Roland Garros: Five men who could make the second week for the first time

With the second Grand Slam of the year about to begin, it seemed high time to look at some of the players who could break new ground at Roland Garros this year and possibly spring a few surprises along the way.

Alexander Zverev

Zverev

Zverev is in the form of his life and is destined to remain in the upper echelons of the game for many years to come. The rangy right-hander has enjoyed a breakthrough year on the Tour, but there were signs in 2016 that he would be one to watch, when he sewed the title in St. Petersburg last September, defeating Stan Wawrinka in the final over three sets.

Since then, the German has gone from strength to strength, adding three more titles to his collection, two of which came on clay. His ability to raise his game against the world’s elite has been astonishing and was underlined when he outclassed Novak Djokovic to pick his most recent crown in Rome.

Zverev will face a very stiff first-round test in the form of Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, but the 20-year-old has already shown on a number of occasions that he can overcome adversity.

Grigor Dimitrov

Dimitrov

Many who watched Dimitrov blitz Andy Murray in a clinical Wimbledon quarter-final performance in 2014 would have expected the Bulgarian to push on. It hasn’t quite transpired like that, but the 26-year-old is displaying his swashbuckling brand of tennis on a far more regular basis in 2017.

The recruitment of coach Dani Vallverdu, formerly part of Murray’s coaching set-up, was a major coup and the intensive work that took place in the off-season in Monte Carlo has paid dividends. Impressive victories over Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori led the former junior champion at the All England Club to the title in Brisbane and this was backed up with a memorable victory in Sofia.

His first encounter during the fortnight will be against the experienced Frenchman Stephane Robert. Time will tell if Dimitrov can break his Grand Slam final duck.

Lucas Pouille

Lucas Pouille

Pouille was not on many people’s radar heading into last year and his name would have drawn shrugs from many regular observers of the sport. However, that all changed in 2016, when the 23-year-old reached two Tour finals and two consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals, at Wimbledon and the US Open, which included a sensational win over Rafael Nadal in the latter competition.

His sole title triumph this year was on clay in Budapest, where he convincingly crushed Briton Aljaz Bedene. At 6′ 1” he is not one of the tallest men on the circuit, but the Dubai resident compensates for that deficiency with a strong defensive game and a searing two-handed backhand.

Pouille’s first assignment at his home Major is against compatriot Julien Benneteau, a team-mate in France’s Davis Cup team. Given his remarkable recent improvement, bettering last year’s third-round performance at Roland Garros seems highly likely.

Nick Kyrgios

Kyrgios

Kyrgios has been beset by plenty of controversies in his fledgling career, but the 22-year-old has certainly matured recently and his scintillating brand of tennis can trouble any player in the world.

The Australian shot to prominence at Wimbledon three years ago, with an all-action display that shocked Nadal and those in attendance at SW19. His explosive groundstrokes, excellent balance and soft hands make him an exciting player to watch and last year saw him develop greater consistency with titles in Marseille, Atlanta and Tokyo. 2017 has not been as successful trophies-wise, but Kyrgios has claimed two notable scalps over Novak Djokovic.

The Canberra-born player’s first test will be against the elegant Philipp Kohlschreiber, who could push his young opponent all the way. A potentially intriguing duel.

Pablo Carreno Busta

Pablo Carreno Busta

One of a seemingly endless number of Spaniards to roll off the production line, Carreno Busta has taken a little longer to bloom than some of his fellow countrymen. However, his game has come in massively in the last year and he is currently nestled just outside the top 20.

The 25-year-old can generate a lot of power off both wings and is not afraid to come in and dispatch the loose ball when necessary, with his delicate touch at the net an indication of his extensive doubles experience. Last year saw him pick up his first ATP Tour titles, in Winston-Salem and Moscow. The Gijon-born player then captured his first clay court title in Estoril just three weeks ago.

Carreno-Busta faces German Florian Mayer in round one, with a potential third-round match-up against Dimitrov on the horizon.

Featured image: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Images (from top to bottom): Matthew Lewis/Getty Images Europe, Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Europe, Andy Lyons/Getty Images, Julian Finney/Getty Images, Kena Betancur/AFP

Manchester United didn’t ‘represent’ the city. Let’s keep football and terrorism separate

The events on Monday were absolutely horrific and fans of the red and blue halves of the city will have been saddened at the events that unfolded.

Despite this, by Wednesday evening, many supporters of Pep Guardiola’s side will have liked nothing better than to see their city neighbours humbled.

In a similar vein, Jose Mourinho’s men will no doubt have been focused on the job in hand, with the carrot of Champions League football dangling invitingly in front of them. The assumption therefore made by Jake Humphrey and Co. that the players would have struggled to focus seems implausible.

It is difficult to imagine the pain and anguish felt by the families and friends of those caught up in the chaos of Ariana Grande’s concert. However, many of the players live a long way from the city centre, and would have only been exposed to what had happened via social media and TV coverage. It is hard to imagine that they have established as intimate a connection to the place as many long-standing residents. Why, given their rather remote links to the tragedy, was there this expectation that they would have been too grief-stricken to play?

The constant attempts to shoehorn nebulous notions of ‘solidarity’ and ‘representation’ into the commentary sounded more hollow with every passing mention. Players and staff who were interviewed must have been compelled to buy into this romantic narrative that they were ‘doing it for the city’, even if they did not viscerally feel those sentiments.

It may be unpopular to say, but most people just wanted to watch a game of football. The rather nauseating way that journalists tried to extract emotive soundbites both before and after kick-off smacked of an industry that absolutely revels in carnage and suffering, no matter how much they deny it.

For United’s travelling contingent, their abiding thoughts before kick-off must have been about realising personal and professional dreams. The wild celebrations at the end, led by Mourinho, were not emblematic of a team who had their mind on far more sombre matters. It seems strange that we could have expected them to be anything other than joyous.

Featured image: Reuters

A Foot In Both Camps: Fred Callaghan

This interview with Fred Callaghan was published in the Fulham matchday programme against Brentford on Saturday 29 April 2017.

Fred Callaghan made 336 appearances for Fulham, later spending just under four years as manager at Brentford from March 1980 to February 1984. It’s the Whites he’ll be supporting today, however…

What memories do you have of your time at Fulham?

The highlight was playing and training every day there. Fulham had a good atmosphere and we were always known as a homely club. I still go as a supporter. I started off as a 15-year-old and for the last 50 years, I’ve been following Fulham. It’s part of my life.

Craven Cottage is still fantastic. The pitch is great, it’s a terrific setting and it has a great atmosphere because the crowd are so near the pitch. The fans have seen the good times and the bad. Hopefully the good times are on their way back.

Of all the players you played alongside during your time at the Club, who stands out for you?

I played with a few world-class players over the years. Obviously, the likes of Johnny Haynes, George Cohen and Alan Mullery stand out, as well as some good up-and-coming youngsters at the time like Rodney Marsh, Steve Earle, Les Barrett and John Dempsey. All these lads went on to have good careers and we all came through together.

You also spent four years as manager at Brentford. What were the highlights of your time at Griffin Park?

I’ve got some fond memories of my spell there. The only problem at the time was that there was no money to spend on players or staff. Myself and Ron Harris, who was my assistant, used to paint the dressing rooms and the crash barriers, fork the pitch, roll the pitch – we had to do everything. The team were in the old Division Three, but I brought in some decent players – Terry Hurlock, Gary Roberts, David Crown, Chris Kamara and Stan Bowles all played for me.

What do you make of the current Fulham side?

When Tom Cairney is on song, the whole team plays well. We’ve also got a few up-and-coming youngsters like Ryan Sessegnon, who grew up in the same area as me, Roehampton. He’s improved and has come a long way for a 16-year-old. We look to have a really well-balanced team and hopefully we can carry on our good form right until the end of the season and get promotion. We struggle against sides that try to hit the ball long, but if team play us on the deck, we’ll outplay them.

As for Brentford, what have you made of them this season?

Brentford have done very well and that’s all down to their chairman. He’s put his money in and employed a very good manager. Hopefully there’s a bright future for them; I’m sure there will be. They’re a useful team and it will be a hard game for us. We’ve already beaten them this season, though, so I reckon we can do that again.

Finally, are you confident Fulham will get promoted via the Play-Offs?

I think we’ll go up. We’re top scorers this season and I think the players have really entertained the crowd this term, which is all down to the style that the boss has put in place.

Image: Getty Images

Tim Vine’s verdict on the match

Bowmer’s Blog bumped into Sutton United fan Tim Vine at Gander Green Lane after his side were defeated 2-0 by Arsenal in the FA Cup.

The comedian and pun extraordinaire, who has been a vocal supporter of the club and a visible presence throughout their improbable Cup journey, was magnanimous in defeat and felt that Arsenal deserved the victory.

“I think we did very well, but you’re left thinking that if we’d just put a couple of those chances away obviously it would have been different, but that’s what the great sides do, they always do enough each time. So I think if we’d put those two chances in, we probably would have lost 4-2. I think Arsenal would always have done enough to beat us, because they are just a better side.”

House of Commons speaker John Bercow was also at the match, although he supports Arsenal.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: BBC

Exclusive: Sutton defender believes Lincoln can upset Arsenal

Sutton full-back Dan Spence believes Lincoln could upset the applecart in the next round of the FA Cup when they face Arsenal at the Emirates next month.

Speaking exclusively to Bowmer’s Blog after his side’s match with the Gunners, Spence believes that the Imps will be confident going into their clash with Arsene Wenger’s men.

When asked if Lincoln have a chance in the next round, his response was emphatic. “Of course. Obviously, Arsenal are going to be odds-on favourites, but, like Lincoln, have already showed, this season they’re doing really well in the league and they’ve taken those performances into the Cup. They’ve already had two or three big upsets so you can’t ever write them off. I think they’ll do themselves proud.”

The game was the biggest in the club’s history, but the 27-year-old felt that neither he nor any of his team-mates were distracted or overawed by the occasion. “Although this is the 5th round of the FA Cup, we’ve all played in big games – maybe not as big as this – but in big games before and as a footballer you’ve got to be prepared for that. Concentration is one of the main things you have to keep up in any game.”

Despite not managing to get on the scoresheet, the National League outfit went very close on a number of occasions, most notably when  former Arsenal academy graduate Roarie Deacon saw his shot thunder off the bar and Spence felt that they could have got back in the game. “There was a really good chance, we hit the bar. I think we had a Jamie Collins header from a corner which was close. If we had managed to take one of those chance with twenty minutes to go, you never know what could have happened.”

The former Eastleigh player, an Arsenal fan himself, came on as a second-half substitute and enjoyed pitting his wits against his boyhood club.

“Yeah, it was really good to come up against players of their calibre. You obviously don’t get to do it very often if at all, so when the opportunity comes around, you’ve just got to take it and I think we’ve done ourselves proud today.

“Obviously, the flair players are good players to play against because you don’t get to play against these types of players ever. They’re in national teams, they’ve played at World Cups and European Championships. They are all big players, so to play against any of them was a privilege.

“I came on for the last 20 minutes or so, so I didn’t get a full taste of what they offered, but, yeah of course, they’re really sharp, they’re obviously really fit and quick so it was tough, but I think the boys who started the game did really well and obviously keeping it down to 2-0 in the end was probably a decent result.”

Sutton return to normality next Saturday when they face Torquay at Plainmoor in the National League.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: Getty Images

 

 

Sutton v Arsenal – the alternative picture

It was an absolute privilege to be at Gander Green Lane last night. Although the game finished 2-o to the Gunners, this did not dampen the spirits of the home supporters, many of whom may never witness an occasion like this again. Here are some photos that I took using my phone on what was a momentous day for Sutton United Football Club.

 

The skyline looked incredible – a sign of things to come….

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The ‘half-and-half’ scarf sellers were out in force….

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The fans were in high spirits….

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The stage was set….

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Sutton v BBC floodlights (which one’s which?)….

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The home fans were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the superstars (and Arsenal)….

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Hang on, this isn’t the National League….

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It’s Dan Walker! Meanwhile, Gary Lineker and Co. were in the TV-shaped MOTD studio (far left)….

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The views (and pictures) weren’t always the best….

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At least the cameraman had a great vantage point….

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Arsenal certainly were rapid at times….

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A masked man was arrested after invading the pitch and gesticulating at Nacho Monreal. You don’t get that in the Copa del Rey….

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Before soaking up the adulation of the adoring home crowd….

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People were making use of every vantage point they could find ….

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Arsenal opted for a luxury coach on this occasion….

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The visitors were certainly pestered by Sutton for large swathes of the match….

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The gates were completely unnecessary (look at those hooligans)….

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Those watching for free were soon interrupted by the Met Police (see hi-vis jackets)….

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There was a bit of a flare-up in the second period….

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There was a pitch invasion at full-time….

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Wenger sought sanctuary in the tunnel….

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Before being mobbed….

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The calm after the storm….

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Loitering near the home dressing room for an interview (which I got – watch this space)….

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Sutton boss Paul Doswell has time for some solitude….

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90 extra seats had been installed to accommodate Arsenal fans….

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The home manager is then interviewed by the club’s in-house TV station….

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The clear-up had well and truly begun, with the club volunteers helped by a red fox….

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Alex Bowmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sustainability the key for Sutton to thrive

Amid all the drama of the build-up to the biggest game in Sutton United’s history, manager Paul Doswell was a picture of serenity as he took his seat in front of the massed ranks of journalists.

It is difficult to overstate the achievements of this friendly, family club situated on the outer fringes of south London. Their improbable run began in the fourth qualifying round with a 2-1 home win against fellow National League outfit Forest Green Rovers. That was followed by a 6-3 demolition of Dartford, before slaying EFL opponents Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United to get to this point.

Doswell has admitted that the “media circus” has at times been difficult to deal with, but he is not one to get carried away and is certainly not likely to be angling for a move to a professional club.

He has been at Gander Green Lane for nine years following eight years at Eastleigh. Despite the temptation to spend the revenue generated from this glorious Cup run on players, Doswell has a far more long-term, sustainable vision which involves the whole community, particularly the children in the local area.

The money “won’t go into buying players – our wage budget is very, very strict – but we need four new dressing rooms for the younger ones. We can announce that the ground will be renamed the Knights Community Stadium. The Knights Community Stadium runs academies and we’ve got 100 16-year-olds starting in September for the new school term. So we’re looking hopefully to buy four dressing rooms, four shower rooms and place them round the ground. And we’ve got a roof leak; everyone knows about the roof.”

Doswell is head of a property development company and it is this business acumen that shines through when he speaks. He is also an avid Southampton fan and was a regular attendee at their Europa League matches and made trips to both Prague and Milan. Despite the vast disparity in resources between the clubs, the boss can see some obvious parallels.

“We would have played Southampton if they’d bother to beat Arsenal,” he joked. “I had a lovely text from Les Reed as well after we got the draw, just saying that ‘I’m sorry we couldn’t have done better against Arsenal’. I sort of model myself a little bit on what Southampton have done, because I think the model here, which is to bring young players in, improve them and let them move on is not a lot different to what Southampton have done. Our budget in the National League is comparative to Southampton’s in the Premier League, relatively speaking, so naturally I take a lot of references from the club.”

The rehabilitating role that clubs like Sutton play cannot be underestimated. Many aspiring footballers enter top Premier League academies from a very young age hoping that they have got what it takes, but very few eventually make the grade.

“When you’re released by Arsenal and Palace and all the rest of it, your life changes very quickly,” Doswell remarked. “Jeffrey Monakana is a prime example, and Jack Jebb actually. Both at Arsenal – one was going to be the new Jack Wilshere and one was going to be the new winger on the block and they both ended up here. What we try to do is rehabilitate these players in a positive way and if another club in the football chain wants to take them, then we welcome that. It’s an unusual thing that a manager wants his players to progress, but that’s the situation here.”

Doswell’s shrewd transfer policy should be applauded, but for all his efforts, the club would not exist without an army of volunteers beavering away behind the scenes. Without them, there would be no Sutton United.

Their willingness to work for nothing has allowed the club to operate on a shoestring and the small size of the club means that every person’s contribution is recognised and appreciated, not least by the manager himself. “I have ended up, not realising it, putting the club under enormous pressure because of the media situation. We’ve had people like our press officer Tony Dolbear, who has actually had to take days off work just to become a press officer. That’s what you need to write about, it’s the volunteers here that genuinely take holiday days off. I take my hat off to them really.”

As a result of their Cup exploits, Sutton’s league form has nosedived and they currently sit 17th in the National League. However, the idea of being promoted does not hold much appeal for the club, mainly because it would mean having to get rid of the artificial pitch that has brought them so much success. The surface has made Gander Green Lane a fortress, but only grass pitches are permitted in EFL competition. The 3G pitch is used by local school children and Sutton’s junior sides, bringing much-needed revenue into the club, as well as a new generation of passionate followers and their parents, who will hopefully return in their droves long after the whistle has sounded on their FA Cup journey.

“The National League is the holy grail for us. If people can take anything from this Cup run, it’s the fact that we’ve gone from having zero children here, because they couldn’t play on the [old] pitch as it was so bad, to having hundreds, and I mean hundreds. That means that mums and dads come down and they’re engaged in the club and if League One and League Two had one club which would vote to allow this it would be unbelievable and it’s a brilliant pitch by the way. It’s been played in the SPL, it’s been played in the World Cup for the women in Canada and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

The attendance figures have risen notably since Sutton decided to slash ticket prices, with the long-term pay-off outweighing the short-term pain. “The best decision we ever made was making season tickets £5 for adults and free for children. As a father now, you can bring your two kids down here for five quid. Since that change, our crowds have gone from 700 to nearly 2,000 and we are definitely picking up people who are disenfranchised paying £100 for a ticket.”

Many managers often admit that their personal life takes a hit when they are immersed in such an all-consuming job. When things aren’t going well, this sacrifice must seem futile. However, times like these make all the toil seem worthwhile.

“My job, the family and football are the three things that keep me going. With all of us, we get it in the wrong order at times, it’s normally football, family and work. My wife and children have probably suffered at times because of my obsession with the game but then  you watch my kids run on the pitch after the Leeds game and for me, that’s priceless.”

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: SUFCTV