Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Can Rafa get to 18 Slams?

After Rafa's stunning US Open campaign, the question on everyone's lips is whether he can go onto break the record for male Grand Slam winners. At the moment Roger Federer holds the record with 17, and it's widely accepted now that he is highly unlikely to add to that tally given his showing at the last couple of majors. As of the other night, Rafa now has 13 Slams: 1x Aus, 8x Fre, 2x Wim, 2x US, and needs another 5 to hold the record out on his own.

He now has an unparalleled 9 consecutive years with at least 1 Grand Slam victory (incidentally he also holds a similar unmatched record for 9 consecutive years winning a Masters Series/1000 Series title), and not many would bet on 2014 breaking that streak. 

It doesn't take an expert tennis analyst (luckily for me) to recognise that the main thing standing in Rafa's way is likely to be his own fitness. Over the last 5 years or so, he has been decidedly held back by recurring injuries, and in particular tendonitis in his knees. The chances of him being fully fit for all of the slams over the next 2 or 3 years seem slim at best. 
If there was less competition then he might be able to cruise to the odd title but with Murray and Djokovic (as well as the likes of JMDP, Wawrinka, Berdych, even Federer) around, he will have to be at his best to win a Slam. Even then it might not be enough.

There has been lots of talk about this being one of the best years in tennis history but just a couple of months ago he was knocked out of Wimbledon in the first round. Then, all of the discussion was about Nadal's knees and his ability to play on surfaces other than clay.

At most he is likely to have 3 years left at the very top, before the physical nature of his play restricts his chances of claiming the biggest prizes, even on clay. That means potentially just 12 more chances. Can he win 5 of them to enhance his claim to be considered the greatest ever? Only time will tell.

Geeky statto alert:

It is interesting (I appreciate this is a subjective term) to look at the ages of Grand Slam winners. The below graph shows the progression in terms of slam victories for each of the best known major winners.

You should be able to click on the graph to open it up and see more, but here are a few highlights that I thought were interesting. 

1) Aged 27, only Federer had more Slams than Rafa.
2) At 25 years old, Federer and Borg had 11 Slams, Sampras and Rafa 10. Borg retired without winning another, Pistol Pete kept going for years longer and added a consistent 1 per year, and then another aged 31.
3) Djokovic is considered one of the greatest and aged 25 he was behind only McEnroe (who didn't win another), and the above 4. He hasn't won one as a 26 year old yet so he's got a long way to go to catch up those in double figures.
4) Murray's slow start to winning Slams, mirroring his coach Lendl, is demonstrated as well, with the two of them being the oldest to claim their maiden slams from this list.
5) Agassi won more than half of his Slams after he turned 28, so there could yet be lots to come from RN/ND/AM all moving into the 2nd half of their careers.
6) I'm really geeky

PS I sort of just chose players who are best known for the chart, and left off the likes of Laver/Rosewall who won Slams both pre and post-Open era because it was too confusing.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Indianapolis Colts 2012: The Storybook Season

The story of the 2012 Indianapolis Colts season may just be the inspiration for one of those "based on a true story" movies in a few years time. I appreciate that neither of my readers will be overly well versed with the gridiron world but last season my own passion for American Football has soared and it's due in no small part to the aforementioned Colts.

I've followed them for many years, from the dismal dark days of the late 90s when I decided I needed to support a team in every league in every sport, through the glory years of Peyton Manning, right up to the present day. Admittedly with varying levels of passion and interest, they have nevertheless remained unquestionably my team.

Peyton Manning is without doubt one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. By sheer numbers, he is 2nd in history for touchdown passes and completed passes, and 3rd for total passing yardage (and he's got a few years left in him). You have to scroll down on his Wikipedia page to see all of the NFL records he holds. Needless to say, he has been a somewhat significant figure for the Colts the last dozen years.

Then Manning was out injured for the entire 2011 season, and the Colts won just 2 games all season. They had the worst record of everyone in the league, and then, having got back to full fitness, Manning left to go to the Denver Broncos.

So there was relatively limited optimism going into the 2012 season, with most commentators expecting a mediocre display of rebuilding at best. What followed was an pretty remarkable and dramatic storyline of a season.

At the NFL Draft, the Colts secured the top college prospect quarterback, Andrew Luck, as part of wholesale changes that saw them start the season with a huge number of rookies on the roster. He proved to be an incredible success, setting a number of rookie quarterback records, and leading the Colts to the 3rd largest turnaround in NFL history from one season to the next. From winning 2 games in 2011, they won an impressive 11 in the 2012 regular season (more than Superbowl champions Baltimore Ravens). 

This outstanding season included a remarkable number of 4th quarter comeback wins and game-winning drives, the highlight of which was a simply outstanding victory against the Detroit Lions, from 33-21 down with less than 3 minutes left. 

This relative success from minimal expectations was set against the backdrop of Head Coach Chuck Pagano being diagnosed with leukaemia at the beginning of the season. The heartstring-tugging story of his fight against cancer united the entire city under the slogan 'Chuckstrong', leading to moving demonstrations of support such as cheeerleaders shaving their heads. His emotional return late in the season had virtually the entire NFL welling up.

In Pagano's absence, up stepped offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. In the 12 games he was at the helm, the Colts won 9, and when the season ended, Arians was rewarded with coach of the year in recognition of his achievement in the face of such circumstances. Then, having made it the playoffs against all the odds, Arians was hospitalised and absent for the clash against the Ravens.

It was there that it finally came to an end. Like the end of Cool Runnings, it wasn't a fairytale victory but a respectable and dignified defeat, to the eventual Superbowl Champions (who had their own destiny-fulfilling storybook ending to come). 

And so the 2013 season begins this weekend with much optimism. Andrew Luck is a year older and stronger, Chuck Pagano is in remission and back at the helm, NFL general manager of the year Ryan Grigson (like a Director of Football) overseeing what will hopefully be another hugely successful season.