July 2 – July 8, 2016
Just when we think we’ve reached the pinnacle of sporting summer weekends, you remember that the Rio Olympics is just around the corner. But for now, international sports action, which went on a rampage for the last two months, has now reached its final weekend for the season.
Let’s take a look at the happenings over the last week in sports, and the exciting showcase events ahead over the next few days.
And let’s not kid ourselves, the world is only focused on football and tennis right now because –
UEFA EURO 2016
A lot has happened in the knockout stages of this 24-team tournament. The fairytale story of the Iceland football team reached its end, at the hands of aggressive and skillful hosts, France. A 5-2 mauling meant that the “Smites” ended their first major tournament as quarter-finalists, with their heads held high, the ‘Viking Clap’ ringing out through their capital as they were welcomed home in glory. Incidentally, it was the first and only match they lost out of five. Meanwhile, Wales – the lesser fairytale team of the two – reached the semifinals in their first major tournament since 1958. They defeated the much-fancied Belgium in the quarterfinals, but finally fell to Cristiano Ronaldo’s header and assist in the semifinals. The bigger shock came in the other semifinal, with France – the young, charismatic and rebuilt team under coach Didier Deschamps – exacting revenge for their 2014 World Cup loss to Germany. The hosts swept to an emphatic 2-0 victory over the World Champions, thereby denying Germany the opportunity to become the third team (after France and Spain) to hold the World Cup and Euro titles simultaneously. Germany has lost four of their last 11 games, which only goes to prove that they are now a side in transition, while France has won 10 of their last 11 (1 draw), and has been unbeaten through their run to the final. Only a boring 0-0 draw with Switzerland in their final group game had tarnished an otherwise exciting brand of football they’ve developed, with Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann firing in six goals for France to become the top-scorer of the tournament. His double in the semifinal against Germany included a penalty.
Their opponents will be the “boring” Portugal, who are doing a Greece-2004 on the tournament, by reaching the final without losing, and without really winning very convincingly. The anti-France have relied on their defense and ability to shut down teams, with forward Ronaldo scoring three goals in 600 minutes on the pitch. However, if he does manage to inspire his team to a Euro title, that fourth ‘World Player Of The Year’ title could just be his, considering rival Lionel Messi’s Argentina loss and retirement just over a week ago. Both the semis ended with 2-0 scoreboards.
FINAL: Sunday, 12:30 AM: Portugal vs. France
Prediction: The hosts could return to the top of European football after a troubled decade, both professionally and otherwise. This could be a reward for enduring, and surviving with the grace many associate with its people.
It started with World No. 1 and overall-best-player-on-the-planet Novak Djokovic losing in his third round to American Sam Querrey (who went on to reach the quarters), thereby opening up the draw for Canadian Milos Raonic and Belgian David Goffin. ‘Gen Next’ played a riveting fourth round match, and Raonic came out on top after coming back from two sets down. Once the shockwaves of Djokovic not being in the second week of Wimbledon subsided, the focus turned to Andy Murray, who was now odds-on favorite to win his third Slam title, and soon-to-be-35 Roger Federer, who had glided through to his quarterfinal without any issues.
Then came arguably the match of the year. Federer faced US Open 2014 conqueror Marin Cilic, who was once again showing the kind of form that had won him his first and only title. The Croat, coached by Goran Ivanisevic, played as if he were back in 2014, sweeping Federer away in the first two sets, serving like a machine. At 3-3 and 0-40 down in the third set, Federer woke up, and began to pump himself up after each point on serve. He broke the Croat finally, winning the set, and saving three match points in the fourth set – at 4-5 down, 5-6 down and then in a pulsating 20 point tiebreak. It had to be destiny; four years after coming back similarly against Frenchman Julien Benneteau, Federer – only for the third time in his Grand Slam career – came back from matchpoints down to win the fifth set 6-3 and break Cilic’s resolve. It seemed virtually impossible, considering he was outplayed in baseline rallies, and couldn’t read Cilic’s serve for 3 sets, and was destroyed by the younger opponent’s forehands. But, as champions often do, he found a way. In his 35th year, he is now in his 40th Grand Slam semifinal – a record that isn’t likely to ever be broken in our lifetime.
He faces dangerous 24-year old Milos Raonic for a spot in the final, while Andy Murray, who outlasted Jo Wilfred Tsonga over 5 sets in the other quarterfinal, will play perpetual semifinalist Tomas Berdych for a place in yet another final, his third of this year.
SEMIFINAL: Roger Federer vs. Milos Raonic, 5.30 PM, Friday
Andy Murray vs. Tomas Berdych, next up, Friday
FINAL: Sunday Night
The Ladies’ final will be a repeat of this year’s Australian Open final. German Angelique Kerber, who had reached zero Slam finals in six years prior to 2016, won the Australian Open this year in a massive upset win over Serena Williams. She will face her again at Wimbledon – with Serena still looking for that elusive 22nd Grand Slam singles title to equal Steffi Graff. She hasn’t won a Slam since last year’s Wimbledon, and has reached all three finals this year, losing to Kerber and then Muguruza at the French Open. Serena swept away Elena Vesnina in 48 minutes in the semifinal, while Kerber disposed of the older Williams sister, Venus, ending her fairytale run at age 36, the first time she had reached a Slam semifinal since 2010.
FINAL: Serena Williams v/s Angelique Kerber, 5.30 PM, Saturday