Kobe Bryant: A look at his legacy and standing in sporting history

As people who love all sports, and people who enjoy watching different sports, including the sport of basketball, we could all speak for each other that we were all stunned, saddened, and shocked to hear of the news on Sunday January 26, 2020 (Monday January 27, 2020 Australian time) that a true basketball and sporting legend Kobe Bryant had perished in a beyond horrific helicopter crash in the city of Calabasas, which is about a 90 minute drive to the west of Los Angeles in the state of California in the United States.

The tragedy also claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant’s 13-year old daughter Gianna, a basketball prodigy in her own right who had dreams of playing in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association, as well as playing college basketball with the University of Connecticut Huskies, as well as seven other people, including the pilot, all extraordinary in their very own way, all on their way to Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, which is close to a two-hour drive west of Los Angeles, for a junior basketball tournament.

And, I would like to send my condolences and best wishes to the Bryant family, and every other family affected by this unfathomable tragedy!

However, it is the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant at the age of just 41, that has shocked the entire world, and although he had finished his basketball career on the court, he had started to create an incredible legacy away from the court!

Let’s have a look at the life, the legacy, and the standing in sporting history of the one and only Kobe Bean Bryant!

Kobe Bryant grew up in Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania as the only son, and the youngest of three children to Joe and Pamela Bryant. Joe was himself a former NBA player during the mid-to-late 1970’s and early 1980’s with the Philadelphia 76ers, San Diego Clippers, and Houston Rockets before playing with a number of clubs in Italy.

It was during the time when his father was playing for the Clippers that Kobe, at the age of three, started to play basketball, and supported the Los Angeles Lakers. At the age of six, the Bryant family moved to Italy as Kobe’s father Joe continued his basketball career, and during this time in Italy, Kobe began to play the game of basketball more seriously, and also learned how to play football, supporting A.C. Milan.

At the age of 13, the Bryant family moved back to Philadelphia, and Kobe attended Lower Merion High School where he would gain national attention across the United States for his performances, in particular in his junior year, where he averaged 31.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game, and in his senior year, where he averaged 30.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 4 steals, and 3.8 blocked shots per game on-route to taking Lower Merion High School to their first state championship in 53 years in 1995-96, winning countless awards, and finished his high school career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of Southeastern Pennsylvania basketball with 2,883 points, surpassing both Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons, who both played in the NBA, with Chamberlain considered the greatest player of his generation, with Chamberlain’s NBA career spanning from 1959 to 1973, and Chamberlain was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.

In 1996, in an NBA Draft which featured future Hall Of Famers Allen Iverson (Pick One), Ray Allen (Pick Five), and Steve Nash (Pick 15), as well as other well-credentialed players such as Shareef Abdur-Rahim (Pick Three), Stephon Marbury (Pick Four), Antoine Walker (Pick Six), Peja Stojaković (Pick 14), Jermaine O’Neal (Pick 17), Žydrūnas Ilgauskas (Pick 20), and Ben Wallace (Undrafted), Bryant was selected at Pick 13 by the Charlotte Hornets, before being immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, where his rise to super-stardom and future Hall Of Fame status would begin!

20 years later, when he retired the sport that he loved at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season, Bryant had won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010), equal-14th for most NBA championships as a player, the same amount as Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson achieved (all with the Lakers), and one behind the amount of championships won by Hall of Famer’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen!

Bryant was also a two-time NBA Finals MVP (2009, 2010), voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008, as well as voted into the NBA All Stars game on 18 occasions (1998, 2000-16), the second-most of all-time (behind Abdul-Jabbar), receiving the MVP award in the All Stars game four times, the equal-most alongside Bob Pettit. And, from the 2020 NBA All-Stars game onwards, the MVP award in the NBA All-Stars game will be known as the NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player award, the first of which was won by Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers.

In addition to this, Bryant was selected to the All-NBA First Team on 11 occasions (2002-2004, 2006-2013), the equal second-most alongside Hall of Famer Karl Malone, and one behind LeBron James (12 occasions), and Bryant’s total appearances (15 occasions) across the All-NBA First, Second, and Third teams is the equal-most alongside James, Abdul-Jabbar, and Tim Duncan, and was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006-2013), the equal-most along Hall of Famer Gary Payton, Jordan, and Kevin Garnett.

Bryant, who averaged 25.0 points per game in a regular season career spanning 1,346 matches, and 25.6 points per game in a post-season career spanning 220 matches, is fourth on the list for the most total points scored in NBA history (33,643), ahead of Jordan (32,292), and behind Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Malone (36,928), and James (33,817), with James moving into third ahead of Bryant the day before Bryant and his daughter Gianna, along with seven others were tragically taken away from this world.

This is before we get to the two Olympic gold medals he won with Team USA in Beijing 2008, and in London 2012, with Bryant being the captain of Team USA in 2008 in Beijing, and then the announcement since his passing that he will be inducted posthumously into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a part of the Class of 2020.

However, Kobe Bryant was starting to develop a grand legacy away from the court, winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018 for his 2017 film Dear Basketball, which he wrote and narrated, as well as creating the Mamba Sports Academy alongside Chad Faulkner to help not only develop the basketball stars of the future, but to also develop them into great humans.

And, that is what Kobe Bryant was, a great human, a wonderful man, a marvellous father, a tremendous husband, and an icon to the highest of distinctions both on and off the court!

And, as far as comparing him to the all-time greats in his sport, the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bob Pettit, Karl Malone, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Gary Payton, and Kevin Garnett, as well as with the all-time greats across all sports, the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Rod Laver, Serena Williams, and Steffi Graf in tennis, Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in football, Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) in boxing, Michael Phelps in swimming, Usain Bolt in athletics/track sprinting, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in golf, Sir Donald Bradman in cricket, Babe Ruth in baseball, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Sebastian Vettel, and Ayrton Senna in motorsport among a whole host of others who I haven’t mentioned, Kobe Bryant sits comfortably among this group as one of the greatest athletes of all-time!

However, as far as taking his contribution away from the sporting arena into account, he was well on his way to becoming the greatest sportsperson of all-time, both on and away from the sporting arena!

It is sad that this Kobe Bryant legacy away from the court won’t be fully fulfilled, and that he won’t be able to see his Mamba Sports Academy grow bigger and bigger as it helps the future stars of tomorrow in both men’s basketball (NBA) and women’s basketball (WNBA).

However, it is an even greater tragedy for everyone that we won’t get to Gianna Bryant, a talent destined for stardom, develop into the beautiful woman that she would have become, and see her develop in the sport that she loved so much under the tutelage of her amazing father, a proud Girl Dad, embracing the Mamba Mentality that took her father to greatness of the highest levels!

Kobe Bryant will always be remembered as one of sports greatest-ever men, and his memory will live on for generations to come right around the world!

 

2020 Australian Open – Women’s Singles Preview

Heading into the 2020 Australian Open, there is a lot of excitement around women’s tennis, and for a number of reasons!

Can Ashleigh Barty, after winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros last year, and the 2019 WTA Finals in Shenzhen, become the first Australian women since Chris O’Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open?

Can Naomi Osaka defend her Australian Open crown, and become just the fourth woman since the start of 2000 after Jennifer Capriati (2001, 2002), Serena Williams (2009, 2010), and Victoria Azarenka (2012, 2013) to win in consecutive years at Melbourne Park?

Can Simona Halep, after reuniting with coach Darren Cahill, win at a third different Grand Slam in as many years, and go one better than what she did two years ago when she made the final at the 2018 Australian Open, losing in an epic to Caroline Wozniacki?

Can Petra Kvitová back up her amazing and emotional run to the 2019 Australian Open, her first Grand Slam final after coming back from a career-threatening left hand injury suffered while defending herself from an intruder in her home in Czech Republic in late 2016, and win her first Australian Open crown, and her third Grand Slam title overall?

Can Karolína Plíšková win her first Grand Slam title after making the semi-finals at Melbourne Park last year, and making the US Open final back in 2016?

Can Elina Svitolina win her first Grand Slam title after making the semi-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, and Belinda Bencic after making her first Grand Slam semi-final at Flushing Meadows in 2019?

However, the most poignant question heading into the 2020 Australian Open is whether Serena Williams, fresh off winning her 73rd career title, her first as a mother, and her first since the 2017 Australian Open, can at last equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles in the year Court celebrates her 50th anniversary of completing the calendar year Grand Slam?

So, who will win the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in 2020?

Here is my analysis of the 2020 Australian Open women’s singles draw!

 

Section One

The World No.1 Barty, who claimed her first professional tournament victory on Australian soil yesterday in Adelaide, should have little issue in reaching the fourth round and the second week of her home Grand Slam where she will meet either Alison Riske, who defeated Barty in the fourth round to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year, 2018 Wimbledon semi-finalist Julia Görges, or Petra Martić, who made the Roland Garros quarter-finals in 2019, although Barty will need to be wary of Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Elena Rybakina, who won the Hobart International yesterday, in the third round.

However, you cannot see Barty not making the quarter-finals, and if she hits her absolute top form in the second week, it could a golden event at Melbourne Park for Australia!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Ashleigh Barty vs. (13) Petra Martić

 

Section Two

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitová should have no real issues to reach the fourth round, although she will need to be wary of Ekaterina Alexandrova in the third round, who won her first career title a couple of weeks ago in Shenzhen. However, who Kvitová will meet in the fourth round is up for debate with the 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys having a tough first round match against Daria Kasatkina, who made the quarter-finals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018, before a potential third round with either 2014 US Open semi-finalist Peng Shuai, or Maria Sakkari, who won her first career title last year in Morocco.

However, you sense given the form that she showed in Brisbane, especially in defeating Kvitová in the semi-finals, that she will get through to the fourth round for a re-match with last year’s Australian Open finalist. However, can Keys, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2015, make a really deep run into the second week of a Grand Slam and reach her full potential in 2020? Staying fit and motivated will be the key for her!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (10) Madison Keys vs. (7) Petra Kvitová

 

Section Three

Defending champion Osaka has a deceptively tough draw in front of her with Marie Bouzková who made the semi-finals at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last year, in the first round, Zheng Saisai in the second round, and either seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, 15 year old American Coco Gauff, who qualified for the main draw at Wimbledon before defeating Venus Williams in the first round and will meet yet again in the first round at the Australian Open, 2009 Roland Garros quarter-finalist Sorana Cîrstea, or 2019 Wimbledon semi-finalist Barbora Strýcová, who failed to make it beyond the first round at her other three Grand Slam main draw appearances in 2019. This is before meeting either 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 2016 Australian Open quarter-finalist Zhang Shuai, 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur, or the highly-talented Sofia Kenin, who won her first three career titles last year, in the fourth round.

Despite how arduous the draw ahead looks for Osaka, you sense she is in strong enough form to overcome all of the challengers in this section to make the quarter-final, and to make a genuine fist of defending her Australian Open crown!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (3) Naomi Osaka vs. (14) Sofia Kenin

 

Section Four

This section features arguably the greatest tennis player (male or female) of all-time in Serena Williams, and the seven-time Australian Open champion shouldn’t have many problems in reaching the fourth round, although she will need to be wary of Wang Qiang in the third round, who of course defeated Barty in the fourth round of last year’s US Open.

This section also features 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, who will be retiring from professional tennis after the 2020 Australian Open, and she has a tough run with 19 year old Dayana Yastremska, who made the final in Adelaide and has won three career titles, in the second round, and then three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Johanna Konta, or 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finalist Caroline Garcia in third round before potentially a final-ever meeting, an emotional occasion with her great friend Serena, which other than winning a second Australian Open title, would be close to the perfect way to say goodbye!

However, back to Serena, can she at last equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles at the 2020 Australian Open? Given the form she showed to win in Auckland, she has a very strong chance, but it won’t be easy!

My predicted fourth round match-up: Caroline Wozniacki vs. (8) Serena Williams

 

Section Five

This is one of the tougher sections of the draw, but one where I think the two favoured players in last year’s US Open semi-finalist Belinda Bencic, and 2019 WTA Elite Trophy champion Aryna Sabalenka will make it through to the fourth round. However, Bencic will have to overcome 2017 Roland Garros champion Jeļena Ostapenko in the second round, and Anett Kontaveit in the third round, while Sabalenka has to overcome seven-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Carla Suárez Navarro in the opening round, 18 year old Iga Świątek in the second round, before meeting either 2019 US Open quarter-finalist Donna Vekić, 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova, who is the shadow of her former self having lost eight of her last 11 official matches, and hasn’t won consecutive matches since the 2019 Australian Open, or Alizé Cornet in the third round.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (6) Belinda Bencic vs. (11) Aryna Sabalenka

 

Section Six

Two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep has a tough first round against American Jennifer Brady, who defeated Barty in the second round in Brisbane after Brady went through qualifying in Brisbane, and then a potential third round meeting with last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins. This is before a potential fourth round meeting with either 2019 US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens, British player Heather Watson, American youngster CiCi Bellis, who is on the comeback from various injuries, 2013 Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens, or 2019 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Karolína Muchová.

However, given that Halep has lost in the first round in four of her nine previous Australian Open main draw appearances, and given the fact that Halep hasn’t gone through consecutive calendar years without losing in the first round of a Grand Slam event, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if she were to go out before the business end of the tournament.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (16) Elise Mertens vs. (26) Danielle Collins

 

Section Seven

This is a complex section of the draw, but a section where you feel both Elina Svitolina, a quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park for the last two years, and 2016 Roland Garros semi-finalist Kiki Bertens should make it through to meet each other in the fourth round. However, Svitolina will need to beat either two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza, or 2018 US Open semi-finalist Anastasija Sevastova in the third round, both match-ups not an easy task, while Bertens will have to face 18 year old American Amanda Anisimova, who of course made the semi-finals at Roland Garros last year, but will be playing her first Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon last year after the tragic passing of her father Konstantin a week before last year’s US Open.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (5) Elina Svitolina vs. (9) Kiki Bertens

 

Section Eight

Last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Karolína Plíšková has a brutal draw with two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Kristina Mladenovic in the first round, a player who has great recent memories of Australia after being the player of the 2019 Fed Cup Final in Perth to help France to their first Fed Cup win since 2003, and their third overall. Plíšková then has 2017 Australian Open semi-finalist and wildcard CoCo Vandeweghe in the second round, five-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round before meeting fellow countrywoman and 2019 Roland Garros finalist Markéta Vondroušová, who is on the comeback from a wrist injury that kept her out for the back half of 2019 since Wimbledon, or 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who suffered a back injury in Adelaide, in the fourth round.

Vondroušová, before a potential match-up with her fellow Czech in the fourth round, will need to defeat two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the opening round, 2018 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Camila Giorgi, and Kerber in the third round.

However, the focus is on Plíšková, and if she gets through to the second week, she has her best chance of breaking through for her first Grand Slam title!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (15) Markéta Vondroušová vs. (2) Karolína Plíšková

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Ashleigh Barty vs. (10) Madison Keys

(3) Naomi Osaka vs. (8) Serena Williams

(11) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (26) Danielle Collins

(5) Elina Svitolina vs. (2) Karolína Plíšková

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Ashleigh Barty vs. (3) Naomi Osaka

(11) Aryna Sabalenka vs. (2) Karolína Plíšková

 

My predicted final match-up

(1) Ashleigh Barty vs. (2) Karolína Plíšková

 

2020 Australian Open women’s singles champion

(1) Ashleigh Barty

2020 Australian Open – Men’s Singles Preview

Heading into the 2020 Australian Open, there is a lot of intrigue about men’s tennis, and for so many reasons, including the battle for supremacy between Roger Federer (20 Grand Slam titles), Rafael Nadal (19 Grand Slam titles), and Novak Djokovic (16 Grand Slam titles), and the title in many people’s eyes as the greatest male tennis player of all-time!

Can Nadal equal Federer on 20 by winning his second Australian Open and become the first player in the Open Era to win at every Grand Slam at least twice, and join Australian legends Roy Emerson and Rod Laver to have won each Grand Slam at least twice across the amateur and professional eras of the game?

Can Djokovic close the gap between himself and Federer to three by winning his eighth Australian Open, and become the first male player to win the Australian Open in consecutive years on three separate occasions?

Or, can Federer extend his lead to two over Nadal, and five over Djokovic by winning a record-equalling seventh Australian Open, and become the oldest grand slam champion in the Open era, going ahead of Australian legend Ken Rosewall, who won his final grand slam (his eighth overall, and his fourth Australian Open) at the age of 37 years and two months.

And Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic all have the opportunity of joining Rosewall as the only male players to have won Grand Slam titles in three separate decades, and become the first to do so entirely in the Open Era.

However, can anyone else stop these three undisputed all-time greats, and etch their names on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup?

Here is my analysis of the 2020 Australian Open men’s singles draw!

 

Section One

Despite his form at the ATP Cup where Nadal won four of his six matches, the World No.1 should have no problems in reaching the fourth round at Melbourne Park where he should meet either Karen Khachanov or Nick Kyrgios. Of course Kyrgios carries the hopes of Australia in the men’s singles draw after the withdrawal of Alex de Minaur due to an abdominal injury, but will need to be better than what he was against Roberto Bautista Agut in the ATP Cup semi-final in Sydney if he is to trouble the 2009 Australian Open champion, and potentially make it through to a third Grand Slam quarter-final.

For Nadal though, he will sense that he will have bigger fish to fry, including a potential semi-final against Daniil Medvedev in what would be a re-match of last year’s US Open final, and a potential final up against either Djokovic in a re-match of last year’s Australian Open final, or a re-match of the 2017 Australian Open final against Federer, a match-up which could ultimately decide when it is all said and done, who finishes with the most Grand Slam titles of all-time!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (1) Rafael Nadal vs. (23) Nick Kyrgios

 

Section Two

This is a very competitive section of the draw featuring 2016 Australia Open quarter-finalist Gaël Monfils, former Wimbledon quarter-finalists in Lu Yen-hsun (2010), Ivo Karlović (2009), and Vasek Pospisil (2015), 19 year old sensation Félix Auger-Aliassime, who made three finals on the ATP Tour in 2019, as well as American Taylor Fritz, who defeated Sam Querrey to win his first career title at Eastbourne last year, two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson, who showed some great form on his return from a right knee injury at the ATP Cup in Brisbane, 2016 Roland Garros quarter-finalist Albert Ramos Viñolas, Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who defeated Jordan Thompson to win his first career title in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last year, and two-time Roland Garros finalist in Dominic Thiem.

Given the lack of success from Thiem outside of clay, and the general unpredictability of Monfils among other factors, this section is wide open!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (20) Félix Auger-Aliassime vs. Kevin Anderson

 

Section Three

The 2019 US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev, who was brilliant throughout the ATP Cup, should have little trouble in making it through to the fourth round for a potential meeting with 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, although Medvedev faces last year’s Australian Open quarter-finalist Frances Tiafoe in the first round, and either 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Australian Alexei Popyrin in the third round, who got past the first round in each of his four Grand Slam appearances last year.

Looking at Wawrinka, he has a tough road to get to Medvedev, with match-ups against Damir Džumhur in the first round, Andreas Seppi or Miomir Kecmanović in the second round, and 2018 Wimbledon semi-finalist John Isner in the third round, and while you sense the three-time Grand Slam champion has another big run left in him, you also sense that it is Medvedev’s time to shine and potentially win his first Grand Slam title.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (4) Daniil Medvedev vs. (15) Stan Wawrinka

 

Section Four

Three-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist David Goffin, and two-time Roland Garros quarter-finalist Alexander Zverev are the favourites from this section to move through to the second week, and meet each other in the fourth round, although face potential banana skins in each round.

Goffin has 2013 Australian Open quarter-finalist Jérémy Chardy in the first round, before facing either Pierre-Hugues Herbert or Cameron Norrie in the second round, before a cracking third round match against Andrey Rublev, who made the quarter-finals at the US Open back in 2017, and just became the first player since Dominik Hrbatý in 2004 to win titles in each of the first two weeks of a new season.

However, given his strong form at the ATP Cup, including defeating Nadal in straight sets in Belgium’s quarter-final loss against Spain in Sydney, Goffin’s aim will be to go really deep into the second week at Melbourne Park, and potentially reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.

Zverev faces Marco Cecchinato in the first round, who other than reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2018, has failed to progress beyond the first round at each of his other 10 Grand Slam main draw appearances, before facing Casper Ruud in the second round, and then either 2009 Australian Open semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco, or Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili in the third round. However, given the issues that he has had with his second serve in recent times, this is perhaps not the tournament for Zverev to shine at this time around.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (11) David Goffin vs. (7) Alexander Zverev

 

Section Five

Last year’s US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini should have no issues in making the third round, where he will meet either last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Sam Querrey, or Borna Ćorić, before a potential all-Italian fourth round meeting with Fabio Fognini. However, Fognini has to overcome the highly-dangerous, big serving, and huge American in Reilly Opelka in the first round, and 2019 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Guido Pella in the third round before contemplating a meeting with his fellow countryman early in the second week.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (8) Matteo Berrettini vs. (12) Fabio Fognini

 

Section Six

Despite coming into the 2020 Australian Open with no official matches under his belt at the start of this year, you feel like Federer should have little trouble in reaching the second week once again, although he will have to be wary of Hubert Hurkacz in the third round, who was impressive for Poland at the ATP Cup, before meeting either the explosive Denis Shapovalov, or three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov, with that third round encounter between the Canadian and the Bulgarian set to be an exhilarating battle.

However, back to Federer, can he make the semi-finals, and then defeat Djokovic, and then defeat Nadal in the final to claim his 21st Grand Slam singles title, and maybe secure his place as probably the greatest male tennis player of all-time? Only time will tell!

My predicted fourth round match-up: (18) Grigor Dimitrov vs. (3) Roger Federer

 

Section Seven

Last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas should have little difficulty in reaching the third round to face 2016 Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic, who is on the rebound from a back injury which kept him out of the 2019 Davis Cup Finals in Madrid, but Tsitsipas faces a potential banana skin in 2012 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round before his meeting with the Canadian in the third round ahead of a potential fourth round classic with 2019 Wimbledon semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut, who has really been in career-best form, particularly at the ATP Cup where he didn’t lose a match.

However, the Spaniard has to face fellow countryman and four-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Feliciano López, and then either Benoît Paire or 2014 US Open champion Marin Čilić in the third round before a meeting with Tsitsipas.

However, given the amazing form of Bautista Agut, Tsitsipas will have his work cut out if he is to match his performance last year at Melbourne Park, and maybe restore the respect of his parents after his antics in the match against Nick Kyrgios at the ATP Cup in Brisbane.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (6) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. (9) Roberto Bautista Agut

 

Section Eight

Fresh off leading Serbia to the inaugural ATP Cup crown, and winning each of his singles matches during the event, Novak Djokovic should have no problems in reaching the second week of the 2020 Australian Open, with three-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Diego Schwartzman likely to be his greatest challenge before the quarter-finals, but the greater question is can Djokovic go onto win his eighth Australian Open, and his 17th Grand Slam title to close the gap to Nadal and Federer? Few would bet against him, but nothing can be taken for granted, especially against Federer in a semi-final, and Nadal in a final.

My predicted fourth round match-up: (14) Diego Schwartzman vs. (2) Novak Djokovic

 

My predicted quarter-final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (20) Félix Auger-Aliassime

(4) Daniil Medvedev vs. (11) David Goffin

(8) Matteo Berrettini vs. (3) Roger Federer

(9) Roberto Bautista Agut vs. (2) Novak Djokovic

 

My predicted semi-final match-ups

(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (4) Daniil Medvedev

(3) Roger Federer vs. (2) Novak Djokovic

 

My predicted final match-up

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

 

2020 Australian Open men’s singles champion

(3) Roger Federer

2019-20 Australia vs. New Zealand Test Series – Preview

Australia versus New Zealand. One of the great rivalries in world sport, and in cricket that is no exception, and although New Zealand haven’t won a Test series against Australia, either on home soil or on Australian soil, since they won the only test match against Australia back in March, 1990 at the Basin Reserve, and a Test series with multiple test matches against Australia in either New Zealand or Australia since February and March of 1986, where New Zealand won the third and final test match at Eden Park in Auckland to claim a one-nil series victory, the Black Caps are the higher-ranked team according to the ICC Test Match Rankings, second in the rankings behind India, while Australia is ranked fifth, just behind South Africa (4th) and England (3rd).

However, Australia have moved up into second behind India in the ICC World Test Championship after their completely dominant two-nil series victory against Pakistan, and despite winning their recent two-match series against England (1-0), which was not a part of the ICC Test Match Championship, New Zealand (60 points) come into this Test series third in the ICC Test Match Championship, but 116 points behind Australia (176 points), and 300 points behind India (360 points) after drawing their two-match series against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka back in August.

So, who are going to be the key players in this series?

The Australian top order of David Warner, Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne starred in the two-match series against Pakistan, and while Burns scored 101 runs at an average of 50.50, Warner and Labuschagne dominated the Pakistan bowlers, with Warner rebounding from a torrid Ashes series in England, where he only scored 95 runs in five test matches (10 innings) at an average of just 9.50, to scoring a series-leading 489 runs from two innings (one not out), including his highest Test match score of 335 not out in Adelaide, the first time anyone has scored 300 or more in a Test match innings at the Adelaide Oval, and the second-highest Test match score by an Australian, while Labuschagne scored 347 runs at an average of 173.50, scoring his first two Test match centuries in the process.

However, you sense the main man for this Test series for Australia as far as the batting is concerned will be Steve Smith, and despite his lean series against Pakistan, his 774 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 110.57 with three centuries in the 2019 Ashes series is still not far from mind, and he is just 186 runs away, with two test matches remaining in 2019, from scoring 1,000 runs for the fifth time in the last six calendar years. It would be an extraordinary achievement, even by Steve Smith standards, given the difficult times he has had over the last year or so, circumstances we all know so well!

Of course, the Australian bowling attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, and Nathan Lyon, who were incidentally the Top Four wicket-takers in the two-match series against Pakistan, with Cummins (51 wickets from 10 matches (19 innings) at 20.31) the only bowler to have taken 50 Test match wickets or more in 2019, will play a huge role, but you sense that Matthew Wade, Travis Head, and Australian captain Tim Paine will need to lift with the bat for Australia (if and when they get the chance) if they are to continue their superiority against New Zealand.

Looking at New Zealand, the obvious key player is their captain in Kane Williamson, who has scored 500 runs in Australia from five test matches (10 innings, one not out) at an average of 55.55. Williamson is also 43 runs away from scoring 500 runs in eight-consecutive calendar years, currently averaging 76.16, which is currently his second-best average in a calendar having averaged 90.15 back in 2015. Williamson was also the leading run-scorer for New Zealand when they last toured Australia back in 2015, scoring 428 runs in three test matches (six innings, one not out) at an average of 85.60.

Ross Taylor is also a vital player for the Black Caps, having scored 405 runs in three test matches (six innings, one not out) at an average of 81.00, including scoring 290 at the WACA, which is his highest test match score, and the third-highest by a New Zealander. Taylor is also 153 runs away from becoming the third Kiwi to score 1,000 Test match runs against Australia.

However, those two will need to be supported by the underrated Tom Latham and BJ Watling, who have scored 525 runs at 65.62 (six test matches, eight innings), and 482 runs at 80.33 (six test matches, seven innings, one not out) respectively in 2019, as well as their bowling attack of Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, and Mitchell Santner.

Boult is under an injury cloud with a side strain injury, along with Colin de Grandhomme, who has an abdominal tear, injuries which kept both of them out of the second test match against England.

Boult was the equal-leading wicket-taker in the 2015 series in Australia, taking 13 wickets, while Wagner is New Zealand’s leading wicket-tacker in 2019, taking 29 wickets at 16.62, but like with Australia with Wade and Head, the likes of Jeet Raval, and Henry Nicholls will need to lift with the bat if New Zealand are going to win their first Test series on Australian soil since 1985.

So, who will win the Test series between Australia and New Zealand?

New Zealand have just won eight of their 57 test matches against Australia overall, with only three of those victories coming in Australia, but they have never won against Australia at either the Melbourne Cricket Ground in three test matches (two draws), or the Sydney Cricket Ground in two test matches (one draw), and have never played at the Optus Stadium in Perth, and although you sense New Zealand are at the top of their games in Test match cricket right now, you certainly can see Australia are on the rise once again, and when that happens, it is close to impossible to defeat them in a Test series in Australia.

AUSTRALIA TO WIN THE SERIES 2-0, WITH A DRAW IN EITHER MELBOURNE OR SYDNEY.

 

2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Preview

It was a masterful performance in an entertaining and chaotic 2019 Brazil Grand Prix by Max Verstappen at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in São Paulo to claim his third race victory of the season, the eighth win of his career after starting from pole position for the second time, and while Verstappen produced one of the great drives in his young career to date, others had problems with Valtteri Bottas retiring from the race with an oil pressure issues on Lap 52, both Ferrari’s taking each other out with arguably the most innocuous collision in Formula One history, and Lewis Hamilton making a rare mistake in taking out Alexander Albon from podium contention for what would have been Albon’s first podium, and after Hamilton’s five-second penalty after the race allowed both Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz Jr. to claim their first podium’s in Formula One.

Now, the grid heads to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi for the 21st and final round of the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship, the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Hamilton (387 points), despite finishing seventh in Brazil after the five-second penalty for the collision with Albon, still extended his lead over his Mercedes teammate Bottas (314 points) to 73 points, and now has the opportunity to not only match his race victory tally in 2014 and 2018, as well as score 400 points or more for the second-straight season, but also finish every race of a season for the second time in his career.

Hamilton will also have the opportunity to equal his own record of most consecutive points finishes in Formula One history with 33-straight points finishes. Hamilton, coming into this weekend, has finished 65 of his last 66 races inside the points, with his retirement at the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix being the only race he hasn’t finished inside the points since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, where his engine and ultimately his world championship hopes went up in flames after leading the race comfortably!

Bottas will also be looking to finish his season on a high, and prove to himself that he has the capabilities to challenge Hamilton in 2020!

Verstappen (260 points) moves up into third in the championship for Red Bull Racing-Honda, and will be battling for third-place in the standings this weekend with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc (249 points), who surrendered third in the world championship to Verstappen after his collision with teammate Sebastian Vettel in Brazil.

For Verstappen to finish third in the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship:

1. If Leclerc wins the race (with the fastest lap), Verstappen must finish in second.

2. If Leclerc wins the race (without the fastest lap), Verstappen must finish third or higher (with or without the fastest lap).

3. If Leclerc finishes second (with or without the fastest lap), Verstappen must finish sixth or higher (with or without the fastest lap).

4. If Leclerc finishes third (with the fastest lap), Verstappen must finish seventh or higher.

5. If Leclerc finishes third (without the fastest lap), Verstappen must finish eighth or higher (with or without the fastest lap).

6. If Leclerc finishes fourth (with the fastest lap), Verstappen must finish ninth or higher.

7. If Leclerc finishes fourth (without the fastest lap), Verstappen must finish 10th or higher (with the fastest lap if he finishes in 10th).

8. If Leclerc finishes fifth or lower (with or without the fastest lap).

Vettel (230 points) is fifth in the championship after losing his chance to finish third in the final standings after his race-ending collision with Leclerc in Brazil, but still has the opportunity to finish fourth in the world championship in front of his teammate if he can out-score Leclerc by 19/20 points in Abu Dhabi.

Behind the Top Five, there is the battle for sixth between Gasly (95 points) of Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda, Sainz (95 points) of McLaren-Renault, and Albon (84 points) of Red Bull Racing-Honda, while Daniel Ricciardo (54 points) from Renault, and Sergio Pérez (46 points) from Racing Point-BWT Mercedes complete the Top 10, with Lando Norris (45 points) from McLaren-Renault, Kimi Räikkönen (43 points) from Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari, Nico Hülkenberg (37 points) from Renault, and Daniil Kvyat (35 points) from Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda still a realistic chance of finishing the championship inside the Top 10 in the standings.

Looking at the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (701 points) will finish in first, ahead of Ferrari (479 points) in second, Red Bull Racing-Honda (391 points) in third, and McLaren-Renault (140 points) in fourth. The battle remains open though for fifth between Renault (91 points) and Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (83 points), as well as the fight for seventh between Racing Point-BWT Mercedes (67 points) and Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari (57 points). Haas-Ferrari (28 points) will likely finish in ninth, ahead of Williams-Mercedes (one point), who will finish in 10th, barring a minor miracle!

So, who will win the final race of 2019?

I feel like at a circuit which typically offers little shocks or surprises, that a dominant performance from Lewis Hamilton, especially given the race he had in Brazil, would be expected, but you cannot rule out Ferrari, or Max Verstappen from Red Bull Racing-Honda giving him a run for his money in the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix!

2019 Newcastle 500 – Preview

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Scott McLaughlin clinched his second Supercars Championship last time out at the 2019 Sandown 500, with McLaughlin and his co-driver Alexandre Prémat finished in a lowly ninth, but the drama since the 2019 Bathurst 1000 victory for Car No.17, and for McLaughlin, Prémat, and DJR Team Penske has continued, with of course the penalty surrounding Car No.12 at Bathurst of Fabian Coulthard, who was in the car at the time, and Tony D’Alberto for holding up the field after the safety car was deployed on Lap 135 of the Bathurst 1000, allowing Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin to escape up the road to have essentially a free pit-stop, and was the catalyst for Car No.17 to win the 2019 Bathurst 1000.

Then, we had the revelation from CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport) and Supercars at Sandown in regards to the qualifying engine of Car No.17 that “the valve lift in a number of cylinders was found to have exceeded the maximum permitted valve lift prescribed”, and then the subsequent penalty for Car No.17 to be disqualified from qualifying at the 2019 Bathurst 1000, and therefore being stripped of their pole position at Bathurst, DJR Team Penske being fined $30,000, and Car No.17 being forced to start the Sandown 500 from the back of the grid, but crucially were able to keep their victory in the 2019 Bathurst 1000.

Now, the way that CAMS, which will become Motorsport Australia in 2020, and Supercars stewards decided to punish Car No.17 was an admission, without actually saying it, is that they had made a mistake in not punishing Car No.17 and DJR Team Penske earlier, as in at the Bathurst 1000, and it is not the first mistake CAMS and Supercars have made in 2019, and both of them are going to have to have a deep review of their technical and sporting operations in the off-season heading into 2020.

However, despite all the conjecture and debate about the credibility and validity of the success of Scott McLaughlin, DJR Team Penske, and the Ford Mustang, the one thing is for sure is that McLaughlin is a deserving two-time Supercars champion, and it will be celebrated at the 2019 Newcastle 500, the 15th and final round of the 2019 Supercars Championship.

McLaughlin (3614 points) leads the championship by an unassailable 550 points over Shane Van Gisbergen (3064 points) from Triple Eight Race Engineering, who is in a three-way battle for second in the championship with his teammate Jamie Whincup (2968 points), and McLaughlin’s teammate in Fabian Coulthard (2791 points) heading into Newcastle.

Behind the Top Four, Chaz Mostert (2705 points) is fifth in the standings for Tickford Racing, and is still a chance of finishing third in the championship, while David Reynolds (2517 points) will finish outside of the Top Three in the final standings for Erebus Motorsport regardless of what happens on the streets of Newcastle.

Then, there is a huge five-way fight for what will be likely seventh in the championship between Tickford Racing’s Cameron Waters (2387 points) and two of his teammates in Will Davison (2369 points) and Lee Holdsworth (2323 points), as well as Nick Percat from Brad Jones Racing and James Courtney from Walkinshaw Andretti United, the team that he will be leaving after the Newcastle 500 to join the new Sydney team in 2020.

Looking at the Teams’ Championship, there is 116 points separating DJR Team Penske (6101 points) and Triple Eight Race Engineering (5985 points) with the battle being reinvigorated after the 300 point penalty handed out to DJR Team Penske after the actions of the team in telling Fabian Coulthard to hold up the field at Bathurst.

In regards to the Newcastle Street Circuit, it is important to note that the track has been lengthened by 12 metres to 2.641 kilometres, with the Turn 11 hairpin being revised, with the approach into Turn 11 being lengthened by 11.5 metres.

So, who will win the 2019 Newcastle 500?

I think all the distractions that have happened over the last few weeks, plus the crash on the Gold Coast have really affected Scott McLaughlin, but with the distractions largely out of the way, I think McLaughlin will dominate the Newcastle 500, winning both races to finish his largely incredible season in style!

 

2019-20 Australia vs. Pakistan Test Series – Preview

On Thursday, it will be the start of the first Test match and subsequently test series of the Australian summer of cricket, but it feels much bigger than that!

It is the return of Steve Smith and David Warner to play their first test match in Australia since the 4th to the 8th of January, 2018, when Australia completed a four-nil Ashes series victory against England, but a lot has changed since then, with the Ball Tampering Scandal just over two months later in South Africa, with Smith, Warner, and Cameron Bancroft, the player who committed the attempted ball tampering, were banned from playing international and domestic cricket for 12, 12, and nine months respectively, with Smith and Bancroft banned from holding a formal leadership position for a further 12 months, and Warner never allowed to hold a formal leadership position in Australian cricket, and as a result, Australia have only achieved one test series victory since then, which was a two-nil series victory against Sri Lanka in the 2018-19 Australian summer.

However, although there is still a lingering feeling, a very minute feeling that others involved, most if not all of them no longer working for Cricket Australia, haven’t taken full responsibility for their roles in the Ball Tampering Scandal, and the subsequent aftermath, you feel like everyone who is within the current Australian team set-up have moved on from that harrowing experience.

774 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 110.57 with three centuries, and a further three scores of 50 or more from Smith during the 2019 Ashes series in England, and you sense that he has taken his batting to a whole new level, but despite this incredible series, the fifth-most runs scored in any Ashes series in history, Australia were unable to win the series, and the pressure will be on Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, and Matthew Wade to lift their games.

Labuschagne was Australia’s next best batsman after stepping up in place of Smith to become the first concussion substitute in the history of Test match cricket, scoring 353 runs in four test matches (seven innings) at an average of 50.42 with four fifties, and while Wade was solid in scoring 337 runs in five test matches (10 innings) with two crucial centuries, although at the slightly mediocre average of 33.70, every other Australian batsman scored less than 200 runs, with Warner scoring just 95 runs in five test matches (10 innings) at an average of just 9.50.

However, Warner’s form since returning to Australia has been more promising, and given his record of 3698 runs in 38 test matches in Australia (67 innings, five times NOT OUT) at an average of 59.64 with 15 hundreds and a further 12 fifties, Warner is surely going to play a huge role, not only in this test series against Pakistan, but also in the test series against New Zealand.

Tim Paine has been excellent since taking over the Australian captaincy, not only in terms of his leadership, but also his wicket-keeping, taking 20 catches in the 2019 Ashes series, while the bowling attack of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, and Nathan Lyon in Australian conditions pick themselves, and while Cummins (29 wickets (leading series wicket-taker) at 19.62), and Hazlewood (20 wickets at 21.85) were superb throughout the 2019 Ashes series, and Lyon (20 wickets at 33.40) bowled generally in his consistent normal self, you feel like Starc has a point to prove after playing in just one of the five test matches in England, taking four wickets at an average of 31.50, and being overlooked for the likes of James Pattinson (five wickets at 33.40), and Peter Siddle (seven wickets at 42.14).

Meanwhile, Pakistan are quietly building a team that could be very competitive in Australia with captain Azhar Ali expected to lead the way with the bat, having scored 406 runs in three test matches (six innings, one time NOT OUT) at an average of 81.20 back in the 2016-17 series in Australia to be the second-leading run-scorer in the series behind Smith (441 runs at 110.25), which from an Australia point of view happened after the series between Australia and South Africa, which featured the Hobart Debacle, and in hindsight, the events afterwards were the catalyst to what happened about a year and a half later.

On paper, you would expect that the job of the top order of Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, and Haris Sohail to lay a good and solid platform to allow the likes of Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam the ability to shine!

Asad Shafiq was good in patches in the 2016-17 series in Australia, scoring 239 runs in three test matches (six innings) at an average of 39.83, including 137 in the second innings in the first test match at The Gabba in Brisbane to help Pakistan to within 40 runs of what would have been an historic victory, earning the Player of the Match award in the process, while Babar Azam has been dominant in the shorter forms of the game, averaging over 50 in both One Day International cricket (3359 runs in 74 matches at 54.17) and Twenty20 International cricket (1405 runs in 36 matches at 50.17). If he can translate this level of run-scoring into this Test series, and in his Test career in general, where he has scored 1235 runs from 21 matches (40 innings, five times NOT OUT) at an average of 35.28, he could potentially be the difference.

Mohammad Rizwan should be the wicket-keeper, replacing the sacked Sarfaraz Ahmed, but the bowling attack is set to be a mixture of experience and youth. Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas are set to be a part of the attack, with both of them set to bowl a lot of overs throughout the course of the series.

Yasir Shah struggled badly in the 2016-17 series in Australia (8 wickets in three test matches at an average of 84.00, and will be looking to perform better this time around, while Mohammad Abbas (66 wickets in 14 test matches at 18.86) will be the man with the task of bringing down the juggernaut that is the great Steve Smith, and you almost feel from a Pakistan point of view that Mohammad Abbas has to be the Player of the Series if Pakistan are to win a series against Australia in Australia for the very first time.

Then you got competition for the final two spots in the bowling attack between Imran Khan, Muhammad Musa, Naseem Shah, and Shaheen Afridi. If Naseem Shah makes his test match debut on Thursday, he will become the youngest player to play a test match on Australian soil in what would be just his eighth first class match, having taken 27 wickets at an average of 16.66 in his seven first class matches to date.

So, who will win the series?

Pakistan have won just four of their 35 test matches against Australia in Australia, and haven’t won a test match in Australia since November 30 to December 4, 1995 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Pakistan have also never won at either The Gabba (one draw in five test matches) or the Adelaide Oval (three draws in four test matches), but you sense they have a better chance on paper at the Adelaide Oval compared to The Gabba, but while you sense Pakistan are on the rise, you just have that inkling that Australia are going to be better at the crucial moments during this series and that will be the difference in the end!

AUSTRALIA TO WIN THE SERIES 2-0.