Of tekkies, tyres and pressure

2013-07-06 00:00

FOR those driving and following at speeds of 300 km per hour, the problems were considerably more serious than falling on their butts but, thankfully, there were no injuries due to the alarmingly unsafe rear tyres. Next time the drivers may not be so fortunate, so it is imperative that the FIA and Pirelli sort the problem out before the European Union’s health and safety people step in.

With so many premium participants making early exits from the premises at both events, a large amount of air leaked from their respective balloons but neither event was or has been less intriguing. The All England Lawn Tennis Championships, as always, moved on without its past champions.

At Wimbledon, the moaning about the slippery surfaces was confined to the army of early round losers who were not always able to stay vertical on the cold green grass of an unusually chilly English spring that lasted throughout June. Prominent among the complainers was old moon face herself, Maria Sharapova. I know there are readers of this paper who think that Maria represents “sex on the hoof” and deeply regret her premature departure from any tournament, let alone one as glamourous as Wimbledon.

There are just as many, I am sure, who were only too happy to see the back of the leggy Russian and her arch rival Victoria Azarenka, both of whose on court gruntings would not be out of place in a low-rent motel. As with the men’s singles, the departure of so many top-ranked women players has left Wimbledon more open than usual.

In the women’s draw, not a single former champion survived to reach the semi-finals. Marion Bartoli, who still looks like a suburban housewife whose taxi dropped her at the wrong tournament, is a previous finalist who now has a chance to be crowned champion this afternoon.

Bartoli is a highly intelligent eccentric who plays flat and flat out from ball one. She seems to have an endless supply of energy and is notoriously difficult to play against with her two-fisted drives, from both sides of the court, that seem always just to skim over the net. She has a tough opponent in Sabine Lisicki, the German who put out Serena Williams and has usually played well on the grass of Wimbledon. This should be a final worth watching in contrast to the recent dreary, one-sided affairs involving the sullen Serena.

The men’s final will probably be an enthralling showdown between Murray and Djokovic (the semi­finals took place yesterday), who are now clearly the top two players in the world on all surfaces other than clay where Rafa is still king over every grain of the red soil.

Needless to say, Andy Murray has the complete backing of the English fans and media who are able to show a remarkable dexterity in shifting their support between English and British athletes. Justin Rose of England is rightly claimed as one of their own but then so are Murray and Rory McIlroy when the media switches felicitously to its British mode.

Nothing, of course, unites the sporting media in England as much as the Olympics or a British and Irish Lions tour. After the success last year of Team GB at the London games, the media were salivating last week at the imminent prospect of a series win for the Lions in Australia.

Defeat in Melbourne was not a prospect that they entertained. They seemed to forget just how close the first Test was and how lucky the Lions were that the Wallabies lost their only reliable kicker in the first minute of the match. Now, a note of desperation and sourness has crept into the tone of their comments, particularly in relation to the Wallaby captain’s escape from justice. A third series loss in a row would be too much for the “British” rugby scribes to bear.

As a neutral observer, one feels that it would be “a good thing” if the Lions win today. The concept of the British and Irish Lions is a magnificent one. A Lions tour is arguably the biggest event in rugby, bigger even than the World Cup. If these tours are to be sustained as all rugby supporters in the home unions and the southern hemisphere would hope, then the odd success against the All Blacks, the Wallabies and the Springboks must be tolerated.

As one who has spent the last three weeks reading articles and watching reviews and reruns of the 1997 Lions series victory in South Africa, I would prefer if their next triumph was not against the Boks. British or English, the Poms collectively remain the world’s worst winners.

When the next Lions tour takes place it is important that due respect is given to it by the host country. It is nonsense that the Super Rugby teams have not been at full strength in their games against the Lions.

With these tours taking place once every 12 years, it is not asking too much for the Lions to be given proper contests whenever they play. That the Western Force, languishing near the bottom of the table, should have put out a below-strength team against the Lions was an insult to the visitors and unfair to the paying spectators. It must not happen when the Lions next visit South Africa.

The indifferent efforts of Kurtley Beale and Leigh Halfpenny to kick their teams to victory in the final seconds of both matches should remind us of how fortunate we were when Morné Steyn stepped up to face his moment of truth against the British and Irish Lions. Steyn has had his detractors but his nerve did not fail him under the greatest pressure a rugby player has ever had to face. He neither slipped nor burst a “tekkie”.

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