Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Barker needs to go if we want to win Cup

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Dean Barker. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Dean Barker. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sack Dean Barker. Okay, it's a bit quiet at the moment, and the adrenalin needs a workout.

Maybe it would be better to suggest this: there should be more debate about whether Barker remains as skipper of Team New Zealand. For such an allegedly big sporting contest, the silence has been deafening since TNZ's America's Cup collapse in San Francisco.

It probably reveals that we're not really into Cup sailing as much as some like to claim - it's a brilliant fair weather deal which is quickly forgotten and not treated like a proper sport.

Rugby is the only sport in this country that holds mass attention under any circumstances, although it still gets a summer publicity holiday. The America's Cup is a corporate plaything that means little to the masses most of the time.

I've also long had the feeling that those in control of TNZ like to have everyone in their pocket. As with the New Zealand Rugby Union, creating home rule is relatively easy in such a small country.

This confirmed landlubber is still unsure whether poor little TNZ were beaten solely by big bad Yankee money - as was alleged by the TNZ apologists - or at least partly by sailing and strategic skill in San Francisco. Whichever way, here's the big worry about D. Barker. He's got the mark of an America's Cup loser on him.

This is not said lightly because from this distant shore he appears a terrific bloke, easy to cheer for and is without question a fine sailor. But the America's Cup is a different league to other sailing where personality type ranks alongside sailing ability.

This is not a nice thought - maybe Barker is too nice. One thing is sure - the record isn't good.

Barker has come perilously close to sinking America's Cup boats in two harbours and lost three regattas as skipper including choking on an 8-1 lead.

TNZ have signed young world champs and Olympic silver medallists Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. Considering the mounting Cup disasters and taxpayer involvement, there should be serious interest in whether skipper prospect Burling gets a proper chance to take over from Barker. My wild guess is he will.

Merrick turns it around

Man of the Moment is Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick. He's turned a sick soccer club into an entertaining one which is finally collecting A-league points. After a long winless start, the Phoenix are playing a type of soccer that puts them in the title reckoning.

Merrick's revolution has emphasised that previous coach Ricki Herbert overstayed his welcome. Herbert had his successes - we all know that. But his boring, inhibited soccer and personality was dragging the game down. His defensive long ball Phoenix were killing interest - the A-league is not world class but it provides plenty of attacking space and needs to be played in that spirit. The All Whites' 2014 World Cup qualification campaign under Herbert was an expensive shambles.

What should really concern the soccer fraternity, and even the wider sports community, is the way Herbert was allowed to build a little empire which led to sad times for the All Whites and Phoenix. Soccer in this country cannot afford another disaster like that. Allowing one man to control so much of the game must never happen again without a much better reason that Herbert provided.

Three sets not enough

Save Five Set Tennis. Who knows if it is under threat, but tennis legend Martina Navratilova is among those wanting men to play the best of three sets at Grand Slams, in part to renew the emphasis on skill over extreme fitness. Great women players have been most outspoken on this - Billie Jean King and Victoria Azarenka are among those to call for men to play the best of three.

Down with these five set naysayers. Five set men's tennis is a beautiful thing and the world's top players have produced among the finest sports epics in the latter stages of the Grand Slams. It would be such a shame, no a disaster, if tennis let this amazing beast go.

Five set tennis is a throwback to when the long haul in life was cherished. It's not perfect, but nothing is. The heat has gone on the current Australian Open with a spate of withdrawals. Forty-plus temperatures and existing injuries have seen players dropping like flies, raising tricky questions over their automatic fees for first round appearances. In such tough conditions, less than perfect preparation for Andy Murray likely narrows the contenders down to the big three.

With such big fields, Grand Slams are a gruelling marathon - the finalists play seven matches in two weeks. Players involved in a series of long games, especially in that Melbourne heat, are going to be drained and may not be able to give their best for the big matches. But that's the name of the game, and also a testament to the amazing combination of skill and perseverance that men like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic possess.

The Grand Slams are supposed to combine endurance and skill and five set matches also reduce the chances of outsiders bringing top seeds down.

The fields could be cut in half, to 64. There are players who just aren't good enough - Federer and Serena Williams were among those way too good for their initial opponents in Melbourne. Williams strolled around against hopeless Ashleigh Barty like she was being forced to purchase something in a two dollar shop. You feared Williams might even let loose with a yawn. This punter certainly did.

But the essence of men's Grand Slam tennis must not be tampered with. Amazing storylines develop over five sets. Imagine how unsatisfying a final or semifinal of two sets would feel - and it's likely that many would only last that long because there isn't enough time to overturn one player's fast start.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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