Rob Houwing

Sofa, so good

2008-09-10 17:06
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing

How fitting that Mats Wilander was one of the ESPN tennis commentators for the delayed men’s singles final of the US Open.

The Swedish former world No 1 was the last “victim” (particularly so – he lost!) of the showpiece being pushed out by a day to the Monday by poor weather, prior to this week’s re-arranged meeting between a resurgent Roger Federer and now genuinely swift-rising British star Andy Murray.

Wilander, 44, was able to recount the occasion 21 years back, in 1987, when persistent Sunday rain meant he and eventual champion Ivan Lendl sweated in the locker room for several hours before regrouping a day later.

He explained that the 1987 final meant the players had to completely refocus after being thwarted on the Sunday, and that he found it hard to do: poker-faced Lendl, it seemed, made the adjustment better as he prevailed in four sets.

Wilander got revenge – yes, on the more status quo Sunday – a year later by beating the same opponent in a five-setter.

At least, Wilander ventured, Federer and Murray had known for a couple of days that their final would always be on the Monday (given the persistently irksome tournament delays), making it no different an occasion for them in many respects.

Wilander, whom I gather remains married to former SA model Sonja Mulholland, did make the point, though, that Federer was arguably more disadvantaged by the Monday scheduling, as he would have hoped to over-awe the first-time finalist Scot by way of a Flushing Meadows full house.

The stadium was well less than packed on the rescheduled “work day” although, as things turned out, an urgent, no-nonsense Federer rather cleaned up Murray in straight sets and certainly didn’t require the aid of heightened noise levels to do so.

It was always likely to be a bridge too far for the young Briton, especially as only the previous day he had had to complete semi-final business against a certain Rafa Nadal and that momentous triumph, in itself, was an unprecedented “high” for him.

Regardless of his surrender to Federer, Murray has laid down a significant personal stake. I was among those who initially doubted his credentials as he seemed to have raw talent, yet also the potential to snap like the proverbial twig, injury-wise.

But he is made much more of gym-honed muscle than gangly geekiness this year, and even had the audacity to theatrically bulge out an impressive bicep of his own en route to his sensational dismantling of the Majorcan “biggest guns in tennis” pin-up!
What? A bit of British tennis chutzpah? Blow me down.

Mind you, I was severely tempted to angrily bare my own, rather more feeble biceps on Tuesday, after my morning newspaper had informed me the Bafana Bafana friendly against Guinea at Atteridgeville was to be screened on SABC2 at 18:10.

When I tried all three SABC channels around that time, there was not a soccer ball in sight and no alert on the “info” bar, either. I eventually watched it “delayed live” after 22:00 on SABC1!

Whoever was at fault, it’s a sad state of affairs that, in the ever-nearing countdown to 2010, there can be such confusion about the TV scheduling for our national soccer team.

Only in South Africa?

Rob’s awesome foursome:
(Times given are kick-offs, not TV crossing times)

1. Australia v New Zealand, Vodacom Tri-Nations rugby, Brisbane, Saturday, 12:05, SS1 and M-Net
Phew, how do you “call” this effective final of the 2008 competition after each of these two Antipodean arch-foes has thrashed the other once this winter? You could take the comfortable cop-out route and cite home advantage to the Wallabies as swaying the balance, but I’m tipping the All Blacks with their arguably superior mongrel up front to rise best to the occasion. (You would think the late-show Boks must have planted at least some elements of self-doubt into the Aussie psyche after events at Coca-Cola Park.)

2. Liverpool v Manchester United, Premiership soccer, Liverpool, Saturday, 13:45, SS3
An early-season, true test of Liverpool’s title-challenging mettle: can they down their fierce north-west rivals and the defending champions? Even a draw would represent improvement on last season, when the Red Devils took the spoils 1-0 in the corresponding fixture and also prevailed 3-0 at Old Trafford. ‘Pool desperately hope to welcome their talisman Steven Gerrard back from injury; United will want to make up lost log ground after the postponement of their Fulham fixture last week. I back a point apiece from another typically frantic 90 minutes.

3. Sharks v Cheetahs, Currie Cup rugby, Durban, Saturday, 17:05, SS1 and M-Net
Following a pulsating, home bonus-point victory over the Bulls last week, the now table-topping Sharks’ supporters have another treat at their stronghold: the visit of the champions. The boys from Bloemfontein will be mindful that another defeat (they lost at home to WP last Saturday) starts to significantly dim their chances of a home semi-final, and will not lack motivation. But John Plumtree’s troops are riding a momentum wave: I wrongly backed them for a Durban defeat against the Bulls and won’t make the same mistake this weekend.

4. Italian F1 Grand Prix, Monza, Sunday, 14:00, SS2 and MaXimo
Back-to-back GPs … don’t motorsport junkies love ‘em! It also means the “needle” will barely have reduced after events last Sunday in Belgium, when Lewis Hamilton was demoted from chequered flag to the indignity of third spot for his perceived driving indiscretion and fresh rumours began to circulate about a “conspiracy” against McLaren. With Hamilton on 76 points and fierce rival Ferrari’s Felipe Massa breathing down his neck on 74, sparks could truly fly at Monza. Yep, you’re going to smell the fuel in your lounge.


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