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My sporting month: August 2011

As the long days start to shorten and we move closer to the end of summer than its beginning, it can only mean it is time for the return of Premier League football (even though the Scottish league season kicked off more than a week ago). But August is also a big month elsewhere in the world of sport, with the last of cycling’s Grand Tours and tennis’s grand slam tournaments also getting under way, not to mention the most serious championship test for Britain’s track and field medal hopefuls ahead of next summer’s London Olympics. Here is a quick preview of the five big sporting events I’ll be watching this month.

1. Premier League kick-off (13th)

Just 11 weeks after the end of the 2010/11 season, the Premier League is back on the 13th. The highlight of the opening Saturday is surely Arsenal’s return to St James’ Park, where last season they squandered a 4-0 lead in the final quarter of the game to draw 4-4. The initial round of matches sees promoted clubs QPR and Norwich at home to Bolton and away to Wigan respectively, with Swansea travelling to Manchester City on Monday night. In between, defending champions Manchester United visit West Bromwich Albion on the Sunday afternoon.

With the phony war of the never-ending transfer merry-go-round and preseason matches aplenty, it often feels like the football season never really ended. However, it will be good to see it back again. Let battle commence.

2. Vuelta a España (starts 20th)

Vincenzo Nibali will be back to defend the crown he won last year on a course which is heavily weighted in favour of the strongest climbers. There are ten designated mountain stages – the first day in the high mountains comes as early as stage four with a concluding climb to the summit of the Sierra Nevada ski resort in Andalucia – but even several of the designated ‘flat’ stages are fraught with challenging minor or uncategorised climbs near the finish. Unlike this year’s Giro and Tour, which featured their most difficult climbs in the final week, the Vuelta’s biggest challenges are largely in the first two-thirds of the race.

Expect Nibali to put up a spirited defence against the massed ranks of Spanish climbers chasing glory on home soil, but this is likely to be a tough three weeks for the sprinters. (For an overview of this year’s route, see my analysis here.)

3. IAAF World Championships (starts 27th)

The 13th athletics world championships is being held in Daegu in South Korea this year, and runs until September 4th. The Great Britain team will be hoping for medal success to provide a springboard for the 2012 London Olympics, with their target being to improve on their six-medal haul (two of each colour) from the 2009 championships in Berlin. There Jessica Ennis and Phillips Idowu claimed gold in the heptathlon and triple jump, while Lisa Dorbiskey and Jenny Meadows won silver and bronze in the 1,500 and 800 metres respectively, and both men’s relay teams also brought home medals.

The Berlin championships were a memorable mix of the sublime and the ridiculous, from Usain Bolt‘s world record-breaking exploits in the 100 and 200 metres to the disgraceful treatment of South Africa’s Caster Semenya in a gender-testing controversy which left no one involved looking good. We will be hoping for more of the former and less of the latter this time around, although Bolt does not appear to be in anywhere near the kind of form he exhibited in sweeping all before him in 2008 and 2009.

4. Belgian Grand Prix (28th)

Formula 1 returns from its four-week summer break at the fearsome and challenging Spa-Francorchamps circuit. With just eight of the 19-race season remaining, Sebastian Vettel‘s rivals face an uphill challenge if they are to deny the young German his second consecutive drivers’ title. Vettel leads teammate Mark Webber by 85 points, having won six races already this season. However, he has failed to win any of the last three grands prix as Red Bull’s rivals have gradually closed the performance gap.

Vettel has never won at Spa. Lewis Hamilton took victory for McLaren last year, while Felipe Massa (2008) and Michael Schumacher (1992, 1995-97, 2001 and 2002) are also previous winners here. If Vettel’s rivals are to prevent him walking away with the championship, they will need to beat him here.

5. US Open tennis (starts 29th)

Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters should be back to defend their 2010 singles titles at Flushing Meadows, with both having already banked a grand slam win in 2011 (Nadal at the French Open, Clijsters in Australia). However, neither has had a smooth passage this year, with Nadal losing his number one ranking to the pre-eminent Novak Djokovic and Clijsters forced to miss Wimbledon through injury.

Other than Djokovic, Nadal can expect fierce competition from both Roger Federer and Andy Murray – for the latter, this represents arguably his best chance of a first grand slam title after defeats in each of his three previous finals. Meanwhile the women’s draw is as open as it has been for years. Each of 2011’s grand slams to date has been won by a different player – Clijsters in Australia, Li Na in France and Petra Kvitová at Wimbledon – while Caroline Wozniacki continues in search of her first grand slam win which would finally validate her world number one status in many fans’ eyes. And, or course, one cannot ignore Venus and Serena on their home turf, with the latter winning her first tournament in 13 months last weekend.

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

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