Monthly Archives: May 2017

Support for Murray That’s Loud

Wimbledon has always been a haven for fanatical supporters, from the hordes of young women who chased Bjorn Borg around the grounds in the 1970s to the Australians who dress in yellow every year to support their countrymen and women.

Faces will be painted with the Scottish and British flags for Andy Murray over the next two weeks. But fandom can take many forms. Take a look on Twitter during a big Murray match at Wimbledon, and the chances are you will come across the commentary of Irvine Welsh, the Scottish author most famous for writing “Trainspotting,” the anarchic tale of a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh.

The text of his tweets is often provocative, and the language usually vulgar, but his admiration for the top-ranked Murray comes across loud and clear.

Welsh, who lives in Miami, first tweeted during a Murray match when Murray beat Novak Djokovic in the 2012 United States Open final for his first Grand Slam title.

“It was something my friend and fellow Scottish writer John Niven got into doing between us for laughs,” Welsh said in an email. “Tennis commentary is generally pretty dull. Ours is grounded in the compelling perversity that the cuisine, climate and class structure of Scotland can produce a tennis champion like Murray.”

Welsh’s fandom is not just about Murray also coming from Scotland.

“I admire his incredible skills, control and pace around the court,” Welsh said. “I love how he wears the game on his face. So many players are dull and deadpan; they never change expressions whether they hit a winner or miss an easy shot.”

Many of Welsh’s tweets are unprintable, but the vast majority feature the acerbic humor that would be familiar to his readers.

“Good hold Andy son,” Welsh wrote during the 2012 U.S. Open final. “I’m going to eat a packet of McCain’s oven chips for every point you win the day pal.”

Sloane Stephens Falls Short Against Alison Riske

 Competing for the first time in 11 months, Sloane Stephens had an unfortunate draw for her opening match at Wimbledon on Tuesday: Alison Riske, a fellow American who is most comfortable on English lawns.

Riske, who is ranked 46th in the world, quickly ended the first stage of Stephens’s comeback from a foot injury with a 6-2, 7-5 win.

“Obviously, it’s a big task to play Ali in the first round,” said Stephens, 24, who has not competed since a first-round loss to Eugenie Bouchard of Canada in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last summer. Her best surface is grass. I did the best I could. I’m pleased with — I mean, obviously, not that I didn’t win — but that I was able to get out there and I was pain-free.”

Stephens, who has succeeded on all surfaces and has been ranked as high as 11th in the world, said she did not know what to expect in her return.

“I have been practicing and playing practice sets and matches and stuff, but it’s totally different when you get into a match situation,” she said. “It’s been a while, so it was different than practicing with people that I’m comfortable with.”

Riske’s first 13 tour-level wins in main-draw matches, from 2010 to 2013, all came on grass, a remarkable statistic given the small window of the grass season (and the lack of grass courts in her native Pittsburgh). Since then, she has improved on the other surfaces, but this stretch of the calendar remains special to her.

“I definitely have an affinity for it,” Riske said.

Though sure of her footing on a surface that perplexes many, Riske did not know what to expect from her opponent. In fact, until she heard the name of her first-round foe, she thought Stephens would be out until the hardcourt season.

“It was too bad I had to play a fellow American,” Riske said, “and especially because it was her first tournament back, so you weren’t sure exactly what you were going to get.”

Stephens had planned to return at the beginning of this season. She had a full off-season of training, and even traveled to Sydney for an Australian Open warm-up event. But after she felt further pain, a magnetic resonance imaging examination revealed a stress fracture in her left navicular, a bone at the top of the foot near the ankle.

Stephens had surgery in January and had to wear a boot and walk with her left leg propped up on a scooter. During that time, she worked for the Tennis Channel, which she said was a revelatory experience.

“There are so many things that commentators don’t see because, obviously, they are not in the locker room and not physically with us all the time,” she said. “It was just weird to be like, ‘Oh, that’s why they say that,’ or, ‘That’s why they, like, don’t know what’s going on.’”

She said she had thought: “Do you not read the paper? Do you not look at our Instagram?”

Currently No. 336 in the world because of her time away, Stephens entered Wimbledon with a protected ranking, which allows her entry into tournaments based on her old status. Stephens will be able to use the protection at seven events within the next year. She has agreed to play in World TeamTennis for the Philadelphia Freedoms, whose season starts in the middle of this month and ends in early August, and then return to the WTA Tour.

The top of the WTA Tour may be changing soon, with third-ranked Karolina Pliskova in position to claim the No. 1 ranking from Angelique Kerber during Wimbledon. Pliskova won convincingly, 6-1, 6-4, in her opening match against Evgeniya Rodina.

Kerber, who reached the final here last year, needs to do so again to have any chance of retaining the top spot. On Tuesday, she beat the American qualifier Irina Falconi, 6-4, 6-4.

Another past finalist, the ninth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, beat Jelena Jankovic, 7-6 (3), 6-0.

Aside from the Riske-Stephens match, there were two others between American women on Tuesday: Shelby Rogers defeated Julia Boserup, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, and Varvara Lepchenko beat the 28th-seeded Lauren Davis, 6-4, 7-5.

The highest seed to lose Tuesday was No. 16, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who was defeated, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 9-7, by Arina Rodionova, an Australian qualifier.

Rodionova was the only one of the nine Australians in the men’s and women’s singles draws to advance to the second round. Australia’s top woman, the 20th-seeded Daria Gavrilova, lost 6-4, 2-6, 10-8, to a qualifier, Petra Martic of Croatia. Martic recently reached the fourth round of the French Open, also as a qualifier.

The bowling out of the gutter

 

In an era a long, long time ago, Filipino tenpin bowlers were rock stars.

It was a time when a tall and dashing mestizo, Paeng Nepomuceno, loomed large as the sport’s poster boy, an era when queues of youngsters wanting to be trained by the local masters were long and the bowling centers were the “in” places to be.

Nepomuceno, Bong Coo, Lita dela Rosa, Arianne Cerdeña, Bec Watanabe and Ollie Ongtawco left for overseas competitions one after the other and came back home with  world or continental titles.

Theirs was an unparalleled two-decade (1976-1996) victory parade that made them household names, adored like the land’s basketball superstars.

Filipino bowlers crowded the Americans as the finest in the world, and the 6-foot-2 Nepomuceno exemplified the country’s preeminence with four World Cup victories, three of them coming in different decades.

But bowling’s halcyon days slowly came to an end as a series of leadership disputes and a lack of sustainable development in the sport, according to two former national team stalwarts, created thick cobwebs that smothered the sport for protracted periods.

Victories later came far and between. Christian Jan Suarez claimed the 2003 World Cup in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Liza del Rosario, Liza Clutario and Cecilia Yap ruled the women’s trio in the FIQ World Tenpin Bowling Championships in Kuala Lumpur in the same year, and Biboy Rivera seized the Masters title in both the FIQ championships in Busan, South Korea, and the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. Disappointingly, nothing followed these feats.

Last year, the depths into which the country’s hopes in bowling had slipped was magnified when Filipinos managed just two bronze medals in the 10-event Southeast Asian Games competition in Singapore. Thirty-eight years after swashbuckling Filipino bowlers grabbed seven of the eight golds disputed in the 1977 edition of the Games (they settled for the silver in the eighth event), Philippine bowling finally came to grief.

“In the 1970s and ’80s, we were next to basketball in terms of popularity,” said Philippine Bowling Federation (PBF) president Steve Hontiveros. “It breaks the heart that it’s no longer the case now. We need to make up for the lean years by making the sport stronger again.”

What caused this monumental decline?

“Technology; the game has changed,” says the legendary Nepomuceno, who won the World Cup as a 19-year-old in 1976 in Tehran and then in 1980 in Jakarta, 1992 in Le Mans, France; and 1996 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

“Science and technology took over and we were left behind technology-wise. These days you need to match your ball with the bowling lane, for example. If you don’t know how to match them, you’re already at a disadvantage. During our time, it took pure talent to curve a ball. Now the ball can do it for you.

“Times have also changed training-wise. We used to train all day because we were full-time athletes,” adds the 59-year-old Nepomuceno. “Now the bowlers train only in the evening, after office hours.”

To help stop the malady, the PBF has tapped Nepomuceno as head coach of the national men’s and women’s teams. With him in the coaching staff are top-notch players themselves: United States Bowling Congress (USBC)-certified coaches Rivera and Jojo Canare, as well as Rey Reyes and Johnson Cheng.

Considered the greatest bowler of all time, Nepomuceno is actually following in the footsteps of his late beloved father-coach Angel, who guided his son to the bulk of his 130-plus national and international titles—one of three Guinness Book of World Record entries attributed to Nepomuceno. He is also cited for being the youngest World Cup winner at 19 and for his four victories in all.

The big decline in the number of major tournaments also contributed to the paralysis, says Nepomuceno, an international bowling Hall of Famer like Coo and Dela Rosa, who is armed with the prestigious “Gold Coach” certification from the USBC.

“You get better when you compete in tournaments,” says Nepomuceno. “These days the bowlers do not have the luxury of choosing tournaments to play in simply because there is a lack of big tournaments in the first place.”

Adds Hontiveros: “Many bowling centers have closed and the remaining few still in operation, like the bowling clubs, are hard-pressed to come up with tournaments. It’s difficult to put up money for such events.”

Hontiveros recalls how players from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries in the Middle East, used to come over to train alongside their Filipino idols. Filipino bowling coaches snagged top-paying jobs in the Middle East, one of them national mentor Toti Lopa, who was hired to coach the UAE national team.

“These days the Qataris and the UAE players are among the best in the world,” says Hontiveros, the president of FIQ (the French acronym for International Tenpin Bowling Federation) from 1992 to 1997 and for more than two decades the head of the Philippine Bowling Congress, the PBF’s predecessor, until he stepped down in 2000. “We were left behind because the rest have all the equipment and the motivation to play very well.”

Early this year, with the PBF in its most serious state of disarray, Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco Jr. stepped in and urged Hontiveros to lead efforts to “essentially build a new bowling federation.”

With the blessings of the World Tenpin Bowling Association (formerly FIQ), Hontiveros gathered all the sport’s stakeholders. With the appointment of Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto, himself a former World Cupper, as PBF chair, the group drew up a new list of members and drafted a new charter. The 59-year-old Nepomuceno gave the initiative a massive boost by offering to become the national team’s head coach.

“We have set up a new organization and are developing the grassroots,” says PBF secretary general Alex Lim. “We are seeing a lot of potentials, even in the provinces.”

Nepomuceno says they will hold eliminations to choose the members of the national pool in November. From that pool they will form the six-man, six-woman PH teams that will compete in the World Combined Championships in Kuwait for the first time after three failed attempts at qualification.

“My initial work is to craft the National Bowling Pool Training Program,” he says. “It is focused on the bowlers’ physical game, lane play, understanding of equipment

, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and most importantly, mental preparation. It involves several training modules incorporated into the national pool’s training and competition calendar.”

Nepomuceno says the golden age of bowling from the mid-1970s to mid-’90s will always be an unforgettable part of the country’s sports history.

“The process of reviving that era is definitely arduous but we are certain that our aggressive and consistent effort will put the sport back to where it was once was,” he said.

With Nepomuceno rolling the first ball, the pins loom large for Philippine bowling’s long-awaited comeback.

Badminton crowdfunding would be a ‘huge’ boost

The sport received £5.5m in the build-up to Rio 2016, where GB’s Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge won bronze.

However, UK Sport felt GB players – who claimed four European medals last week – were not “credible” Tokyo 2020 medal prospects and cut all support.

“A little public support could make a big difference,” said Rajiv Ouseph.

UK Sport’s funding cut – announced in late 2016 – came into effect on 1 April.

The crowdfunding campaign has been launched by Badminton England – from which the majority of the British squad are drawn.

The cut resulted in half of the 24-strong England Badminton player squad leaving, while 13 staff members – including physiotherapists and doctors – lost their jobs.

“Personally, there aren’t as many players around for me to play with now and most of the support staff we’ve had in place have left, so any help would be massive,” European singles champion Ouseph told BBC Sport.

The team’s performance director Jon Austin admits delivering the news to the squad was one of the most difficult moments of his career.

“It was a decision which could potentially end people’s dreams and careers and I broke down in front of the players and staff having to do that,” he said.

“I still feel the decision [by UK Sport] was unjust, but we are trying to move forwards and the crowdfunding is designed to best support those that remain in the programme going forwards.”

Commonwealth champions Chris and Gabby Adcock – who claimed a maiden European gold medal last week – believe the British results at the event in Denmark prove the potential in the squad.

“It’s been a tough time for the team, no-one is denying that, but everyone has been really resilient and stuck together throughout,” Gabby Adcock told BBC Sport.

“Being an athlete is a rollercoaster and UK Sport is just another bump in the road so we won’t let it distract from our goals and the big things that we want to achieve.”

Chris Adcock added: “Everyone is fighting and we will find a way to succeed.”