Saturday, 31 January 2009

Sky's the limit for Murray hype

When Roger Federer questioned some bookmakers’ decision to make Andy Murray favourite for the Australian Open, reaction from certain sections of the media suggested that the Swiss player had just called for Bruce Forsyth to be put down.

The 13-time grand slam champion’s honest but fair words, however, merely served as a timely reality check for the British press. Despite only reaching one ‘slam’ final, Murray had been touted as a favourite for this month’s tournament but his fourth-round defeat to Fernando Verdasco showed that there is still work to do.

Murray, after all, has never won a grand slam and remains behind Rafael Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic in the rankings. Federer acknowledged the improvement in Murray’s game but warned, “Winning a grand slam is a different animal."

Sky Sports News’ Vicky Gomersall wandered aloud if it was a “case of sour grapes” from Federer but, in truth, it was merely an honest appraisal of a good tennis player, who has yet to reach the same level of consistent excellence as his aforementioned peers.

Gomersall’s thoughts highlighted the British media’s inability to accept a truth that may inconveniently differ from their biased views, and Murray’s is not a solitary case.

Backed by vociferous support from fans and press, Ricky Hatton could have been forgiven for thinking that his defeat to Floyd Mayweather Jr was a result of dodgy refereeing. However questionable some of Joe Cortez’s decisions may have been, though, Hatton was simply outclassed.

Likewise, England’s recent exits at football’s major championships have been blamed on Urs Meier (the referee who tabloids called a “Swiss Banker” – he is in fact a grocer) and Cristiano Ronaldo. In both cases, their own players’ underachievement has gone unnoticed.

Murray’s response was, in stark contrast, both candid and measured. “Sometimes you have to suck it up and admit he was too good.”

He may not be the most charming or eloquent man ever to grace a tennis court but the Scot has constantly reiterated that goals he sets himself are realistic. Despite the unrelenting expectation, Murray has maintained a patient philosophy; that his time, his chance to win a grand slam, will come.

As written for Leeds Student, 30/01/09

Monday, 19 January 2009

Snooker? With Jazz? Nice.

In their classic ‘Snooker Loopy’, Chas and Dave promised to show us what they “could do with a load of balls and a snooker cue.” Their legacy continued during the final session of the recent Masters’ final, with Ray Stubbs heralding one frame as a showpiece of “snooker balls of steel.”

With such an apparent fixation with balls, snooker would appear to most onlookers to be in rude health. Not according to its finest player, Ronnie O’Sullivan, though. After beating Joe Perry in the first round, O’Sullivan bemoaned the “dying” sport, and mentioned that an X Factor-inspired Simon Cowell overhaul would be provide the necessary resuscitative lift.

The world number one thinks that a change similar to that seen in Britain’s other favourite pub sport, darts, would revitalise the game. "It needs someone with entrepreneurial skills like Simon Cowell who is in the modern world and more dynamic."

Another of snooker’s greats, Steve Davis, agrees that the sport needs a change, but appears to be fuelling the discussion with an interesting new twist, "For the last 25 years our association and players have tried to run their own game a bit Motown style.”

Motown – now there’s an idea for snooker’s hierarchy. It is not a Saturday evening exhibition of third-rate karaoke singers that can save the sport – it is jazz. The game’s bluesy future already seems a vivid prospect; the nostalgic witticisms of commentators Dennis Taylor and John Virgo would turn to calls of “bitchin’ long pot from Graeme Dott” or “Alan McManus - take it to the bridge, baby” , while Hazel Irvine’s chirpy presentation would make way for the Fast Show Jazz Club’s own Louis Balfour. Nice.

In the playing area itself, the compere could be replaced with a piano-accompanied, gravel-voiced jazz veteran, who would introduce players like members of his ensemble; “Playing tactically tonight, we have Mark ‘Smokey’ Selby, and on break-building, the Rocket himself, Mr Ronnie O’Sullivan.”

If O’Sullivan is after a more mainstream-friendly dash of pop culture, then we have the ideal fusion of faux sixties’ soul and contemporary chart music - Duffy. Perhaps she could sing entrance songs for players, as the piano plays standards in the background. Steve Davis’ cousin Miles could even provide posthumous trumpets.

It is a picture of glamour that far exceeds ‘The Rocket’s vision of an ITV screening of ‘Shaun Murphy Versus Stephen Lee On Ice’ – though such a spectacle would indeed provide an entertaining support act.