Brad Pitt crashed the Mumbai Premiere of his new Netflix film, War Machine. Salman Khan’s Tubelight trailer dropped a day later, while the much-awaited drama Sachin: A Billion Dreams hit screens across the world a day after that. It has been a scorching week for Indian entertainment, but a far more poignant week for the sports world.
A CHAMPION GONE
Former MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden, the “Kentucky Kid” and last American rider to win the title back in 2006, died after being hit by a car on his bicycle in Italy. The former Honda racer had once ended Valentino Rossi’s 5-season winning streak with his breakout year more than a decade ago, before fading away into the shadows, joining Ducati and becoming one of motorsport’s great one-season wonders. He was only 35.
THE LAST MEN STANDING
Two days after the Manchester Arena Bombing at the Ariana Grande concert, the most popular club football team in the world, Manchester United, traveled to Stockholm to play their most important – and final – game of the season. In their own little way, they lifted the people of their affected city by winning the Europa League Final 2-0 against Dutch team Ajax, thereby qualifying for the Champions League after a gap of three years. Jose Mourinho’s injury-ridden squad pushed themselves one last time, capping off his first season in Manchester with three trophies (Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League) – winning the club the only missing piece of silverware from their studded cabinet. It became more than just about football on a balmy Wednesday night, and football served up the closest imitation of destiny it could for a team that didn’t mind finishing sixth in the English Premier League and still found a way back to Europe’s top competition.
THE OTHER FINAL
The FA Cup Final will take place on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium between Arsenal and Chelsea. The result could well decide the immediate future of Arsenal’s long-time manager Arsene Wenger, who failed to lead his team into the top 4 of the standings and the Champions League for the first time in 20 long years. They finished fifth behind Liverpool, and are now looking to salvage a forgettable season by hoping to defeat newly crowned EPL Champions Chelsea – who’re looking to do the Double and return to Europe’s elite competition next year after a 2015-16 season in which they finished a lowly tenth. Chelsea start as favourites again.
THE CHAMPIONS TROPHY
The warm-up matches of Cricket’s second biggest ODI competition is underway, with Bangladesh already getting the better of New Zealand in the first game. The eight-team Group Stages begin on June 1st. India arrived in England on Thursday evening, looking to defend their 2013 title. The hosts, meanwhile, warmed up in their own stylish way, demolishing World no. 1 South Africa in the first-match of a quickie three-match bilateral series – reiterating their status as overwhelming favourites to win their first major ICC ODI tournament ever. Captain Eoin Morgan scored a blistering century, and all-around omnipresent crusader Moeen Ali walked away with the man-of-the-match award for a fantastic performance with bat and ball. India plays their first match of the tournament against archrivals Pakistan at Birmingham on June 4th. West Indies hasn’t qualified for the Champions Trophy for the first time after seven consecutive appearances.
THE FRENCH OPEN
The French Open, the second Grand Slam of the annual tennis calendar, gets underway in Paris this weekend. World no. 4 and King of Clay Rafael Nadal starts as the clear favourite on the Men’s side of the draw after winning three consecutive tournaments in the European Claycourt swing, while defending champion Novak Djokovic now has Andre Agassi on his side in an attempt to arrest the slide that started a year ago. There is no Roger Federer this year. World no. 1 Andy Murray is still searching for form after a mediocre start to the year.
On the women’s side of the draw, there is no Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, which opens up the field to a series of younger pretenders determined to make a mark on the slowest surface of them all. Garbine Muguruza is the defending champion, but her best performance has only been a semifinal run at Rome a week ago. World no. 1 Angelique Kerber struggled in Madrid and Rome, too, and isn’t the strongest clay-court player of her time (first-round exit last year after winning the Australian Open). She has lost all 7 matches against top-10 opponents this year.
Other events this weekend:
F1: Monaco Grand Prix