Australia’s greatest fighter… ever!

Lleyton Hewitt in full flight - our greatest fighter ever.

Australia’s been blessed with any number of sporting greats. We’ve always punched above our weight as a sporting nation and many of our heroes have been renowned for their fight. But this week I witnessed a performance that I rate among the greatest ever displays of fighting spirit by any Australian sportsman or woman… ever!

Lleyton Hewitt, currently ranked some 150 in the world played Novak Djokovic, the current World Number 1. Hewitt’s hardly played in two years, fighting an ongoing battle with various injuries that’s seem him hospitalised for six or more surgical procedures. Djokovic had just about the greatest year any tennis player’s ever had in 2011… he won 10 titles including no less than three Majors (the Australian, Wimbledon and US Open). He held a winning streak of 43 matches in a row (only beaten by two other players in history – Vilas with 46 wins and Lendl with 44).

Pete Sampras declared Djokovic’s season as the best he has ever seen in his lifetime, calling it “one of the best achievements in all of sports.” Boris Becker called Djokovic’s season “one of the very best years in tennis of all time,” adding that “while it may not be THE best statistically, he’s had to beat two of the best ever in Federer and Nadal. He’s beaten everybody that came around to challenge him in the biggest tournaments in the world.”

Hewitt had done brilliantly to even make the 4th round, with stirring wins over Cedrik-Marcel Stebe,Andy Roddick and Milos Raonic (ranked by his peers as the best newcomer to the tour in 2011, ahead of Bernard Tomic). Djokovic had progressed to the 4th round in a canter, losing a total of just six games in three matches.

The Joker started the match on fire, winning the first set 6-1, even though Lleyton was hitting the ball well. The Aussie didn’t win a serve until part-way through the 2nd set and was soon down 2 sets to nil and 3-0 in the 3rd, a break down. The match seemed as good as over. But incredibly, even at that stage, Hewitt still believed he could win it!

The power of his shots increased to a level not seen for years. He challenged the Serb champion to pass him by attacking the net at every opportunity. The tide turned. Hewitt’s renowned intensity reached new heights and was matched in the players’ box by his coach Tony Roche, another Aussie icon. Out of nowhere, Hewitt claimed a break to lead 5-4 and was serving for the set.

He had no right to be in this position. His damaged left big toe had him grimacing in pain every time he was stretched wide and landed on that side. But he fought through that barrier… and the fact he was playing the current best player in the world on his favourite surface. He just refused to lose.

In that crucial 10th game of the 3rd set, Lleyton couldn’t buy a first serve… yet still he fought his way to set point. Djokovic smashed outright winners to save one, then another set point. It took three deuces before the courageous Australian forced a forehand error to take that 3rd set, but when he did, he looked up at Team Hewitt and the pride in his performance combined with the effort it had taken to wrest a set from the top seed caused that firm chin nto quiver ever so slightly.

Beaten but never defeated

He didn’t win the match, fighting hard in the fourth too before going down 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3… but we didn’t win at Gallipoli either. I was so in admiration of the fight I’d just seen, so pumped by the best effort Lleyton Hewitt has put in for many years that even though the match finished at around 1:10am, I was still wide awake at 2:30. An awesome display that made you proud to be Australian.

Good on you Lleyton… and Happy Australia Day to everyone.

P.S. It would be remiss to not also mention the phenomenal effort of Bernard Tomic in this Australian Open. At 19, he has the world at his feet. I hoped he watched Lleyton’s match. If he can add a fair dose of Hewitt’s fighting spirit to his immense natural talent, his future at the top end of the game is assured. Add to that the excellent performances of James Duckworth and Matt Ebden in the main draw and Luke Saville, Andrew Harris, Chris O’Connell and Jack Schipanski in the Juniors, along with the mercurial talent that is Ashleigh Barty and the future of Australian tennis is suddenly looking very bright indeed.

Dunaden chalks up another win for the DD Blog!

We can now add Dunaden to the Sea Eagles among the list of winners tipped right here in the DD Blog this year. But how close was it? The tightest finish ever in a Melbourne Cup.

Dunaden by a nose!

The tip was there for all to see yesterday, complete with a photo of the French stayer winning the Geelong Cup last month. And what a price! $9.10 for the win and $3.40 the place on the NSW TAB… great odds if you took the tip.

Unfortunately, while this punter backed both Dunaden and 3rd placegetter Lucas Cranach each way for a nice little earn, I missed out on the Trifecta when American finished just behind the placegetters in 4th place. Red Cadeaux was not among the five I boxed.

All in all, another great Cup Day in another great year of sport. (Now if only Federer can win the end of year ATP World Tour Finals in a couple of weeks time!)

It’s Cup Day!

My outsider Mourayan has just been scratched!

That stuffs up my multiples (Trifectas and First 4) but I still think I can back a winner today. In fact, I think the first four across the line could be… the first four!

I’m tipping No. 3, Dunaden, to win. And I think the placegetters could well be No. 2 Jukebox Jury and the defending champ Americain (No. 1). So why not tip No. 4 Drunken Sailor to complete your First 4? (You heard it here first!)

Dunaden wins the 2011 Geelong Cup

If you’re looking for a lightweight at good value, I’d recommend a small wager on No. 18, Moyenne Corniche or Gai’s best chance, No. 22 Tullamore. What a year for the imports… just 3 locally bred stayers in Australia’s greatest race (or at least our most popular). That’s a disgrace. It speaks volume about the industry’s obsession for breeding speedsters to win the big prizemoney on offer for sprint races over short distances. But just three out of 24 starters in The Cup… (bloody Hell!).

Anyway, it’s a great day to party. Here at the Double Drummer offices in Sydney, the first guests start arriving at Noon. The first beer slips down easily soon after, the sweeps are all sorted by 1:00pm and the chicken and prawns are served by 1:3pm. We gather round the big screen in the boardroom to watch the race that stops a nation and then after the congratulations and commiserations, the sportsfest begins.

Today it’s pool (the boardroom table converts to an 8 x 4 pool table), Foosball, mini-table tennis and the real size and darts. The drinks keep flowing (a worry when you walk past the darts comp.) and the last guests stumble out around 7pm… just in time for our Tuesday night tennis comp.!

So whether you’re on course at Flemington or Randwick or just enjoying a party at the office, happy Cup Day Australia!

Sea Eagles to claim another Premiership

Another season… another Grand Final for Manly.

Des Hasler has now guided the mighty Sea Eagles into seven consecutive Finals appearances and three Grand Finals in five seasons… what a coach!

I just can’t see Manly losing this Sunday’s decider. This team seems unstoppable… young inexperienced halves and bench players playing like 200 game veterans! Veterans like Jamie Lyon, Michael Robertson, Shane Rodney and Joe Galuvao playing like youngsters at the peak of their powers. The whole team playing with aggression, purpose and power. What a coach!

Speaking of Galuvao, how does Russell Crowe’s “forget football and become a Pastor” advice look now? Big Joe’s been sensational for Manly this year and this weekend appears in his 3rd Grand Final since ignoring The Gladiator’s advice to retire! Go Joe!

Manly were again terrific against the Broncos in the Preliminary Final last Friday night. On fire from the start, the game was as good as over after 20 minutes. As hard as they tried, Brisbane was never going to recover from a 16-0 deficit in a game of this magnitude, given Manly are playing with so much confidence.

Yes there was the odd defensive lapse… (like allowing Corey Parker to offload for Wallace to score and Georgie Rose tackling the post instead) and the Broncos were very unlucky not to have at least two more tries on the board. (What a tackle by Killer!) But I felt Manly butchered a couple of try scoring opportunities too… and yet they always seemed to have the Broncos’ measure.

As for the Warriors… they were simply brilliant against the Storm – particularly in that second half. It was undoubtedly their most disciplined and controlled effort of the season – their best game by far. I kept waiting for Melbourne to ‘storm home’… for one of ‘the Big 3’ to do something extra brilliant to steal victory… but the Warriors’ effort in defence was outstanding.

Strangely enough, I think that could be their undoing this weekend. They just may have played their ‘Grand Final’ a week early.

And having returned home across the Ditch from Melbourne on the weekend, they’ve had just two days of euphoria with the locals before having to turn around and come back to Oz for all the Grand Final hoopla occurring in the lead up to this weekend. There’ll be media interviews galore; the Grand Final Breakfast; the Footy Show special on Thursday night; different training grounds; that away from home ‘stranger in a strange place’ kinda feeling to deal with all week. And most of the Warriors are new to this.

In contrast, the Sea Eagles are training at Narrabeen all week – business as usual. 10 or more of the squad have the experience of having played in at least one Grand Final and young Hoppa has already played in the cauldron that is State of Origin this year.

Jamie Buhrer - Match Winner

Matai would have been a massive loss in the centres, but with Steve having no charge to answer for that incident with Yow Yeh and T-Rex also able to play and continue his incredible late season form, the Footballing Gods that Gus Gould quotes so regularly seem to be smiling on the Eagles.And while the Warriors have their own brilliant youngsters (notably Locke and Johnson) I’ll back Cherry-Evans and Foran to continue their rare vein of form… and (here’s a tip) I honestly think Jamie Buhrer could prove the match winner. (You heard it here first.)

Spring and Sport – what a combination!

And what a week for a tennis tragic and mad Sea Eagles fan. First up, the mighty Manly plays its way into a Grand Final qualifier by scoring more points in a half of Finals football than any other team has ever done in the history of this great game. Then slammin’ Sammy Stosur cleans up Serena Williams in the Final of the US Open… in straight sets!

Coach of the Year

Let’s take a quick look at the magnitude of these achievements in isolation. First the Sea Eagles. At the start of the year, who would honestly have expected them to be in this position? Surely not even their diehard fans (of which I claim to be one). They had two new and inexperienced halves… Brett Stewart remained under an injury cloud… surely this would be a season in which the groundwork would be laid for a future premiership tilt – perhaps next year.

Forget that! Des Hasler has these guys believing they can win ‘the big one’ in 3 weeks time… and who could doubt him? I was amazed they finished 2nd in the Minor Premiership race, going undefeated at home all season. I was astounded they accounted for Melbourne so ruthlessly in the now infamous ‘Battle of Brookie’ … the Storm were never in that match! I was thrilled when they went to Brisbane for Locky’s last regular season game, very much under-strength… yet flew home with the wind in their sails and gave the Broncos an almighty fright.

And I was rapt when they played the Cowboys last weekend – again without Glenn Stewart, Jason King, Darcy Lussick… and with their youngsters never having played a Finals match. They were up against a team that contained ‘the best halfback in the world’ and ‘the best prop in Australia’ and a team that boasted a heap of other rep. players too (think Tate, Bowen, Tonga, etc.). And in the first half, the Sea Eagles weren’t at their best. They seemed a bit nervous and allowed Thurston the time and room to do his thing.

But in the 2nd half, they unleashed! 42 points in 37 minutes (or thereabouts)! What a performance. T-Rex was

What a Grand Final it would be!

smashing through defenders and throwing no look passes like he was Benji Marshall. Killer was superb as he has been all season. The Snake was back to his try-sniffing best. And those young halves… to quote Gus Gould: “WOW!” Now they play either Brisbane or St George for a well earned place in the Grand Final. I can see them there fer sure and I think they’ll play the Tigers. (Although what a build up it would be if it was a Manly v Melbourne decider again!) GO MANLY!!!

Then to Sam. I proved myself to be a bad judge again. I always knew she had all the weapons to win a Grand Slam… I just didn’t think she had the mental strength to go with her skills and fitness. Again, I was happy to be proven well and truly wrong. There was no repeat of her nervous performance in her first Grand Slam Final appearance in Paris last year. She took on the best female player on the planet and undoubtedly one of the all time greats, in her own backyard on a day that meant so much to all Americans… and she wiped the court with her!

Sam Stosur - Grand Slam Champion!

Sam was incredible. She simply blew Serena away in the first set. In the second, Sam only faltered for one game after Ms. Williams used that well documented altercation with the umpire to reignite her desire… then she returned to her game plan and executed it perfectly. Her serve was magnificent! Varied placement (unlike in her Semi.), varied spin and varied pace. Her sliced backhand was impeccable… the shot that made the difference. Deep and staying low, it was such a contrast to the heavy top spin forehands used as her main weapon. And this combination kept the American off balance throughout the match. Sam Stosur – Grand Slam Singles Winner! When she hit that last brilliant off-forehand crosscourt winner off a Serena second serve, I swear I almost burst into tears of joy.

Well done Sammy… just amazing!

Now it’s over to the Wallabies to add the Rugby World Cup to Sam’s US Open trophy and Cadel Evans’ Tour de France. (Ah, it’s good to be an Aussie!)

What a week in sport!

You have to give credit where credit’s due… though I was cheering for The Blues, Queensland were just too bloody good last night… again!

Farewell to a Legend

The Blues were brave throughout the entire series providing many encouraging signs for the future… but in terms of the here and now, that first 30 minutes of the decider simply killed us. The Maroons were perfect… and we made numerous mistakes… and that was where the game was won and lost.

There were stand out performances from both teams. For The Blues, our wingers were great and I thought Luke Lewis was fantastic. Glenn Stewart was very good in his comeback match for NSW and his Manly team mate Choc Watmough was dangerous every time he touched the ball. Gasnier was good once he got involved and Hayne showed flashes of brilliance but just has to get his hands on the ball more often.

Mitchell Pearce did some great things and will be a superstar… but he still has a fair way to go. (Best in the world Ricky? You can’t be serious. Both QLD halves are a mile ahead of him at this stage.) Speaking of which, terrible to see JT badly injured like that. Here’s hoping it’s not the end of the season for him. As for Soward… I’m sorry – I don’t want to bag the young guy and I know he played very well in the last third of the 2nd game… but for mine he’s just not Origin material. At least, not yet. His kicking game last night was very ordinary. I think he really only ran the ball once or twice… and what was he doing marking man mountain Greg Inglis? Talk about a mismatch.

The NSW pack was solid, but Petro did in Game 3 for QLD what Gallen did for us in Game 2. He continues to amaze. Our Skipper had another fine game, tackling himself to a standstill and taking the ball up all night… but whatever the Cane Toads tried turn to gold. Thurston’s kick for Inglis to score – brilliant! The bounce of the ball that resulted in Yow Yeh’s try… just the luck of the game. But the passes from Slater to Thaiday in the first half and the reverse scenario in the 2nd were just sublime. And the legend that is Darren Lockyer had another wonderful game in his last in the maroon colours. As much as I wanted the Blues to win, it’s always good to see a great player go out a winner.

But he’s gone now… and next year, it’s our turn! Well done to Ricky Stuart and the team for a very solid 2011 campaign. We will win next year. (You heard it here first.)

In the meantime, another Wimbledon has come and gone. A great tournament, a great spectacle… but please All England Club – make it a true grasscourt tournament again! The courts are made for claycourt baseliners – that’s all there is to it. Nadal and Djokovic are great players… but I would have liked to have seen them on a fast court against Pat Rafter at his best. It was a case of not knowing who to cheer for once Federer (and then Tsonga) were knocked out. The Serb is undoubtedly a terrific player and worthy World No. 1 … but I am so sick of his time wasting ball bouncing prior to serving. At one stage in the Final I counted no less than 28 times he bounced the ball before hitting a serve! That’s simply not fair in my book and officials should do something about it.

The ladies event saw a new champion born. Petra Kvitova is something else. This lady could quickly climb to the Number 1 spot and stay there awhile. Incredibly impressive and a really nice person as well. And then to the juniors…

Luke Saville

Australia wins both the Boys and Girls singles titles at Wimbledon for the first time ever! Sensational stuff! Congratulations to Luke Saville who came from a set and a break down to break British hearts one more time… a really gritty performance.

And to Ashleigh Barty who wins this prestigious title at just 15, turning in one of the most composed performances I’ve ever seen in a big match from any player of any age! So good to see some good juniors coming through.

Ash Barty

 

Lastly, congratulations also to Bernard Tomic on a massive effort to make the Quarters of the main draw. If only he’d pushed hard at a set all and 3-1 up against Djokovic with two points for a 4-1 lead in that 3rd set. He went walkabout for 6 games or so to let the Serb back in and with all his experience, ‘The Joker’ wasn’t going to knock back that opportunity. Keep going Bernard… learn from Rafter, Hewitt and Co., embrace playing for Australia and stay focused on realising your undoubted potential. The future for Australian tennis looks good for the first time in a long time.

Congrats to Australia’s new No. 1

Bernard Tomic’s win against the World No. 5 Robin Soderling is the most incredible feat by an Australian sportsman this year. Having thrashed former World No. 3 Nicolai Davydenko in the first round… then recovered from 2 sets to love down to defeat another Russian, Igor Andreev in 5… to then defeat the 5thbest player on the planet with a mixture of guile, skill and poise way beyond his 18 years was just an unbelievable effort!

A-Tomic in action at Wimbledon

What about that first set! It took all of 17 minutes for the young Aussie to destroy Soderling 6-1. There were 32 points played in the entire set… and Tomic won 25 of them! At one stage he won 15 straight points! The way he mixed up pace and depth never let the big Swede get settled… Soderling couldn’t handle Tomic’s low sliced backhand… had no idea when the rally would change from puddling to pelting… couldn’t get a feel for where the Aussie would serve next. It was quite simply, amazing.

He’ll surely beat Xavier Malisse in the 4th round tonight to set up a massive, mouth-watering encounter with Djokovic in the Quarters. What a tournament for the kid we’re not sure how to take. He’s been the problem child of Australian tennis since he was 14 or younger. The feeling was he was being awarded undeserved wild cards in big tournaments ahead of other juniors because of the pressure his father John was bringing to bear on Tennis Australia – threatening to ‘do a Dokic’ and take his Australian-born son back to eastern Europe.

Fresh from a promising debut in the 2009 Australian Open when he beat Starace, Tomic was awarded a wild card into that year’s French Open but angered officials with a listless effort, with some in attendance claiming he’d ‘tanked’. He again earned the ire of Tennis Australia when failing to play a wild card playoff event for direct entry into last January’s Australian Open citing illness, only to be spotted practising on the Gold Coast later that day. There have been well documented run-ins with umpires and other officials too (including one of ‘road rage’ for want of a better euphemism).

But today, win or lose another match, Bernard Tomic aged 18 is now the number 1 ranked player in Australia… and that deserves our congratulations. With Pat Rafter’s ascendancy to the Davis Cup captaincy, it seems relationships are being repaired and the teenager’s form is fast improving. He’ll undoubtedly play the upcoming Davis Cup tie against China, sharing the singles duties with Lleyton Hewitt. Let’s hope all the troubles are now behind him and Australia can now cheer as one for a new tennis hero. (God knows, we need one.)

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