Bumper Easter weekend of sport guide
With so much sport on, it’s hard to know what comes at the top of the tree but the biggest sporting event in the world this weekend is surely the US Masters, held at the magical Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. A field of 95 golfers is headlined by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Tiger has won the event four times but none since 2005. McIlroy was in prime position to win it last year for most of the four days but blew it on the final day. Instead South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, who finished the last four holes with four birdies, won his first Major. Credit ought to be given to McIlroy though because he recovered to win the US Open later in the year, a great show of resilience. In the previous 75 editions of the Masters, no Australian has ever won. Greg Norman came agonisingly close on so many occasions but just missed out. Last year we had a great year. Jason Day and Adam Scott were joint runners-up, while Geoff Ogilvy finished tied for fourth with Tiger Woods. The three other Aussies in the field are Aaron Baddely, John Sendon and amateur Bryden Macpherson. Other names to look out for are Phil Michelson, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose.
The Track Cycling World Championships are on right here in Melbourne at Hisense arena. The five day event from Wednesday through to Sunday doubles as qualification for the Olympic Games. The main narrative centres on the traditional Aussie-British rivalry. Our big guns are Anna Meares, Kaarle McCulloch and Shane Perkins. For the Brits, Victoria Pendleton and Sir Chris Hoy are the main attractions. After a terrible showing by the Australian ‘Cyclones’ at the Beijing Olympics, we have recovered well to dominate the most recent Track Cycling World Championships. Last year in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, we won 9 gold medals of the 18 events on offer, including 6 out of eight events that will be on at the Olympics.
The biggest horse racing day of autumn is on Saturday at Rosehill Gardens. Of course, I’m talking about Golden Slipper day. There are nine races on the card, five of which are Group Ones. The feature race of the day, though, is the second richest race in Australia (after the Melbourne Cup), the $3.5 million Golden Slipper Stakes. Most pundits were disappointed when Black Caviar’s half-brother All Too Hard was not nominated by trainer John Hawkes. Instead Samaready firms as favourite over 1200m, but will start from barrier 11 in a 16-horse race. 2010 Melbourne Cup winner Americain will start favourite for the $2.25 million BMW over 2,400m. On a tragic note, the racing world was shocked and saddened to hear midweek that Pinker Pinker died after an anaphylactic reaction to a routine injection. Pinker Pinker won last year’s Cox Plate and the four-year-old mare was due to race in the Group 1 Queen Of The Turf Stakes this Saturday.
The footy codes are on as usual. The AFL has another protracted round and again the debate of whether or not matches should be played on Good Friday comes up. Well, their rugby counterparts have taken advantage of the free day; Super Rugby has scheduled a triple-header while the NRL has an earlier (4pm) match between Souths and the Broncos. The match of the round in the AFL is definitely Geelong v Hawthorn on Easter Monday. Since Hawthorn’s win in the 2008 Grand Final, Geelong have won the last seven in a row but many by very small margins and many where Hawthorn were in genuine winning positions. A confidence boosting win over Collingwood last week has led to most tipsters backing Hawthorn. My upset of the round is for the Western Bulldogs, who regain Ryan Griffen, to beat Adelaide on Saturday night. Melbourne Storm face their first real test this year, playing the Jonathan Thurstan led Cowboys away on Sunday night.
My AFL tips for Round 2: Carlton, Essendon, Fremantle, West Coast, Collingwood, Western Bulldogs, North Melbourne, St Kilda, Geelong.
My NRL tips for Round 6: Bulldogs, Broncos, Roosters, Cronulla, Raiders, Newcastle, Storm, Penrith.
It’s week two of the A-league finals. Perth host Wellington in the minor semi-final on Saturday night after both won their elimination finals last weekend. Phoenix have to find a way to stop Shane Smetz, who is in devastating form having scored all seven goals for Perth over the last two weekends (both against Melbourne teams). On Sunday, it’s the second-leg of the major semi-final between Central Coast and Brisbane at Bluetongue Stadium. Brisbane goes in carrying a 2-0 advantage after Henrique and Eric Paartalu scored at Suncorp Stadium last week. But the Roar is disadvantaged because they had to travel to South Korea for a midweek Asian Champions League match. The winner of this major semi-final (on aggregate) will host the Grand Final while also having a week’s extra preparation, while the loser plays the winner of Perth and Wellington for a place in the GF next week.
The Premier League heats up, especially on Sunday where both Manchester teams are in action. United’s win against Blackburn last week has meant they’ve opened up a 5-point lead ahead of City, who for so much of the season led the table. Newcastle are riding high after a after a 2-0 win against Liverpool, and they, along with Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham are all vying for spots into next year’s Champions league.
After the ODI series finished tied 2-2 and the T20 series finished 1-1, it’s now time for the Test matches between West Indies and Australia, with the first of three starting Saturday night (our time) at Bridgetown. Australia won a three-day practice match midweek by 8 wickets. Matthew Wade will make his Test debut, as wicket-keeper Brad Haddin went home for personal reasons. Captain Michael Clarke has hinted at playing just one spinner for this First Test and has admitted there being a ‘problem’ of fitting five pace bowlers in three spots – James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc. No away series is ever easy but Australia have won 16 of the last 19 Test matches against West Indies, including two draws, so we have the wood on them. And the West Indies have not won a Test series against Australia since 1992/93.
Formula 1 resumes next weekend with the third round at China but the focus is on Casey Stoner as Moto GP makes its return, it feels like an unusually late start to this season. Round 1 will be in Qatar, the first of 18 rounds and the only night race on the calendar. The Losail circuit is a happy hunting ground for Stoner, who’s won there four of the last five years. Stoner became MotoGP World Champion for the second time last year there’s really nothing stopping him from replicating that this year, especially after showing fantastic form through pre-season testing. His main challengers in this race, as well as throughout the year, will be Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Americans Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden. Seven time world champion Valentino Rossi, whose career is waning, looks like he’ll be off the pace again this year as he struggles to control his Ducati.
It’s quarter-finals weekend in the Davis Cup with the respective match-ups as follows: Spain v Austria, France v USA, Czech Republic v Serbia and Argentina v Croatia. Believe it or not, it’s the first time ever that all four quarter-finals are played on clay. As for the Australian team, we host South Korea in Brisbane and if we win this, we’ll play a playoff later in the year with the incentive of getting back in the Word Group for the first time since 2007. Lleyton Hewitt is prevented from playing because of injury but will be there anyway; it shows how much it means to him. Instead Bernard Tomic and Matthew Ebden will spearhead the team, playing the singles, while Chris Guccione and Marinko Matosevic have been assigned Saturday’s doubles match.
Also on this weekend is round 2 of the ANZ netball championships. The Melbourne Vixens had a massive win against Queensland Firebirds to open the season last week. Queensland were last year’s champions and were on a 15-match winning streak. This round Vixens play West Coast Fever in Perth, in fact our first 3 rounds are all on the road. West Coast are coached by former Diamonds coach Norma Plumber and much is expected from them this season opposed to previous seasons.
Both NBL semi-final series head to a decider, both to be played on Sunday night. New Zealand are playing Townsville and Gold coast are playing Perth; the respective winners will advance to the Grand Final series. Also on is the annual Boat Race. Traditional university rivals Cambridge and Oxford will fight it out on 11:15pm Saturday night (our time). The rowing event started way back in 1829.
Phew! Have I missed something? If so, do let me know!
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