The 2020 French Open was postponed from May until the end of September and early October due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Paris in Autumn is a lot different to Paris in the Spring. The famous red clay at the Stade Roland Garros was damper, the temperature colder and the balls heavier with a lower bounce – ideal conditions for Polish teenager Iga Swiatek to excel and dominate the women’s singles, winning her maiden WTA and first Grand Slam singles title, easily defeating Sofia Kenin from the US in straight sets in the final. Her all-court play with a crushing forehand, ability to defend stoutly, ruthless determination and her quick transition onto attack were all characteristics that contributed to her victory.
Eighteen months later, the 20 year-old is now world No 1, after winning the Miami Open final last weekend and the shock retirement of the former top ranked player, Aussie Ash Barty. After winning back-to-back titles at Doha and Indian Wells Iga has now won her past six finals, extending her winning streak to 17 matches. She entered the top 10 last May after winning the Italian Open and any thoughts of becoming the world’s best player was a possibility “in a few years”. It was obviously accelerated by Ash’s decision, but given her form this year, including reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open, she may have very well taken the number one spot anyway.
I drew this quick sketch of Iga, after watching her French Open triumph and sent it to her via the Polish Tennis Federation. It came back signed and dedicated within a fortnight.
It’s a great time to be a Black Caps supporter and a proud Kiwi. The New Zealand men’s cricket team are ranked No 1 in the world, having beaten India in an absorbing World Test Championship Final in Southampton last month. Central to that victory was Captain Kane Williamson, who appropriately lead his team to victory with an unbeaten half century on the final day.
Not only did his team reach the panicle, he himself returned to the top as the world’s number one test batsman. Kane became the kiwi captain in all forms of the game – test, ODI and T20, in March 2016, after the retirement of Brendon McCullum. New Zealand is also the number 1 side in ODI’s and is the third ranked team in T20 Internationals. Since his test debut in November 2010 against India at Ahmedabad, Kane has scored 7,230 runs in 85 test matches, averaging 53.95, including 24 centuries, the most by a New Zealander and 33 half centuries with a top score of 251. He’s also a useful spin bowler, taking 30 wickets at an average of 44.23. In 151 ODI’s he has scored 6,173 runs with a highest score of 148 and 1805 runs in 67 T2O Internationals.
“Of all the top players, Williamson seems to have the most ideal temperament. His batting is minimalist and his mind calm – as if the zen is given. He rarely plays a shot in anger”, wrote English cricket commentator Mark Nicholas.
Kane signed (with his left hand, despite batting and bowling right-handed ) my sketch at the Headingley Cricket Ground in Leeds, while he played for Yorkshire in the 2018 County Cricket Championship.
After only a handful of first class matches the young Bruce Taylor found himself elevated to the New Zealand national cricket team and on a plane to India with many of his boyhood heroes. It was 1965 and the ‘quintessential tall all-rounder’ was selected for the Second Test at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, after a late call up when Barry Sinclair fell ill. It was a stellar start to his international career, scoring 105 coming in at #8 and taking five wickets for 86 runs.
Fifty-five years on he is still the only player in test cricket to have achieved the debutant double-a century and a ‘fifer’ in their first test. He would go on to play a further 29 Tests, scoring nearly 900 runs at an incredible strike rate of 488 and taking 22 wickets at an average just over 20 plus two ODI’s before retiring in 1973. An aggressive left-hand batsman and right-arm fast medium bowler with a high arm action than made him a very dangerous attack weapon, generating seam movement and bounce. His highest test score was 124 off 83 balls against the formidable West Indies side at Eden Park in Auckland in July 1973, going from 38 to 50 in two hits, straight driving the legendary Garry Sobers into the big stand twice in a row. After his playing days were over he became a selector for Wellington, Otago and the national teams.
Sadly, Bruce died today at the age of 77.
Cricket New Zealand, in acknowledging his passing, described him as a ‘force of nature’ and the many media obits referred to him as a ‘genius’ and one of New Zealand’s great cricketers. I drew this sketch of ‘Tails’ as part of a Best NZ XI series sometime in the 1990s, which he signed.
Considered one of the all time greats of snooker, some say the greatest, Scotsman Stephen Hendry announced last year that he is returning to the sport after retiring in 2012, accepting a two-year invitational card to play in the main World Snooker Tour, after an impressive semi-final run at the World Senior Championships in August.
In terms of world titles in the modern era, Stephen leads with seven, winning his first in 1990 at the age of 21, the youngest to achieve the feat and a record he still holds. He is followed by Ray Reardon, Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan on six each.
His dominance during the 1990’s was the reason why he was nicknamed the ‘King of the Crucible’, the iconic Sheffield venue that has hosted the World Championships since 1977. Winning the tournament again, successively from 1992-1996 and again in 1999, along with six Masters (five successively) and five UK Championships have cemented his place at the very top of the sport. He is only one of three players to have won all three Triple Crown events- the World, Masters and UK titles, in a single season and the only one to have completed it twice (1989/90 and 1995/96). His 18 Triple Crown tournament victories is only surpassed by the current World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
In recent years Stephen has been a regular member of the snooker commentary team’s TV coverage of the major events, including the UK Championship late last year, behind closed doors at the Covid-secure Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, where I sent him this quick sketch and was very happy it eventually came back signed and dedicated. Snooker fans are looking forward to watching him back at the baize this year, ‘probably’ starting with the Welsh Open next month.
It’s been a breathtaking year for the young Russian tennis ace and former World Junior Champion Andrey Rublev, admist the mayhem caused by the global pandemic. In a disjointed season that was partially suspended with a hiatus covering several months, the 23 year-old headed the ATP Tour with a remarkable five titles, ahead of world number 1 Novak Djokovic (4).
He broke into the top 10 for the first time, where he is currently ranked at 8, reached the quarterfinals at both the French and US Grand Slams and as a result make his debut at the season-ending, spectator-less ATP World Tour Finals, which featured the world’s top eight players, at London’s O2 arena. The year started brilliantly for the ‘ hyper-aggressive baseliner’ with a big forehand and dangerous serve, winning back-to-back titles at his first two tournaments – the Qatar Open and the maiden Adelaide International. After the season resumed he won the Hamburg European Open in September followed by victories at St Petersburg and finally the Vienna Open, which included a win over local hero Dominic Thiem and qualified him for the elite London event. Andrey’s seven career titles also includes the Croatia Open (2017) and the Kremlin Cup (2019). He was a member of the Russian team that reached the Davis Cup semis in Spain last year, in which he was undefeated.
The ATP Tour Finals have been staged at the 02 on the Greenwich Peninsula in London for the past twelve years. I have been there for all of them, except, for ‘obvirus’ reasons this year, which is the final time at before moving to Turin for the next five years. The players were all confined to their ‘bubbles’, accommodated at the InterContinental Hotel next door and playing in the vast arena, that usually holds 17,000 spectators, but sadly empty this year. So the usual opportunities to get graphs in person was non-existisant, but I posted my sketch to Andrey at the hotel, and was very pleased to receive it back, signed and dedicated.
Korean-American golf star Danielle Kang reached the World number 2 ranking earlier this year winning back to back titles at the LPGA Drive In Championship and the Marathon LPGA Classic. Since turning professional in 2011, the 28 year-old Las Vegas resident has won five titles, including her maiden major, the KPMG PGA Championship, beating Canadian Brooke Henderson by a single stroke at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago, Illinois. The following year she finished 4th at the US Open.
Currently ranked number four in the world, Danielle visited the UK this year to play in both the Scottish and British Opens. I posted this sketch to her at the former, played at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick in August, which she kindly signed and returned.
Australian professional snooker star Neil Robertson is regarded as the sport’s most successful player outside the United Kingdom. The 38 year-old left-hander, who began playing at the age of 14, turning professional three years later in 1998, is known as a prolific break-maker with more than 700 century breaks and has made the maximum 147 on four occasions. In 2013/14 Neil was the first player to make a 100 centuries in a single season.
He has won 18 Ranking titles and has been runner-up 12 times, which places him joint sixth on the all-time list alongside Judd Trump and Mark Shelby. In 2010 he won the World Championship, beating Scotsman Graeme Dott 18-13 in the final. He became World No 1 later that year and subsequently again in 2013 and 2014. He is one of only thirteen players to win the World, UK and Masters titles, claiming two UK crowns in 2013 and 2015 and the Masters in 2012 where he was also was runner-up in 2013 and 2015. He has also won the Champion of Champions tournament in 2015 and again in November last year.
I posted my sketch to Neil when he competed in this year’s World Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in August, where he kindly signed and returned it to me.
Described as a ‘colossus of New Zealand cricket’, John Reid died this week aged 92.
Regarded as one of the games great all-rounders in the fifties and early sixties, John was New Zealand’s oldest surviving test player. He was a hard hitting batsman and brisk seam bowler, debuting for the national team at the age of 19 during the 1949 tour of England. He scored 3428 runs, including six test centuries at an average of 33.28 and taking 85 wickets in 58 test. John captained his country in 34 tests, including, most notably New Zealand’s first three test victories against the West Indies in 1956 and two in South Africa during the 1961-62 tour where John scored his highest test score of 142 in the Johannesburg Boxing Day test. After retiring he became a NZ selector, manager an an ICC referee.
In the 1990’s I drew a number of NZ cricketing legends for a Best NZ Test XI series of limited edition prints for a charity fundraiser, which John kindly signed.
American golfing sisters Jessica and Nelly Korda returned to the UK last month to participate in the Women’s British Open at Royal Troon in Scotland. Due to Covid-19 it was played without a crowd in attendance and Jessica had to withdraw at the last minute because of a non-coronavirus health issue. Both returned to the US and joined the field in the second major of the year, the ANA Inspirational on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, where Nelly narrowly missed winning her maiden major, finishing second equal after a three-way play-off with the eventual winner, Miriam Lee from South Korea and Canada’s Brooke Henderson. It did however move Nelly up to No 2 in the world rankings.
The daughters of Czech tennis Grand Slam winner Petr Korda, Jessica (27) turned professional in 2011 with Nelly (22) joining her on the LPGA tour six years later. Jessica, who has finished in the top ten in all five majors, has won five LGPA tournaments and Nelly has collected three titles. Both were members of the 2019 US Solheim Cup team.
I sent this sketch to Jessica and Nelly at Royal Troon and was delighted to receive it, signed by both. During the pandemic very few items have been coming back so I was very surprised and especially pleased when the mailman delivered this last week.
One of the world’s best-known gymnasts, Romanian Nadia Comaneci won five Olympic gold medals, all in individual events. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics the fourteen-year-old Nadia became the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10 score, a feat thought unobtainable. After performing on the uneven bars the scoreboard only allowed three digits and was displayed as 1.00 until it was announced she had scored the perfect 10. She went on to achieve a further six perfect 10’s at that Summer Olympiad, three on the uneven bars and three on the balance beam.
Four years later at the Moscow Olympics, Nadia won another two golds for the balance beam and floor exercise. She has won a total of nine Olympic medals, collecting a silver and a bronze in Montreal and a silver in Moscow. Nadia also won two World Championship and World Cup gold medals and nine European Championship titles.
Since the early 1990s Nadia has lived in Oklahoma, where she and her husband American gold-medalist Bart Conner operate a Gymnastic Academy. I sent Nadia a sketch a few years ago, which came back signed, but damaged in the post so I sent another smaller drawing last year which arrived back this weekend.