Andy Murray withdrew from the Open 13 in Marseille citing fatigue and he might as well have done the same in Dubai, such was the manner of his defeat to Janko Tipsarevic.
Murray was beaten 7-6(3) 4-6 6-4 but that was not a true reflection of the match, as Tipsarevic dominated for long spells and only flashes of brilliance came from the racket of Murray.
The world No. 4 came in for stiff criticism in his after-match press conference when he admitted he attempted things in his clash with Tipsarevic that he would not have done in a match with bigger stakes.
Murray later dismissed suggestions that he used his clash with Tipsarevic as a practice session, but his performance left you to wonder – with the Masters Series event at Indian Wells fast approaching.
It has been a disappointing event for the organisers of the Dubai Tennis Championships, what with Roger Federer pulling out through illness and Julien Benneteau throwing in an abject display just a couple of days after reaching the final of the Open 13.
There is significant prize money on offer in Dubai and the players have a responsibility to the tour, tournament organisers, paying public and themselves to put up a strong showing.
The one saving grace for Murray was that due to his level being well below his best, it made for an exciting game. On the points that Murray consented to make an effort he produced some thrilling tennis – a couple of stunning running forehand passes made the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end – and it cannot be said that the fans who watched the match did not get value for money.
But the fact remains that Murray was not at his best and admitted he tried things he would not have done in a Grand Slam. Novak Djokovic is a staunch supporter of trimming the schedule and if the events of Dubai are anything to go by, he may have a point.
The Tiger came out of the undergrowth on Friday but it wasn’t exactly a return to the jungle – more like a tea party as he was surrounded by ‘friends, colleagues and associates’. No questions, just a well-rehearsed speech that seemed to play to the cameras quite superbly. He was certainly apologetic, I lost count of the amount of times the word sorry was uttered by the No. 1 golfer in the world, and it could well have been truly sincere – but there is that minor niggle in the back of the mind.
The 13-minute speech was followed by Woods hugging first his mother and then a band of hand-picked associates. They seemed to forgive him for his actions, but they would, wouldn’t they?
“I know people want to find out how I could be so selfish and so foolish,” he said. “How I could do these things to my wife and children. Elin and I have started the process of discussing the damage caused by my behaviour. As Elin has said, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words. It will come in the form of my behaviour over time.”
Now they are words of the utmost truth. Tiger can apologise until he is blue in the face, a face that looked far less composed than it does on a golf course, but he needs to walk the walk. That his wife, the one person that truly matters in this whole sordid affair, was not in the audience spoke plenty.
Out of all this, all I really wanted to hear was when he was going to make a return to golf. “I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year. When I do return I need to make my behaviour more respectful of the game."
The return is not on the horizon and it is clear that when he does return, that air of invincibility he had will no longer be there. It disappeared some time between November 27 and Friday, but it was confirmed as he pleaded for forgiveness. Many of his fellow pros may have words of sympathy, others not, but they will have seen a vulnerability that they will seize on.
Is the match that was supposed to be made in heaven heading for divorce? So many sporting romances end this way, but I’ve got to say I am keeping faith with Tony McCoy and Denman despite the honeymoon proving to be a washout.
Denman sent McCoy into orbit, after the champion jockey had asked his mount for a huge leap at the third from home in the AON Chase at Newbury. Denman tried to oblige but in taking off too far away from the fence, barely made it to the other side.
The post-mortem has already started, with some suggesting McCoy’s style is too far removed from that of Denman’s regular rider Ruby Walsh to be a success. It is true that McCoy and Walsh are poles apart in terms of riding style, but things had gone smoothly for much of the race as Denman had jumped superbly for McCoy.
There’s almost a month to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and this will give Paul Nicholls plenty of time to iron out any problems and more importantly, the trainer has insisted the horse emerged unscathed from the race.
What is also of importance is that McCoy will have learned plenty from the race. You do not become champion jockey on 14 occasions without learning a few tricks along the way and I firmly believe there will be a far more slicker display at Cheltenham come March 19.
Tony McCoy has picked up the ride on Denman in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and it could be a match made in heaven.
McCoy has 14 jockeys’ titles under his belt so cannot be classed as a one-trick pony, but he is at his best when riding from the front and he will have the perfect foil in Denman – a horse that is aggressive by nature and relishes a fight.
The Tank overcame a heart problem that plagued him last term to produce a stunning display in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup. Ruby Walsh partnered the giant chestnut to victory at Newbury and he was thrilled with the performance – suggesting Denman was better than ever.
The problem that faced Walsh was that in the stable next to Denman is Kauto Star, the horse he has won four King George VI chases and two Gold Cups on. Walsh was never likely to desert Kauto, but he is sure to have some uneasy nights in the lead up to Cheltenham.
In 2008, Walsh and Kauto Star got a rear view of Denman as he pulverised the field to win the Gold Cup. Kauto Star was not at his best that day, but there is little between the pair and the thought of the two locking horns is a fascinating one: McCoy firing Denman into his fences, looking to grind his rivals into submission, Kauto Star and Walsh stalking.
McCoy and Walsh are the best of friends but that will go out of the window come March 19 and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that McCoy may have picked up the greatest spare ride in racing.
John Terry is front and back-page news, what with scoring the winner for Chelsea at Burnley and allegedly scoring off the field. His purported off-field transgressions have prompted some to call for him to resign from the role of England captain.
What Terry is alleged to have done, you don’t need me to go into it all as it is freely available on the web and in print, is not great but let’s be clear: it should not have a bearing on what happens on the pitch.
Terry’s football should be allowed to do the talking, he did just that by leading his side to victory at Turf Moor, and he was given the unequivocal backing of the Chelsea hierarchy. There has been no word from the FA; it has been suggested that Fabio Capello will seek out his captain before making a decision on whether he retains the armband or not.
There has been talk that the England camp will be a divided one if Terry remains as captain. If that’s the case, then it will still be a divided one if he is in the squad but not captain. So what should be done? Axe him from the squad? What nonsense. Terry should be selected on his performances for Chelsea alone and if he is good enough to be in the squad, then he should be captain of the national team.
In years gone by, there have been many instances of players not seeing eye-to-eye but being able to play together for the good of the team. This goes on now and will no doubt happen in the future and provided it does not impact on team performance, then there is no issue.
When all is said and done, it’s down to performance and should Terry pop up with a last-minute winner to seal World Cup glory I can guarantee you won’t see one England fan saying: ‘I’m not celebrating, Terry should not be in the team after what went on with Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend’.
|Alex Livie found his way to ESPN after learning his trade with Sky Sports, Setanta Sports and Eurosport. He is running out of companies with sport in their name so has made it his raison d'être to ensure ESPN.co.uk has the website it deserves.|
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