Friday, April 25, 2014

Professional sport is often referred to as a young man's game.

It is no place for the oldies, only the younguns. What with the plethora of bumps and bruises only the unwise see this as a place to cruise. For youth abound. If one falls by the wayside another will pop up with all the hurried indiscretion befitting a clan of piranhas.

These youthful Adonis's adorning the arenas of the NBA, sprouting the tentacles of the ambitious, never spy the pitfalls. There is no glass ceiling for this famished armada of glory seekers. Not for them to consider that the sky may fall.

Over thirty - You need not apply, they can do without you. Time for those haggard old bodies to partake in the delights of Satan's retirement village. It's a young man's game where speed mocks, strength imposes and experience is held up to an abundance of escalating derision.

Such is the exuberance of today's youth.

They do not have respect for old fogeys like Tim Duncan. He is thirty-seven. He's old. Somebody forgot to tell the big man that he doesn't belong. To be so bold as to contemplate the possibility of extended success with such old bones; what was he thinking.

No one is sold. Sure he is the proud owner of four championship rings. But he's thirty-seven - He's old. The last of those came his way in 2007. The time has come for this 211cm behemoth to ride off into the sunset. The power forward can no longer dominate the paint. He's thirty-seven. He's running on cold.

Problem is, those insolent youngsters didn't get the message through to Duncan. It seems he really does believe he is still good enough to teach the upstarts a thing or two.

Thing is, he is. And he knows it, too.

Too old - Ha.

Here we have the ultimate professional, the calmest of the calm with a demeanour that inhabits the realms of the serene. By no means can he be baited, for it is his fate to sate the weight of patience, handing many a naive foe a loser's lesson on a plate.

The big man has been at this for many a year, now. 1997, rookie of the year - A meteoric rise soaring to join awaiting siblings, a throng of stars among their intake. Some shone brighter, never a dull moment, a sheen to see afar. Perched aloft the melting pot of the heavens this is one of the grandest of stars.

A young buck back then. Take a look at the stats, close on forty minutes per game. For so long, the mightiest of standards. Eighteen years of sterling service to the San Antonio Spurs. A one team man, such loyalty. The likes of which is not seen in the modern day where money is the almighty.

Those forty minutes, though, have dwindled as the years weighed down upon him. Down to thirty now, he is still a starter, such is his importance.

The rebounds, the assists, the steals, the blocks per game, they may have tapered off as the years passed. Such is life. But that experience comes to bear come time for the playoffs.

That is the time there is more to winning than just stats. Sure, rebounds and assists and steals and blocks, they're all important. But this is Finals, where the all important mind matters. Where learning to control one's nerves is paramount. Where self-belief is vital: Knowing one can compete at a heightened level, having done so for eighteen years.

And that is where Duncan has it over all those supposed young guns. All those years honing his craft, he knows what the young will one day hopefully garner. The nuances of the game, his is the flame that rises to the heights that put the young to shame.

Those heights, that experience, the worldliness, call it what you will, it is him against the youth of today.

For this is one clan of piranhas that have remained stripped of sustenance.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

If Switzerland is neutral, then best declare Stan Wawrinka a foreign object.

A world away from the grassy expanses of the Swiss hills, a human destruction unit in the form of the twenty-eight year old is alive and kicking, unexpectedly painting the town red.

Not one would have thought a top ten journeyman never seen within the confines of the big four a title prospect. A quarter-final here, a semi-final there, maybe. A final - possibly, at a very long stretch, that is. But to win . . . well, nooooo.

Not last year, not this year nor any year for all eternity. But then what does he go and do? Yep, you guessed it, win a grand slam title in Melbourne. And against none other than the incomparable Rafael Nadal, too.

There is nothing neutral, nothing demure about this guy. Armed with the full range of weapons he can go ballistic at any given moment. It could be a heat seeking forehand; Though, at present, there may be no target hot enough. Or maybe a backhand stinger. Then add in a few thunderous serves and a willingness to come to the net; such an all-rounder. Whichever it is, the bigger the target the more explosive the situation. And there is no bigger target than Rafael Nadal. The biggest of the big.

First, though, there were a couple of pesky problems to negotiate.

Like getting past Novak Djockovic in the quarter's. Not the Serbian of old, one may say. But, then, not a mug either. And you can only beat who and what is put in front of you. Which he does with ease where ease confirms the heights with which such talent rises into the night . Over their shoulders, abroad the stars peering down upon such acclaim.

All the same, unfinished work arrived before the time to tick his call to fame.

By name, Thomas Berdych. Just one of many a star summoning the nerve to break a sweat in search of much the same. Wawrinka, always unlimited by talent aplenty, was here to stay. Never had consistency struck him at such a high level. Ten years upon a tour of gut wrenching hard work, staking out territories where one's mind knows deep down whether it belongs. Or whether it is all just a mirage.

Regardless, the dream never faded.

One image longed for and one image longing to escape the grasp of a dreams reality. That dream elongated for such an age, to shut away the lonely hope amid a career meandering to such a lowly stage for one so talented.

Twenty-eight, no spring chicken but success still in its infancy. To cap the bolt and lock the vault and catapult the bent within a colt.

A long time coming and over the hump. The belief of a champion in waiting surging through the arteries of desire.

Oh how much he wanted success. Perseverance became him.

Thomas Berdych, one more set than the least and tamed. A finalist named. Yet another Swiss fighting the good fight for the might of a grand slam title - And nothing express in sight. Against none other than the greatest of all time; Rafael Nadal.

The ultimate invite awaited him. To which that was gleefully accepted. Up amongst the titans of the sport, in a titanic battle with the peer of all peers. To fear and care and with the unfettered wings of a soulful goal so near, the tether of the nearly man was cast aside.

That, he did. The freedom to express his bent upon a world and introduce the dent of success within his own mind.

That was January, in the Australian Open. So long ago, yet success was sated and clung to him for all its worth.

Fast forward to April, and number three on the planet, for now, and a win on clay in last week's Monaco Masters. The best of the best were there. Nadal, Federer, Djockovic and Ferrer, yet Wawrinka was beyond compare. Sure, Nadal was out of soughts, losing to Ferrer and easing the path to glory.

But who is who and who would do all that is new amid the very few. Stan Wawrinka, that's who. A Final win over Federer in three sets, but not the last, one would suspect.

And for sure, Nadal will be back and stronger when the red clay of Paris doth appear. An open title, many of which have already crossed his sphere, he does not easily share. Eight already and nine to one nine is one he would like to snare.

Yet, here is the opportunity for Wawrinka to grasp a spot in the big four. To prove his bent is more than a one off.

To go to Paris and blast away the legendary. And to begin a legend anew.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stewart-Haas Racing is in trouble.

A racing programme in disarray. So claimed the braying masses at the beginning of the 2014 season. They sensed an organisation ensnared within a downward spiral, their collective boot ready to rub the noses of an embattled outfit further into the turf.

First, there was a team owner who had suffered a severely broken leg while racing off road in his spare time. Out six months and easing himself back into racing as the season was about to get underway, Tony Stewart was no longer a force to be reckoned with.

So they said.

Then to make matters worse for Stewart, his business partner, Gene Haas, goes and employs a fourth driver in Kurt Busch. Not one of Stewart's favourite people. Now Busch has had his run ins with just about everyone under the sun and dismantled his chances of steady employment with just about everyone under the sun. But Haas, the kind soul that he is, figured one so talented deserves another chance under this fair sun. Fair enough. Except that Stewart was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a broken leg when he hears this cheerful news. What a get well present that was for the poor guy. He knew nothing and is a partner in the business; Tremendous for the blood pressure.

Stewart is known to have a short fuse at times, and his fuse could ignite with no match in sight at this news.

Stewart-Haas had only just added Kevin Harvick to the team. The man decided a fresh start with a new team would be just the ticket to lead him to the promised land.

And with three other strong-minded teammates in the near vicinity, there must surely be a feud or three to be had. Oh what fun.

Did we mention that Danica Patrick was on board, too. And is still finding her way in Sprint Cup. Not at the level as her teammates yet, but learning fast, this is a driver who courts controversy from the petty and small-minded for no other reason than she is female.

So there is criticism flying in all directions, and then Busch is added to this melting pot of monumental egos. Those same egos masquerading under the auspices of a tight knit team, no one would fall for this. Surely this lot could not get on.

Hey, no one ever accused Nascar of being boring.

A team with four explosive personalities and cars that struggled to be up to speed in 2013, and perhaps those braying masses were right.

By the time these four had finished fighting amongst each other, there would be limited time to quarrel with the other forty or so drivers in the field. An apparent bunch of misfits outfitted with tinder dry personas, nothing good was ever going to come of this.

Except that this talented troupe of terrorising titans had notions otherwise.

There is Patrick. Despite five races where she either did not finish or had her race wrecked through mechanical failures, she has managed 21st, 18th, 15th and a 22nd place. Consistently higher than in 2013. Then there is Stewart who has gained two top five and four top ten finishes as well as one pole. Yeah, that leg is really bothering him. Not.

There must be some bad news there, somewhere. Well, no. You see, Busch has actually proven Haas right and set about achieving two top five and two top ten finishes with a win amongst that lot.

What a shocker this lot are proving to be. This doesn't even take into account the misdeeds of Harvick who has proved positively glutinous with two top 5's, three top ten's, one pole and two wins scattered in there for good measure.

And one of those was at Darlington, tonight.

Five hundred miles is a long way. Stating the obvious maybe, but, despite this, it all seemed straightforward for so long for the man from California. It was. Until, that is, ten laps to go when the cautions came out with monotonous regularity.

Tired drivers equals errors, and they sure came.

Three cautions within five laps. Gone was Harvick's two second lead and instead he found himself right smack bang in the middle of a dogfight with none other than Jimmie Johnson.

The same Jimmie Johnson that was supposedly not the force of years past. Yet here he was duking it out with Harvick amongst the hazards, counting down the laps to his first win of 2014. It wasn't to be for him due to a poor restart after the second caution.

But Harvick, what rare form that is emanating from his rev counter. Two victories, eight races, not the worst of strike rates.

Not the worst start to a season for Stewart-Haas Racing, either.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

To play the blame game.

It's them. They are not sticking to the manufacturer's guidelines. It's them.

No, it's them. It's them, we tell you, it's them.

Tyres to blame for all, tyres to blame for a fall and tyres on call the next time you wish to blame all.

With controversy swirling around the tracks of Sprint Cup over the quality of the tyres, talk of the race has, at times, become secondary.

Goodyear, the official provider of tyres for Nascar since 1997, say it is the teams who are at fault. PSI of twenty to twenty-two is the recommended level of inflation. Any lower and the tyres become unsafe, rendering the cars a two hundred per mile ticking time bomb.

Accidents galore in California two weeks ago. A sharp focus has come upon a heated issue as tyres pop and opinions drop on the possible causes.

So, a good year for Goodyear on the publicity front it has not been. Unless you uphold the long held tradition of any publicity is good publicity. Just a hunch, but more than likely, they don't.

Goodyear have claimed that there are teams running on tyres as low as twelve psi. In other words, highly unsafe.

The teams deny this and say Goodyear are not providing tyres of the necessary standard. But would those teams admit to running their race cars at a significantly lower psi? Unlikely. Big money, big business, winning means sponsors knocking their doors down. It means attracting drivers of the highest quality.

So let those tyres down to go for maximum grip. After all, every thousandth of a second counts. To win, to land the prestige, that is what it is all about.

But there has to be a balance. Surely there must be some sense applied.


It is tough though. What to do, what to do.

To mould the vagaries of high speed dilemmas, whittling the margins to within an inch of combustible mayhem, and life so precious yet a winner so cherished - a fine line, for sure. Where to stop, a win to garner financial latitude. For more is the high octane bent filled driver to lead the chase towards the gifts assembled aloft the winner's podium. A low pressure zone, the ugliest of storms prevailing with explosive consequences. The time has come for the grim reaper to reap unnecessary rewards with treadless tires flailing and ready to give up the ghost.

But at what stage has the line between safety and recklessness been crossed?

What price is a life worth?

Those teams could take the cash and run away from personal responsibility, or . . . .

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Never say never.

And never did Martina Hingis ever say never again. Ever the eternal love of a game that brought her a life time's worth of adoration, she's back and back to her winning ways.

It's only doubles, but Tennis is much the better for her presence. Thirty-three, one is retired an eternity. So, make the most of a radiant bent a world away from the humdrum of domesticality. Travel, seeing the sights of an effervescent world without the pressures of the singles tour to concern oneself with. As well, a tidy income to wash away the aching muscles of the practice court. And the thrill of competition and the roar of the crowd, the juices flooding the arteries of yesteryears glories, linking with the desire of a modern resume and reminding the adoring masses that there's still life in the old girl yet.

A combination struck up, such a lethal one at that, how could it miss. Martina Hingis and Sabine Lisicki, two opposites. Oh what potential. The power and brutality of the German and the finesse and court craft of the Swiss Miss. So different and yet a match made in the stars.

One, been there and done that, the other, the tyro with the talent to make it great. A German, a lady - Singles or doubles - with armoury so deadly that it should be banned. A serve that borders on the inhumane, bringing suffering and heartache to the chances of the chanceless.

Mixed with the Hingis court sense and tactical nous, they surely cannot go wrong. Already one title at the Sony open in Miami recently, an alliance to saviour, for sure. Chances abound for this mightiest of doubles champion's to add to her already impressive list of nine grand slam doubles crowns. And the first for the fraulein with the fearsome forehand.

For Lisicki, what better mentor could there be than Hingis? Having suffered from nerves on the biggest of stages in the past, the ideal opportunity lies in wait for her to tap into the vast knowledge of this Swiss Merchant of mayhem who has undoubtedly learnt the lessons of the big stage many a time.

Everyone wins. Hingis, doing what she loves the most. Lisicki, learning from a legend. And, of course, Tennis fans around the world who adore some variety in their tennis watching experience. That, you can't fail to attain in the presence of Hingis.

This is the way, the way to spend the day, the day to pay, to pay reverence to the Swiss Miss in all her legendry and eternal glory, gracing the grandest of games with her majestical gamut of gourmet Tennis.