AUSTRALIAN OPEN: SABALENKA VS VONDROUSOVA

Second seeded Aryna Sabalenka taking on Olympic games silver medalist from Czech Republic Marketa Vondrousova in Round three. Aryna bidding for the first Slam of her career, often starts her matches slow and then picks up the rhythm as we go. This one no exception. Marketa was drop shot-ing Aryna with great technique on the hard court you might mistake this as a clay court match. Check out the slice backhand drop at 2-1 Marketa (15-30). Aryna got the break back in the sixth game at 3-2. Her favorite shot is the two handed backhand down the line, check it out at deuce. The change of pace and the follow through a great example of how to execute it. This proved later to be just a short lived breakthrough. Sabalenka’s serve was broken again in the next game. Saba kind of loses her way sometimes psychologically in matches it showed at 3-3. Watch 15-0, Great serve, great forehand, then… This time Marketa made the break of serve stick. Making your opponent serve out the set is a huge advantage as you serve first in the next set. Aryna did so with a solid game at 5-3.

The drop shot was starting to grow stale for the Czech in the second set. Watch first game 15-0. Marketa suddenly started to second guess herself shot wise. Before long it was 2-0 Sabalenka, she is one of the best hitters of the ball on Tour , the Belarussian. In fact both players hit some fantastic winners with the backhand in this match. At 3-0 Vondrousova showed that lefties too have an awesome backhand. Now how do you deal with being on the receiving end of an overhead smash? Watch 3-1 Saba 15-0. Do not commit to either side until the final moment the opponent hits the ball. Solid serving from both players in this match, but double faults for Sabalenka were in the double digits range which threatened to pull her down. She closed out the second set 6-3. Before I head to set three, check out this monster of a defensive forehand at 4-2(15-15) from Marketa. Those are especially sweet to win, those points in which you aren’t the favorite to win. Third set Aryna cleaned up her act in terms of unforced errors and romped away to victory. Marketa was fortunate to win a tight first game (net cord) from there it was all Sabalenka. Watch this variation of an overhead smash(not quite smash but you will get it) at 1-0(15-15). It was more of a touch than smash to take the pace off the ball. Sabalenka won the war from the baseline in set 3 to close it out 6-1. She is on course to meet Ash Barty in the final(barring an upset of course) and will play a tricky opponent in Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

WHY WATFORD AND NORWICH STRUGGLE TO STAY UP

Norwich’s recent resurgence has seen them claw their way from bottom THREE for the league for the first time this season. Their victory here against fellow relegation threatened side Watford was their second successive victory after sending Rafa Benitez on his way with a 2-1 victory last week. For a side to avoid the drop it is important to make managerial changes early in the season. Both these sides did so with Dean Smith coming in for Daniel Farke and title winning manager Mr ding dong Claudio Ranieri coming in for Xisco. Despite finding going up from the EFL Championship easy, they both failed to stay up in recent seasons. Today I examine the reasons why clubs struggle to stay in the premier league. The first reason that may come to mind is that they probably don’t have the finances to compete with the big boys. That is a fallacy. Let’s just say money can buy you a lot of things but it can’t buy you heart and character. Fulham in their relegation season last year spent just over 37 million pounds on transfers, which is a sizeable amount for a club of that stature but they failed to make it. The teams that have survived in recent times like Sheffield United held on to the players they had in the promotion season. The Championship is a tough league so those players adopted pretty well to the rigors of the premier league. Norwich has followed suit and this is starting to pay dividend now. All that is needed is a coach who knows his way around the Premier league to guide the players in question.

Clubs that bounce around the two divisions are those that refuse or are unable to change their playing system from the Championship. Long balls, headers and route one are the order of the day in the lower leagues. What coaches in the top flight have done is get the front two or three to press high up the pitch nullifying that threat. A side which migrates to a passing game has a higher chance of survival. Watford have a good chance of survival with their quick incisive passing but in the match against Norwich the finishes wasn’t up to scratch. Burnley are in serious trouble with the way they play, with their route one soccer. Another common denominator with clubs that bounce up and down is that they are owned by individuals rather than conglomerates. Norwich is such an example. They are owned by Delian Jones and Mike Wynn-Jones a business power couple who have to be commended for sticking with the Canaries in trying times. Individuals own clubs, especially local ones, to buy prestige and status within their community which in turn buys them more customers for their other lines of business. Some may not necessarily care about soccer and thus may neglect player , stadium and fan welfare. Such complaints were heard from St James’s Park under Mike Ashley so some guys are not surprised they find themselves in relegation peril. Lastly, good win for Norwich and what a finish from Josh Sargent with his heel. He called it instinct after the game but I think he is being too modest.

PlaceTeamPWDLGFGAGDPOINTS
1Manchester City22182254134156
2Liverpool21136255183745
3Chelsea23128346182844
4West Ham United22114741301137
5Tottenham Hotspur1911352622436
6Arsenal2011273325835
7Manchester United2110563530535
8Wolverhampton Wanderers209471715231
9Brighton and Hove Albion2161142222029
10Leicester City197483336-325
11Crystal Palace215973031-124
12Southampton215972533-824
13Aston Villa2072112732-523
14Brentford2265112536-1123
15Leeds United205782439-1522
16Everton1954102434-1019
17Norwich City2244141345-3216
18Watford2042142340-1714
19Newcastle United2019102043-2312
20Burnley171881627-1111

AUSTRALIAN OPEN:AZARENKA VS SVITOLINA

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka looking to make it two Belarusians in Round three of the Aussie Open after Sabalenka booked her place yesterday. She faces inconsistent Ukrainian Elina Svitolina. An error strewn opening game of the match on the Svitolina racquet saw her handing the break to Victoria. Victoria had the upper hand in terms of winners but Elina was her own worst enemy at times. Just watch 1-0 Azarenka (40-30), she did the hard part of the rally pegging Victoria with the forehand cross court only to net the volley. She was better off letting the ball bounce then smashing away. As problematic as it was for Elina to hold serve, Victoria was finding it easy to hold serve. The kick serve wasn’t doing it for Elina because he wasn’t getting the bounce on the ball that was enough to trouble the Belarussian. Watch 4-0(15-15) and (40-30). I funny observation I made . Check out 5-0 15-15.when Elina hits her forehands she doesn’t add any topspin or backspin on the ball. It is as straight as an arrow thus she ends up netting more shots than she should.

Definitely more room for improvement from the Ukrainian going into the second set. But more of the same was to follow. She was losing the better at the net as well. Watch second set first game 30-30. Her body language showed Victoria which side the volley was going from a mile away. Another opening service game of a set gone and it was an uphill task to get back into the match. It was almost like Elina forgot that she was in a singles match, the way she was aiming for the doubles lines. Watch 2-1 adv Azarenka. The decision making was also suspect. Watch 4-2(40-0). In all honesty the decision to just scoop the ball towards Victoria was shocking with the right hand side of the court up for grabs. Much better at 5-2 adv Azarenka to save match point. It was as if Elina was waiting for match points to get her head in the game. Watch the backhand at second advantage Azarenka, deep cutting across the ball. Perfect. In the end the service games from Victoria were too solid to lose the game. She was 63% on first serve and won 58% of her points on second serve. No prizes for guessing which shot was missed by Elina to hand Victoria the victory.

NBA:PACERS VS WARRIORS

Golden State’s recent faltering has allowed Phoenix to pull clear at the top of the Western Conference standings. Some might say they are almost certain of going to the playoffs but a first seed position means you face a “easier” opponent in the eighth seed in the playoffs. So there is much to play for. Indiana has joined the long list of teams that have beaten the Lakers in recent weeks with a good win on Wednesday night powered by Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert. They have come to the party too late in my honest opinion and are outsiders to make the Play Ins, they are 13th with a 16-29 record. Check out this great defense by number 88 for the Pacers, Bitadze on Steph Curry setting the tone for a great match at 7-3 GS. Dominant first Q from the Warriors though. You would expect Steph to be at the heart of it and he was. Curry top scoring in the match with 39 points. He is great at starting transition play rapidly, check out 11-8 GS. Second Q got more competitive with Pacers upping the ante with regards to scoring from the paint. Watch this Alley hoop from number 26 Jeremy Lamb to 23 Isaiah Jackson. What I like about this play is that it was a short range pass so plenty of margin for error by Lamb in a crowded area. Warriors just edging the second Q mainly because the risk taking by Indiana meant they had a lot of turnovers against them.

A quiet game for GS in terms of 3 pointers as they were outscored by Indiana from down town. Watch 55-52 GS a rare 3 from Steph who preferred the drive to the net in this game. Tables began to turn in favor of the Pacers in the third Q. Chris Duarte for Indiana had 30 points was influential in the second half of the game so was Justin Holiday with 16 points(he would have the last say in Q4 spoiler alert). Still the Warriors had their noses in front on scoreboard going into the last seconds of the Q. Pacers a little careless with the ball. Watch 78-76 Pacers. Open player in number 3 Duarte wasn’t utilized in favor of the pass to number 13 Craig to detrimental effect. You got to take care of the basketball in that 24 second count down, it is your best friend in that period. Q4 started on an equal footing at 83 each.

Both teams started to shoot more from down town early to get a sizeable lead. Check out 88-83 GS and 83-83 at the start. GS great were great on the paint but were made to pay for woeful 3 point shooting.. Check out the body shake by number 3 Poole at 90-89 GS. Bitadze and Gary Payton getting into some head to head time at 96-93 thankfully no MALICE AT THE PALACE here. Holiday sending us to OT with a huge 3 with 9 seconds of normal time to go. Slow closing down by the Warriors deservedly punished at 110-107 GS. During OT GS got careless with the ball just like Indiana did in normal time. Watch 115-112 GS. The pass was certainly not on to number 95 Anderson. By the time the Warriors realized they needed more 3s it was too late. Pacers with a huge win on the road, a morale booster for them.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: KONTAVEIT VS TAUSON

Clara Tauson from Denmark who made the main draw for the first time in her career at Australian Open facing one of the favorites for the ¬†Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup this year Kontaveit. The 19 year old Dane never looked out of place against the sixth seeded Estonian. She never looked back from winning the break against Anett in the opening game. She prefers to be on the front foot which suits the hard court surface pretty well. Watch opening game advantage Tauson. Watch how she attacks the weak second serve , low and hard keeping Anett on the baseline. The backhand down the line to finish was the coupe de grace. Clara survived the following game which was a long deuce game to solidify the hold. When you serve at 53% you are asking for the returner to nail you on second serve. That was Anett in this match and Clara obliged majestically on the backhand on either side of the court. In contrast Clara was slightly better, not awesome , but decent at 59% with emphasis on placement. Watch 3-2 Tauson (30-0). The double break for Clara in the next game sealed Anett’s fate with regards to the first set. Back to back love games at 4-2 and 5-2 for the Dane. That backhand almost unplayable.

Anett was having one of those days. You know those days when no matter how well you are hitting the ball, your opponent seems to find the lines like the ball is magnetically attracted to it. Watch 1-0 Anett 15-15. Better set for the Estonian though than the first. Much more assured during the rallies and that forehand of hers showing up more. She finally broke the Dane at 2-1. Watch was the magic formula? Sudden change in direction of shots like at 30-30. Clara doesn’t play well on serve when she is pushed to deuce. All the hard work came to knot for Anett on her racquet in the set thereafter. She continued to serve to Clara’s backhand even though she was getting murdered by her. When she did serve to her forehand she wasn’t putting much power and placement on the ball. Just watch 3-1(30-30). She won one more game on Clara’s racquet and that was it. Lesson for the young players. Being just a good returner(but weak server) gets you far against a fellow good returner, but you need to learn to hold serve first(as all pressure is always on the returner) before you become a great returner if you truly want to become a winner in tennis. Finally there was a hold of serve in the 10th game as Clara closed it out after a series of breaks of serve. She did it to love too as Anett lost her way with some unforced errors on break point at 4-4 and match point at 5-4(40-0). Not the start she had for 2022 that’s for sure.