In the battle of the sexes, the guys outrank the girls

Steffi Graf.  Monica Seles.  Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.  Martina Hingis.  Lindsay Davenport.  Even those with only a brief, passing interest in tennis around Wimbledon time will recognise some of those great champions’ names.  But what about Jelena Jankovic?  Dinara Safina?  Caroline Wozniacki?  The same fair-weather fans could be forgiven if these recent world #1s don’t exactly ring any bells.

In a recent interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, the aforementioned Ms Sanchez Vicario commented that women’s tennis was much better in her 1990s heyday – the decade when those first five players reached the #1 ranking – than it is now.  “There was more variety, players with different games, stronger minds, more character,” she said.  “We had eight or 10 players who always had an extreme rivalry.  And to be number one, or winning a Grand Slam or two, that just didn’t come.”

Of the current crop she is less complimentary.  “Now everything is much more open.  You can be number one without being a great champion… If you ask people, they know the names of the Williams sisters or [Kim] Clijsters and [Justine] Henin, but don’t ask them to tell you the name of the [current] number one.”

She has a point if recent match attendance figures are anything to go by.  On Twitter this week, tennis journalist and commentator Guy McCrea lamented the lack of audience at the ongoing Madrid Open for current French Open champion Francesca Schiavone.  “Not even funny. Schiavone – RG champ no less – playing before 1 man and his dog on court 3 inMadrid,” he tweeted.  His hashtag placed blame on the fact that it is a combined men’s and women’s event, with the guys getting all the attention.

What he didn’t suggest in his 140 characters, though, were any possible reasons as to why this might be.  Because the sad fact is that, next to the glory and glamour of the men’s game, the current WTA tour lacks significantly in depth, drama, consistency and celebrity.

Some, mostly “serious” tennis fans, would argue that the current flatness of women’s tennis makes for a more exciting and unpredictable season, where players can rank outside the top 20 one week and beat bigger names to claiming a title the next.  You’re never quite certain who’s going to end up in each women’s final in the same way you know Nadal, Djokovic or Federer will inevitably win everything.

But what this argument ignores is the fundamental lack of match quality and technical superiority in the women’s game compared to the men’s.  The top four or five men have been ranked so highly for so long because of their skill and consistency in winning tournaments.  In contrast, the likes of Schiavone and Vera Zvonareva, currently in the top five, have been on the circuit for years and are only now reaching Grand Slam finals not because they’re getting any better, but because there is no new talent rising up to stop them.  The fact that Kim Clijsters could quit the sport, have a child, then come back two years later to win the US Open like she was having a casual knockabout in her local park is magnificent in some ways but tragic in others.

The lack of recognisable names in the women’s game is also bad for the sport in promotional terms.  There might be yet another Nadal-Djokovic final on the cards this weekend but the crowds and the TV crews will be there regardless because they know what spectacle it promises.  But on the women’s side, when the Williams sisters and Clijsters don’t show up (and all are currently injured) most people don’t have a clue who is actually playing, so the crowds and crews stay away.  Even if Madridwas a WTA-only event, I’m willing to bet Schiavone would still only be playing in front of one other man and maybe a couple more dogs.

The WTA desperately needs two or three all-conquering new stars to outshine the men.  Venus, Serena and Kim will not be around for long, and promising bright sparks Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic have quickly fizzled out and faded away.  It remains to be seen whether Caroline Wozniacki and co can become leading lights in the 2010s, but if they can’t, the girls risk being lost in the guys’ shadow for years to come.

I’ve just been watching the Madrid women’s final between Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova on television.  Along with about four people in the audience.  Maybe it’s too hot or everyone’s gone to eat lunch.  Maybe it’s that ridiculous noise Azarenka insists on making.  Or, in reality, maybe they’re all waiting for the next Nadal-Djokovic showdown later this evening.

Martin McGale

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Jumpers for Goalposts – May 5th

The boys are back and better than ever!

In a week that saw racism rows, a gun-wielding mascot, and diving Tom Daley would be proud of, a few games of football broke out!!

Join Sahil Jaidka, Colin Stone and Ewan McQueen as they are steered, somewhat carelessly, through the murky waters of British and European football by host Stef Meens.

As always, we’re also available on iTunes.

In the pocket: has record-breaking Selby confirmed Hendry’s summer retirement?

Mark Selby has set two new records as he moves within one frame of victory at 12-5 against scot’s snooker legend, Stephen Hendry in the second round of the World Championships.

The Jester from Leicester became the first player ever to record six centuries in a 25-frame match at the Crucible, beating the record held by Hendry, and taking his tally to 54 for the season.

Selby had already compiled three centuries, taking him to a clear 7-1 overnight lead and after Hendry missed a black in the opening frame of the afternoon, the world number four went onto clear the table with a break of 100.

Selby had an impressive 127 win in the fourth frame of the second session, and although Hendry ensured the match would go onto a final session by winning two consecutive frames, Selby went on to break the record with a break of 117.

In the final frame Selby came from 70-22 behind to clinch the frame 77-76.

Not content with his new record, Selby had the audacity to reduce Hendry to the brink of defeat by forcing five snookers against him and then clearing the final red and all six colours to steal the final frame of the session. That gave him a formidable 12-5 lead over the scot.

It could be said to have been cruel and somewhat disrespectful of Selby to continue playing until the seven times world champion finally fouled himself into defeat, given his already healthy advantage.

The more sportsman friendly thing to do would have been to offer a handshake to signal the end of the frame and reconvened again on Monday afternoon. However, the fantastic finish to a tedious frame certainly justified the meanness of Selby.

The final frame in this session may have pushed Hendry to within a single frame of retirement, should the 42-year-old wish he does not wish to be part of the new world of snooker with its punishing schedule of worldwide minor events.

The scot admitted earlier this week that he has been in danger of dropping out of the top 16 all season – meaning he would have to play qualifying rounds for ranking events. This is a prospect which has never appealed to the seven-time world champion who has remained firmly in the top 16 since 1988.

Hendry has confirmed that even with a title win, he may contemplate retirement this summer – a defeat from Selby on Monday could confirm this retirement.

Ashleigh McGuinley

World #1 Wozniacki must win when it matters

If there is any tennis player under the same amount of pressure to win a Grand Slam as Andy Murray – if not more – it is surely Caroline Wozniacki.  The 20-year-old Dane has been world #1 for six months now (bar one week in February where she dropped behind Kim Clijsters) but does she really have the game to claim one of the big prizes and justify her ranking?  The evidence, so far, is inconclusive.

Over on the “Yes she can” side of the fence, supporters point to Wozniacki’s consistency, her work ethic and her titles won so far.  Her defensive style of play is well-rounded with no obvious weaknesses, and her movement around the court is often exceptional; similar to her more experienced rival Clijsters in many ways.  

Wozniacki rarely misses a week on the tour and is more or less a dead cert for the latter stages of any tournament she attends; even when things look to be going against her she is remarkably resilient.  In 2010 she won six titles – more than anyone else – and looks very capable of beating that this year, having already won three including the prestigious BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

However, it is often these same elements that the “No she can’t” camp uses to play down the likelihood of Wozniacki winning a major.  A common complaint from doubters is that she is only #1 because of the sheer number of tournaments she contests, accruing more and more ranking points without winning any finals.  It’s a different approach from the likes of Serena Williams, who notoriously can sit out of the tour for weeks before swooping in to win Wimbledon.

She is also criticised for being too defensive, at times even passive, when the moment calls for her to step forward and take control of a match, as demonstrated by her loss yesterday to home favourite Julia Goerges at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix final in Stuttgart.  The title (and sports car that comes with it) was there for the taking, but Wozniacki sat back and let world #27 Goerges take the driver’s seat, hitting just nine winners to the German’s 38.  She looked uncharacteristically tired – and perhaps, after an unmanageable number of matches and three-hour workout sessions, she was.

It seems that Caroline Wozniacki has the tools to make a real name for herself; she just needs to work out how and when to better use them.  Her good looks, sunny personality and graciousness in defeat make her a sponsor’s dream and a potential people’s favourite.  But to become a household name like Clijsters and Williams, she’ll have to plan her calendar more selectively, pace herself throughout the year and play more aggressively in crucial points.

With the Williams sisters, Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka all battling injuries, Wozniacki will go into next month’s French Open as the overwhelming favourite.  So far, it doesn’t seem to be a label she likes being stuck with, but she will have to get used to it.  Otherwise, like Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina before her, she could very possibly end up fading away as a former world #1 without a Grand Slam.

Martin McGale

In the pocket: World Snooker Championship favourites

A preview of who is likely to make the headlines for all the right reasons at the 2011 Snooker World Championships.

With Neil Robertson crashing out of the running in the first round, it looks set to be a nail-biting two weeks at the Crucible. Who’s going to walk away with the victorious title on May 2? A few favourites…


Judd Trump

Current World Ranking: 14

The youngster nicknamed, Mr Haircut 100 is hoping he can make his mark when he makes his second trip to the Crucible four years after his debut.

After knocking out defending world champion, Neil Robertson in a 10-8 first round victory, the 21-year-old looks set for the big time.

The fearless youngster is another player to have a good start to the season, scooping his first major title in Beijing with victory over Mark Selby.

The hugely entertaining and exciting player is hoping to impress with not only his ever changing hairstyle but also with his skilful cuing.

Trump has proven that when he’s on his game he is unstoppable and after knocking his 100th century break in on his road to victory in Beijing, the rising star looks set to make a great outside bet for causing upsets in Sheffield.


Mark Williams

Current World Ranking: 2

Mark Williams is back and hoping 2011 will be his year. After slipping to 47th in the rankings two years ago and numerous talks of him putting down his cue for good, the dragon makes his return and looks set to fire his way through the tournament.

After making a promising start to the season with victory in the Players Tour Championship followed by further success in the first ranking event of 2011 in the German Masters, Williams is hoping he can maintain his level of play when he returns to the Crucible.

After a disappointing 10-9 defeat to world number one, John Higgins last year in the UK final which saw him lead 6-2, Williams needs to lay the past to rest and start a plan of attack to help him reclaim the title he last won eight years ago.

Despite facing tough competition in the form of Ryan Day in the first round, Williams will be hoping his smooth left-handed cuing arm will secure him the much sought after victory he is hoping for.

Regardless of a seasons of many ups and downs, opponents should not fooled by the Dragons mellow persona.


Ronnie O’Sullivan

Current World Ranking: 10

After a disappointing season resulting in a slip to 10th place in the rankings and never ending talk of early retirement, it is a certainty that all eyes will be on the three-time World Champion as he takes to the table.

After what seems like a string of bad luck, the ‘Rocket’ will be hoping he can make it past the first round unlike in the last four tournaments he has played in. Expectations are high for the former number one to redeem himself when he takes on Dominic Dale in the first round of the World Championships.

Famous for his unpredictable behaviour and huge breaks, fans are wondering whether this is the tournament that will see him fade into the background or prove why he has become a snooker legend by claiming his fourth world title exactly ten years after his first Crucible victory.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure the ‘Rocket’ should never be ruled out regardless of what his cue is doing.

From erratic one minute to completely electrifying the next, this is one player that is worth the view.


John Higgins

Current World Ranking: 1

After one of the most difficult years of his personal and professional life, the Wishaw Wizard is hoping to go for his fourth world title when he takes to the table at the Crucible.

After receiving a six month ban and £75,000 fine last year, Higgins returned to competition in top form winning the second biggest tournament of the season, the UK Championship.

Getting off to a good start this season and crushing Stephen Hendry 5-0 in the semi-final of the Scottish Championships should stand the Scot in good stead.

After being quoted saying he has become a ‘stronger person’, the world number one will be hoping that strength travels with him as he prepares to pick up his cue once again.

Despite a year of ups and downs, the Wishaw Wizard is a snooker legend never to be reckoned with. In a bid to claim his fourth title, Higgins fancies his chances as much as the next.

Higgins is yet another spell-binding player to be watched.

 Ashleigh McGuinley

Jumpers for Goalposts – 19/04/2011

Stu Martinez is in charge for this weeks show and is joined in the studio by Elliot Busby, Ewan McQueen and Colin Stone.

Topics debated include Man City’s FA cup triumph, Stoke’s demolition of dismal Bolton, yet another Arsenal capitulation and a preview of this Sunday’s crucial Old Firm derby.

Don’t worry people, Stef Meens will be returning to the show soon.

Long live the King of Clay

Yesterday, Rafael Nadal won the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters for the seventh year in a row – an(other) all-time record for the Spaniard.  Beating countryman David Ferrer 6-4 7-5 in the final of the Masters 1000 tournament in Monaco not only won him the title; it also extended his unbeaten run at the tournament to 37 consecutive matches, and means he has not been defeated on any clay court since 2009.  Novak Djokovic may have had the lion’s share of trophies and plaudits so far this year, but Nadal proved once again that he is the king of the red jungle.

It was by no means Rafa’s best ever performance.  The final was strewn with errors from the rackets of both men and an overall air of malaise following a tough and tiring week.  Nadal had been pushed by a resurgent Andy Murray in their Saturday semi-final, dropping a set to the Scot.  Ferrer had, on paper, had the better run to the final, having not lost a set or more than six games per match on his way.  The difference came, as always, on the crucial points.  When it came to the crunch, Nadal was able to take the big breaks and capitalise on a poor penultimate game from Ferrer to serve out the match.

It was enough to strengthen the Mallorcan’s position as favourite for the French Open once again, and further justify his place in sport’s history books.  And he’s not even turned 25 yet.

After the match, Nadal was characteristically modest.  “I’m a lucky guy to have done this by age 24,” he said.  “I don’t think about defending points from previous years, only about playing well.  I just keep trying to improve every day, train humbly and improve.”

Humility is the trait that has made Nadal undoubtedly the most popular player on tour.  Certainly British fans have taken to the Spaniard like few others in recent years.  It is perhaps not surprising that the cheers in the O2 Arena were slightly louder for Rafa than for the habitually moody and monotone Murrayduring their ATP World Tour Finals match.  And while the turf of Wimbledon still very much belongs to Roger Federer, his flat form and flashes of off-the-cuff arrogance haven’t won him any favour lately.

Nadal is much tamer away from tennis than his regimented, roaring form on court.  He still resides in Manacor, the small town on the Balearic island of Mallorca where he was born.  He has been in a relationship since his teens with Maria Francisca Perella, who avoids media attention, and his close-knit coaching team is headed by his Uncle Toni, the brother of his father and former FC Barcelona player Miguel Angel Nadal. 

By remaining so close to his roots, Rafa is able to produce his best form on the clay courts he was raised on.  Like all players, it no doubt helps that this part of the season takes place largely in or near his home country, and it would be hugely surprising if he doesn’t go on to dominate every tournament over the next two months.  Admittedly, Djokovic had to miss out on Monte Carlo due to injury, and he might have caused more problems for Nadal.  But after extending his fearsome clay court record, it looks like the world #1 is on course to take back his throne.

Martin McGale

MMA needs a kick from the media

Despite being the fastest growing sport in Scotland, Mixed Martial Arts, is still largely being ignored by the media.

As it battles with more illustrious combat sports like boxing, critics argue MMA is nothing but human cockfighting. The reality is that the modern day fighter is an athlete who has been rigorously cross trained in various martial arts and fighting styles.

With the growth in MMA being so evident in recent years the media often tried to match up boxing and MMA against one another to crown an undisputed champion of combat sports.

Amir Khan, one of Britain’s most popular boxers, is well aware of the recent increase in media attention stateside but insists the competition is good for both sports.

“It is very interesting and exciting, and MMA is becoming very popular but I don’t think boxing will ever disappear because the sport has such a loyal fan base. They both appeal to their particular audiences and are different from one another so they will definitely be able to live together just like rugby and football can.”

There are several MMA gyms in Glasgow, each with their own professionally active fighters. Griphouse is the biggest gym in Glasgow situated in the city’s West End. It boasts over 20 professional active MMA fighters including European champions and world champions.

Paul McVeigh fights out of Griphouse gym and is the reigning Cage Warriors World Bantamweight Champion holding the title since 2004. The BJJ based fighter boasts a record of 17 victories and 6 losses and is currently ranked number one bantamweight in Europe.

McVeigh, like Amir Khan, dismisses suggestions that boxing and MMA must compete for fans and supremacy over one another and believes that combat sports are due more attention in the press.

He said: ” I’m a big boxing fan and I feel that both sports can only benefit from an increased awareness of combat sports. Football is probably our most supported sport and we suck pretty bad at it, then we have guys like Ricky Burns [boxer] winning prestigious world titles and it barely raises an eyebrow. We suck at football but we are great at producing fighters in many combat sports and I think that is something that we should embrace.”

The BJJ- Brazillan jiu jitsu based fighter also noticed a surge in the number of fight shows put on in Scotland: “I don’t really have weekends anymore I’m always taking one of our guys to a fight show to compete. There are events every month and the standard is growing exponentially.”

It is hard to disagree with what McVeigh says, Scotland is producing world class fighters and the general public are none the wiser.

For example Ricky Burns is far from being a household name yet he is the current WBO super featherweight boxing champion and one of only 13 Scottish boxing world champions in history.

As MMA continues to go from strength-to-strength, public demand will eventually force the Scottish media to remove its veil of ignorance and to give it its due coverage alongside the country’s most popular sports.

Darren Joliny

We Don’t Give an F-Duct – Malaysia

Join Stef Meens and Elliot Busby as they take you through the weekends F1 action. The lads talk through all the hot topics following the Malaysia race, including Russian Vitaly Petrov’s outrageous rallying demonstration, Hamilton and Alonso’s crash, and Scotland’s very own Paul Di Resta.

Enjoy.

Also available on iTunes!

"The Rudderless Russian" - Vitaly Petrov

Flying Scotsman proud of Barney’s Tartan Army

The Premier League of Darts is well into the second half of the season with the ninth leg of the tour held at the Exhibition Centre in Aberdeen.

The return to Scotland was not without controversy after the sixth round of the tour, Glasgow, was highlighted by an aggressive reaction from the audience towards reigning World champion Adrian Lewis.

In the fourth and last match of that night, ‘Jackpot’ played against Scotsman and crowd favourite Gary Anderson. Before Lewis reached the oche, he received the expected booing but also the odd drink and coins were thrown at the Englishman.

Anderson took a 3-0 lead but eventually lost 8-3 after a mentally very strong Adrian Lewis fought back to win eight straight legs in an attempt to silence the crowd. Anderson later stated he was ashamed of his home crowd.

However, for the Aberdeen event the PDC took measures by making Anderson’s match against Terry Jenkins the first course of the menu of what became a textbook night of darts.

Stef Meens reports on a night which brought out the best in both the players as well as the crowd, including exclusive interviews with 15-time World Champion Phil Taylor, ‘The Flying Scotsman’ Gary Anderson and Dutch darts legend Raymond van Barneveld.


Premier League of Darts round 9 – Aberdeen

Gary Anderson 8-3 Terry Jenkins
Adrian Lewis 3-8 James Wade
Mark Webster 1-8 Phil Taylor
Raymond van Barneveld 5-8 Simon Whitlock

Standings after round 9

Phil Taylor 8 7 0 1 +25 14
Gary Anderson 8 5 0 3 +11 10
Raymond v Barneveld 8 5 0 3 +8 10
Adrian Lewis 8 4 1 3 +14 9
Simon Whitlock 8 4 0 4 +4 8
Terry Jenkins 8 2 1 5 -18 5
Mark Webster 8 2 0 6 -20 4
James Wade 8 2 0 6 -24 4


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