2019 Australian Open – Men’s Singles Preview

The 2019 Australian Open is just about here, and we have got an exciting fortnight coming up from Melbourne Park, potentially an historic one with both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer looking to become the first player to win the Australian Open seven times.

Federer is also looking to claim his third-straight crown at Melbourne Park after defeating Rafael Nadal in 2017 and Marin Čilić in 2018 (both in five sets), and with that become the first male player, and the third player overall across both sexes (Serena Williams and Helen Wills Moody) to win two separate Grand Slam singles events at least seven times.

While Djokovic, who after Madrid in 2018, when he had just six wins and six losses for the season, and struggling to find his way after having elbow surgery after the 2018 Australian Open, won 47 of his last 53 matches in 2018 to reclaim the World No.1 ranking after slipping to 22nd in the world just before Roland Garros, returning to the top 10 after winning for the fourth time at the All England Club, and became the first end of year World No.1 not have won a title before Wimbledon in the same year. He will be looking to return to the form of his past glories at Melbourne Park after failing to make the quarter-finals in the last two years.

However, the 2019 Australian Open is not just about Roger and Novak, with Rafael Nadal, who had surgery to remove a floating piece of bone in his ankle after pulling out of 2018 ATP World Tour Finals due to an abdominal strain, looking to win his second Australian Open, and become just the third male player to win each Grand Slam singles event at least twice. Nadal has retired or withdraw from 17 of his last 18 official hard court tournaments (which included Davis Cup) that he was entered in, including withdrawing from his last seven.

Then we have the comebacks of Andy Murray from his hip problems, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from a knee injury, and then the potential challengers to Novak, Rafa, and Roger in Alexander Zverev, Kevin Anderson, Marin Čilić, Dominic Thiem, and Kei Nishikori among others who could challenge for the first Grand Slam title of 2019.

However, will there be a twist or two during the next fortnight? Let’s analyse the men’s singles draw.

 

Section One

Djokovic will face a qualifier in the opening round before facing either Tsonga, who he defeated to win his first Australian Open back in 2008, or Martin Kližan in the second round. Djokovic is slated to face the promising and talented Denis Shapovalov in the third round, before facing David Goffin or Daniil Medvedev, who had the most hard court wins in 2018 with 32, compared to Djokovic with 31, at the start of the second week, but assuming he is fit and healthy, no one is going to stop Djokovic going deep into the second week here.

My fourth round match-up: (1) Novak Djokovic vs. (15) Daniil Medvedev

 

Section Two

Nishikori is the clear favourite to make it through this section, and meet Djokovic in the quarter-finals after climbing from 22nd to 9th in the world in 2018, but faces an awkward second round against big serving veteran Ivo Karlović, before facing Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round, and then either Fabio Fognini or Pablo Carreño Busta in the fourth round. In saying this, this section is easier on paper than Section One, and should pose no issues for the 2014 US Open finalist.

My fourth round match-up: (23) Pablo Carreño Busta vs. (8) Kei Nishikori

 

Section Three

Zverev, who won four titles in 2018, including the ATP World Tour Finals, should make it through at least to the fourth round, where he will have a shot of making just his second grand slam quarter-final, but the first round match-ups which stand out are the ones between Stan Wawrinka and Ernests Gulbis, and Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic, with the winners of each playing each other in the second round, with the winner of that to play last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Hyeon Chung, who missed both Roland Garros and Wimbledon due to an ankle injury, who could face Sam Querrey in the second round, potentially the only roadblock to a blockbuster third round, and then potential Round of 16 with Zverev.

My fourth round match-up: (4) Alexander Zverev vs. (24) Hyeon Chung

 

Section Four

On paper, it looks like a comfortable section for the 2018 Roland Garros finalist Thiem, who made his first Grand Slam quarter-final outside of Roland Garros at the US Open, where he was beaten by Nadal in a epic five set match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, but faces Benoît Paire in the opening round before facing 2017 Australian Open quarter-finalist Mischa Zverev, who defeated Murray in the fourth round as Murray’s physical issues started to become evident on-route to being subsequently smashed by Federer in the quarter-final, and then Lucas Pouille in the third round before a fourth round encounter with Borna Ćorić. The only real obstacle for Ćorić will be Marco Cecchinato in the third round, who became the first Italian to make a Grand Slam semi-final in 40 years at Roland Garros last year after defeating Djokovic in what was a huge upset.

My fourth round match-up: (11) Borna Ćorić vs. (7) Dominic Thiem

 

Section Five

This is a really intriguing section of the draw with a big first round match-up between last year’s Australian Open finalist Čilić, and 2011 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Bernard Tomic, who has made the fourth round at Melbourne Park, and according to former Australian tennis player Paul McNamee believes Tomic is in best form for five years, around the time when Čilić and Tomic last met back in 2015 at Montreal, a match which Tomic won in the lead up to the 2015 US Open, where Čilić made the semi-finals in the defence of his 2014 crown. And, although Čilić made the final here last year, he has only made the quarter-finals or better here twice, making the semi-finals back in 2010, where Čilić defeated Tomic in a five set struggle in the second round. If there was to be a big upset in the opening round, this is the match where it could happen.

Regardless, the winner of this match-up could make it through to the third round to face Fernando Verdasco before a fourth round meeting with either Karen Khachanov, last year’s quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren, Roberto Bautista Agut, or Murray. Both Bautista Agut and Murray face each other in the opening round in what is going to be a tough match for Murray, who has only played 14 matches in his comeback so far, and has announced his intention to retire from the sport at some point in 2019 due to his ongoing hip problems. I think patience is going to be the better part of valour over the next couple of months if Murray is to make a truly successful comeback.

My fourth round match-up: Bernard Tomic vs. (10) Karen Khachanov

 

Section Six

Federer, although he faces Denis Istomin in the opening round, who of course defeated Djokovic in the second round two years ago, and Gaël Monfils in the third round, should have no problems making it to the Round of 16 to meet Greek youngster Stefanos Tsitsipas, who gave Federer some trouble over at the Hopman Cup in Perth. In saying this though, Federer is certainly a strong chance of going deep into the second week, and perhaps winning his 21st Grand Slam title.

My fourth round match-up: (14) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. (3) Roger Federer

 

Section Seven

This is one of the more stronger sections of the draw with Anderson a chance of reuniting with John Isner in the fourth round in what would be re-match of the 2018 Wimbledon semi-final, which was the second-longest match in Wimbledon history, but has to get past Adrian Mannarino in the opening round, Frances Tiafoe in the second round, and either Steve Johnson, Andreas Seppi, or Feliciano López in the third round.

However, Isner has obstacles of his own to overcome as well, facing his fellow giant American Reilly Opelka in the first round, and then Grigor Dimitrov in third round, who looks to be returning close to his best after making the quarter-finals in Brisbane.

My fourth round match-up: (5) Kevin Anderson vs. (20) Grigor Dimitrov

 

Section Eight

Nadal, despite his fitness clouds, should have no problems making it through to the third round to play Alex de Minaur, who won his first ATP title in Sydney, and could meet either last year’s semi finalist Kyle Edmund, 2011 Wimbledon finalist Tomáš Berdych, or Diego Schwartzman in the fourth round. Both Edmund and Berdych will face each other in a blockbuster opening round, while Schwartzman should have little trouble in making the third round.

In any case, I can’t see anyone in this section right now capable of denying Nadal a passage through to the second week, and a shot at a second Australian Open crown.

My fourth round match-up: (18) Diego Schwartzman vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (8) Kei Nishikori

(4) Alexander Zverev vs. (7) Dominic Thiem

(10) Karen Khachanov vs. (3) Roger Federer

(20) Grigor Dimitrov vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (4) Alexander Zverev

(3) Roger Federer vs. (2) Rafael Nadal

 

My predicted final

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (3) Roger Federer

 

2019 Australian Open champion prediction

(3) Roger Federer

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2019 Australian Open – Women’s Singles Preview

The 2019 Australian Open is just about here, and we have got an exciting fortnight coming up from Melbourne Park, and the dominating theme in regards to the women’s draw is the return of Serena Williams to the Australian Open for the first time since having her first child Alexis Olympia.

Of course Williams won the 2017 Australian Open when she was eight weeks pregnant, and will play her first official tournament since last year’s US Open, when she lost to Naomi Osaka, a final dominated by the whole controversy with the code violation from Carlos Ramos for the coaching she received from Patrick Mouratoglou, and the whole argument from Serena that she has never cheated in her life, and the meltdown in her performance after that. If Williams were to win the 2019 Australian Open, it would be her first title since her victory at Melbourne Park two years ago, and she would equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles.

However, she is not the only contender, with the four grand slam winners of 2018 in Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, and Osaka looking to start 2019 in the best possible way.

The defending champion Wozniacki won three titles last year, but struggled after winning the second of those titles at Eastbourne, winning just seven of her next 13 matches, and later revealed that she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis prior to the US Open, right in the middle of this poor form streak, while last year’s runner-up Halep finished as the end of year World No.1 for the second year in a row after winning her first grand slam title at Roland Garros after defeating Sloane Stephens in the final.

Kerber, who defeated Williams in the Wimbledon final in 2018 to win her third Grand Slam title, returned back to her best form after winning no titles in 2017, claiming two titles last year as she climbed from 21st at the start of the year back up to 2nd, and within striking distance of the No.1 ranking, while Osaka emerged to win her first career title at Indian Wells, and then claiming the US Open crown as she firmly secured her place as a Top 10 player.

Then we have the likes of Stephens, Elina Svitolina, Karolína Plíšková, and Petra Kvitová among others who are capable of challenging the five players above, and potentially take home the first Grand Slam of 2019.

But, could there be a surprise on the horizon? Let’s have a look at the women’s singles draw.

 

Section One

Section One is one of the more tougher sections of the draw, but in saying that, both Halep and Serena Williams should both make it through to the fourth round to meet in what could be a thrilling encounter. Halep, who lost in the second round in Sydney to Ashleigh Barty, has to overcome Kaia Kanepi in the opening round, while she could meet seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, or Mihaela Buzărnescu in the third round, while Serena, who won all three of her singles matches at the Hopman Cup, could meet 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard in the second round before meeting either Carla Suárez Navarro or 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the third round.

My fourth round match-up: (1) Simona Halep vs. (16) Serena Williams

 

Section Two

Section Two is another strong section of the draw, and although she could face Camila Giorgi in the third round, Plíšková should have no troubles making the Round of 16, where she could meet either Daria Kasatkina, Johanna Konta, or Garbiñe Muguruza. Konta and Muguruza are slated to meet in the second round, with Kasatkina waiting in the third round should either of them get through.

My fourth round match-up: (18) Garbiñe Muguruza vs. (7) Karolína Plíšková

 

Section Three

Section Three is also another strong section of the women’s draw, but one which you would expect Osaka to survive and at least make it through to the fourth round, although she will need to overcome Daria Gavrilova in second round, and then either two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka or Hsieh Su-wei in the third round to make it through to meet either Anastasija Sevastova, who made the quarter-finals in Brisbane, or Wang Qiang, who lost to Barty in the final of the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai at the end of last year.

My fourth round match-up: (4) Naomi Osaka vs. (13) Anastasija Sevastova

 

Section Four

Svitolina, who won the WTA Finals last year in Singapore, and 2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys both feature in this section, and should both make it through to meet each other in the fourth round, but they will need to overcome 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulková, and last year’s semi-finalist Elise Mertens in the third round respectively to make it through to the second week.

My fourth round match-up: (17) Madison Keys vs. (6) Elina Svitolina

 

Section Five

Talking about strong sections, Section Five of the draw is the strongest, but one you would expect Kvitová to navigate her way through successfully to meet either Lesia Tsurenko, who made the final in Brisbane, or Aryna Sabalenka, who won the title in Shenzhen, but lost in the first round to Kvitová in Sydney.

However, the two-time Wimbledon champion will have to overcome 2017 Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdaléna Rybáriková in the opening round before meeting 2011 Australian Open and US Open quarter-finalist Andrea Petkovic in the second round before meeting either Belinda Bencic, Kateřina Siniaková, Yulia Putintseva, or Barbora Strýcová in the third round.

My fourth round match-up: (8) Petra Kvitová vs. (24) Lesia Tsurenko

 

Section Six

This section is not particular strong overall, but it has four big names in Wozniacki, 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova, 2017 Roland Garros champion Jeļena Ostapenko, and Barty, who is in career best form right now after finishing runner up to Kvitová in Sydney. At the moment, you would expect Barty and Wozniacki to make it through to face each other in a fourth round showdown, but before that, Barty will have to overcome Ostapenko, who she beat in the first round in Sydney, or Maria Sakkari in the third round, while the defending champion will have to conquer Sharapova in the same round.

My fourth round match-up: (15) Ashleigh Barty vs. (3) Caroline Wozniacki

 

Section Seven

If Stephens can find her best form, the 2017 US Open champion should have no problems in reaching the fourth round, but that could be a big if as she lost in the first round in Brisbane, second round in Sydney, and has lost in the first round in her last three appearances at Melbourne Park despite making the semi-finals back in 2013. If Stephens does make the Round of 16, she will meet either Anett Kontaveit, who made the quarter-finals in Brisbane, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who made the semi-finals in Sydney, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, or 2016 Roland Garros semi-finalist Kiki Bertens.

My fourth round match-up: (5) Sloane Stephens vs. (20) Anett Kontaveit

 

Section Eight

The final section of the draw is a reasonable section, one that 2016 Australian Open champion Kerber should be able to navigate successfully through to meet Julia Görges or Caroline Garcia in the fourth round, but Kerber will need to defeat either Donna Vekić or
Kristina Mladenovic in the third round in order to make it through to the second week.

My fourth round match-up: (14) Julia Görges vs. (2) Angelique Kerber

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(16) Serena Williams vs. (7) Karolína Plíšková

(4) Naomi Osaka vs. (17) Madison Keys

(8) Petra Kvitová vs. (15) Ashleigh Barty

(20) Anett Kontaveit vs. (2) Angelique Kerber

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(16) Serena Williams vs. (4) Naomi Osaka

(8) Petra Kvitová vs. (2) Angelique Kerber

 

My predicted final

(16) Serena Williams vs. (8) Petra Kvitová

 

2019 Australian Open champion prediction

(16) Serena Williams

Australia vs. India – Test Series Preview

After the drama of the last few weeks, and the drama of the last eight and a half months, the Australian Cricket Team finally has a chance to prove the critics of Cricket Australia, and of the Australian Cricket Team wrong by defeating the world’s best Test match team, the Indian Cricket Team led by the great Virat Kohli over the course of a four-match test series.

But, will they? And, can India conquer their final frontier, and win a test series against Australia on Australian soil?

As far as the Australia Cricket Team is concerned, they come into this test series under extreme pressure, and after a time of unbelievable and unthinkable turmoil, both for Cricket Australia and the team itself after the Ball Tampering Scandal at Newlands in Cape Town, the subsequent punishments of Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft, and the huge uproar (regardless of your thoughts about what happened, the punishments dished out, and the culture of the team, and of Cricket Australia as an organisation) that it caused among former players, the media, and the fans of not just the Australian Cricket Team, but of cricket as a whole.

In addition to this, the Australian Cricket Team has a new captain in Tim Paine, a new coach in Justin Langer, and Cricket Australia has had an administrative clean-out of sorts, although there is muted debate as to whether that has gone far enough, and whether the punishments of “the banished three” have gone too far, taking into consideration all aspects of the situation, including various factors, sensitive factors even that I might touch upon at a later date.

And, while all of the attention has been on how the Australian batsmen will perform in this series, the blowtorch must be turned towards the Australian bowlers of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon, and their rather cocky attitudes heading into this series, a series which could define their careers and their futures within the Australian Cricket Team at test match level.

Their recent form at test match level has been just off their career averages in general. Since the start of the 2017-18 Ashes Series, with the exception of Pat Cummins, who has taken 45 wickets in nine test matches at an average of 23.08 during this time compared to a career average of 23.81, all of Australia’s bowlers have an average worse than their career average, with Starc (38 wickets at 29.15 in nine tests, compared to 28.52), Lyon (49 wickets at 34.28 in 11 tests, compared to 32.21), and most worrying Hazlewood (33 wickets at 30.75 in nine tests, compared to 26.84).

While it doesn’t sound like much, over a long four-match test series like this one, it could prove the difference between Australia winning this test series (thus regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy), or losing/not winning this test series if this pattern continues, especially if you believe the Indian batting line-up is stronger than the Australian batting line-up. The Australian bowlers must lift to a whole new level if Australia is to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, or risked having egg all over their faces, and losing their tags as “the chosen ones” of Australian cricket, particularly the three fast bowlers in Starc, Hazlewood, and Cummins.

The Australian bowlers need assistance in order for them to do a successful job against India, and this assistance must come from Mitchell Marsh.

Marsh, at the age of 27, must start living up to his potential as Australia’s next great all-rounder, or risk being labelled as the greatest underachiever Australian cricket has ever produced. Marsh has scored 1200 runs at an average of just 26.08 across 30 test matches, and taken 35 wickets at an average of 42.45, and really for someone who has been tagged as Australia’s next great all-rounder, it is simply diabolical.

Marsh should be approaching a batting average of close to 40, and a bowling average of closer to 30 at this stage of his career, and in this series, Marsh should be averaging double his current batting average, and half of his current bowling average. If he fails in this regard, Australia could be headed for a historic series defeat, and his international career could be over.

It is a make or break series for Mitchell Marsh!

And, what makes it even more make or break for Marsh is that Usman Khawaja, who has scored 565 runs at an average of 47.88 in seven test matches in 2018, is coming into this series underdone after tearing the meniscus in his knee in Abu Dhabi, subsequently undergoing surgery to repair the injury, and on his return, Khawaja made 41 and 18 for Queensland in the last Sheffield Shield match against Victoria.

So, I think the pressure will be on Mitchell Marsh, as well as his brother Shaun Marsh, captain Tim Paine, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Marcus Harris, and Peter Handscomb to be more productive with the bat in this series, and compared to previous performances in their careers if Australia stand to be a chance of regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

So then we get to the Indian Cricket Team, and their inspirational leader Virat Kohli, who has now scored over 1000 Test match runs for the third-successive calendar year, and is just eight runs away from scoring 1000 test match runs in Australia, will be the key player who will determine whether India wins in Australia for the first time or not.

India have drawn three of their 11 test series against Australia in Australia, drawing 1-1 in 1980/81, 0-0 in 1985/86, and 1-1 in 2003/04 in what was the then-Australian captain Steve Waugh’s final test series, scoring 80 in his final test innings at the Sydney Cricket Ground to help Australia save the final test match of that series to avoid an historic test series defeat at home.

Since Kohli has started batting in the nets in Adelaide, the word/visual evidence coming out suggests that Kohli is seeing and hitting the ball superbly, perhaps the best he has in his entire career to date, and most certainly ominous signs if you are the Australian Cricket Team.

However, you sense Kohli needs some support as well from his fellow batsmen, in particular his vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who has scored 605 runs in nine test matches at an average of 40.33 against Australia, just below his career average of 41.40, and only needs one run to score 400 test match runs in Australia, but also Cheteshwar Pujara, who has scored 4905 runs in 64 test matches at an average of 49.54 in his career, and is currently India’s second-leading run-scorer in 2018, but has only scored 509 runs in 10 test matches at an average of 31.81, 554 runs behind Kohli’s tally of 1063 runs at an average of 59.05 in the same number of test matches in 2018.

In addition to this, Pujara has a poor record against Australia in Australia, scoring 201 runs in three test matches at an average of 33.50, so needs a big tour, like Rahane, to help assist Kohli in getting India enough runs to starve off the threat from Australia.

The bowling attack from India is probably the best they have ever had as a collective group, with the ability to chose from the likes of  Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav.

In all likelihood, India will pick five of those eight bowlers for two or three of the test matches in this series, with three fast bowlers (out of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, and Umesh Yadav), and two spin bowlers (out of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, and Kuldeep Yadav) the likely combination, but regardless of who India pick as their bowlers, I think they can match or better the output of the current Australian bowling attack.

This leads me to my series prediction, and my gut feel tells me that India are going to do it! They are going to conquer their final frontier, and defeat Australia in a test match series in Australia.

I think India will win the first test match of the series in Adelaide, but I think Australia, under the most intense scrutiny from the media, fans and legends of the game, will hit back in the inaugural test match at the Optus Stadium in Perth to level the series heading into the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

However, just like last year against England, the Boxing Day Test will turn into a lifeless draw, generating a massive crisis within Australian cricket in regards to the drop-in pitches at the MCG, and a massive crisis within world cricket in general in regards to the performance and suitability of drop-in pitches, despite the fact the drop-in pitches in both Adelaide and Perth performed extremely well.

This all leads into the final test match of the series, the Pink Test Match in support of the McGrath Foundation at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), and a calculated gamble (which will be widely panned from the media, experts, and fans before the match) from the Indian selectors, in consultation with captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri, will lead to three specialist spinners being selected, and India bamboozling Australia on a traditional SCG pitch to claim an historic series triumph.

In short, India will retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy!

 

2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Preview

After 20 hard-fought, and exciting races, the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship comes to a close at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi for Round 21 of the championship, a season that will be remembered for Lewis Hamilton winning his fifth world championship, equalling the record of Juan Manuel Fangio, and moving to within two of Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships.

However, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will mark the end of the Formula One career of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. 313 entries (311 starts), 32 wins, 97 podiums, 22 pole positions, and 23 fastest laps, racing for the likes of Minardi, Renault, McLaren, and Ferrari over the course of 17 seasons in Formula One. It has truly been a remarkable career for the most part.

For the record, Hamilton (383 points) leads the championship for Mercedes by an unassailable 81 points over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (302 points), but the focus in the world championship lies in the battle for third between Kimi Räikkönen (251 points), Valtteri Bottas (237 points), and Max Verstappen (234 points) with only 17 points separating the three with one race to go.

Both Räikkönen and Verstappen have been in great form in recent races, with the Finn having three-straight podiums in the last three races, including claiming the United States Grand Prix, and will be looking to secure third in the championship before leaving Ferrari for Sauber-Ferrari next year, while the Dutchman has been on the podium in four-straight races, including winning the Mexican Grand Prix, and should have won in Brazil after Esteban Ocon, who was attempting to unlap himself, collided with Verstappen while he was leading the race.

However, Bottas hasn’t been on the podium in the last three races, finishing fifth in all three of those races, and will be desperate to get a win before the season comes to an end.

As far as the championship permutations for third, this is how each driver can claim third in the world championship.

For Räikkönen:

  1. If he finishes ahead of Bottas and Verstappen.
  2. If Bottas wins the race, Räikkönen must finish 4th or higher.
  3. If Bottas finishes second, Räikkönen must finish 8th or higher assuming Verstappen doesn’t win the race.
  4. If Bottas finishes third, Räikkönen must finish 10th or higher assuming Verstappen doesn’t finish inside the top two.
  5. If Bottas finishes fourth or lower assuming Verstappen doesn’t finish inside the top two.
  6. If Verstappen wins the race, Räikkönen must finish 5th or higher.
  7. If Verstappen finishes second, Räikkönen must finish ninth or higher assuming Bottas doesn’t win the race.
  8. If Verstappen finishes third or lower assuming Bottas doesn’t finish inside the top two.

For Bottas:

  1. If Bottas wins the race, Räikkönen must finish 5th or lower.
  2. If Bottas finishes second, Räikkönen must finish 9th or lower assuming Verstappen doesn’t win the race.
  3. If Bottas finishes third, Räikkönen must finish 11th or lower assuming Verstappen doesn’t finish inside the top two.

For Verstappen:

  1. If Verstappen wins the race, Räikkönen must finish 6th or lower.
  2. If Verstappen finishes second, Räikkönen must finish 10th or lower assuming Bottas doesn’t win the race.

Behind the top five in the championship, Daniel Ricciardo (158 points) will finish in sixth, while there is, mathematically at least, a six-way battle for seventh in the standings between Nico Hülkenberg (69 points), Sergio Pérez (58 points), Kevin Magnussen (55 points), Fernando Alonso (50 points), Esteban Ocon (49 points), and Carlos Sainz Jr. (45 points), while Romain Grosjean (35 points), Charles Leclerc (33 points), and Pierre Gasly (29 points) all remain in mathematical contention of finishing inside the top 10 in the world championship.

As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Mercedes (620 points) claimed their fifth-straight championship in Brazil, and lead by an unassailable 67 points over Ferrari (553 points), while Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (392 points) will finish in third.

Behind the clear top three, the battle is still on for fourth between Renault (114 points) and Haas-Ferrari (90 points), while McLaren-Renault (62 points) are sixth, but could still be challenged by Force India-Mercedes (48 points) and Sauber-Ferrari (42 points), who could still yet be challenged by Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (33 points), while Williams-Mercedes (seven points) will certainly finish 10th barring a minor miracle.

So, who will win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

I think Mercedes will be strong once again in the United Arab Emirates, but I think they will face some strong competition from Ferrari. Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer can challenge, but they will need to focus fully on the race if they are to challenge.

In my view, this is the best chance for Valtteri Bottas to claim a race victory in 2018, and if he does claim victory in Abu Dhabi, it will certainly be well-deserved!

2018 Newcastle 500 – Preview

IMG_1379[1]

Photo of the Newcastle Street Circuit precinct a few weeks before the event.

For the second time in as many years, the Supercars Championship is set for a thrilling conclusion in Newcastle, and this time, it will be a battle between two Kiwi drivers in Scott McLaughlin from DJR Team Penske, and Shane Van Gisbergen from Triple Eight Race Engineering as the 2018 Supercars Championship heads to the Newcastle Street Circuit for the 16th and final round of the season, the Newcastle 500.

Just 14 points separate McLaughlin (3656 points) and Van Gisbergen (3642 points) with both having stellar seasons, but within those stellar seasons, they have both had down moments.

McLaughlin has claimed eight wins and 19 podiums overall in 29 races, including four-straight wins from Race 9 to Race 12 of the season (Phillip Island and Barbagallo), and 13 podiums in 14 races, including a streak of eight-straight podiums, but before winning Race 29 at Pukekohe in New Zealand, McLaughlin had gone nine completed races without a race victory.

Conversely, Van Gisbergen started off the season superbly by winning the opening two races of the season in Adelaide, before going 15 races without win. After this barren run though, Van Gisbergen won four of the next five races from Race 18 to 22 of the championship (Townsville, Ipswich, Sydney Motorsport Park, and The Bend Motorsport Park), , and of course won Race 28 of the championship at Pukekohe in New Zealand to give us a titanic fight in Newcastle. Overall, Van Gisbergen has had seven wins and 17 podiums in 29 races coming into Newcastle.

During the season, McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen have finished first and second (in either order) in the same race five times in 2018, and with the championship battle set to be a “winner takes all” scenario, things are certain to heat up!

Looking at the Newcastle Street Circuit on paper, it is a circuit that should suit Triple Eight Race Engineering and the Holden ZB Commodore, given the lack of long, fast corners, and the point and squirt nature of the circuit.

However, despite street circuits typically lacking grip compared to your normal permanent venue, I expect the Newcastle Street Circuit to provide plenty of grip, which should suit DJR Team Penske and their Ford FG X Falcon beautifully, but on a circuit that I consider “The Monaco of the South”, anything can happen.

What also should be considered within the battle for the championship is the battle for third in the standings between Jamie Whincup (3175 points), Craig Lowndes (3117 points), and David Reynolds (2918 points), three drivers in strong cars who are capable of deciding who wins the championship.

Of course both Whincup and Lowndes are both teammates of Van Gisbergen, and will be looking to do what they can to help their Kiwi teammate claim his second championship. However, it will be an emotional weekend for Lowndes as he competes in what will be his final full-time Supercars Championship event, and the three-time Supercars champion will be looking to do what he can to beat seven-time Supercars champion Whincup into third in the championship, and maybe claim one last victory as a full-time driver.

Reynolds is the interesting one though, 257 points behind third-place Whincup and unlikely to get third, and 249 points ahead of sixth-place Chaz Mostert (2669 points) and unlikely to be surpassed for fifth in the championship, and the highest-ranked driver in the standings not associated with either Triple Eight Race Engineering or DJR Team Penske, so he is the most likely driver, along with Mostert that you think could sway the outcome of the championship one way or another.

So, what are the championship permutations?

For Saturday, only Scott McLaughlin can claim the championship over Shane Van Gisbergen with one race remaining:

  1. If McLaughlin finishes 1st or 2nd, and Van Gisbergen retires from the race.

I will update the championship permutations before Race 31 of the championship on Sunday morning should the battle continue through to Sunday.

So, who will win both races at the Newcastle 500, and who will claim the 2018 Supercars Championship?

I think if qualifying goes to the form book, I think Saturday’s race will be a largely normal race, and I think Shane Van Gisbergen will win Race 30 of the season, with Scott McLaughlin finishing second or third.

However, I think Sunday’s race, regardless of whether qualifying and the Top 10 Shootout goes to form or not, will be chaotic, and my gut feeling tells me something is going to happen between McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen that is going to decide the championship, and/or have major repercussions going forward.

However, regardless of what happens, I cannot wait to see what unfolds!

 

After Shane Van Gisbergen was given a post-race 25-second time penalty for a Breach of Rule D25.6.3.2. after Race 30 of the championship, dropping him from 1st to 5th, thus giving Scott McLaughlin his ninth race victory of the season, it means the championship picture has changed going into the final race of the season, with McLaughlin now having a 53-point lead in the standings over Van Gisbergen.

So, McLaughlin can win his first championship:

1. If McLaughlin finishes ahead of Van Gisbergen.

2. If Van Gisbergen wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 6th or higher.

3. If Van Gisbergen finishes 2nd, McLaughlin must finish 8th or higher.

4. If Van Gisbergen finishes 3rd, McLaughlin must finish 10th or higher.

5. If Van Gisbergen finishes 4th, McLaughlin must finish 12th or higher.

6. If Van Gisbergen finishes 5th, McLaughlin must finish 15th or higher.

7. If Van Gisbergen finishes 6th, McLaughlin must finish 18th or higher.

8. If Van Gisbergen finishes 7th, McLaughlin must finish 20th or higher.

9. If Van Gisbergen finishes 8th, McLaughlin must finish 22nd or higher.

10. If Van Gisbergen finishes 9th, McLaughlin must finish 24th or higher.

11. If Van Gisbergen finishes between 10th and 17th, McLaughlin must finish the race (26th or higher).

12. If Van Gisbergen finishes 18th or lower, McLaughlin is the CHAMPION!

 

Van Gisbergen can win his second championship:

1. If Van Gisbergen wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 7th or lower.

2. If Van Gisbergen finishes 2nd, McLaughlin must finish 9th or lower.

3. If Van Gisbergen finishes 3rd, McLaughlin must finish 11th or lower.

4. If Van Gisbergen finishes 4th, McLaughlin must finish 13th or lower.

5. If Van Gisbergen finishes 5th, McLaughlin must finish 16th or lower.

6. If Van Gisbergen finishes 6th, McLaughlin must finish 19th or lower.

7. If Van Gisbergen finishes 7th, McLaughlin must finish 21st or lower.

8. If Van Gisbergen finishes 8th, McLaughlin must finish 23rd or lower.

9. If Van Gisbergen finishes 9th, McLaughlin must finish 25th or lower.

10. If Van Gisbergen finishes between 10th and 17th, McLaughlin must not finish the race/not score points.

 

2018 Valencian GP (MotoGP) – Preview

After 18 rounds (17 races after the British Grand Prix didn’t get underway), and countless races that we will remember for a long time, the 2018 MotoGP World Championship comes to a conclusion at the final round (Round 19) at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, a chance to celebrate the season, and farewell a number of riders that will be leaving the MotoGP grid, including Scott Redding, Bradley Smith, Álvaro Bautista, Xavier Simeon, and the retiring Dani Pedrosa.

Pedrosa is the biggest name from this group of riders to be moving on from MotoGP after 54 wins (31 in MotoGP), 153 podiums (112 in MotoGP), 49 pole positions (31 in MotoGP), and 64 fastest laps (44 in MotoGP), claiming the 125cc World Championship in 2003, as well as the 250cc World Championship in 2004 and 2005, with a best championship finish in the MotoGP World Championship of second in 2007, 2010, and 2012, falling 18 points short of Jorge Lorenzo in 2012 after becoming the Repsol Honda Team’s main championship contender after the ankle injury suffered by Casey Stoner at Indianapolis.

Overall, Pedrosa has scored 4151 points across all classes (2959 points in MotoGP), and will start for the 295th and final time across all classes on Sunday (217th time in MotoGP).

However, that won’t be the only focal point in Valencia, and while Marc Márquez (321 points) and Andrea Dovizioso (220 points) have secured first and second in the world championship respectively, the battle for third is still alive between the two Movistar Yamaha MotoGP teammates in Valentino Rossi (195 points) and Maverick Viñales (193 points) in what is a “winner takes all” scenario in terms of finishing third in the championship in very simplistic terms, although it could be more complicated than that should they finish the race in Valencia down the field.

In addition to this, the fight for fifth in the world championship is still alive in what is also a “winner takes all” scenario between Álex Rins (149 points), Johann Zarco (149 points), and Danilo Petrucci (144 points). Cal Crutchlow (148 points) is in-between Zarco and Petrucci in the standings, but is out of Valencia after breaking his right ankle in Friday practice at Phillip Island.

Andrea Iannone (133 points) could also finish fifth in the world championship, as can Jorge Lorenzo (130 points), but both would need results to go their way to achieve that, while Dani Pedrosa (106 points) can still finish his final MotoGP season in 10th-place in the championship should he win in Valencia, and Lorenzo scores no points.

So, who will take out the final race of the 2018 MotoGP World Championship?

Judging by recent form, and his four wins from his last five races, it has to be Marc Márquez to claim what would be his 10th race victory of the season, and it would be just the second time in his premier class career, third across all classes, that he would have won 10 races or more in a single season.

I think on the podium with Márquez will be Andrea Dovizioso, while Dani Pedrosa will claim his first podium of 2018 in his final MotoGP race.

2018 Mackinnon Stakes – Preview

It is the final day of the 2018 Melbourne Cup Carnival, and after a wonderful three days, we head into the last day of the carnival with a couple of showpiece Group One’s left to run.

The VRC Sprint Classic, where defending champion and two-time winner of The Everest Redzel will be looking to secure his spot as the best current day sprinter, but faces strong opposition from the likes of Kementari, Pierata, and Santa Ana Lane.

And then the main race, the 2018 Mackinnon Stakes, where the Victoria Derby winner Extra Brut, and the Empire Rose Stakes winner Shillelagh will be chasing a rare Group One double at the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

It is set to be a great day, so here are my tips for the final day of the 2018 carnival.

 

Race 1. 12:15pm 1600m Melbourne’s Own 3AW Trophy

1st 7. Eshtiraak (3)

2nd 3. Manuel (1)

3rd 6. Call It a Day (6)

4th 2. Al Passem (4)

Race 2. 12:50pm 2000m Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Plate

1st 7. Danon Roman (JPN) (1)

2nd 5. Lucky For All (NZ) (7)

3rd 1. Lycurgus (3)

4th 11. Top Prospect (NZ) (5)

Race 3. 1:30pm 1400m Watch Racing.com Springtime Stakes

1st 4. Yulong January (3)

2nd 12. No Emotion (8)

3rd 13. Secret Vega (1)

4th 9. Wagner (13)

Race 4. 2:10pm 1400m DeRucci Chatham Stakes

1st 1. Widgee Turf (2)

2nd 4. Dreamforce (13)

3rd 10. Spectroscope (USA) (4)

4th 7. Mr Sneaky (5)

Race 5. 2:50pm 2600m Queen Elizabeth Stakes

1st 3. Lord Fandango (GER) (2)

2nd 7. Jaameh (IRE) (11)

3rd 13. Sully (NZ) (6)

4th 10. Sir Isaac Newton (GB) (5)

Race 6. 3:30pm 2000m 7News Matriarch Stakes

1st 14. Our Libretto (NZ) (6)

2nd 12. Aqua D’ivina (10)

3rd 15. Silent Roar (1)

4th 2. Savvy Coup (NZ) (15)

Race 7. 4:10pm 1200m VRC Sprint Classic

1st 3. Santa Ana Lane (5)

2nd 7. Kementari (9)

3rd 6. Pierata (3)

4th 1. Redzel (8)

Race 8. 4:55pm 2000m Seppelt Mackinnon Stakes

1st 5. Doubt Defying (10)

2nd 9. Extra Brut (9)

3rd 8. Shillelagh (NZ) (6)

4th 4. Trap for Fools (8)

Race 9. 5:45pm 1100m Grand Handicap

1st 7. Lagerfeld (4)

2nd 13. As It Lies (9)

3rd 11. Order of Command (1)

4th 16. Dennis (7)