Monday, 30 January 2012

The Monday: What a Match! Edition

From best to worst, ever person who plays professional sport at the highest level spends hours leading to days, adding up to years, practicing the skills that will raise their game to the highest possible level. This ranges from the fundamentals- knocking in the three-foot putt for birdie, keeping your cover-drive down and out of the grasp of eager opposition fielders - to the more elite talents- bending the thirty-yard free-kick over the wall and into the top-corner, slotting the drop-goal under duress off your wrong foot. Players at the top of their sport possess the ability to take the most difficult of skills and execute them in high-pressure situations in competition. But these flashy, high-end skills are not enough to make one transcend generations. To combine the ability to cause sharp intakes of breath from a wondrous crowd, with metronomic, unfailing fundamentals is what separates those that are merely good from those who are era-spanning great.

I joined yesterday's Australian Open final at the back-end of the second set. Djokovic, number one seed, had lost the first set 7-5, but held a break of serve and a 4-2 lead in the second. A hold each later and Djokovic was serving for the set at 5-3. He led 30-0 and created three set points for himself, but Nadal, with trademark tenacity saved each in turn before setting up his own break-point. Djokovic missed his first serve. A pressure situation no doubt, but the second serve is one of those fundamentals, practiced every day on the training courts. Professional players rarely dump their second serves in the net- to do so is a cardinal sin. To avoid this the shot is hit at height over the net, with the requisite topspin to dip the ball in near the back of the service box. Djokovic sent his serve with the necessary height, but the topspin was lacking. The ball stayed on a relatively flat course once it had cleared the net, landing long of the service line. Big error, and Nadal had the break back. Minutes later, however, and Nadal was set point down, on second serve. Whilst, the right-handers top-spin serve sees the ball move in the air in a 12-to-6 fashion (in a clockface sense from top to the bottom), the left-handers has a more 11-to-5 movement out towards a right-handers backhand, a shot with slightly more slice hit at a slightly lower trajectory. The difference in physics made little difference to the outcome, however, as Nadal, in similar fashion to Djokovic, sent his serve long, levelling the match at one set-all. Two games, two big fundamental errors, one by each player. In a match that was to go another three-and-a-quarter hours, it was pretty much the last example of fallibility either man showed.

People talk of a top four in men's tennis but a look at the facts suggest that over the past eighteen months Nadal and Djokovic have been forming their own duopoly at the head of the men's game. Andy Murray is showing signs of closing the gap yet the major victories at grand slams continue to elude him, if now by a matter of points rather than games or sets. Roger Federer's record speaks for itself, but since he last won a Grand Slam (the Australian in 2010) there have been eight Grand Slam finals (including yesterdays) all of which have been won by either Nadal or Djokovic and four of which have been contested between the two. Federer is widely (and rightfully in my view) considered the greatest player to have ever played the game. But Nadal has a 17-9 career record against him. What are you if you're better than the greatest? Then Djokovic, since he began his ascent up tennis' Mount Olympus in January 2011, has gone 4-1 against Federer and 7-0 against Nadal. If you're better than the guy who's the greatest ever AND dominate the guy who dominates the guy who's the greatest ever, what does that make you? Tennis fans could talk themselves into a metaphysical crisis trying to come to some rational conclusion within such debates. Thankfully, the play on court provides some quite phenomenal respite from such quandary's.

Djokovic did in the third set what he's done to nearly everyone he's played in the last year. In attack he mixes stunning with precision with flat, tracer-like ground strokes, whilst on defence he chases everything down, combining a sprinters pace with an agility that allows him to contort his body into the kind of positions you can normally only find model wooden men twisted into. Through the third he had Nadal doing shuttle runs from corner-to-corner on the baseline. He would drive Nadal backwards before chipping a delicate dropshot just over the net, enough to draw a desperate sprint from Nadal, but not enough for him to actually get there, leaving the number 2 seed like the kids who keep dropping 10 pence pieces into the machines at the arcade not realising they're never going to win as the money inside is glued down. It was cruel and it was emphatic. From breaking Nadal to take a 3-1 lead he held twice to love before breaking Nadal to love at 5-2 to take the set. Momentum, a factor that can swing back-and-forth throughout the course of a five-set encounter, was firmly behind the man who had so-dominated 2011.

When Djokovic won the Australian Open in 2008 it seemed that he was ready to join the Federer-Nadal cabal which dominated Grand Slam tennis at that time. The next couple of years, however, were to be a period of unfulfilled promise. Whilst Djokovic reached several Grand Slam semis, too many Slam defeats came not at the hands of the perpetual 1 and 2 seeds, but to lower-ranked players such as Jugen Melzer, Tommy Hass and Tomas Berdych. In another era of men's tennis, where the depth of quality was spread fairly evenly across the top 20 or so players, losses like this wouldn't have been much of an issue. In an era with Federer and Nadal it meant he could only be best of the rest. Then, in 2011 Djokovic brought to the court an improved game, a body prepared to endure challenges that before it would have shirked, and most importantly a mental attitude that believed he belonged at the top. What resulted was a 70-6 record and 10  Tour titles, including 3 Grand Slams. He had elevated his game not just to the level of Nadal and Federer, but beyond it.

At the beginning of the fourth set Djokovic maintained the high gear that had driven him through the second and thirds. In top-level tennis where breaks of serve are rare, serving first in a set provides a small mental advantage over your opponent. With each hold of serve of your own you take the lead. All the guy the other side of the net can do is keep up. In this case Djokovic was streaking ahead, holding to love, or confidently averting danger with a number of firmly struck winners. Nadal was clinging to the Serb's retro 90s tennis shirt, each time facing a battle to hold serve and level the score. Finally, at 4-3 Djokovic Nadal slipped to 0-40 on his own serve. What followed embodied both the mental and the physical facets of Nadal's game that make him the player he is. At 0-40 he finished a punishing rally by skipping round a backhand and whipping his trademark forehand with lasso finish on the crosscourt angle for a winner. A strong serve saved the second break point.  At 30-40 another baseline encounter ensued. Eventually Nadal pushed Djokovic out to his forehand, the Serb returned, deep but fairly centrally to the Nadal backhand. As Djokovic pushed off his right foot, anticipating the Spaniard taking the pinball approach and stretching him onto his backhand, Nadal spied his opportunity. He sent the ball back the direction it had came. It passed Djokovic by only a couple of feet, but wrongfooted he could only let it pass like a rugby player left for dead by a neat sidestep. Two strong serves won the game and we were back to 4-4.

There followed a brief rain delay in which the Melbourne grounds crew took to the court like a colony of fluorescent worker ants and began drying off the playing surface with towels. The brief delay favoured neither player, and roof closed, both held serve twice to take the set to a tie-break. Djokovic moved to within two points of the title at 5-3, before netting a simple crosscourt forehand on his serve. It didn't feel right for Djokovic to win the match at this point. It would have felt like stopping the 100m final at the 70m mark. Nadal rallied, held both his service points, and took his first set point when Djokovic pushed a forehand wide. Call it gutsy, call it ballsy, call it what you like. In the fourth Nadal showed guts, balls, cajones galore. We were heading to a fifth set.

I'm no great fan of Nadal. His style of tennis is somewhat industrial, more of a machine to Federer's artwork or Murray's variety show. There's the gamemanship, the delays between points as he flicks back hair and adjusts his shorts like a fidgeting child. But most of all there's the way that on-court he just doesn't seem to get any enjoyment out of the game he's so bloody good at. It appears he gets no individual enjoyment out of points, instead seeing them as merely a means towards an end. Instead of the old stamp collector who gets enjoyment out of each item he adds to his collection, on-court Nadal appears more akin to one forced by means to collect food stamps. There is no enjoyment in the process, it is something that just has to be done. For me, the absolute level of seriousness makes it hard to like the player. However, there is little doubt that it is that intensity that has driven him to all the titles, and it is that intensity that clawed him back into the Championship match last night.

It's a fact that men's tennis is a bigger draw than the women's game. That's why, while both female semis took place during the day on Thursday, the men's were scheduled in for the prime-time sessions on Thursday and Friday evenings. I understand the commercial aspect but it's an arrangement that shows little respect for the notion of trying to ensure a fair build-up for the players that make it to the final. Whilst Nadal went through a no-doubt tough encounter with Federer on Thursday night, he had an extra day of rest on Djokovic, who went 4 hours 50 minutes in a barnstorming confrontation with Andy Murray a day later. Entering the 5th set logic suggested that Nadal would be the less weary of the two, and with the swing in his favour from the fourth, favourite to take the title. From 30-15 up, serving from 3-2 down, Djokovic missed shots on three consecutive points handing Nadal the break. But if there was one thing this match didn't do it was the expected. At 30-30 in the next game Djokovic popped up a tired looking volley to the Nadal backhand. Nadal closed in like an eagle descending upon a helpless vole and missed the backhand...yeah, he missed the backhand. Next point Djokovic took his opportunity and it was back on serve.

At 5-5 a rejuvenated Djokovic broke Nadal. He saved break point in the next games, before setting up championship point. Big first serve down the middle to the Nadal backhand and the Aussie Open title sat up for him in midcourt. He put the forehand lethally past a Nadal treading water on the baseline, retaining his Australian title, earning his fifth career and third consecutive Grand Slam (joining Laver, Sampras, Federer and Nadal as the only men to record three titles in a row). He also recorded his seventh straight victory over his Spanish opponent in a final. If Nadal merely toppled Federer from his throne then in his respective dominance of the Spaniard Djokovic is working on an act of regicide. Yet one cannot write off the man from Majorca. Until Federer, Murray or someone else can crack the duo's current dominance it will remain a reign of one in a town of two.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Sunday: Royal Yacht Edition

Slightly truncated version this week as I graduated on Friday and spent the rest of the weekend up north. The following represents my take on the week up to Thursday afternoon:

Would not have supported a Royal Yacht
Yacht you talkin' bout Willets?: Sorry, but it was too good a pun to let details get in the way. Michael Gove has taken most of the opprobrium for the deluded notion that the British public somehow owe someone whose grace-and-favour lifestyle they fund, a massive boat, but apparently he got the idea from David Willets. Now the Tories seem to have moved on to the idea that the burden for this massive waste of money should fall on the private sector rather than the struggling public purse (because I hear things are so great in the private sector at the moment there's a massive yacht-sized lump of cash floating around). More interestingly, however, the idea has also moved from the proposed boat being some kind-of Russian billionaire style play-pen for the Royal Family to the intriguingly barmy concept of it being a large sailing ship acting as a University of the Oceans. This floating centre of learning would apparently offer young people education in the maritime and environmental fields, provide them with lifelong individual and team-work skills, and teach them how to repel the Spanish Armada. That is, of course, as Mark Steel points out, when it's not being used to entertain Saudi arms dealers. And they say the Tories are out of touch...

Channel 4 News Bingo: So my office at the moment is next door to ITN headquarters. This presents itself with great opportunity for the worryingly giddy pleasure of Channel 4 News bingo. Bear with me. Channel 4 News Bingo is a game created by, participated in, and won, mainly by me. Though being the sole contestant gives me little chance to benchmark my performance against others, my record of Cathy Newman, Simon Israel and two John Snow sightings in the past month give me reason to believe I have a discernible talent in this area. Krishnan Guru-Murthy and I'm pretty sure I'll be heading to the soon-to-be-established News Bingo Hall of Fame.

Stewart Lee- Carpet Remnant World: So last Sunday me and a few friends went to the Leicester Square Theater to see Stewart Lee's latest show, Carpet Remnant World. Now Stewart Lee's had a surge in popularity in recent years thanks mainly to his BBC 2 Comedy Vehicle show- he even won Best Male Comic and Best Comedy Entertainment programme at the British Comedy Awards- but you get the sense that he rather wishes he hadn't. Watching Stewart Lee is unlike watching any other comedian- he is, one could say, a meta-comedian. He deconstructs jokes on stage, pointing out the different elements of humour in various puchlines and non-punchlines, segmenting the crowd into the different pockets of intellectual capability, some of which he satisfyingly plays up to, others that he (playfully?) showers with disdain. He's a craftsman, able to both build up and strip down his jokes, turning the separate component parts of a single joke into a collection of laughs. But was he any good?

The first half was top-form Stewart Lee as he covered topical material mixed with an undercurrent of effective snoobish contempt for pretty much the majority of mainstream comedy, UK and beyond. In the second half, however, the standard dropped somewhat. Part of Lee's schtick for Carpet Remnant World is that he has little material as he spends all his time these days either driving back-and-forth to gigs or looking after his four year-old son. If anyone can pull off a 90 minute comedy based on the premise of having no material it's him, but apart from a clever take on the old observational 'how come all jungle canyon rope bridges are broken?' joke (you know the one!), riffs on Twitter and world-based store titles weren't vintage Lee. In the end Carpet Remnant World is definitely a worthwhile hour and a half of comedy, way above what you'd get from most other comics, but for fans of 90s Comedian, 41st Best Stand Up Ever and even Comedy Vehicle it's overall a more mellow, soft-punching collection of material.

The Greatest Tennis Rages: Tennis is a sport set-up ideally for the in-game mental breakdown/subsequent rage. In team sports you can throw a hissy-fit but there's other players who are quite happy to keep playing leaving your histrionics underappreciated. Tennis being an individual sport means that should you choose to stop, play also stops, leaving you the centre of attention. Not only that, but it provides you with the perfect instrument with which to take your aggression out physically, an instrument who's carbon-fibre structure crumples in the most cathartic of fashions. The tennis rage can drag your play further into the mire, rejuvenate your game or just plain make you look stupid. Here are some of the best:

Marcos Bagdhatis, 2012 Aussie Open: Apparently there was a fly on the Melbourne courts that Bagdhatis failed to kill with his first racket...or his second...or his third...I think he got it with the fourth...

Mikhail Youzhny, 2008 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami: Full marks for Mikhail Youzhny for complete commitment and a willingness to put his body on the line for the sake of his anger. And they say Tennis is a non-contact sport.

John McEnroe, 1981 Wimbledon: A master at work. A reasoned argument, starting with a clear premise, supported by evidence, employing both a rhetorical question and finishing on the rule of three (with a cracking insult when denied). If McEnroe hadn't been a tennis player he'd surely have been a Barrister.

Serena Williams, 2009 US Open: You can't actually hear what Serena says on this clip but the beeps and gesticulations make it pretty clear she wasn't best pleased with the line judge. What makes this rage so good was that it came when Serena was match point down- the point penalty she got for the outburst ended the match giving Kim Clijsters the title. You've got to admire the prioritising of a expletive-filled outburst over the chance to actually win a Grand Slam- elite level raging!

Roger Federer, 2009 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami: Is there anything Roger Federer can't do. Not only is he both the greatest and most elegant player to ever grace the game, he also has perfect racket smashing technique. Federer smashes his racket like a skilled axeman chopping wood. Watch the beauty of the high backlift, the knee-bend, the left-arm pointing towards the target, the fluid motion as he brings the whole of his upper-body through the smash and even the head-flick away from the impact for safety purposes at the end. A thing of majesty.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Sunday: 2012 Predictions Edition

I know, I know. Tl;dr. The extensive format is actually an attempt to make me stick at this blogging lark for longer that the month or so my trio of previous attempts lasted. Rather than trying to pump out two or three posts a week I'll slowly accumulate to one 'review of the week' kind of thing that'll haphazardly espouse my take on a sprawl of different subjects. It might well work. It probably won't. Enjoy it while it's here.


Seal: Bin Laden killer and all round good guy
2011 predictions: There was a lot of comment at the end of last year on the fact that 2011 had a lot of news in it. There was the uprisings in the Middle East, the injunctions scandal, the Royal Wedding, the phone hacking scandal, riots across the country, Seal killed Osama Bin Laden, and much more. Busy year, huh? Well guess what... there's going to be even more news this year! How do I know? Well there's a whole extra day! 2012's gone and snuck an extra 24 hours on top of what 2011 had. A whole extra 24 hours...for 24-hour news channels to bring us... news...for another 24 hours. Man, 2012's gonna be busy. That is of course, unless,  as per the Mayans prediction, the world comes to an end on December 21 2012, an event that would not only knock a whole potential 10 days worth of news off of 2012's attempt to eclipse 2011, but would also, rather paradoxically, provide a massive news event that there'd be no-one left to cover. Go figure. Anyway, here's some predictions for 2011:

1) Boris will defeat Ken in the London Mayoral election- the result will leave it 50-50 as to whether Ed Miliband is Labour leader at the end of conference season in the Autumn
2) Obama will win re-election in November- the Republicans will get crazier
3) There will be a major scandal within an institution of British life. Politicians expenses in 2009, the press and phone hacking last year- this year maybe the police, a major business/industry or maybe a mainstream sport
4) Said scandal will result in a 'full independent public inquiry' or FIPI for short. Any potentially big news story/event these days is greeted with a call for a FIPI by politicians- they love them. At this rate we'll soon be seeing FIPIs into George Osborne's obscene levels of smugness, Alistair Darling's bewildering eyebrow/hair colour discord, and who's punching further above their weight wife-wise- Clegg or Cameron
5) A country will leave the Euro- probably Greece
6) Man City will win the premier league. Oh, and at some stage this year Mario Balotelli will be, if not arrested, interviewed by police in relation to some bizarre antics
7) Team GB will under-perform at the Olympics but there will be some stand-out individual performances with golds for Phillips Idowu, Mark Cavendish and some female swimmer/cyclist/modern pentathlete I've never heard of
8) An Elbow song will play out the closing montage to the Olympics TV coverage- a choice not at all becoming a cliche
9) A Royal pregnancy will be announced
And finally...
10) The world will not end- The Mayan's fatalistic prediction is due to their calendar running out on the 21st December 2012. Now if they'd just pop down to Calendar Club...

Whistlin' the blues
Miliband's 5-year problem: Ed Mililband had another relaunch this week, a relaunch that was met with the usual derisory media coverage Ed Miliband seems to attract (for an example see this interview with an unprofessionally callous John Humphries on the Today program). Miliband's struggling to gain any traction at the moment and whilst a lot of this is to do with his lack of policies, lack of a clear narrative, poor communiction, insubstantial PMQs performances, and all-round shortcomings as a leader of a major political party, I think at least part of it can be put down to the establishment of 5-year parliaments by the coalition.

Since 1979 the only 5-year parliaments the UK has witnessed have been the final parliament of the Tory years (92-97) and the New Labour years (05-10) with an unpopular Prime Minister clinging to power amongst withering support. Once the coalition took power in 2010, however, they decided to effectively set 5-year fixed term parliaments as the norm (see this for a bit more detail). The rationale behind this is fairly sound- to stop governments choosing advantageous dates to enhance their chances of re-election. But why 5-years? Well, the coalition realised that it was going to take a while for economic recovery to take place. The further into the future they could push the next election (within reason of course) the more chance of them going to the country as architects of a strong economy.

So why does this affect Ed? Well, it makes it pretty hard for him to generate any positive coverage. If he was riding high in the polls at the moment its still distant enough from the next election to not really matter. He get's a little credit, but not all that much as an Opposition should be ahead in the polls anyway in a situation like we're in now. What's happened in reality is that Labour have been marginally ahead in the polls for the majority of the past year. Two years from an election and that's a solid base to build a campaign on. Three years from an election and the question is why aren't Miliband and Labour further ahead? 

I'd personally prefer four-year parliaments. Mainly because I'm an elections junky, but also because it offers a good balance between allowing a government to achieve things whilst also giving people regular enough chance to remove their leaders. We don't want things to become like America where the President's barely formed an arse-groove in the White House couch before he has to be out campaigning again, but in a 5-year parliament the Opposition face a pretty much Sisyphean task trying to generate positive coverage. At the moment Miliband's trying to walk up the down escalator and failing.

Econ 101: For anyone at all interested in economics (and now's as good a time as any what with the Eurozone imploding and all) I recommend you read Paul Krugman's blog at the New York Times. Krugman is a Nobel Prize winning economist so he knows his stuff, but what's best is that unlike the majority of economics academics who spend their time creating worthless models on the sandy foundations of assumptions of rationality and complete information, Krugman deals in the reality of actual policy. And he's not afraid to tell it like it is- check out his defence of his style here in a post titled 'The Mendacity of Dopes'. The world needs more commentators calling out the wrong-headed, masochistic response to the Eurozone crisis and the fallacious claims and ideas flying from the inverted reality of the Republican nomination race. Krugman is leading the way.


Infinite Jest: This week I finished reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It's probably the first book I've read that I've felt a real sense of achievement having finished,and I mean that in best possible way. It took me two months to get through and it's an effort to read- there's a vast panoply of  characters to keep track of, the need to refer to extensive footnotes throughout (386 in total), and you have to put up with a lot of comments from other people about the fatness of the book you're reading and the smallness of the type. But put the effort in and you're rewarded with a supremely funny, wonderfully inventive, sweeping broadside at American culture, that keeps you entertained throughout. Read it!

The Iron Lady- A review: A poor spin-off of the Iron Man franchise 

(I haven't actually seen it. I haven't even seen the Iron Man's. And that's a pretty lame gag. I apologise)

(I say it's a pretty lame gag but I've just read Stewart Lee also use it in this non-review of the film- great minds and all that...)


Serious foul play is serious foul play: I didn't see Sam Warburton's red card in the Rugby World Cup semi-final. I was in bed at the time (it was at like 9 on a Sunday morning- they play Rugby at funny times in New Zealand). However,I have seen it since and the right decision was made. The aftermath of Vincent Kompany's red card in the Manchester derby at the weekend reminds me a lot of the controversy that followed Warburton's dismissal. Those vilifying the respective referees do so on two main points, both equally spurious.

Firstly, critics of the decisions point to the early stage of the game at which each 'offence' occurred. This argument often comes from those who call for more consistency from referees decision making- an ironic inconsistency in their own thought process seeing as policing the game to different standards depending on time expired is, how should I put this, inconsistent. The clock has nothing to do with how a referee should adjudicate the game. If a player puts in a dangerous tackle early in the game, as both Warburton and Kompany did, there is no basis for a referee to err on the side of lenient punishment for the sake of not 'spoiling the game'. This argument was made a lot surrounding the Warburton incident, with the loss of a man in rugby a far more damaging situation to find yourself in than in football, but it holds no water. Warburton's tackle was a red card whether it occurs seconds after the kickoff, seconds before the final whistle, or anywhere in between.

Which brings us to the second defence made of the tackles: that there was no malicious intent and in the case of Kompany that he was actually successful in winning the ball. Those who make this results-based argument show a clear disregard for the condition of those players that they are so entertained by. If, in the course of a rugby tackle (or in any situation really), you lift someone's legs above their head, the inevitability is that they will come down on their upper-body, quite possible their neck or head. This is clearly very dangerous and should be discouraged with the threat of the strongest punishment possible on the field of play. Sam Warburton may not have meant to raise Vincent Clerc off the ground the way he did, but he left Alain Rolland with no choice but to issue him with a red. In football, going into a tackle with both your feet poses a severe threat to the legs of the player you are challenging and again should be punished with a red card. It doesn't matter that Nani jumped out of the way as if Kompany had javelin for feet, Kompany did not need to go in for the tackle the way he did. Though no harm was done Chris Foy was right to let the remaining players know that if they intended to tackle in such a reckless way then their afternoon would be swiftly curtailed.

Now, I don't feel that Warburton or Kompany are dirty players but their punishments in their respective cases were correct, as were the rejection of their subsequent appeals. Rugby and Football are physical games in which injuries are inevitable. However, they are also sports that thrive on the entertainment provided by their players. Thus any reckless action by a player that is likely to endanger the fitness of another must be punished strongly, regardless of whether they cause injury.

Talking Tactics: I came across Zonal Marking this week, a website dedicated to discussions of football tactics. I've also started reading more of The Guardian's pieces on the thought processes behind the game and find them far more insightful than the banal remarks emanating from so-called pundits on TV.

This weeks Carling Cup semi first leg on BBC between Man City and Liverpool was indicative of the perfunctory nature of the Alan's Shearer and Hansen analysis and the indefatigable will of Mark Lawrenson to come across as some kind of comic quipster that the BBC provides us. Stefan Savic, in for the suspended Vincent Kompany, was identified as a weak link in the City defence. Why's that Hansen? He'll be nervous because he hasn't played much we were told. No discussion of Savic's technical ability, his strengths, his weaknesses. Just idle speculation about his potential state of mind (Savic did end up having a shocker to be fair). On the Liverpool side we were informed Andy Carroll lacks confidence, an observation from Shearer about as astute as his suit was shocking. As for Lawrenson, his 'analysis' was about as funny as your best striker breaking his leg on a 'football hilarity scale' that ranges from your team getting relegated at the low-end through to the comic majesty of the following at the high-end:

Most analysis-and this goes for the great minds of Jamie Redknapp and co on Sky Sports as well- seems entirely focused on the simple notions of form and confidence, barely scratching the surface of the different layers within a Premier League match (to be fair to Gary Neville he makes a decent stab at providing a bit more analysis- it's a pretty bad sign when Gary Neville's a leader in your field and your field isn't either being a right-back or sleazy facial hair). It's received wisdom that the best players don't make the best managers. TV should realise the same applies to pundits and and look harder to find new pundits to raise the level of analysis beyond that of the current bilge provided by "the experts".  

Aussie Open pick:  So the first Tennis grand slam of the year is upon us and I'm calling it now: this is the one Andy Murray wins. Murray gets a tough rap for underacheiving when in reality in each grand slam he enters he's up against three of the best players ever to play the game. It's a bit like turning up with your mates to perform at a Battle of the Bands only to find out the competition is The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who. This then happens at every Battle of the Bands you perform at and still, even when you come second, you get criticised. However, going into this years Australian Open Nadal's battling a shoulder injury, Djokovic still doesn't seem 100% after his fitness issues at the end of last year and Federer pulled out of a tournament due to injury for the first time in his career last week. Put this together with it being a tournament at which Murray's reached the final pretty convincingly the past two years- albeit before being beaten equally convincingly in the final- and this is his best chance yet. The final: Murray over Federer in four sets.