Tennis but not as you know it

A couple of weeks ago, BTSport’s tennis coverage switched to the latest rounds of the Fed Cup – the self-styled World Cup of tennis wherein players team up according to their country and battle it out to win the tournament and be best across the globe.

The British team were playing on British soil for the first time in several years, and were doing pretty well, so it was some constant and slightly one-sided broadcasts that we watched but even so, it was brilliant! I’ve not really paid this tournament any attention before but now I’m hooked!

Three things to love about Fed Cup tennis:

  • The team nature. It’s not very often you see tennis players working as a team. Sure, there’s doubles but here we had players sitting on the sidelines roaring for their teammates as they all tried to do their best for their country. It’s such an individual sport, and one that relies so heavily on the mental side of things, that to see the impact having a consistent level of support does is really interesting.
  • The team captain. I’m fascinated by this team captain business, wherein all the pressure rests on your shoulders but you can’t really do anything except decide who plays when and then have a quick word with them each time they sit down. It must be pretty frustrating and nail biting, but equally must deliver a great sense of pride when/if it all comes together.
  • Great tennis. For whatever reason, most of the people playing said it all meant so much more when playing for your country, and that means we got to see some really great tennis.

Three things not to love about Fed Cup tennis:

  • Trying to figure out how it works. I have studied this calendar for plenty long enough and not gotten anywhere, it makes no sense to me. Also, were Britain playing in a sort of pre-qualifying match whereas Romania were already in the next round but playing at the same time?
  • Lack of Hawkeye. I think because Britain were playing a prior round (maybe?) they were in Bath, which was a decent location but perhaps lacks some of the conveniences of the more high profile tennis destinations. Everyone involved seemed to be complaining about poor line calls and there is no recourse without Hawkeye. In this day and age, it’s so frustrating to return to places that don’t have the technology because you know that it could just solve the problems so much easier.
  • Tie breaks. It felt like every set that Britain played ended up going to a tie break and oof, those things are stressful at the best of times let alone when everyone involved wants it SO BADLY.

Still, none of those things has put me off and I am intrigued to know what happens in the next round. If only I could figure out when it actually is.

Back on the courts for 2019

One of the things that brightens an otherwise dull January is the return of tennis. Things in tennis-land go quiet in December, once the finals are all complete and players are taking a well-deserved rest. But the WTA swings back into action in January, and we are already saturated with coverage. Brisbane, Auckland, Shenzhen and some bonus Hopman Cup were all available on our screens this past week.

With a year of the ups and downs of the tennis rollercoaster ahead, here are five things I’m looking forward to:

  • Seeing how Halep fares without coach Darren Cahill. I always worry that too much is made of the coach/player relationship – the player has to be superbly talented to get to the top regardless of who is talking them through it. In Halep’s case, though, it’s clear that Darren’s no-nonsense attitude worked to great effect and helped her battle through whatever nerves or negative thinking was holding her back. Last year, she retained her World Number 1 spot, and took home her first Grand Slam winner’s trophy. Not bad going. Like many, I was gutted to see that the dream team would be parting ways, but on the other hand it does give us a chance to see if Halep can retain what she’s learned as she continues this journey.
  • The comebacks. Murray continues to be a warrior and fights to play. He’s said many times that he’s not sure how much longer his playing career will go on for so every day is a bonus. It’ll be interesting to see if he can get any more decent success, he’s certainly worked for it. The same goes for Serena Williams, who already bounced back into the game in incredible style, but has just that little way to go to get back to her dominant self. Watch this space.
  • The chasers. Those who are just starting to show what they’re made of – Svitolina, Ostapenko, Kvitova, we can even put Kerber in that bracket after her drop in performance following previous dominance. Halep needs to watch her back because there are so many talented players just waiting for a chance at the top spot.
  • The rule changes – of all the tweaks this year, final set tie breaks is the one I’m most interested in. I know some people enjoy the Wimbledon matches that go on for 5+ hours, but I’m fascinated to see the furious tension in those final tie breaks, as opposed to the exhaustion of two players slugging it out to the dying moments.
  • The unknowns. What is, of course, one of the highlights of any tennis year is getting to the end of it and realising the player that is now a household name was nowhere at the start. Like Naomi Osaka’s rise to glory last year, it’s always fab to see the youngsters breaking through and fighting with the established names. Who will it be in 2019?

Even though tennis is on almost all the year round, and the rolling nature of the points system means it is never really done, January does feel like a fresh start of a new season. Four fresh Grand Slams await, with hundreds of fabulous tournaments in between, let’s get this thing going!

The summer tennis tournament

I have, during the course of writing on this blog, mentioned many times the ways and means I am enjoying Wimbledon – whether that is indulging in endless TV and radio streams, analysing what options are available on various app stores, or even being lucky enough to attend the tournament itself.

This year, I am firmly back in my armchair, and have even indulged in a couple of days off work to ensure I capture as much of the opening matches as I possibly can.

That begins with the wonder that is The Wimbledon Channel. Their main radio stream is wonderful, featuring a rotation of hosts and guests, analysts and pundits, plenty of fun and games and interactive thought-provoking questions and quizzes, and, of course, most importantly of all, tournament-wide coverage. There are play-by-play streams for Centre Court and Court 1, but if you want to keep on top of everything that’s happening, then this is the radio stream for you.

On top of that, you’ve got the BBC’s excellent coverage. BBC and Wimbledon go hand-in-hand, naturally, but this year it feels like there’s even more to watch than ever. The action tends to get underway just before midday, and if you head on to the iPlayer, you’re confronted with many, many individual court streams to choose from. At one point, there were 14 different possibilities. There’s also the main television coverage, with Sue Barker, Clare Balding and the lovely Lee McKenzie holding the fort.

So, radio in one ear, tv coverage on the big screen, and an iPlayer stream on my mobile device. Is that enough? I don’t think so!

It’s not unique and has probably been around for a while, but this year I’ve been loving the official Wimbledon app’s ability to track your favourite players and give you updates about when they’re about to start playing, and how they’re getting on. You get notifications that they are warming up, that the match is about to start, as each set goes one way or the other, and the result at the end of it. My only complaint would be perhaps a bit more warning, and some court info, so you can track down the players before it all gets underway. But when you’re following as many players as I’m trying to, these notifications are priceless.

And talking of apps, it’s great that Wimbledon have gone all out and have a dedicated Apple TV app – not many people do, in fact not all TV broadcasters do, let alone a two-week sports tournament. That app has the aforementioned Wimbledon Channel, as well as highlights and scores. It also features a photo montage that unfortunately has oddly shaped stretched pictures – good idea, bad execution – and there’s no main coverage of matches, as obviously the broadcast rights lie elsewhere.

The iOS app has a few niggles – it asks you every time if you are going to be visiting Wimbledon, where this is a setting that surely only needs asking once. It also has a metric/imperial toggle on every stats page, where this could also be a setting people only choose once. The scrolling can be a bit janky, and the Today widget doesn’t function if you try and interact with it.

But those are small negatives against a tournament that is consistently upping its game in terms of coverage, bringing fans into the bubble that is otherwise pretty hard to get into, and keeping up the excitement even when some of the bigger names drop out early. I’ve been writing about Wimbledon coverage for at least ten years, and somehow, it is still just as fresh as if this was my first ever post. Great job, Wimbles, bring on the strawberries!

Covering all the angles of the Champions League final

Football is still mostly a mystery to me, but I occasionally find matches on TV and leave them on so I can soak it up via osmosis. This weekend, the Champions League final was on TV, and we watched Bayern Munich – the only German team I have heard of – play another German team. At one point I recognised the name Schweinsteiger but that’s about as far as it went.

Where the real interest of this game lay was in a new addition to the Sky Sports app on the iPad. This is an app that is available for people who are subscribed to Sky Sports in some capacity, and it allows for tablet viewing with a few extra features. For the Champions League final, they gathered the information from up to twenty cameras around the pitch and made them available as highlights, for replay, and to review.

In an attempt to give fans more of an overview of key moments of the game, and presumably in lieu of goal line technology, Sky offered these many camera angles of each important moment. So, for example, a goal or a near miss would be available to review from near and far, from fixed cameras and Steadicam runners, from the pitch to the crowd.

sky-sports-for-ipad-app

From the screenshot above, you can see how easy it is to use. Something key would happen and the specific incidents would appear along the bottom with an indicator of how many camera angles are available to review. Select the replays in question, and then you can pick your desired view from the many camera options placed around the pitch above.

This is just brilliant. It took me a while to get used to what I was seeing, and given my lack of any bearings whatsoever, I often got confused and picked the wrong camera for what I wanted. But, for people that are better at directions and know what they’re looking for when it comes to footballing incidents, this could be an incredibly useful feature.

It could go even further and be able to sync between shots – so you could select one and halfway through move to another view, rather than going back to the beginning each time like it currently does. I also thought a 14 camera replay of the trophy lift was perhaps a bit obsessive. But those are minor complaints against what is a really great step forward in bringing more information to the armchair fan.

The launch of this feature was brought to specifically coincide with the Champions League final, but they are meant to be making it available for every single Champions League match they cover next season. I can see this catching on, and not just for football. It would be particularly useful in Formula One, and I can see it putting Hawkeye to shame in tennis matches in the future, too.

The 2012 Olympics – Days 11 to 16, The end

Whilst my previous posts on this subject have been bullet point notes of things that have stood out for me, I can’t do the same for this one. Already, the specific details are beginning to fade from my brain, and we’re only one day post-Olympics. Mo was brilliant, obviously. There were some great final moments in the modern pentathlons, weird as they are. Tom Daley’s diving on Friday was fantastic, not just because he got the medal, but because the overall standard was so incredibly high.

And then there was the Closing Ceremony. Billed as a festival of British music, it was a glorified variety show, and one of those mixtures where you cannot please anyone. But the bits that did please, were epic. For me, that included Freddie, and Queen, the Spice Girls, Take That, Eric Idle (although more for how rousing it was than the Monty Python references that mostly go over my head). There were far too many fireworks, so much so they almost looked like things were on fire, but the colours and the glory made it all worthwhile.

The flame went out, and things were officially handed over to Rio.

Where does that leave us now? After two weeks of constant sports choice, channel after channel stocked full of competition, endeavour, role models and medals, it’s back to normality.

Oddly, I feel as though I’ve had a holiday. For the past fortnight, I essentially gave myself permission to do nothing that wasn’t London 2012 related, and although I still kept up with some “chores”, it was a vacation of sorts. And thus now I feel rejuvenated and ready to get even more productive than ever before. This must be what people feel like when they actually do holiday!

To finish, I’ll just revisit the sports as I promised I would.

  • Aquatics – It was incredible! Even more fun than I thought it would be, and it was quite sad that the main racing action finished halfway through.
  • Archery – I didn’t watch much of this, but the bits I did see were better than I’d thought – if not as Robin Hood as I’d hoped.
  • Athletics – It really is the mainstay of the sport. The relays were great, and I got more and more into the jumping events too.
  • Badminton – I saw, perhaps, one match.
  • Basketball – Actually found myself less interested in this than I’d hoped. All the time-outs did my head in.
  • Boxing – Wasn’t as disturbing as I’d thought, apparently there’s a difference between amateur and professional. Either way, it’s still not my thing.
  • Canoeing – I’m disappointed in the amount of white-water stuff I saw, but the one-kneed variety actually made my knees hurt just watching.
  • Cycling – I mentioned my thoughts on cycling last time, but I did enjoy it – as grumpy as I sounded about it.
  • Equestrian – The only horsey stuff I really got involved with was in the modern pentathlon, when they were all on random horses. Hard!
  • Fencing – Only saw the lady that protested with a bit of a sit-in. I find fencing confusing.
  • Field hockey – I had no idea the hockey was quite so dangerous, but what I saw, I quite enjoyed.
  • Football – Watched a bit of football, but it’s so commonplace, that I wasn’t too bothered.
  • Gymnastics – Loved the gymnastics, but after the first few rounds, it felt as though we were watching the same old, same old. Naturally, the gymnasts have their one routine for each apparatus, so you only need to see it once or twice. Meanwhile, the group rhythmic stuff was brilliant! I take back what I said about it before.
  • Handball – Started to get into this towards the end of the fortnight, but a lot of the throwing and catching seems a bit of a waste of time.
  • Judo – Less violent than I thought but quite exhausting to watch all the hopping from one foot to the other.
  • Modern pentathlon – This felt very tacked on the end, and it was unfortunate timing that I didn’t see as much as I’d like.
  • Rowing – I liked the rowing but the commentators were awful and ruined it for me.
  • Sailing – I couldn’t really follow the individual races, I didn’t understand what I was looking at, but I liked following the results and working out who could win, etc, etc.
  • Shooting – I didn’t see any of this, only clips from the Team GB gold medallist.
  • Table tennis – It became a bit of a laughing stock in our household. Clearly quite a skilful thing to do, but everything is so tiny and it all feels faintly ridiculous.
  • Taekwondo – I don’t think I saw any of this, unless it slipped in when I thought I was watching Judo.
  • Tennis – Same as football – enjoyed what I saw but felt just like a multi-colour Wimbledon.
  • Triathlon – Like the modern pentathlon, the timing of this was bad for me to be able to watch but I still love it.
  • Volleyball – I much preferred the indoor volleyball to the out, and really got into one match – although I needed to brush up on the rules.
  • Weightlifting – I actually can’t believe how little weightlifting I saw, but the ones I did see were lifting weights that looked downright dangerous!
  • Wrestling – This, I’m not even sure it was actually aired! I kept seeing it on the schedule, but I don’t remember seeing it anywhere or being talked about at all!

Overall, I can only reiterate what I said in the Sidepodcast comments after the Closing Ceremony. It was an amazing fortnight, made great not just because it was in London, but because there was so much access on the BBC, and through the magic of Sidepodcast and social networks, we all got to share in it together. I’d say roll on Rio, but there is so much to get done before then!

The 2012 Olympics – Days 6-10

As with my previous post, here are just some random thoughts from the last few days of competition.

  • The Men’s 400m final was brilliant. Not only were there twins in the race, but they crossed the line at almost exactly the same time! They came 5th and 6th and were just two hundredths of a second apart!
  • Of course, you can’t talk about brothers without mentioning the Brownlee duo who finished the Men’s Triathlon in gold and bronze positions. A fact someone was kicking about at work was that if the Brownlee family was a country, they’d have been 36th in the medal table.
  • Ridiculously happy that Beth Tweddle got a medal. After such a great career and kickstarting gymnastics in this country, she deserved it. A little sad it wasn’t of a different colour, because we know she could produce the goods after her bars performance in qualifying, but still. A medal!
  • We made the silly mistake of going out this weekend, which meant we had to find a bar to watch Jess Ennis secure her gold medal. Sitting in front of a TV screen with very low volume, Mr C and myself plus a few other people gathered to watch her cross the line in the 800m in first place. There was polite clapping. I’d secretly hoped for cheering, but there weren’t very many of us so clapping was the best we could do.
  • I’m a little bit confused by the sports that have such a long endurance-style event – tennis, football, hockey. All these group fixtures and rounds seem immensely unfair. For example, the weightlifting, athletics, hockey – you get one day or one night to prove you can do what you do and that’s it. A medal rests on your performance on that day and you have to live with the result. Heats and semi-finals to knock the number of competitors down are fine, but these sports that are like mini-tournaments just don’t seem in-keeping with the same philosophy.
  • Bit disappointed in the cycling. After getting confused with the pelican, I was looking forward to the action in the velodrome before realising there are no normal races. If it’s not slipstreaming this and that, it’s following an old guy on a pace bike, or playing cat and mouse. What happened to good old fashioned pedalling as fast as you can until you cross the line?
  • For the first few days, I was a bit overwhelmed with all the choice, and ultimately came to the conclusion that there was too much! I was trying to catch up with things I’d missed during the day whilst the action was still going on, watching two screens at once and mostly coming back with very little taken in. In the end, I realised that what I needed to do was tune in to BBC1 HD and let Gary Linekar talk me through everything I needed to know. Once I relaxed into that, it’s been a gazillion times better. Who knew there really could be too much choice?
  • In my last post, I said it was a great feeling when we won that first gold medal, because we weren’t always winning them all the time. Our first taste of metal was glorious and created a real buzz. Since then, they’ve been flooding in and we’re now sitting third in the medal table! I don’t understand what it is to be a country that wins stuff! Of course, there are still the more manageable moments where we go out of the football on penalties but this is a new, inspired Britain! I’m assuming the home advantage is playing a big part in this and in Rio things will be more normal, but even so, it does seem like we’re getting good at this crazy sporting business.

Unreal to think that there are just, at time of posting (Day 11), there are only five days left!

The 2012 Olympics – Opening Ceremony & Days 1-5

With the Olympics taking over everything, I thought I’d spare five minutes to note down some thoughts on what I’ve seen so far. These are just scrabbled notes, not arranged in much of an order,

Opening Ceremony Highlights

  • Rowan Atkinson’s moment of glory was fabulous. The ability of one man to captivate what turned out to be an audience made up of 26 million is so good. I’m sure there are people that don’t and didn’t like him, but I thought it was perfect.
  • Likewise, giving Tim Berners-Lee centre stage was one of the top moments for me. We watched and commented the opening ceremony over on Sidepodcast which increased the experience ten-fold, and it wasn’t lost on us that without TBL, we wouldn’t have been able to do that. “This is for everyone!”
  • The chimneys! There were plenty of moments where we scratched our heads wondering how it had been done, but the chimneys came out of the ground so smoothly, it was genius to watch.
  • Kenneth Branagh’s slightly smug and proudly happy smile as he watched those Olympic rings being forged – something tells me there wasn’t much acting going on there, and it gave a bit of a warm glow inside.
  • The Queen! HRH gained herself a lot of respect with the James Bond sketch.
  • Lighting the flame. I wasn’t particularly bothered who got to do it, I hadn’t actually realised that was such a big deal. So I wasn’t moved or disappointed when it was the seven youngsters. It was still captivating to watch, and the moment all the individual flames came together to become one giant roaring fire was glorious.

Opening Ceremony Lowlights

  • It was quite long! I had to go bed late for the second day in a row, and I am too old for such things!
  • Dizzee Rascal. I know not all of it was going to be to everyone’s tastes, and I’m fine with the vast array of stuff that was on display. I’m even fine with Dizzee getting some air-time, but did it have to be Bonkers? I hate that song so much.
  • The gold armpits on the Team GB suits. Really, really bad. No wonder Stella McCartney distanced herself from them. Although I have my own issues with the team kits that she designed anyway.
  • No Brian May. Or Brian Blessed. Actually, there was a distinct lack of Brians throughout.

Days 1-5 Highlights

  • Falling in love with athletes all over again. I tend to forget from one event to the next, but already I’ve become attached to Hannah Miley and Jennifer Pinches. I’m also desperate for Beth Tweddle to win that bars final but part of me is dreading the day actually arriving.
  • That moment you finally win gold. I commented this on Sidepodcast at the time – whilst it must be nice to be like China and the US, racking up medals all the time, there’s something to be said for less is more. That buzz in the office when we found out about our first 2012 gold in the rowing… priceless.
  • The overflowing Twitter feeds. I was just starting to put into place a system where I could catch up with my timeline and not miss anything, but I’ve had to throw that out the window. It’s great though, lots of updates and fab people to follow.
  • So much choice! There is always something to watch, never a dull moment. I spent the entire weekend in front of the TV and could have kept that up all week too. Curses at having to go to work.
  • Princes in the audience. I spotted Princes Wills and Harry in the audience when we got silver in the gymnastics (quickly demoted to bronze) and then silver in the horsey stuff. They are silver lucky for us!
  • Learning about all different kinds of sports and enjoying them with the live comments. If you have any spare time over the next week or so, you should join in. It makes things heaps more interesting and plenty more fun!

Days 1-5 Lowlights

  • Finding out hockey is quite such a brutal sport. People keep getting carried off in stretchers and the Team GB women’s captain had to have surgery on her jaw. Now I feel like we got off lightly at school.
  • Not managing to make it through the catch-up stream of the women’s gymnastics team final before they put up a lengthy highlights package on the TV anyway. Not so much from a spoilers point of view, but just because by then it was like… argh, give it up. Watch the highlights. Move on!
  • Not comprehending the road cycling race with it’s peleton that I kept on referring to as a pelican. Still frustrated by it.