. Don’t punch them. Even if they do chuck Gatorade at you. Arsenal could also learn about keeping their cool. Pizza? It just sounds like a squabble at a children’s party. Grow up.<br /><br /><B>Emotional display of the year: Matthew Pinsent. </B>Four golds, one heck of a close race, a lot of tears. <a href=”http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/39981000/jpg/_39981290_pinsentceremony203.jpg”>Enough said, really</a><br /><br /><B>Drug cheat of the year: Greek sprinters Kostas Kederis and Ekaterini Thanou. </B>Skipping the tests was one thing, but the whole motorbike crash setup was even worse. If you are a cheat and you get caught, face the music. Do your time. Blame the system. Let us all have a chance to see you squirm. Note to Marion Jones – you’re next.<br /><br /><B>Surprise of the year: Greece football team, European Championships.</B> Where the hell did they come from? Sure, tournaments can throw up freak results, but they beat France, Portugal (twice) and The Czech Republic. That’s no fluke. It shows what you can do with belief, a will to win, and the realisation that your opponents are human. Too many sporting matches are over before they begin due to inferiority complexes. Greece were a triumph of playing to your strengths. If your opponents are skilful, deny them space. If they want to play a passing game, break it up. If they lack height and muscle, attack through set-pieces.<br /><br /><B>Manager of the year: Jose Mourinho.</B> Close call with Wenger, but having delivered the Champions League to Porto and shot off to Chelsea, he never asked for time to gel the team. Instead, he called himself “The special one”, has not been fazed by Ferguson or Wenger, and for that I think he is manager of the year. Priceless. Plus, Chelsea will win something big with him very soon, probably this year.

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