SPORTS TRIBUNE
 

 

Itís down to the wire in Brazil
Alan Baldwin
England expects Lewis Hamilton to become Formula Oneís youngest world champion in Brazil on Sunday at the same circuit where last year he buckled under pressure and blew his chance. Brazil hopes Ferrariís Felipe Massa can somehow upset the odds and, with his home Interlagos crowd roaring him on, be crowned the countryís first champion since the late Ayrton Senna in 1991.

The best, say his peers
C
ristiano Ronaldo was voted player of the year by his fellow professionals at FIFPro. The international playersí union, which has 57,500 members, announced last week that the Manchester United winger, who scored 42 goals last season when the Red Devils won both the Champions League and Premier League, had topped their poll.

No troubles in doubles
Mahesh Bhupathi and his Bahamian partner Mark Knowles clinched their third ATP title together this season, winning the Davidoff Swiss Indoors Championship with a straight-set triumph in the final here earlier this week. Bhupathi and Knowles defeated Germans Christopher Kas and Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-3 in a 61-minute final. For the 34-year-old Indian, the title was his 44th overall.

Safin not game for any more
Julien Pretot
Marat Safin, one of the most colourful figures in tennis, said on Monday he was considering his future in the game after his first round loss at the Paris Masters Series. "I need to enjoy my life without tennis, I will see if I continue," the 28-year-old Russian told reporters after losing 6-0 7-6 to Argentine qualifier Juan Monaco.





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Itís down to the wire in Brazil
Alan Baldwin

Lewis Hamilton

Felipe Massa
While McLarenís Lewis Hamilton (top) will be trying to become the youngest F1 champion, Ferrariís Felipe Massa will not give up without a fight at his home GP in Brazil

England expects Lewis Hamilton to become Formula Oneís youngest world champion in Brazil on Sunday at the same circuit where last year he buckled under pressure and blew his chance.

Brazil hopes Ferrariís Felipe Massa can somehow upset the odds and, with his home Interlagos crowd roaring him on, be crowned the countryís first champion since the late Ayrton Senna in 1991. After last yearís astonishing finale, with Ferrariís Kimi Raikkonen clawing back a seven-point deficit to prevent Hamilton becoming the first rookie to take the title, anything could happen.

The only certainty is there will be a first-time champion. Hamilton, 23, is back with another seven-point advantage while Massa must win and hope the hand of fate favours him. All the McLaren driver has to do, to become Britainís first champion since Damon Hill in 1996 and his teamís first since Mika Hakkinen in 1999, is finish fifth. That proved beyond him at Interlagos last year, despite starting alongside Massa on the front row, when he struggled to seventh place.

This time Formula Oneís first black driver is determined to make amends and show he has learned from the past by playing it safe. "I remember last year, going into the final race, I was really on the back foot," he told Britainís Observer newspaper.

"I felt the whole country, the whole world ... I just felt this huge weight on my shoulders. I went in and made several mistakes and we dropped back. This year, because Iíve experienced it, Iím much better prepared."

Massa will be favourite to win the race but, even if he ends up with six victories to Hamiltonís five this season, it could all be in vain for a driver who has successfully shrugged off his image as a supporting act at Ferrari. Previously one of the more under-estimated competitors on the starting grid, Massa has shown he is a serious contender. "I have a tougher job than Lewis in terms of the points situation but my own objective for the weekend is much more straightforward than his," he told Ferrariís website.

"The only thing I am thinking about is winning. After that the matter is not in my hands and we will have to wait and see exactly what and how much we have won." Raikkonen won in Brazil last year, with help from Massa, and he will be called on to secure the one-two unless Massa is out of the reckoning.

With the constructorsí title still to be decided, Ferrari lead McLaren by 11 points with 18 still to be won, Hamiltonís team mate Heikki Kovalainen must go for victory. "I want to be able to help the team and Lewis wherever necessary. The easiest way to do that is by running at the front," said the Finn.

Hamilton will also need to keep an eye out for Renaultís Fernando Alonso, his former team mate who favours Massa, and BMW-Sauberís Robert Kubica as potential trouble. Double world champion Alonso, winner in Singapore and Japan, has been in the top four in his last five races and also on the podium in Brazil in four of his five previous visits. Kubica, a title contender until the penultimate race, needs to score enough points to prevent Raikkonen from snatching overall third place from him. ó Reuters

Milestones that can be achieved

YOUNGEST CHAMPION

McLarenís overall leader Lewis Hamilton (born Jan 7, 1985) can become the youngest Formula One champion at the age of 23. The record holder is Renaultís Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who won his first title in 2005 at 24 years one month and 27 days. Before Alonso the youngest was Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi in 1972, aged 25 years eight months and 21 days.

HOME TITLE

Ferrariís Brazilian Felipe Massa is Hamiltonís only rival for the title. Only once before has a driver clinched the championship at his home race, Italian Giuseppe Farina at Monza in the first season in 1950. The last Brazilian to take the crown was the late Ayrton Senna, with McLaren in 1991. The last British world champion was Damon Hill

RACE WINS

Massa and Hamilton have both won five races this season. For the first time since 1989, when Franceís Alain Prost beat Senna to the title despite having only four wins to the Brazilianís six, the championship may not be won by the driver with the most victories. Formula One has had seven different race winners this season, the most since the 2003 season of the Formula 1.

TITLES

McLarenís last Formula One title was with Finlandís Mika Hakkinen in 1999. Ferrari are favourites to win the constructorsí championship for a record 16th time. McLaren have eight, their last coming in 1998. Sundayís race will be the 25th time the driversí title of the Formula 1 has been decided in the last grand prix of the season.

 

What Lewis/Massa need to do to win the title

HAMILTON: will be Formula Oneís youngest champion at the age of 23 if

1) Massa fails to finish in the top two.

2) He finishes fifth or higher, regardless of Massaís placing.

3) He finishes sixth or seventh and Massa does not win.

MASSA: will be Brazilís first champion since the late Ayrton Senna in 1991 if

1) He wins and Hamilton finishes sixth or lower.

2)If Hamilton finishes sixth with Massa winning, the two would be level on 97 points but Massa would be champion 6-5 on race wins.

3)He finishes second and Hamilton eighth. The two will be level on 95 points but Massa would win 3-2 on 2nd places.


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The best, say his peers

Manchester Unitedís Cristiano Ronaldo has been voted the FIFPro player of the year
Manchester Unitedís Cristiano Ronaldo has been voted the FIFPro player of the year Photo: AFP

Cristiano Ronaldo was voted player of the year by his fellow professionals at FIFPro. The international playersí union, which has 57,500 members, announced last week that the Manchester United winger, who scored 42 goals last season when the Red Devils won both the Champions League and Premier League, had topped their poll.

"To be recognised by my fellow professional players worldwide coming from over 50,000 players is amazing," the Portugal winger said. Ronaldo is also a strong contender to win the FIFA award and the European Golden Ball organized by the French magazine France Football.

"I would like to thank my teammates and coaches and everyone involved at Man United and the national team, as well as my family and friends for their support," Ronaldo said. "Thank you also to FIFPro for this award and for your work in protecting the interests and welfare of players around the world." Five of the Spanish stars who won the 2008 European Championship were named in FIFProís team-of-the-year line-up.

With all but one of the players coming from either the Spanish or English leagues, the line-up includes Real Madridís Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, Barcelonaís Carlos Puyol and Xavi Fernandez and Liverpoolís Fernando Torres.

Barcelonaís Argentina forward Lionel Messi is also in the team and Champions League winner Manchester United has Rio Ferdinand and Ronaldo. Liverpool also has Steven Gerrard, John Terry is the only Chelsea player on the line-up and AC Milanís Kaka is the lone star from Italyís Serie A. ó AP
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No troubles in doubles

Mahesh Bhupathi has been able to perform well consistently in doubles
Mahesh Bhupathi has been able to perform well consistently in doubles. He and his partner Mark Knowles have amassed a 36-16 season record so far

Mahesh Bhupathi and his Bahamian partner Mark Knowles clinched their third ATP title together this season, winning the Davidoff Swiss Indoors Championship with a straight-set triumph in the final here earlier this week.

Bhupathi and Knowles defeated Germans Christopher Kas and Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-3 in a 61-minute final. For the 34-year-old Indian, the title was his 44th overall.

"We really wanted to win this one. Iím glad we were able to do it as we have been playing well all week. We have two big tournaments at Paris and Shanghai left, so hopefully weíll continue the form right through to the end of the year," said Bhupathi.

Knowles, meanwhile, became the 21st player in ATP history (since 1973) to capture 50 career doubles titles. "Iím elated. Itís a big number and Iíd be a liar if I said I hadnít been thinking about it, as Iíve lost in a couple of finals lately. Iím really happy to win my 50th title and get past the milestone," the 36-year-old Knowles said.

Bhupathi, who reached the 2001 final with compatriot Leander Paes, and Knowles have amassed a 36-16 season record so far. The pair had earlier clinched back-to-back silverware at Memphis and Dubai. Last week, the duo finished runners-up at ATP Masters Series Madrid. They now have a 3-6 record in ATP finals this year.

The Indo-Bahamian team has already qualified for Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai and is currently number three in the Stanford ATP Doubles Race. Bhupathi and Knowles split 46,500 euros in prize money, while Kas and Kohlschreiber divided 27,300 euros. ó PTI
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Safin not game for any more
Julien Pretot

Marat Safinís career has been plagued with injuries all through
Marat Safinís career has been plagued with injuries all through Photo: AFP

Marat Safin, one of the most colourful figures in tennis, said on Monday he was considering his future in the game after his first round loss at the Paris Masters Series. "I need to enjoy my life without tennis, I will see if I continue," the 28-year-old Russian told reporters after losing 6-0 7-6 to Argentine qualifier Juan Monaco. "I need to think it through. I will see, it was too intense these last three years. We will see. I have no pressure, nothing to show, nothing to prove.

"If I feel like I want to continue to play, I will. If not, it will be over. For the moment, I just need to rest." Safin, who reached the world number one spot following his U.S. Open victory in 2000, is widely regarded as one of the most gifted players on the tour.

However, he won only one more grand slam tournament, the Australian Open in 2005, which was the last of his 15 titles overall, as he squandered career opportunities due to a hot temper and, more recently, injuries. Safin, who has been out of the top 10 since January 2006, has a propensity to throw matches away and Mondayís encounter with Monaco was no exception. The Russian, who lies 31st in the ATP rankings, had already lost the first set and smashed a racket on the court when the clock ticked past the 20-minute mark.

He then served four double faults in the opening game of the second set as Monaco opened a 2-0 lead. The Russian broke back to level to 2-2 but lost the tiebreak 7-4 and stumbled out of a tournament he has won three times.

"I had my opportunities but unfortunately it was a bit too late already because the guy started to play well and started to feel much more comfortable on the court," said Safin. "I didnít take my chances, thatís why the score is 6-0 7-6." Safin will not improve his position in the rankings and it is no secret he does not feel comfortable with the situation.

"Itís a little bit uncomfortable to find yourself in the top 10 for many years and (then) to find yourself ranked 70th and 30 and 50 and outside of the hundreds," he said. "Itís not really a comfortable position. Iíve been struggling throughout my career with injuries, left and right," he added, referring to knee injuries that hampered his 2005 and 2006 seasons.

Although he does not yet know whether he will play professional tennis next year, Safin already knows where he will spend his holidays. "Yeah, Iím already flying to Miami," he said. ó Reuters

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