Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Wimbledon round one: review

The headlines

Rafael Nadal crashed out at the early stages for the second year running, as an inspired Steve Darcis triumphed 7-6 7-6 6-4. It was part of a hugely exciting line-up for day one of the championships, with Federer, Murray and Sharapova also featuring. On Tuesday, Laura Robson pulled out all the stops as she blasted through the tenth seed, Maria Kirilenko, while Heather Watson was knocked out by the impressive American teenager, Madison Keys.

What next for Rafael Nadal?

Many pundits tipped Nadal to win Wimbledon this year given his remarkable form in 2013. Nine tournaments played, seven titles, and his knee seemed to be holding up well. However, most of these had come on his favourite surface, clay, which is relatively kind to the knees compared to hard courts and especially grass.

From the very start against Darcis, he was constantly running around his backhand to hit forehands, making errors and finding himself out of position against a savvy grass court player.  The damp, heavy conditions would not have helped the Spaniard either; he was unsure with his footwork and his classic spinning forehand caused fewer problems.

By the third set, it was clear he was struggling physically when he limped trying to chase down a drop shot. His left knee had given up although Nadal refused to talk about it during the press conference. Darcis was clearly feeling tense towards the end, aware of the enormity of what he was about to achieve, but he completed one of Wimbledon’s biggest upsets.

But was it? A fully fit Nadal would have cruised through that match on whatever surface and, let’s be honest, Darcis did not play blindingly good tennis throughout. It was different to Nadal’s early exit last year; even though Nadal did have knee problems, Lukas Rosol could have beaten anybody playing as he did. He went for the big shots and, somehow, they all came off.

The result is deeply concerning for Nadal fans. His comeback was arguably incomplete until he experienced a change of surface; the shift from clay to grass was going to be the acid test. The danger is that he has become a one-surface player again, too vulnerable to play his intense style on the less forgiving fast courts. He at least has time to recover and contemplate what he’s doing for the rest of 2013, because this could be a defining period of his career.

Mixed bag for the Brits

Overall, the first round was somewhat disappointing for the British players. Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha completed their annual first round exits while Johanna Konta and Tara Moore both put up a good fights but narrowly lost out.

Heather Watson was clearly not fully fit after a bout of glandular fever. Her game doesn’t depend so much on shot power, but on athleticism, being a solid returner and chasing down lost causes – a bit like Andy Murray a few years ago. Against a big hitter like Madison Keys, it was always going to be a difficult task to retain such intensity.

James Ward performed well, but succumbed to the experienced Yen-Hsun Lu in four sets. This is the same player who defeated then-runner-up Andy Roddick in the fourth round in 2010, and also beat Murray at the 2008 Olympics. Meanwhile, no one expected 18-year-old debutant Kyle Edmund to beat Jerzy Janowicz – it will be crucial experience if he is to reach the top 100.

As for Laura Robson, her win over Maria Kirilenko will surely give her huge confidence going into her the second round match against world number 36 Julia Goerges. She hit an astonishing 31 winners to the Russian’s 8 and won 80% of points behind the first serve. This was intimidating enough, but perhaps most encouraging was the fact she won 60% of points on her second serve and double faulted only three times. Clearly, new coach Miles Maclagan has been trying to improve Robson’s results during the pressure moments and it’s working.

By contrast, we didn’t learn much from Andy Murray’s win against Benjamin Becker; it was similar in many ways to their clash at Queen’s the other week. For me, his only weakness is the second serve and at times Becker found it too easy to take charge of the rallies. But there’s plenty of time to tweak these things before the potential semi-final against Federer, who looks in ominous form after his straight sets win over Hanescu.

First round summary

Best men’s performance – Steve Darcis: Not quite a Rosol performance but still mightily impressive, as the Belgian took out Nadal in straight sets. Despite playing an injured opponent, he still had to produce his best tennis and utilised the slice and drop shot to devastating effect.

Best women’s performance – Laura Robson: Outgunned the world number 10 Maria Kirilenko with a masterclass display of serving and dictacted points from the baseline.

Best men’s match – Bernard Tomic vs Sam Querrey: The talented, yet unpredictable, Australian Tomic came through in five sets against the 21st seed despite suffering from dizziness. His next opponent will also be an American – James Blake.

Best women’s match – Ajla Tomljanovic vs Bojana Jovanovski: This was a marathon which 21-year-old Serbian Jovanovski eventually won 3-6, 6-1, 9-7 against a plucky qualifier.

Second round: ones to watch

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Ernests Gulbis: Here we have two supremely talented players but only one who is fulfilling their potential. While Tsonga is pushing hard for his first major under the gaze of new coach Roger Rasheed, Gulbis’ career is languishing somewhat. Expect some remarkable shot-making from both players. Prediction: Tsonga in four sets

Tomas Berdych vs Daniel Brands: Keep an eye on the speed gun for this match – these two give the ball a good whack. Former finalist Berdych is expected to progress but Brands is no mug, having taken a set off Nadal at the French Open. Berdych’s superior backhand will probably be the deciding factor. Prediction: Berdych in four sets

Monica Puig vs Silvia Soler-Espinosa: It will be interesting to see how Puig, who toppled fifth seed Sara Errani in round one, fares against lesser opposition. If Puig maintains her aggression (she hit 38 winners against Errani) she could go deep into the tournament. Prediction: Puig in straight sets

Madison Keys vs Mona Barthel: Keys was impressive against Heather Watson and struck the ball so cleanly on both wings. With a big serve and excellent temperament to boot, she will surely be a top 10 player in future. Great things are also expected of 22-year-old Barthel, one of the youngest players in the top 30. Prediction: Keys in three sets

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Arctic meltdown sounds alarm bells

You would expect it to be front-page news, but with everything else going on at the moment, the story was shoved beyond page 20 in your newspaper or worse, consigned as a NIB.

Yesterday, it was confirmed by the US National Snow and Ice Center that the Arctic sea ice had shrunk by 18% (some 700,000 sq km) compared to 2007 levels, reaching a record low of 3.41 million sq km in the process. The culprit is clear; between 70% and 95% of the shrinkage can be explained by human activity, according to the Environmental Research Letters.

After the findings were released, Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Davey reiterated the UK’s policy to steer the 2013 climate change talks in Doha towards 30% emission reductions for all members. “The fact is we cannot afford to wait”, he said.

We certainly can’t. In fact, it’s more than likely that any resolutions from the summit will be too little too late from the Arctic’s point of view. According to Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, all of the ice will be completely gone by 2016, bringing with it destruction of local ecosystems and communities, while compounding the speed of global warming.

The warming process is a vicious circle of destruction. Progressively fewer of the sun’s rays are being reflected back into space, instead being absorbed by the darker body of seawater. The result is the melting of permafrost, which in turn releases methane, trapped since the last ice age. The global warming process could well accelerate.

What’s more, although this is much more difficult to predict precisely, extreme weather brought about by the effect to the jet stream is likely to become more common. The warmer air rising from the ever-expanding Arctic sea has both weakened the jet stream and caused it to move further north. The Met Office says the shrinkage has caused drier, colder winters in the UK which will continue for years to come.

And the sad irony is that as the ice melts, more opportunities are presented to offshore oil drilling, worsening the situation even more. There are 19 geological basins in the Arctic region altogether, which between them hold an estimated 13% of undiscovered global oil supplies. Since the 1970s, around half have been explored, although many projects have been botched due to soaring costs and safety concerns.

Many, including the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), are pointing the finger at Shell’s huge $4.5 billion offshore project, which was postponed until 2013 this week after spill-containment dome Arctic Challenger was damaged. This has raised deep concerns about Shell’s code of practice.

Not only this, but pollutants including “black carbon” have been darkening the ice since oil drilling began, exacerbating the melting process. Meanwhile, physical (and also noise) pollution in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas is likely to affect the 7,500 Inupiat people dependent on marine mammals for food.

The sooner the UN’s International Marine Organization comes up with a strict “Polar Code” outlining clear regulations on such matters, the better.

There is perhaps a crumb of comfort in all this. Precisely 0.1% of comfort, in fact. According to a Norwegian study, that is how much CO2 emissions could be cut each year if global shipping routes were re-wired to utilise the new Arctic shortcuts, although the impact of shipwrecks and soot were not accounted for.

But this crumb of comfort is crushed by the despair which confronts the world’s climate, the northern hemisphere weather system and, most of all, the Arctic region. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if we are to save the Arctic ice, something extraordinary needs to be achieved very quickly indeed.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Murray's New York slam dunk

On September 10th 1933, Fred Perry claimed the first of his eight Grand Slam titles. The world number three overcame Jack Crawford, ranked number two, in five sensational sets of tennis. Everyone was stunned; the Australian Open champion of that year who was gunning for his sixth major title and regarded as one of the greatest players ever, was beaten. Fast-forward 79 years and you would be forgiven for thinking history was repeating itself.

Last night, the ghost of Fred was finally laid to rest as Andy Murray overcame Novak Djokovic 7-6, (12-10) 7-5, 2-6 3-6 6-2, a match which lasted almost five hours, and undoubtedly one of the great modern finals. The Scot averted the ignominy of losing one’s first five Grand Slams finals in the Open era to cap the finest year in British sport, from Sergio Aguero’s last minute strike for Manchester City, through to Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France victory and the quite sensational Olympics and Paralympics.

Andy Murray kisses the US Open trophy, and kisses goodbye
to years of Grand Slam woe
Many thought the day would never come as Murray seemingly had the misfortune of crossing lines with arguably the greatest generation of tennis players. The unprecedented imperiousness of the Federer, Nadal and Djokovic triumvirate were like members of an exclusive club, taunting Murray with their membership cards and blocking his path to the sport’s ultimate prize. Despite his talent, Murray was seemingly destined to be left with an unfinished career.

The Olympic final match has been mentioned so much in terms of Murray’s development, and its importance cannot be understated. The manner in which he defeated Federer in a best-of-five set match after the heartbreak of Wimbledon led to coach Ivan Lendl, when asked at a press conference if Murray would ever win a Grand Slam, replying “He already has one”. We always knew he had the ability, but the stuff between the ears was holding him back. For instance, if you took away Djokovic’s five Grand Slams, their head-to-head was six apiece, with Murray leading 26-23 in titles. In many cases, it boils down to a few points here and there, and which man truly believes they can succeed.

But Murray’s road to this US Open final had been far from academic. After suffering early defeats in the Cincinnati and Toronto Masters, the Scot produced uncertain performances in the early rounds, before confidently dispatching the much-hyped Milos Raonic in round four. Hearts were in mouths as he went a set and a double break down to Marin Cilic before mounting a memorable comeback, after which a nervy four-set win over Berdych sealed his progress to the bitter end. Some will point out not he did not face either Nadal or Federer, both absent from semi-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2004, but this in no way detracts from the scale of his achievement.

It was easy to see why many tipped Djokovic. He was on a remarkable 27-match unbeaten run at hard court Grand Slams, stretching back to the US Open of 2010. He had swept past his opponents with consummate ease, including a straight-sets victory over Juan Martin Del Potro. And he also beat Murray in their last Grand Slam encounter, an equally-epic contest in the Australian Open semis. That day, Murray was also a set away from glory but failed to deliver the killer blow. Not this time.

The first set was a tense affair with breaks being traded twice each, exemplified by an incredible 54-stroke rally in game five. Few believed this would go down as a classic until we witnessed that gripping tie break. Murray came from 5-3 down to put Djokovic on the ropes, squandering six set points against the Serb’s incredible defences before eventually claiming the set. It was a microcosm of Murray’s career; denied on so many occasions but finally engineering the breakthrough.

Then the form which won him an Olympic gold medal flowed early in the second set, despite a great comeback from Djokovic at 4-0 down. The inside-out forehand had more weight to it as well as the cross-court backhand, but such hitting completely deserted him in the third set. The fourth was arguably the most entertaining in terms of quality with so many unbelievable rallies, but Murray was always playing catch-up. Almost inevitably, we entered the tennis equivalent of a penalty shootout.

It seemed as though Djokovic was about to emulate Richard Gonzales’ feat 63 years ago, when he came from two sets down to beat Frederick Schroeder in five. But out of nowhere, Djokovic was broken twice, struggling both physically and mentally. All of a sudden, it was he who had legs like jelly and, towards the end of this gladiatorial carnage, he sounded like a wounded animal gasping for survival. Murray was composed throughout and, for once, used his challenges wisely to correct two marginal decisions when serving for the championship, shrugging off the pain of losing a toe nail and ending the agony of a nation. The impact on British tennis and the potential to inspire a generation could prove to be priceless.

Ivan Lendl was 24 when he won the first of his eight Grand Slams, and so, at 25, Murray has plenty of time to win more Slams. The remaining highlights of the year include the Shanghai and Paris Masters, both in October, followed by the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 in November. For now, though, Murray deserves a good break to recharge depleted batteries before preparing himself to enter the 2013 ring. It is certainly a mouth-watering prospect with Nadal returning from injury, Del Potro getting closer to his 2009 peak, Federer still going strong and a hungry Andy Murray finally finally being unshackled by the game’s greats.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Murray magic routs Raonic

Milos Raonic was in bullish mood during Monday’s pre-match press conference. “My job is to go out there and make my opponents adjust to me. I feel like I have the ability to be more dangerous than most players when I have the ball out of my hand on the serve… A lot of matches can depend on me.”

“Challenge accepted”, thought Murray, and, two hours later, “mission accomplished”, as he raced into the quarter finals of the US Open with a masterclass 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory over his opponent. Raonic, the 21-year old Moldovan-born Canadian and one of the rising stars in world tennis, was fancied by many to cause an upset with his booming serve. But the way in which he was dismantled by Murray will have fans of the Scot purring with delight. He may have been off the pace against Bogomolov and Lopez, and OK against Ivan Dodig, but this was a different level of tennis and one which sends out a clear message of intent to his rivals.

It’s easy to understand why Raonic thought he had a chance. Standing at a towering 6’5’’, his average first serve speed measures 138mph (his fastest is known to be a whopping 155mph) as he is able to generate incredible power from his huge legs. It led to John McEnroe commenting before the match that it could be the greatest serve of all time. At the end of 2010 his ranking was a lowly 156; he has since elevated himself 140 places up that list and it surely won’t be long until a top-10 breakthrough is accomplished.

But Murray, a player who relishes the challenge of big servers, made him look, well, ordinary. The number of shots he has in his locker is quite staggering, and the variety, as well as his exceptional return game, was too much for Raonic. The Canadian was pulled around the court like a puppet, a powerless figure subjected to Murray’s talent and imagination. Forehand drop shots brought Raonic to the net, disrupting his deep baseline rhythm, and lobs were used to send him scrambling back again. As the match went on, Raonic went for broke and committed six double faults and numerous forehand mistakes.

Murray’s pin-point backhand down the line was utilised perfectly in the second set, as well as the inside-out forehand, a shot Murray fans have craved to see more often. And then we saw those incredible passing shots, in both directions for both forehand and backhand, which left the Arthur Ashe crowd stunned on countless occasions. Unforced errors seemed a distant memory at times, putting Raonic under all sorts of pressure, and the serve was remarkably consistent; 88% of first serve points were won and precisely zero break points were even offered.

There was a point during the third set when Raonic had a chink of light at 0-30, but four first serves from Murray slammed the door shut. In previous years, Murray would have been conceding break points, buckling under the pressure and getting irritated with himself. True, Raonic needs to improve his returns if he is to make an imprint at the highest level (his reactions are slow and his swing somewhat exaggerated), but when Murray serves at 65% or above, there is usually only one outcome.

Murray’s performance has come at the perfect time as he prepares to take on another big server in Marin Cilic, who overcame another young rising star in Martin Klizan and defeated Murray in the 2009 quarter finals. But that was a different Murray to now, and if he can replicate anywhere near today’s performance, a semi-final date with either Berdych or Federer will be secure.

Remaining fourth round predictions:

Tipsarevic vs Kohlschreiber: Tipsarevic in 5 sets

Richard Gasquet vs David Ferrer: Ferrer in 5 sets

Juan Martin del Potro vs Andy Roddick: del Potro in 4 sets

Stanislas Wawrinka vs Novak Djokovic: Djokovic in 3 sets

Monday, 27 August 2012

Andy Murray targets US Open glory

There was a moment in the London Olympics final when you knew Andy Murray was going to strike gold. Federer, crushing a forehand most players would have left with a resigned look, thought he had won the point. But Murray stunned the Swiss with a sensational backhand down the line at full stretch to a standing ovation from the Centre Court crowd. And with a 6-4 6-2 6-3 victory, the first best-of-five set triumph Murray ever had over Federer, the gold medal was around his neck. So with the US Open kicking off on Monday, is this the turning point in Murray’s career?

Well first of all, this is Murray’s first US Open with coach Ivan Lendl and it’s impossible to underestimate his importance here. Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam winner, was famous for his brash style and ability to wear down opponents from the baseline with aggressive tennis; they called him “The Terminator” for a reason. Everyone can see how this has rubbed off on Andy in recent months. There is more bite and length in that forehand now than 12 months ago. The second serve has improved immeasurably of late and his ability to hold himself together mentally on crucial points has been encouraging. What’s more, there is a curious symmetry between the two men as well; Lendl lost his first four Grand Slam finals, as has Murray.

But critics will say that we have often hyped up a Murray “turning point” which never happened all too often in the past. No Grand Slams final appearances followed from the 2008 US Open final for 18 months and he seemed as powerless against Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open final as the year before against Federer. And this year, his unbelievable performance in the Australian Open semis was also meant to herald a new era, despite losing to Djokovic. But disappointingly, Rome aside, he didn’t replicate such form until Wimbledon, in July. Unfortunately, until Murray wins a Grand Slam, many will look back on his career as incomplete.

Due to the absence of tendonitis-ridden Rafael Nadal, who has appeared in the last two finals, only four players have any realistic chance of glory in New York – Andy Murray, world number one Roger Federer, defending champion Novak Djokovic, and 2009 winner Juan Martin Del Potro. Many have Federer down as the favourite, having won five times here between 2004 and 2008, and demolishing Djokovic in Cincinnati last week. Should he reach the semis, Federer could face Murray. And should he reach the final, he could face Djokovic or Del Potro, who are likely to wage war in the quarters.

There have been some fascinating battles at Flushing Meadows between this trio over the years. Having lost to Federer at three consecutive US Opens, Djokovic has beaten the Swiss in the last two semi-finals, saving two match points in each encounter. It was always going to be hard to replicate the form of 2011, but Djokovic has still had a very good year, winning in Canada, Miami and Australia. I’m not too sure we can read too much into his Cincinatti defeat from a mental perspective, since best-of-three set matches are a different ball game to five sets. Nevertheless, Djokovic may have missed a trick in not skipping either Cincinatti or Toronto the previous week to rest; he reached the finals of both competitions after all. Time will tell how much this will affect his US Open, but at the end of the day, it’s about who can hold their nerve during those crucial points.

And don’t be surprised if a certain Argentine upset the Serb and reached the final. Juan Martin del Potro’s US Open victory over Federer in 2009 will go down as one of the great modern finals; the quality was breathtaking and del Potro rattled Federer with those sledgehammer serves and forehands. He is back to his very best after a serious wrist injury which ruled him out for 18 months; the marathon 19-17 set in the Olympics against Federer is testament to that. He also took a two-set lead against Federer in the French earlier this year, before the Swiss mounted a memorable comeback. On his day, he can beat anybody, and on arguably his favourite surface of all, he can settle into an ominous attacking rhythm.

The fast courts at Flushing Meadows may also suit the big-serving Americans, notably Andy Roddick and the giant John Isner. Roddick has a decent draw in front of him and will fancy his chances of making the third round, not a bad deal considering his injury problems of late, while Isner will hope to please the home crowd by at least matching his quarter final appearance of last year. Meanwhile, Tsonga and Berdych, two talented players who would have won majors in any other era, are in Murray’s half of the draw and will be difficult obstacles to overcome. Don’t underestimate the qualities of Feliciano Lopez or Milos Raonic either, other potential opponents for the Scot should he overcome Alex Bogomolov in the first round.

Murray will have his work cut out if he is to win his first Grand Slam, since this is a surface which many players adore. But no player has really dominated the season so far – we have had three different Grand Slam winners after all – so now is as good a time as ever for Murray to do it.

Predicted winner: Andy Murray

Predicted runner up: Juan Martin del Potro

Dark horse: Milos Raonic

Recent US Open finals:

2011Novak DjokovicRafael Nadal6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1
2010Rafael NadalNovak Djokovic6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2
2009Juan Martin del PotroRoger Federer3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2
2008Roger FedererAndy Murray6-2, 7-5, 6-2
2007Roger FedererNovak Djokovic7-6, 7-6, 6-4
2006Roger FedererAndy Roddick6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1
2005Roger FedererAndre Agassi6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1
2004Roger FedererLleyton Hewitt6-0, 7-6, 6-0

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Roger that?

You would think that, after winning a momentous gold medal in the singles and silver in the mixed doubles, Andy Murray would want to put his feet up for a week or two. The last month has been extremely busy for the British number one, going the distance at Wimbledon before claiming gold at the London Olympics when he crushed Roger Federer in the final.

Not so. Yesterday, Andy Murray jetted off to Canada to take part in Toronto’s Rogers Cup, a Masters 1000 event which marks the start of the hard court season. It is one of the key warm-up events ready for the US Open later this month and is a tournament which Murray has recently excelled in, winning twice in the last three seasons.

Andy Murray wins gold at the London Olympics

But is Murray taking a physical risk playing so soon after his Wimbledon and Olympic exertions? By Sunday, Murray will have played in 22 tournaments so far this year, and considering he only played 19 tournaments for the whole of 2011, it appears Murray is going the distance in 2012. Cincinatti, another Masters 1000 event, is coming up next Monday as well. Will Murray have enough energy for the US Open?

Many will remember there were 14 retirements at the 2011 US Open, an unfortunate record for the tournament. Whether this was a one-off fluke or a result of the busy tennis schedule is up for debate, but one man is taking no chances. Perhaps wisely, Roger Federer has pulled out of the Rogers Cup, saying: “After a long stretch of tournaments, I will need some time to recover”.
Milos Raonic, the Canadian world number 24 and Murray’s opponent in today’s third round match, seemed to attack Federer’s decision to pull out: “I’ve only been on the tour two years, but I’ve gone back-to-back from San Jose to Memphis, which is nine hours of travel, and you deal with it. You try to get past those first few days and you know it’s just going to get better and better.”
It was a na├»ve thing to say; Raonic does not go deep into the tournaments like Federer and can therefore participate in more events. In the past, Federer’s decision to miss tournaments here and there has paid dividends, saving his energy for those which matter.
Murray must be wary of suffering the same fate of 2011 when excessive playing time lead to him pulling out of the ATP World Finals at the O2 in November. Of course, if he is feeling good physically then his plan may prove to be a masterstroke in preparing for the US Open and overtaking Rafael Nadal as world number 3. With these different approaches, it will be interesting to compare Federer and Murray’s prospects for the rest of the year.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ye Shiwen accusations are insulting

On Saturday evening, one girl stunned the world of swimming and indeed the Olympic Games. The women’s 400m individual medley final was won in sensational style by 16-year old Chinese Ye Shiwen, who smashed Stephanie Rice’s previous world record of 4:29:45 by swimming 4:28:43. Many have mentioned that, incredibly, her time in the last 50 metres was faster than men’s 400m IM gold medallist, Ryan Lochte.

However, instead of praising this quite remarkable achievement, one man’s shameful public comments created front pages this morning which are sadly unnecessary. US swimming coach, John Leonard, stated that Ye’s last 100m was “disturbing”, going on to say: “Every time we see something unbelievable it more often than not turned out to be some form of cheating… No woman has ever split the men.”
Ye Shiwen dominated the 400m IM final on Saturday

These are very strong words and quite frankly he should be punished. First of all, if he was so concerned about Ye cheating, why did he not have the guts to go straight to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who deal with these cases? Instead, he has just thrown a very loose accusation with no support whatsoever into the public domain, creating a “row” which never should have existed.

It’s easy to see how China’s reputation may have been tarnished by instances of cheating.  Their swimming team was hit with doping scandals throughout the 1990s, in particular during the 1994 Asian Games, while another 16-year old, Li Zhesi tested positive for performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin just last month.

But crucially in this case, Ye Shiwen was cleared by WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) before the Games, enough proof from the outset that she is not a cheat. In the unlikely event that she is, she and every other gold medal winner’s samples have be retained by the IOC for another eight years. This means if testing evolves (which it will do) then the new technology can be run on the samples to double check the results.

In any case, it has been well documented how brutally intense some of the Chinese training regimes can be for their promising athletes, which is why we are seeing some brilliant performances at these Games. There have been many reports of children being whisked away at an early age to camps going through regimes which are far more intense than anything experienced here in the Western world.

This indeed is what happened to Ye. She swims several hours almost every day and could perform 20 chin-ups at the age of seven. Her large hands and limbs, and her masculine upper-body structure, were immediately recognised by her coaches, and they have put her through everything imaginable and more to ensure she fulfils her potential at these Olympics. She must have felt deeply insulted, after all this hard work and effort, to have heard Leonard's comments.

Furthermore, the last point which coach Leonard makes above, that “no woman has ever split the men”, although factually correct, is interestingly placed in relation to the previous comments. Is he suggesting that the only explanation behind women going faster than men in swimming, or any sporting event for that matter, is that they cheated and took drugs? If so, it is also completely unnecessary to say during an Olympics which has embraced female participation across every nation.

So these comments by Leonard are shockingly misguided and baseless. We should believe in Ye’s brilliance until we are proven otherwise by the IOC and WADA. And we must remember the Olympic motto – “faster, higher, stronger”. Sadly this has been forgotten by some. Ye Shiwen is a remarkable athlete and one wonders when her achievements will be replicated.