Welcome to my latest feature on this blog – a round up of the key issues thrown up by a month in sport (and hopefully music sometimes). The format is relatively simple – a quick paragraph stating my person of the month followed by 4 or 5 important questions which I will try to answer. I’ll start by asking myself the questions but, as the months go on, hopefully I can persuade one or two others to provide me with some.
The stand out player this month was Stanislas Wawrinka who helped himself to his first Grand Slam title before helping Switzerland reach the quarter finals of the Davis Cup. The new world number 3 is discussed here, as well as other points raised from the first month of the year.
How many slams will Wawrinka win?
The Australian Open 2014 was won by Stan Wawrinka, merely a couple of months after the slam-less former British #1 Tim Henman said he couldn’t win one. In the process, Stan became the first man to beat both Nadal and Djokovic at a Grand Slam proving that this victory was no fluke. He has risen to world number 3 and with a game that should suit all surfaces; this victory looks unlikely to be his last.
A few factors are at play in trying to explore the answers to this question. Firstly, during the final in Melbourne, Wawrinka looked like the world’s best player. He pushed Nadal to the brink of retirement. Besides the supposed injury, Nadal looked completely fed up as winner after winner showered his side of the court. There is some debate as to whether Nadal was actually injured or not but either way, it points to Wawrinka winning more slams. Another positive will be his clay court form last season, meaning he should be able to challenge at the French Open – especially if it Nadal is injured! Djokovic showed a surprising lack of form, Murray’s recovering from back surgery, Federer is falling, Del Potro doesn’t look in a state to win a slam and the likes of Berdych and Tsonga aren’t good enough. Yes, Wawrinka should win another slam but he is 28, meaning that his best days are going to only last for the next four or so years therefore limiting the number he can win. I can’t give a definite answer to this one but I’ll be very surprised if he retires with less than 3.
How far can Great Britain go in the Davis Cup?
Although technically being confirmed in February, the last day of January laid the solid foundations upon which Great Britain’s amazing win over the USA was built. Of the three singles matches played, GB won all of them including a very special 5 set victory for James Ward over Sam Querry. Andy Murray played well on clay, destroying Donald Young and fighting through a tough tie against a resurgent Querry. An added bonus was the performance of Colin Fleming and Dom Inglot in the doubles, who lost in four sets to the Bryan Bros. This was a very spirited performance and gave Leon Smith yet more doubles pairings to choose from.
Into the quarters of this tournament for the first time since 1986, they will face Italy which is very likely to be played on clay again. Italy have two strong clay-court singles players in Fognini and Seppi but Murray has winning records over both on clay, indeed he hasn’t dropped a set in either of his matches. While Ward has shown himself to be a competent clay-court player, the best we can realistically hope for is him to take one to five sets meaning that the tie will come down to the doubles. Call it blind faith but I reckon we have enough strength in depth in that department to put together a side that can win that rubber. In the semi-finals we should face a Switzerland side comprising of Roger Federer and the aforementioned Wawrinka. This tie should be one step too far however should Andy have a good weekend; our doubles strength may well see another victory. My heart says we will get to the final before losing to France however my head says the semi-final is the best we can hope for.
What was the most important transfer in the window?
Despite the dreadfully boring deadline day, where a failed transfer was the biggest headline, the window on a whole brought with it some interesting transfers. The stand out was Juan Mata joining Manchester United, which is sure to bring Van Persie goals and United victories as a result. Leaving Old Trafford, on loan, was Wilfried Zaha – who joined Cardiff. He’s the type of player who can change a game coming off the bench and his pace plus desire to do well to impress Moyes should see him being a huge success in south Wales. Fulham and Nottingham Forest did well in general, signing much needed defensive, midfield and forward quality and experience, which they will hope see them stay put and rise divisions respectively.
However, none of those were what I see as the most important bit of transfer business this window. That was Yohan Cabaye leaving Newcastle to go home to France, and join Paris St Germain. Whenever I’ve seen Newcastle this season, he’s been the stand out player for them and it was no surprise that their good run in form came as he was integrated back into the first XI. To highlight his influence, when he was on the bench at Goodison Park Everton ran riot and scored 3 goals. When Pardew brought him on, Newcastle scored two and were unlucky not to draw. Newcastle, who should have been looking to press for Europe, could now find themselves in free-fall.
Is it possible for England to recover from their nightmare tour of Australia?
This tour to Australia was the worst in English cricket history. Losing twelve times with only one victory to write home about was as unprecedented as it is demoralising and simply heart-breaking. Many words and tweets have been written about this subject and I’m sure that the whole cricket community will talk about this for years.
England will recover, because everyone does after defeats. Defeats are part and parcel of sporting contests and a side should be based on how they recover not how they lose. England have usually recovered well from losing series in the recent past however with Andy Flower leaving, there is a certain cloud of uncertainty hanging over our side this time. In many ways, a T20 World Cup may not seem like the best tournament England could hope for so soon after a humiliating defeat however it gives a chance for the side to play without real pressure and try and find some enjoyment. But the truth is, we are likely to lose badly out in Bangladesh. We need a summer of confidence building in the test arena, which is why I’m glad Sri Lanka and India are the visiting teams. Neither usually play well in England and it will be a chance to have a long and hard think about our new test spinner as they don’t usually play big roles in such series in England (unless they are of Graeme Swann quality –which none of the current bunch are).
As a final point, massive congratulations to Charlotte Edwards and her team who retained the Ashes. Despite a disappointing end to the tour, this is a strong unit with a mix of youth and experience and could dominate Women’s cricket once more.