Maria Sharapova has announced that she failed a drugs test at the Australian Open this year. The former Wimbledon champion tested positive for meldonium, a substance she has been taking for the last 10 years on health grounds. This wasn’t against ITF rules until the 1st January this year.
The 28-year-old announced the news herself at a specially called press conference, where there were initial rumours that she was going to retire. Sponsors are already starting to pull out. Nike have suspended their relations with the Russian and Tag Heuer aren’t renewing their contract.
So, that’s the news – what about the aftereffects? Well, this is a huge error by her and her team. Whether she was trying to cheat or not is irrelevant, someone in her team should have checked the updated list of banned substances.
We will hear more about this in the coming weeks and months, and it would be unfair, and potentially illegal, to add comment without a substantial knowledge of the facts.
Cricket World Cup
Now, onto some lighter stuff – the T20 World Cup starts today. I did a big thing on this blog for the 50 over edition, with a number of articles looking at England and a page with all the results. I’m unlikely to go anywhere near that depth for this one however I’d definitely like to take a look at it and follow it.
The format is strange, although encouraging for lesser nations. Basically, the 8 smaller nations have been split into two groups of four and will play a group stage before the big nations start. The winners of the groups then get to progress and join the big 8 for the super 10 stage.
Whoever tops the group containing Scotland, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Hong Kong will join Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies and England in Group 1. And whoever tops out of Ireland, Bangladesh, Netherlands and Oman will join India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia in Group 2.
I’m now going to make some predictions, so if you want to make bets – make sure you go with the opposite of what I say!
Bangladesh are a decent one day unit now, so should get through their group comfortably – even though they are in the harder pool. The other pool will come down to Afghanistan v Zimbabwe and I feel Afghanistan are the better team there. So hopefully one non-test playing nation will advance to the final 10!
In terms of the bigger groups, Bangladesh will be an outside bet to make an upset but India and Australia should make it through that group. New Zealand won’t make it easy for them, but without B McCullum I see them struggling. The other group is a lot harder to call. Maybe I’m being optimistic here but I like England’s chances. I think it’ll come down to two out of us, Sri Lanka and South Africa. If you push me, I’ll say England and Sri Lanka. England and South Africa’s recent T20 series won’t figure in this tournament due to the very different conditions.
Going forward, we enter our semi-finals with India v England and Sri Lanka v Australia. Indian conditions, and more experience, will allow India to beat England and I would fancy them to allow Sri Lanka to have the edge over Australia too. India v Sri Lanka is a very predictable final, and one which I see India winning. The final is on the 3rd April.
Finally, I’ll predict the FA Cup quarterfinals. Firstly, Arsenal will beat Hull in their fifth round replay tonight. Looking ahead to the weekend, Crystal Palace can’t buy a win at the moment and Reading will fancy their chances at home on a Friday night. I’ll go for a home win there.
Everton – Chelsea on Saturday will be close but Everton can’t keep a 2 goal lead at home against West Ham so realistically can’t expect to beat an in-form Chelsea. Arsenal should progress at home to Watford and Man United – West Ham will be close but United play on Thursday night whereas West Ham will have had more than a week off. I reckon that pushes the balance towards the Londoners.
So, all in all – I’ve got Reading, Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham in my semi-finals. As I said earlier, expect Crystal Palace, Everton, Watford and United to make it to Wembley.
Indian Wells, in California, is the first Masters 1000 event of the 2016 ATP tour, and the first Premier Mandatory of the 2016 WTA tour. It’s also the joint biggest. 96 of the world’s top men and 96 of the world’s top women tennis players will play between now and March 20th. Djokovic and Serena are the defending champions, which gives you an idea of how important the players treat this event.
I asked Josh for some predictions and this is what he said:
Having seen the draw, my predictions are: semis Djokovic d. Nadal, Wawrinka d. Kygrios. Final Djokovic d. Wawrinka. One to watch from each quarter: Thiem, Zverev, Fritz, Del Potro.
I say, given each of their’s form and no Federer or Ferrer, Josh won’t be far wrong there. For the women, it’s hard to back anyone other than Serena. Watch out for Heather Watson. She won a tournament last week so heads into this full of confidence and form.