PLAY OF THE WEEK

UFC 278 will live in memory as one of the WTF UFC events ever. Kamaru Usman looked invincible in his reign as UFC Welterweight champion. Three years as champ and going on 15 matches unbeaten. His opponent, Brit Leon Edwards was fighting him for the second time after losing to Kamaru 7 years ago. Clearly Leon learnt from the fight and coupled with Kamaru’s advancing age , this was in fact a golden time to win the title. Let’s face it Kamaru was on his way to a unanimous decision victory in this one. He was on top as far as takedowns and significant strikes are concerned. That is the thing that cost him actually. Thinking the match was won when the horn hadn’t sounded yet is a no no. Always be on guard and protect yourself. Kamaru failed to do so and it hurts , it was the last minute of the fight. Leon deserved credit for defending the takedowns well. Let’s have a look at the knockout blow. Kamaru seems to be focused enough then Leon goes for the punch. The left didn’t look to have connected all that well but it was enough to get Kamaru off his defensive posture creating an opening for the kick right in the face. That quick. It takes that much to lose a title. I am all for Kamaru and Edwards 3 at Wembley. Bruised ego aside, this was a good learning curve for Kamaru and other defending champs in MMA.

CINCINNATI OPEN:GARCIA VS KVITOVA

The 2022 US Open is promising to be the most open in recent memory. No clear favorites for the last major of the year despite it looking like an Iga Swiatek year as early as May. This year’s summer hard court tournaments in Toronto and Cinci showed that any player can step up under right conditions and motivation. Caroline Garcia and Petra Kvitova didn’t exactly come from nowhere though. Caroline, hailing from France ,is having a good 2022 with wins in Germany on grass and Poland on Clay. Kvitova of the Czech Republic needs no intro , winning Wimbledon twice and showed remarkable grit to reach the final against formidable opponents such as Jabeur and home favorite Madison Keys. Quick off the blocks was Garcia. She settled well with nice shot selection picking off short groundstrokes from Petra. It wasn’t all Garcia though. Petra caused problems for Caroline when she was 1-0 up on the Frenchwoman’s serve. Check out 40-30 game point. The lefty’s forehand is probably the most difficult to return for it gets the correct backspin on the ball according to research. Garcia passed the test and held serve in that game. Petra was struggling on serve and went double break down in losing the first set 6-2. She had her lowest Ace count of the tournament by making just two. Her serve is more effective going down the line on the ad court which she didn’t do enough in my opinion.

Second set was much more competitive. Caroline’s serve was more often too hot to handle. The Frenchwoman has the fastest serve on Tour this year and made 11 Aces in this match. Without the serve she would still be good. Check out the groundstrokes at first game second set 15-0 Kvitova, pinning the Czech to the baseline. Kvitova got her net play right in this match as a shining light. Her height and focus at the net help a lot in this regard. Check out 15-15 in the same game as above. The early break, just as in set one, doing Kvitova in again. Never putting Caroline under pressure on her serve especially at deuce, Kvitova didn’t have much chance to get back into the set. Interesting service motion from Garcia. Check out 2-1 deuce advantage Garcia. She tosses the ball back from her head for the kicker but generates enough speed at the same time. A VERY RARE QUALITY TO HAVE. A disappointing match for Kvitova who had zero break points won from eight. So she didn’t lack of opportunities. Garcia winning her first WTA 1000 title at the ripe age of 28.

PREMIER LEAGUE:NEWCASTLE UNITED VS MANCHESTER CITY

The Toon Army has been through a roller coaster of a decade or so. From lows of relegation to the lofty highs that came with having new handlers, good times are rolling at Tyneside. Love the similarities and the journeys taken by these two teams. They both played second tier soccer sometimein the last twenty years but here they are now probably the two most entertaining teams in the League right now. Newcastle United got the appointment and recruitment right out of everyone this season from the coach to the players. Keiran Trippier was a bang on the money signing. Bags of experience in Europe and takes a mean free kick(bringing back memories of Moscow).Money doesn’t always get you the best , you need to blend them with players already there. In Allan Saint Maximin they already have a player who can change the game in an instant, they need the right cast around him. Almiron?Willock? I am not sure it’s the right players to play off him if Newcastle are to get into top 4 in the long term but you got to give credit where due they are holding their own so far. Manchester City is Manchester City. They have a STYLE OF PLAY that teams are finding hard to defend against. The quick passing game and always having a man free in the box. Check out the opening goal from Gundogan. It is not Bernardo Silva who created the goal but the assist really has to go to the running decoys that are De Bruyne and Walker pulling defenders away from the danger area.

Not getting tighter on Saint Maximin was probably where Pep Guardiola got it wrong. Always vulnerable to the counter attack were the Cityzens. That is because when they attack , the defenders more or less act as midfielders so high up the pitch leaving space in behind. Case in point , the Callum Wilson goal. What comes with Eddie Howe as coach is that you get a coach willing to play an attractive brand of soccer but also willing to risk a goal or two. Such was life for a Bournemouth fan under his tutelage. Now , although Newcastle have improved attacking wise, they need the right personnel in defense as well. Fabian Schar is still prone to the odd lack of concentration like leaving Haaland unmarked whilst ball watching for the City second. Newcastle defense also culpable for stepping up too late to trap Bernardo Silva offside for the equalizer. From where Newcastle where under Steve Bruce, a draw against the Champs will feel like a win. Let’s just say this is a season of consolidation of their top flight status but with more success the soccer made Toon Army will demand more. Given the close nature of the last two seasons, these are two points dropped for the Cityzens.

CINCINNATI OPEN:SERENA WILLIAMS VS RADUCANU

The hard truth of life of any athlete is that the end of his or her passion is imminent at some point. Serena’s drive for success has carried her to a 27 year professional career. But even the most hardened and optimistic of Serena fans know that adding to her 23 major titles is a tall order. She faces Emma Raducanu of Great Britain in Round one of the Cincinnati Open in Ohio, who is on somewhat of a career slump(high standards set by herself proving her worst enemy). One observation from Toronto is that Serena’s serve is back to it’s 10 to 15 years ago best. The legend out aced Emma 7 to 5 which isn’t shabby for player with just two matches for a whole year. It is in the long rallies that she struggles. Now check out first set 2-1 Raducanu 15-0. The early break didn’t faze Serena. The shot variation on point and apt. Shortening the point is the key for American is she was to win this one(the 21 year age gap demanded it). Break point were aplenty for the Brit. It was a matter of time before she went double break up in the set. At 4-1 she fought back, the forehand doing the damage in the deuce game. It sadly would be the only time she would break Emma in this match. Emma’s strength is in serving wide on the ad court but on 4-3(30-0) she showed she can risk it and go to Serena’s forehand on the deuce court. Risky in that Serena’s forehand was electric in this set but the serve opened the court up nicely. Emma taking it 6-4.

Second set started really badly for Williams, losing serve in the first game never the best way. The groundstrokes from both were good like at 1-0 Raducanu first point but unlike first set Serena didn’t switch up staying on the baseline which cost her here. The second set also saw Williams’s second serve points won drop significantly to sub 20%. I would personally have loved to have Serena take more chances on the second serve, going for the big Ace then. That didn’t happen unfortunately. It was effectively match over with Emma going 4-0 up on the double break. Now check out how she broke to get the triple break on advantage on deuce. The serve wasn’t all that bad going wide away from Emma but the lack of pace gave the Brit the chance to get the angle on the backhand right. So how do you come back from a triple break down? First thing, believe in your mind you can come back. Serena’s head unfortunately dropped. Secondly, put pressure on that second serve of your opponent. Serena never pushed Emma to deuce on her serve showing she never threatened on the second serve well enough.6-0 in the second is a boost for Emma going into her next match with another Tour veteran Victoria Azarenka. This could well be Serena’s penultimate career match( or I am just an old pessimist). Enjoy her while father time permits.

AFRICAN SUPER LEAGUE:AFRICA’S TIME TO SHINE?

What Europe rejects Africa embraces. That’s the short of it when it comes to the controversial African Super League. An idea shot down emphatically by the soccer constituency in Europe was quickly bought and repackaged to suit the ever growing hunger for competitive soccer on the mother continent. Africa has made itself a willing guinea pig. The ASL was launched last week ,amid excitement and uncertainty in Africa, by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) which will run parallel to the existing African Champions League. Unlike the ACL, the ASL will have a prechosen 24 teams with a maximum of three from each country. The clubs will be bankrolled to the tune of USD2.5 million each with winner getting USD11.6 million. Clubs in Africa have always complained about the cost of participating in Pan African tournaments. This will go a long way. Except that the 24 clubs chosen for the League are already well funded and well established. Some of the clubs from North Africa , South Africa and DRC have a sizeable budget compared to the smaller Sub Saharan clubs. This again leads us to the question of relegation and promotion of those smaller clubs. A major issue which led to the collapse of the UEFA version was the lack of transparency with regards to that. The answer is yes. This is a major advantage that will win it more fans in the long run.

So what about the ACL? Wouldn’t it relegate Africa’s premier club tournament to a B rated side show? I think yes. Why would a club chairman invest in a competition which pays a measly 1 million dollars after incurring cost overheads of 10 million? The Super League also kills the need to compete in national soccer leagues as the profit gain from it far exceeds them. So how exactly it develops African soccer , only Patrice Motsepe and Gianni Infantino know. I believe there will be no tournament worth it’s salt without the fans and adequate stadia. The quality of stadiums in Africa leaves a lot to be desired even for so called African giants in Nigeria , Senegal and South Africa. I would rather have funds channeled into getting the right infrastructure in place to hold games and give fans a good experience. Only North African countries and South Africa have stadiums considered to be top notch. Another serious red flag that’s coming with the Super League is where the funds are coming from.

The sponsors are yet to be revealed and issues of sports washing have immediately set my antenna off. The sponsors need to be guys of repute, guys with good human rights records and guys that will ultimately sustain the competition over a large period and not bail and leave CAF in the lurch. Now we have concentrated on the negatives enough. Here is finally my positive. The amount of money flowing from the broadcasting of the Super League is bound to reverse the long time trend of African talent seeking lucrative pastures in Europe. Exposure will be there for the players. I really think if organized well, the League might see talent from Asia, South America and Europe make their way to the continent. For that to happen the purse definitely needs to be raised from the current 100 million dollars, but that can happen with time. The African Super League is scheduled to start in August of 2023 and will run into 2024.