Hardman's Thoughts

Pretty much everything…


Leave a comment

Three sports, three players, three hundred words

Romelu Lukaku has now scored more league goals than any other Everton player in the history of the Premier League. People are, ridiculously, making a big deal about it. Let’s put this into some perspective. He’s scored 61 goals, one more than Dixie Dean scored in the 1927-28 season (yes, football existed before 1992). Everton have been in the top flight since the PL was created, along with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Their top goal scorers have 175, 180, 128, 147 and 97 goals respectively. Yes, Lukaku breaking Ferguson’s record is a little bit of history but that doesn’t mean we should be celebrating it.

Eoin Morgan scored another one-day century this week. Only seven players (four from South Africa) have scored more runs than him in the format this year, and only one from the same amount of innings. Our captain is fourth on the all-time list for English players, while the century in the first match against West Indies pulled him level with Kevin Pietersen. It means only Marcus Trescothick has hit more tons. Trescothick’s 12 centuries is well within reach, as is Ian Bell’s record of 5400 runs (Morgan is about 900 behind). England’s greatest? Possibly, at least until Joe Root catches up!

Andy Murray has remained at number one for the 18th week in a row. That makes it sound defensive, the truth is he’s comfortable there – at least until the French Open! Djokovic has points galore to defend at the next two tournaments – Indian Wells and Miami, where Andy lost in the third round at both last year. Andy won in Dubai last week as Djokovic lost to Kyrgios in Mexico. Djokovic will almost certainly still finish the year top of the pile, but March is a great chance for Murray to continue cementing his place in tennis history.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

How 2017 Will Finish (Part II)

This is a little later than I planned it to be, however, it’s nice to be writing about our predictions for the year to come while watching some live tennis! The Australian Open has started, Andy Murray is safely through to the second round, as are Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori, albeit after five set battles.

And it’s because of the beginning of the Australian Open that I’m going to change the usual order of this post. Rather than start with our top 10, I’m going to give you who we think will win the slams first.

Last time, we looked at the women – this time it’s the turn of the men. Will Andy keep his World Number 1 ranking? Do we think he will break his Australia hoodoo? How will Roger Federer fare after his long injury? These are just a few of the many questions following the ATP tour this year.

Grand Slams:

malegrandslams

The usual suspects feature heavily here – with most of us thinking Murray and Djokovic will win the most slams. Josh has gone for a very plausible four winners from four slams, and he and his sister have gone for Milos Raonic to win his first slam.

Australia is split between Djokovic and Murray. The logical answer is still Djokovic, however, three of us think now is the time for Andy to find a way past the Serb down under. Both have challenging but winnable draws through to the final.

At the French, none of us think Murray can win. Instead, Charlie, Emma and Josh have gone for Novak to defend his title, with James saying Wawrinka can win there again and me going for the romantic Rafa victory. It’s more in hope than expectation, but if Rafa is going to win another slam, it has to be this year and it has to be the French

Moving onto Wimbledon, and three out of five think Sir Andy can defend his title. James reckons Djokovic will get much further than he did last year, with Josh picking Milos Raonic to go that little bit further than he did last year.

The final slam of the year is once again split between Murray, Djokovic and Raonic, with defending champion Wawrinka getting one selection (Josh). Charlie’s picked Andy to win the final two slams of the year – does this mean he reckons he’ll hold onto that number one slot?

Before we find out, let’s take a look at the bottom five of our top ten…

malebottom5

Considering Emma and Josh reckon he will win a slam, it might surprise some people to see Raonic as low as 7th in Charlie’s top 10. Clearly the Canadian has to do more to impress Mr. Marriott! There are so many stories on this table that it’s hard to know where to start. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal only feature on two each, although that number may increase as we go to the top five.

Grigor Dimitrov, who last year looked set to miss out on his bags of talent, has snuck onto the bottom of the top ten for Charlie, Emma and I. That is, for me at least, a reflection of his great form at the end of last year, which, as it happens, he’s carried into this.

On the whole, we clearly see this year as a big shift in tennis. Added to Dimitrov are consistent appearances for Nick Kyrgios, Alex Zverev and Dom Thiem. The five of us think those four are here to stay, is that going to be the case?

Charlie and James have Berdych remaining in the top ten, most of us have Marin Cilic there and Emma has David Goffin rounding out the elite. That shows that we still think those names aren’t going anywhere fast.

maletop5

If the bottom five contained a lot of names, our top fives contain only a few. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are in all five of our top fives with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori in four.

Replacing Kei in Josh’s is Alex Zverev. Josh has been a long time admirer of the young German and thinks that this is the year he makes his mark on the sport. A top five finish at the end of 2017 will surely spell the way for a number one in the not-so-distant future.

Rather than seeing Cilic’s end of year 6th as the culmination of a great year, Charlie reckons it was just the start for the Croat. He climbs to fourth for Charlie.

Unsurprisingly, the two people who have backed Raonic to win a slam have him finishing third and the three that didn’t have Wawrinka (or Nishikori in James’ case). None of us have Andy holding on to the top spot. The reason for that? I think, for most of us, it’s a case of believing that both will have stellar years but Djokovic will reel the Brit in towards the end of the year and claim the number one ranking back sometime after the US open.

And talking about the end of the year…

maleextras

Will Andy defend his London crown? Well, it’s a resounding no from us five! Charlie and James have returned to Djokovic, Emma reckons we saw enough from Raonic in the semi-final last year to suggest he can win the event and I think Wawrinka is owed a title at the year-end event. Josh is going for a debut victory for Alex Zverev. Probably the boldest prediction of the lot, it’s one definitely worth keeping an eye on.

As for the wildcards, there are some interesting selections. Two Americans, a Croat, a Russian and yes, that is a British flag you see. As a reminder, our wildcards are real outside picks to end the year in the top ten but people who, should everything fall into place, have the potential to.

Jack Sock is now ranked 20th, however when we chose these he wasn’t so is a legal choice. The 24-year-old American has been talked about for a number of years, but has had more success in the doubles in the past. At the end of last season, he decided to focus more on singles, a decision that was widely considered a wise one. If there is a year for him to break the top ten, it’s conceivable it’s this one.

The British number two, Kyle Edmund (46), looks the world to be a future top tenner. With so many weapons and composure beyond his 22 years, Edmund can challenge the best on his day. Impressive wins towards the end of last season convinced me to punt for the next British star.

Karen Khachanov (52). I’ll forgive you for not having heard of the Russian. He’s 20, and hasn’t gone past the second round of a Grand Slam before. But, no matter, Josh saw enough of him last year to pick him as his wildcard. I’ve heard Josh rave about him multiple times, and I’m excited to see how high he can go.

Ever since Borna Coric (59) defeated Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, big things have been expected of him. In 2016 he won his first two ATP titles, and has reached the third round of the French open twice. He is another top tenner in the making, and this might well be his year, or maybe a year too soon.

Don’t let Taylor Fritz’s world ranking of 93 fool you into thinking it’s an awful choice by Charlie. The 19-year-old American is the youngest player in the top 100 and has already reached an ATP final. While many assume 2017 is a year too soon for him, who’s to say he can’t have a run in one of the slams and truly surprise the elite?


2 Comments

How 2016 Finished (Part I)

Way back in January, a group of us tried to predict how 2016 would shape up in the world of tennis, for both the men and the women.

With the season coming to an end, it’s time to look back at those predictions, to see which ones worked and which ones came unstuck. And, while we made some good calls, there were some awful shouts as well. One of us had Kevin Anderson finishing in the top ten, another predicted a Federer Olympics-Tour Finals double. None of us saw Dominic Thiem or Gael Monfils making their debuts at the year-end showdown.

In order to spice things up, I’m trialling a scoring system to keep track of which of us are the best predictors, and who is lagging behind. Believe me, the final result came as a bit of a surprise.

As a quick reminder, here were our five predictors:

us2

This year saw a massive change at the top. For the first time in history, a Brit finished top of the pile (and his brother formed part of the best doubles team too), with Andy Murray finally toppling Novak Djokovic. With the final ranking points now in, Murray has 12,000 points, Djokovic a few hundred behind, with third place Milos Raonic acquiring less than half of those numbers. Murray and Djokovic’s dominance is unquestioned.

table

None of us saw the Brit securing the most coveted of spots this November. Only one of us had him finishing second, we were all vaguely pessimistic about his chances this year. Only Emma predicted Kei Nishikori breaking into the top five, but none of us predicted Milos Raonic’s rise. Perhaps that isn’t a surprise, this time last year, the big-serving Canadian sat outside the top ten.

Yet, as Emma, Josh, their Dad and I saw on Saturday, there is no question that he deserves it. On more than one occasion this year, Raonic has pushed Andy Murray to within an inch of beating him. He hasn’t managed to find a way to turn himself into a champion and, at the moment at least, lacks the mentality to deal with being ahead in matches he shouldn’t. But he is definitely a future Grand Slam champion, and possibly the next new world number one.

table2

There was all change at the bottom of the top ten too. David Ferrer has gone, with Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal clinging on. Gael Monfils had a storming year, thoroughly deserving his top ten finish. Dominic Thiem, 23, is the youngest member of the elite ten, but that doesn’t make his place a fluke. None of us saw it coming, but few of us are surprised by the Austrian’s rise.

Our predictors were a little thrown by the bottom half of the top ten. Granted, it becomes harder to guess without any consistent names (especially when Berdych dropped from his seventh perch), however, it’s fair to say we could have done better.

On the whole, we overhyped known stars such as Roger Federer (who finished sixteenth) and Rafael Nadal, while undervaluing Thiem, Raonic, Marin Cilic and, less-so, Kei Nishikori. Only one of us got a spot-on prediction – Charlie with Stan Wawrinka.

It’s time to introduce the scoring system. We all predicted Djokovic to finish top, yet he finished second. So that meant we all got one point. Points are essentially the error in our placing. Federer finishing in sixteenth meant placing him in second scored fourteen points, third thirteen and so on and so forth. Thus, the winner of our predictions will be the person who scores the fewest points.

Our top tens left the table like this:

5. James (101)

3. Josh (48)

3. Emma (48)

2. Charlie (41)

1. Gareth (38)

Kevin Anderson scored 59 points, essentially ending James’ hopes of becoming the best predictor.

But we didn’t just predict the top ten. We went further and cast our gaze over the Grand Slams too. This is what we came up with, compared to what actually happened:

table3

We fared a little better with the slightly easier task of predicting the Slam champions. At the start of the year, Novak winning the Australian Open was a dead cert. Him winning in France was, with hindsight, almost guaranteed as well. We all, quite rightly, saw his dominance continuing in London. Emma and Josh thought he would win all four, and at one point this year, it looked like they would be right. James’ US Open prediction was spot on.

I had to alter the scoring system for the Slams. Eventually, I settled on 0 for correct, 1 for losing finalist, 2 for losing in the semi-finals and so on. Nadal and Djokovic lost in the third round at the French and Wimbledon respectively, so for all of those predictions, we scored five points. If a player ended up not competing, they would score the points available for losing in the first round, plus one.

Which left the points total:

5. James (111)

2. Josh (54)

2. Emma (54)

2. Charlie (54)

1. Gareth (49)

Josh and Emma had an excellent round with the Grand Slams, completely closing the gap on Charlie.

We made one more set of predictions: the Olympics and the Tour Finals.

table4

A glorious table for British fans, but an awful one for me! Roger didn’t play in either the Olympics or the Tour Finals, meaning I scored the maximum points available for both. Charlie and James were suitably patriotic concerning Gold in Rio, but none of us saw a Murray double in the “minor slams”.

The scoring system was the same as above, but I’ve added in the second predictions we made once the Tour Finals draw happened. Charlie and Josh stuck with their predictions, Emma thought Cilic would win, James correctly called Murray and I plumped for the injured Monfils.

All of which, left the final table:

5. James (112)

4. Josh (65)

3. Emma (64)

2. Gareth (62)

1. Charlie (56)

Eventually, my unusual rooting for Roger backfired, and Charlie’s more consistent picks gave him the victory. Emma won the battle of the Stills, while James would have finished a lot higher had he not gone for Kevin Anderson. James was good money on the Olympics and Tour Finals – his three predictions only scored one point.

There is still a tournament ongoing on the WTA tour (with a player involved in our predictions), so the women’s equivalent to this article will be up once that is over.