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My sporting month: July 2011

There is no major football tournament this summer – with all due respect, the European under-21s, under-17s World Cup and Women’s World Cup aren’t close to being on the same scale – but July is nonetheless an action-packed sporting month, with much of the major action taking place here in the UK.

For me, most of the month will be taken up watching 200 men in skin-tight suits with really bad tan-lines pedalling through scenic countryside. Which means, of course, that I kick off my monthly preview of sporting highlights with …

1. Tour de France (2nd-24th)

The world’s biggest cycling race starts its 98th edition tomorrow (Saturday), with a course that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Tour’s first visit to the Alps. The race will climb the mighty Col du Galibier twice, setting a new record for the highest ever finish in the Tour’s history in the process.

Can Alberto Contador – who is racing pending the outcome of a doping appeal – add a fourth Tour victory to his Giro d’Italia win in May? Or will Andy Schleck, second to the Spaniard in each of the last two years, finally climb the top step of the podium? British interest will be fuelled by sprinter Mark Cavendish – winner of 15 stages in the past three years – and Bradley Wiggins, who claimed victory at the prestigious pre-Tour Critérium du Dauphiné. Cavendish will be eyeing his first sprinters’ green jersey, while Wiggins will be in hot pursuit of Contador and Schleck as they chase the yellow jersey for overall victory.

For Tour de France previews, stage recaps and analysis, click here.

2. Wimbledon finals (2nd & 3rd)

The past fortnight has given us some wonderful tennis and massive upsets, not least the departure of world number one Caroline Wozniacki, defending champion Serena Williams and her sister (and five-time champion) Venus all on the same afternoon. But as soon as it has arrived it is almost over, and the championships draw to a close with what will hopefully be a memorable set of finals on what is forecast to be a hot, sunny weekend.

In the women’s final tomorrow (Saturday), Czech eighth seed Petra Kvitová, a semi-finalist last year, will participate in her first Grand Slam final after beating Victoria Azarenka. She will take on Maria Sharapova, the 2004 champion, who will be seeking her fourth Grand Slam title, but her first since the Australian Open in 2008.

It’s anyone’s game in the men’s draw, which sees the semi-finals take place today. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, conqueror of Roger Federer, takes on Novak Djokovic, to be followed by Andy Murray against defending champion Rafael Nadal. Each has played some scintillating tennis during the tournament – Djokovic’s match against Marcos Baghdatis last Saturday being one which particularly sticks in the memory – and, whoever wins, it promises a final of the highest quality. And for the rest of the month, expect tennis courts up and down the country to be full to overflowing.

3. British Grand Prix (10th)

If anyone is to mount a serious challenge to Sebastian Vettel‘s apparently serene defence of the Formula 1 drivers’ title, it will have to start at the British Grand Prix. Jenson Button and Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber are both 77 points – more than three race wins – behind, with Lewis Hamilton the only other driver with more than half the German’s current tally of 186 points.

The Red Bull drivers have won the last two races at Silverstone, with Webber coming out on top last year, while Hamilton won in 2008. Button, however, has never finished higher than fourth here. The high-speed nature of the track and the new rule changes – the DRS moveable rear wing and faster-wearing tyres – should ensure some close and spectacular racing no matter what.

4. The Open (14th-17th)

Royal St George’s hosts the world’s oldest golf championship for the first time since 2003 when Ben Curtis lifted the old Claret Jug, with hopes high for a first European victory in three years. European golf is currently in the ascendancy after Rory McIlroy’s astonishing eight-shot triumph at the US Open last month, and with Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, McIlroy and Martin Kaymer occupying the top four spots in the world rankings.

Last year, the unheralded South African Louis Oosthuizen dominated the field at St Andrews, winning by seven shots despite having missed the cut at all but one of his previous attempts at the majors. Since then, he has continued his form, winning the Africa Open in January and tying for ninth at the US Open. Can he repeat last year’s miracle, or will the Americans finally break a winless streak at the majors dating back to Phil Mickelson’s victory at the 2010 Masters?

5. England vs India, First Test (21st-25th)

The recent 1-0 series win over Sri Lanka consolidated England‘s third place in the ICC test rankings, and they will have the opportunity to progress further with a good result against India in the first of a four-test series at Lord‘s. Not only would a series win against easily the top-ranked side in the world be a real statement of intent, it will also give England the chance to overhaul South Africa and claim second spot ahead of their tough winter tours against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Alastair Cook and Ian Bell have each scored two centuries already this summer, while Chris Tremlett and Graeme Swann have been in fine form with the ball. England will need to be at their best to defeat India, but this improving side is as good an England team as we have seen for many years.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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