As the domestic football and rugby seasons come to a close, there are a number of reasons why you shouldn’t put your televisions into hibernation just yet. There is still plenty of action to come between May and August, including the greatest two-team rivalry in the world, a home nations tour down under and the prospect of another Brit conquering our near neighbours France.
However, it’s not all over for winter sport fans just yet. This Saturday brings the FA Cup final, with displaced Premier League Champions Manchester City aiming to salvage something from a wholly disappointing season, while Wigan Athletic will be hoping to avoid repeating Birmingham’s feat from 2010/11, where they won the League Cup but were also relegated. This is swiftly followed by the Europa League final, in which Chelsea will aim to prove British sides are still a force in Europe, and then the Champions League Final. This should be the most intriguing encounter of all, pitting the best team in Germany (Bayern Munich) up against last year’s Bundesliga champions (Borussia Dortmund). Despite Bayern leading the German league by 20 points these two had a fiery encounter just the other day, ending in a 2-2 draw – expect more fireworks in the final.
The day after it is confirmed that Germany has the greatest domestic sides in Europe, France takes centre stage for the first time this summer as the French Open gets underway at Roland Garros. Rafael Nadal is the undisputed King of Clay, having won this competition 7 out of the last 8 times it has been held. But he has not attended a Major since his shock loss to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon last year – will he be fit enough to retain his title? The women’s championship looks much tighter on paper, with there having been 5 different winners since Justin Henin’s victory in 2007. Australian Open victor Victoria Azarenka is not one of these five and nor is Serena Williams, who has only won this tournament once (2002). Picking a winner from this group is nigh on impossible, so keep your eyes glued to what should be an enthralling tournament.
The British and Irish Lions tour of Australia kicks off during the French Open on the 1st June. The last time the Lions toured down under, back in 2001, they won the first Test comfortably before being thrashed in the second. The final game was a much tighter affair, with the Aussies just winning by six points. The also lost 2-1 during their last tour (South Africa, 2009) but with a young, dynamic and exciting team expect our boys to give the Aussies a real test this time round. With 15 players from the Welsh team that won the 6 Nations earlier this year, including the Player of the Tournament Leigh Halfpenny, playing alongside starlets such as England’s Owen Farrell, Ireland’s Brain O’Driscoll and Scotland’s Stuart Hogg, this is arguably the strongest Lions side for a long time and I really feel they can come back victorious as well as tanned.
The ICC Champions Trophy will be played out for the final time in June, but the highlight of the cricketing summer has to be the Ashes, which will be contested between England and Australia for the 67th time since the inaugural series in 1882-83. While the buzz surrounding this series may not match that of 2005 or 2010-11, there is huge excitement in the cricketing world at the prospect of this latest chapter in what is the greatest rivalry in sport. Both teams have had less than perfect years, with England relinquishing the no.1 Test spot after losses to Pakistan and South Africa while Australia were absolutely spanked by India just after the Asian side were themselves beaten by our guys over the winter. But both sides boast tremendously resilient captains in Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke alongside hugely talented batsmen and aggressive bowlers. On paper England should have no problems but nothing is guaranteed in the game of cricket – let’s just hope we can get 25 days of dry weather!
Wimbledon will then yet again grip the hearts of the nation as the 127th Championships take place at the end of June and start of July. Roger Federer broke a lot of British ones last year as he defeated a valiant Andy Murray in the final, who finally seems to have won over most of the home public. However, his subsequent victory at the Olympics, followed by his first Grand Slam win in the US, proved the Scot does indeed have what it takes to win. Can he be just the third Brit, and the first male, to win at Wimbledon during the open era? And can he end a 77 year wait for a British man to win at SW19? And what can the British girls do at their home games? Keep a keen eye on Laura Robson and Heather Watson as they aim to cause a few upsets on their way through a tournament that guarantees drama, upets, tears and an awful lot of grunting.
Finally, France will become the focus of the sporting world for the second time on the 29th July as the 100th Tour de France gets underway. Three weeks of hills, roads, hills, villages and ultimately more hills will test the greatest road racers in the world to see who will end up with the yellow jersey. Last year’s champion Sir Bradley Wiggins won’t be defending his title, with Sky team-mate and last year’s runner-up Chris Froome being chosen to lead the team instead. Mark Cavendish will also be looking to add to his record 22 Tour stage victories and, with Wiggins, Cavendish and youngster Alex Dowsett all having made very good starts to the Giro d’Italia, it looks as if British cycling is in for another good year.
But that’s not all – between now and August there is also the Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot, two golf Majors, the Women’s 2013 Euros, a handful of Formula 1 races and both the IPC and able-bodied World Athletics Championships. One thing is for certain – sporting fans have no excuse to be bored this summer!