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Australian Open 2012: Heather Watson, James Ward, Elena Baltacha, Laura Robson, Anne Keothavong out

Nightmare start Down Under for Britain as string of players are sent crashing out

The British effort at the Australian Open totally unravelled on day one with the Union Jack folded up at the end of day one with not a single set being won.

What began so promisingly with four direct entrants added to be qualifiers James Ward and Laura Robson ended in embarrassment as everyone except customary lone survivor Andy Murray – who plays on Tuesday against Ryan Harrison – was wiped out.

Elena Baltacha, Heather Watson, Laura Robson and James Ward all fell while Anne Keothavong, who had been suffering from food poisoning in the past 48 hours, retired when trailling Germany’s Mona Barthel 6-0.

Spirited: Heather Watson fought hard but was ultimately outclassed in Melbourne

Spirited: Heather Watson fought hard but was ultimately outclassed in Melbourne

Expectations needed to be realistic,
despite the relatively encouraging situation of having five British
players in action outside Wimbledon, making it six entrants in all, the
highest number from Britain at a non-SW19 Slam since 1992.

The only one facing lower ranked
opposition was national number one Baltacha, who would have had high
hopes of dismissing French veteran Stephanie Foretz Gacon, whose ranking
of 107 was only just enough to get her into the main draw.

The French player did start
particularly well, and Baltacha was unable to recover from the 0-4
deficit that quickly accrued. The Ipswich player’s game was unusually
error-strewn, and although she played a little more solidly thereafter
she could not take advantage of what was very much a decent draw.

She also became annoyed about line
calls and will be unhappy at failing to emulate last year, when she won a
round at all four Slams.

Pain game: Laura Robson can't bear to watch

Pain game: Laura Robson can't bear to watch

Pain game: Laura Robson can't bear to watch

Like Watson, Robson was to fall to a
heavy defeat, although the eventual scoreline of a 6-2 6-0 loss to
former world No 1 Jelena Jankovic was somewhat harsh.

Considering she was on crutches
before Xmas due to a small stress fracture it was no disgrace to go down
so heavily to the No 13 seed.

In warm early evening sunshine before
a supportive crowd on the Margaret Court Arena, Robson immediately went
behind although she had three points to break back for 3-3 that went
begging.

There were plenty more opportunities
to win games and she actually won 40 per cent of the points in the match
– evidently not in the right order. Although she can trade strokes with
the best she is not quite ready to overcome one who moves as well as
the Serb.

Too good: World No 3 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was in stellar form

Too good: World No 3 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus was in stellar form

Watson was taught a painful lesson
by world number three Victoria Azarenka as she became one of the
earliest casualties of the whole event thanks to a 6-1 6-0 defeat on the
Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park.

And the disappointing start to the
tournament from a British angle continued when qualifier James Ward fell
6-4 6-3 6-4 to Slovenian Blaz Kavcic in the contrasting environment of
the windblown outside courts, a disappointing outcome to what looked a
winnable encounter.

Guernsey teenager Watson found
herself overpowered, not to mention outgrunted, by the tall baseliner
from Belarus who arrived here fresh from winning the WTA Tour event in
Sydney last week. In high temperatures that greeted the start of the
season’s first Grand Slam Watson was short of artillery against a high
class opponent.

Can't watch: James Ward lost his discipline as he also went out

Can't watch: James Ward lost his discipline as he also went out

While Watson managed to keep her
opponent out on court for 67 minutes the outcome was never in doubt once
Azarenka recovered from a slightly shaky start. The Channel Islander
actually won the first game and had a break point in the second but then
double faulted twice to get broken and lost all momentum.

Azarenka’s grunt-yelp is an appalling
sound but she showed what a formidable ball striker she is in tandem
with that and her opponent simply had no answer. Watson is a fine
athlete and doughty competitor but still needs to add clout to her serve
and groundstrokes if she is to build on the promising start to her
career.

She did have game points through the
match but could never convert them, hampered by a particularly bad day
with the serve, and that helped make the scoreline look fairly brutal.

Fierce, hot gusts that made play
difficult awaited Ward as his prize for coming through three qualifying
rounds and it was never easy against someone who nonetheless he will
have fancied his chances against.
He had plenty of them in all three seets but too often was let down by
sloppy errors when he threatened to put the world number 104 under
pressure.

It did not help that the 24 year-old
Londoner had a bad day with his serve, landing in only 47 per cent of
his first deliveries, although the wind was a factor.

Bowing out: Elena Baltacha failed to shine against Stephanie Foretz Gacon

Bowing out: Elena Baltacha failed to shine against Stephanie Foretz Gacon

At the end of the second set, when he had broken back into contention
only to lose his serve again, he angrily slammed a ball into the
backfence and then smashed his racket into the ground.

It seemed to do
the trick as he went 2-0 up in the third, but then the slippage came
again and he lost the next four games, from which there was no recovery
and he lost in two hours and 17 minutes.

Having done so well to qualify for a
Slam for the first time he can take something away from here, but was
hugely disappointed not have taken advantage of a decent draw.

All in all, a day to forget, and yet again it is a case of Over to you, Andy.

Australian Open 2012: Andy Murray looks to tame Ryan Harrison

Murray embarks on another Grand Slam quest with Lendl the legend in his corner and a challenge to tame the… WILD CHILD

He is his country’s great young hope, very talented and has a bit of a temper on him.

No wonder 19-year-old American Ryan Harrison can understand the comparisons between himself and a younger Andy Murray.

The two men face off in the first round of the Australian Open and it represents an intriguing test for Murray as he attempts to get his Grand Slam partnership with Ivan Lendl off to a winning start.

Dream team: Murray and Lendl prepare for the Scot's first-round match

Dream team: Murray and Lendl prepare for the Scot's first-round match

Before that a quintet of British singles players were intent on ensuring that, if he does so, it is not as the country’s sole representative left in the tournament.

While the 24-year-old Scot waits for day two, James Ward, Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Heather Watson and Laura Robson were all due to feature in the opening wave of matches.

Having had a full week of work with Lendl, all eyes at Melbourne Park will be on Murray to see if the eight-time Grand Slam winner has been able to effect any changes on the world No 4’s style.

Court time: Murray prepares for his first round clash

Court time: Murray prepares for his first round clash

The indications are that we may see Murray slightly more aggressive than usual against a potentially awkward opponent who is one of a group of younger players gradually emerging with the threat that they can one day upset the established world order. With Andy Roddick and the Williams sisters approaching the twilight zone,

Harrison carries the considerable burden of being America’s best prospect.
The son of the head coach at John Newcombe’s tennis ‘ranch’ in Texas, he has long been marked out for the role.

Harrison is about to start his second full year on the ATP Tour and his world ranking of 84 shows that he is not the finished article but, should Murray exhibit some early tournament nerves, then he is already good enough to cause problems.

On the front foot: Murray is looking to get off to a good start to 2012 by winning his first major

On the front foot: Murray is looking to get off to a good start to 2012 by winning his first major

At the US Open in September the teenager led world No 5 David Ferrer by two sets to one, but he has often struggled to keep his emotions in check and it has acted to his detriment.

Few players appear as regularly on the fines list for racket abuse and at Roland Garros last year he added a new dimension to the practice by hurling his implement into a nearby tree.

Nobody is as good at driving their opponents to distraction as Murray with his constant changes of spin, pace and angles, so it might be a lively encounter and the British No 1 feels that could be to his advantage. ‘I’ll try and make him lose his temper early on,’

Murray said. ‘It’s something that helps if your opponent gets down on himself, and if that happens then you’ve got to keep your foot on the gas.

‘It’s important I get off to a good start. He’s obviously a good player, got a good serve and forehand, but he can be a little erratic. He plays a similar style to Roddick.’

The rivals: Roger Federer

The rivals: Rafael Nadal

The rivals: Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal stand in the way of Murray winning his first Grand Slam

Harrison, impressively articulate, explained himself thus: ‘I’m a very energetic person, I’ve had moments in the past when it has got out of hand, so one of the big challenges for me this year is to learn how to channel it all as positively as possible. But I will never be a guy who just walks from side to side and doesn’t say anything.’

Murray is used to arriving at this tournament with much attention focused on him, but the interest has been taken to a new level by the arrival of Lendl in his team, and there is the possibility that there will be a distracting and pressure-adding element to it.

As he pointed out, it is him playing the tournament and it will be him winning or losing rather than the coach, but the extra scrutiny is inevitable.

At least he is not the overwhelming favourite, which the bookies have agreed is defending champion Novak Djokovic, despite the fact that he has played no tennis of serious note since the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London at the end of November.

The challenger: Ryan Harrison will look to upset Murray in the opening round

The challenger: Ryan Harrison will look to upset Murray in the opening round

Djokovic also waits until day two before entering the fray and could face a nasty third-round clash against highly-rated and huge-serving Canadian Milos Raonic.

His chief rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, like the five other Britons, were due in action on Monday. Amazingly — and it is a tribute to their dominance of rankings one and two — Federer and Nadal have not been in the same half of a Grand Slam draw since 2005.

THE NOT-SO-TINY TEMPER TANTRUMS OF RYAN HARRISON

Ryan Harrison used to receive 20 push-ups from his parents as punishment for his displays of anger. Now he receives regular fines for his conduct. Here are some of the American’s flashpoints from last year.

Repeatedly hurled his racket during his US Open first-round defeat by Marin Cilic. He also kicked a ball into the crowd, prompting boos, as he lost to the Croat in straight sets.A week before the Flushing Meadows event, he threw his racket three times in six games against Canadian Pierre Duclos in the Winston-Salem Open. After his serve was broken for a second time, he chucked his racket over a fence and into a car park.Raged at an umpire during his World Tennis Challenge match against Frenchman Michael Llodra in Adelaide. ‘Are you kidding me You are not even paying attention. The ball is three inches long.’

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2012: Heather Watson leads British charge

Teenage star Watson heads British charge on opening day of Australian Open

Heather Watson will open proceedings on Rod Laver Arena on Monday when she takes on third seed Victoria Azarenka in her first-round clash at the Australian Open.

The 19-year-old from Guernsey is first up on the main show court in Melbourne on a day which features four other Brits in action.

James Ward and Laura Robson, whose victories in qualifying swelled the British contingent in the main draws to six – a 20-year best for an overseas grand slam, also play their opening encounters.

Leading: Heather Watson is one of six British singles players in Australia

Leading: Heather Watson is one of six British singles players in Australia

Ward meets Slovenian Blaz Kavcic while Robson takes on 13th seed Jelena Jankovic on Margaret Court Arena.

Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha are both on court 11, as is Ward. Baltacha faces Stephanie Foretz Gacon and Keothavong follows with her clash against Mona Barthel.

Andy Murray, the fourth seed, will open his bid to reach a third successive final here on Tuesday when he meets young American Ryan Harrison.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2012: Laura Robson and James Ward qualify

The joy of six! Ward and Robson complete strong British line-up at Australian Open

Laura Robson and James Ward claimed impressive qualifying victories to take British representation in the main draws at the Australian Open up to six players – the highest number at an overseas grand slam for 20 years.

Robson beat Olga Savchuk of Ukraine 6-1 7-6 (7/2) and was later rewarded by being drawn to meet Serbian 13th seed Jelena Jankovic in the first round proper.

Ward overcame Dutchman Igor Sijsling 7-6 (7/5) 6-2 and will next meet Slovenian Blaz Kavcic, the world No 104, in a eminently winnable encounter.

James Ward of Great Britain

Laura Robson

Made it: James Ward and Laura Robson reached the Australian Open proper

The pair join Andy Murray, Elena Baltacha, Heather Watson and Anne Keothavong in competing in the main draws – Britain's best result outside Wimbledon, where wild cards swell the home contingent, since the 1992 Australian Open.

Robson, who also made it into the main draw at the US Open last year, said: 'It's the second time I have done it (come through qualifying) which is very good.

'And the last two grand slams I have played I have won the first round in the main draw and I hope I can do that again here.'

It represents a remarkable return to form and fitness after the 17-year-old spent two weeks in November on crutches after the early signs of a stress fracture of the left shin were discovered.

The world No 133 added: 'When I first heard about the injury I didn't even know if I would be able to play here so for me to qualify has been really good.

Flat out: Robson will now face Jelena Jankovic in the first round

Flat out: Robson will now face Jelena Jankovic in the first round

'I came into the tournament with no expectations as I had only been playing points in practice five days before my first match so I am very happy with how I am playing and hopefully my form will continue to get better throughout the tournament.'

For Ward, ranked 161st in the world, the achievement is arguably even greater. The 24-year-old has never before played a grand slam event away from the lawns of SW19 and he was delighted to emerge from a tough qualifying campaign.

He said: 'It's a pleasing day for me. I had a couple of tough matches, a couple of long three-setters, so to play well today was great.

'Every time you go out there you believe you are going to win but it doesn't happen every week, there are a lot of good players out there.

Maiden: Ward has reached the first round for the first time in his career

Maiden: Ward has reached the first round for the first time in his career

'It's nice to do it here as well as it hasn't been my best slam over the years. I have always lost to players who have been in the top 100 before and just dropped outside, Paul Capdeville last year and Illya Marchenko the year before.

'But now I have done it who knows what could happen the rest of the year.'

As for the boon for British tennis, Ward added: 'It's always nice, everyone is concentrating on their own things but it's good to have more numbers.

'Obviously watching Andy and what he does and the success he is having it makes you realise what level you have to get to.

'It would be good to get in the top 100 and get on tour but it's only one tournament. We will see what happens.'

Judy Murray hails "exciting" Fed Cup team as new captain makes first selection

Judy Murray hails 'exciting' Fed Cup team as new captain makes first selection


Skipper: Fed Cup captain Judy Murray

Skipper: Fed Cup captain Judy Murray

Judy Murray did not spring any surprises in her first Fed Cup team selection for the Europe/Africa Zone Group I fixtures in Israel next month.

Experienced duo Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong and youngsters Heather Watson and Laura Robson will make up the quartet with fellow teenager Tara Moore also travelling to Eilat as reserve.

Murray, who was appointed Fed Cup captain last month, said: 'Our team is an exciting mix of youth and experience.

'In Elena and Anne we're lucky to have two established Tour players who are great competitors and so passionate about representing their country.

'With Heather, Laura and Tara, we have three young and very promising players who will bring a lot of energy to the team and will be looking to make their marks in this event.

'Our goal is to progress through the group and, while we know this will be tough, if we play to our potential, it is achievable.'

Happy new year: British No 1 Elena Baltacha won her first match of 2012

Happy new year: British No 1 Elena Baltacha won her first match of 2012

The group takes the form of round-robin matches, with the 15 nations split into pools and the winners of those playing off for the two spots available in the World Group II play-offs in April.

British No 1 Baltacha, who won her opening match of the season at the WTA Tour event in Auckland on Monday, said: 'I've always loved playing Fed Cup and it's always an honour to play for your country.

'Now that we're opening a new chapter with Judy coming on board, I'm even more excited to be part of the team. I'm sure we all are.'

Heather Watson withdraws from Auckland event

Watson insists she”ll be fit for Australian Open despite Auckland withdrawal

British No 3 Heather Watson will miss the opening tournament of the new season in Auckland next week after suffering an ankle injury.

It is a blow for the 19-year-old, who earned big points in New Zealand last year by coming through qualifying and reaching the quarter-finals.

Watson, who is confident of being fit for the Australian Open warm-up tournament in Hobart in two weeks” time, said on Facebook: “Unfortunately I will not be playing in Auckland, because I sprained my ankle badly.

Fitness fight: Heather Watson is hoping to be fit for the Australian Open warm-up event in Hobart

Fitness fight: Heather Watson is hoping to be fit for the Australian Open warm-up event in Hobart

Alex Kay Talks Tennis

“It”s very frustrating, but Auckland is one of my favourite tournaments of the year and I”m looking forward to playing it next year because I love the event.

“Hobart will now be my first tournament of the year.”

Watson, ranked 92nd in the world, can at least take comfort from being a direct entrant into the Australian Open, where she will play in the main draw for the first time.

Judy Murray, Fed Cup captain, targets World Group

Murray”s in a hurry as Fed Cup captain targets promotion to World Group

New Fed Cup captain Judy Murray believes Great Britain have a good chance of making it into the World Group next year.

Murray will lead the team for the first time in Israel in February, when Britain will be among 15 sides from Europe/Africa Zone Group I bidding for one of the two places available in World Group II.

On the move: Murray believes Great Britain have a good chance of making it into the World Group

On the move: Murray believes Great Britain have a good chance of making it into the World Group

It is one of the strongest British teams in many years, with stalwarts Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong both playing some of the best tennis of their careers, while teenagers Heather Watson and Laura Robson have made rapid progress.

Murray said: “It is very difficult because there”s 15 teams in the group and only two will go through. You have to win three matches to get out of your group, and then you need to win another one in the play-off, and there are some very strong teams in there.

“On rankings at the moment GB are the fifth highest-ranked team. I think the team to avoid would be Poland, who have a top-10 player in Agnieszka Radwanska and a specialist doubles team, but I think anybody else who”s out there, if our girls are playing well and we have a favourable draw, then I really think anything”s possible.”

Under the spotlight: Murray and Leon Smith answer questions from the press

Under the spotlight: Murray and Leon Smith answer questions from the press

Murray”s appointment was announced earlier this month, with the former Scotland national coach linking up again with the Lawn Tennis Association”s head of women”s tennis, Leon Smith.

The pair worked together in Scotland for a number of years, with Smith taking over coaching Murray”s younger son Andy when the now world NO 4 was 11.

As well as captaining the Fed Cup team, Murray will also work with Britain”s leading junior girls and is passionate about helping boost the number of female coaches in the game.

She said: “Leon contacted me a few weeks ago to say he was taking over the women”s side and asked if I would be interested in a role, in particular with the Fed Cup, which of course for me would be a massive honour to be able to lead out your country. I was getting to the stage where I was ready for a new challenge.

Flying the flag: Murray said Smith was influential in her appointment

Flying the flag: Murray said Smith was influential in her appointment

“I had to think about it a bit because it”s a question of freeing up enough time to be able to do it well. You would never want to take on something like this and then find you didn”t have the time to devote to it. Anything I take on is to put my heart and soul into it and really try to make it work.

“I”m really excited to get started. I love coaching. It doesn”t matter whether it”s eight-year-old beginners or whether it”s working on the court with Jamie or Andy. It”s just that whole thing of teaching.”

Of her wide-ranging position, Murray added: “The Fed Cup in the zone we”re in at the moment is just one week of the year.

“For me, the wider role of trying to help develop a female coaching workforce on the performance side and to help the junior players, and to try to influence perhaps a better or more successful pathway from under-12 all the way through to the tour, is something I think I”ve got quite a lot of experience in and would love to be able to pass that on.”

Murray is a regular courtside supporter of both Andy and older son Jamie, a specialist on the doubles tour, and she joked that they would be pleased she now had other responsibilities.

“I think they were delighted I wasn”t going to be around to cramp their style quite so much,” she said.

“But yes, they were delighted for me.

“We have all of us always enjoyed team competitions. The boys have played in British teams and Scottish teams since they were 10 or 11 and they love the fun that comes with being part of a team.

“I”ve captained and managed a lot of junior teams mostly over the years and really enjoy that whole camaraderie and working together.”

British tennis on road recovery, says Roger Draper

British tennis is on slow road to recovery, says chief exec Draper

British tennis has been described as a “depressed patient” slowly on the road to recovery by the man in charge of coming up with a cure.

Roger Draper, chief executive of the LTA, expressed confidence that a corner has been turned but warned it might still be “three to five years” before sustained and serious gains are seen at elite level.

The organisation”s annual general meeting was at least able to hear some more positive signs for the future than is usual on this occasion, with references to the progress of Laura Robson and Heather Watson and particularly encouraging results among the boys.

Britain

Britain”s best: Murray is one of the few to rise to the top of the sport

Three out of four US Open junior semi-finalists were English, while the Great Britain Under 16s took the junior Davis Cup title.

But Draper warned: “We need to be patient. Unless you are a Murray or a Nadal, the transition from juniors to seniors can take much longer these days. The average age for breaking into the top 100 is now 24.”

The LTA reported an annual profit of 35.17million – up 13 per cent. Another standout figure was the cost of employing the LTA”s mammoth 296 staff – 13.3m, way more than most countries” annual tennis budget.

Draper disputed Sport England research suggesting tennis had suffered a bigger fall-off in recreational participation among adults than most other pursuits, saying club membership had risen, albeit marginally, to 512,000.

Playing catch up: The aim is to produce grand slam champions like Novak Djokovic

Playing catch up: The aim is to produce grand slam champions like Novak Djokovic

Michael Watson blasts "anti-boxing" ITV Nigel Benn-Gerarld McClelland documentary

ITV show was disgusting! Hero Watson condemns “anti-boxing” portrayal

Not everyone was as thrilled as the television reviewers by ITV”s documentary about Nigel Benn”s fight with Gerald McClelland which has left the American with disabling brain damage.

The most powerful voice raised against “The Fight Of Their Lives” is that of Michael Watson, whose own heroic fight back from similar trauma suffered in his epic battle with Chris Eubank is nothing short of miraculous.

Any assumption that Watson would be naturally inclined to sympathise with a depiction of boxing as primitive savagery exploited by ruthless mercenaries is very wide of the mark.

Hard hitting: Nigel Benn shows the strain of emotion as he encounters former ring foe Gerald McClelland during last week

Hard hitting: Nigel Benn shows the strain of emotion as he encounters former ring foe Gerald McClelland during last week”s TV documentary

Watson, whose recovery from being told he would be crippled for life to completing the London Marathon is one of sport’s most inspiring stories, remains an advocate for the hardest game.

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He says: “I was disgusted by this programme”s portrayal of boxing as a barbaric sport and its fighters, trainers and managers as uncaring, brutal people with money their only motivation.

“The narrator was anti-boxing. The programme showed nothing of the skill, discipline and dedication of boxers to their sport. Nor all the managers, trainers and others who truly care for their fighters.”

Watson bears no grudge against either boxing or his nemesis of an opponent who sent him to hospital close to death.

Rather, he and Eubank are close friends and he is gratified that his own plight forced boxing in Britain to impose the strict and comprehensive medical regulations which might have eased his own condition and which
have saved subsequent boxers from such extreme affliction.

Stepping in: French referee Alfred Azaro holds back Benn after American McClellan goes down in the 10th round of their infamous WBC super-middleweight bout in London

“Anti-boxing”: Michael Watson has condemned ITV”s controversial documentary based on Benn and McClelland”s bout which saw the latter infamously collapse

Moment of horror: McClelland, suffering obvious distress sits on the floor in his corner, moments before collapsing following his defeat by Benn

Moment of horror: McClelland, suffering obvious distress sits on the floor in his corner, moments before collapsing following his defeat by Benn

Such a dignified figure throughout his years of struggle to regain a virtually normal life, Watson says: “There is no bitterness in me. In some ways I feel my injury happened for a reason. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to help people through illness and problems in their lives the way I do.”

A motivational figure now, Watson hopes to be an even more public symbol of hope to others in difficulty or stress by taking a role in the London 2012 Olympics.

Inspirational figure: Former boxer Michael Watson wants to play a part in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics

Inspirational figure: Former boxer Michael Watson wants to play a part in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics

He says: “I would like to play a supporting part at the 2012 Games and the Paralympics. I believe it would also inspire others never to give up if they see me carrying the torch. Perhaps even lighting the Olympic flame.”

Lord Coe is believed to be considering how best to deploy this brave man who is already the most persuasive advocate boxing could wish for.

At the very least, Watson should carry the torch on one leg of its journey to the Olympic Stadium next summer, as well as occupying a seat of honour at ringside as an ambassadorial figure for the sport he still loves.

Carl”s turn put smile back on face of British boxing

One down, one to go for the intrepid road warriors of British boxing.
After Amir Khan’s loss of his world titles to Lamont Peterson, it is Carl Froch”s turn to take on an American in his own back yard.

The Nottingham Cobra, who takes on former Olympic gold medallist Andre Ward in Sunday morning”s world championship unifying final of the protracted Super Six super-middleweight tournament, has had to box abroad even more than Khan so far in order to establish himself at the summit of the game.

Not only that but his task in Atlantic City appears even tougher than was Khan’s in Washington.

Eyes on the prize: Carl Froch bids for super-middleweight Super Six glory in Atlantic City on Saturday when he collides with Andre Ward

Eyes on the prize: Carl Froch bids for super-middleweight Super Six glory in Atlantic City on Saturday when he collides with Andre Ward

Victory on the fabled Boardwalk would not only end the slick Ward’s unbeaten record but would be the major achievement by a British boxer this year.

This is Froch”s second successive fight in Atlantic City. He beat the craggy Glen Johnson in this art deco hall in the summer semi final of the Super Six. Prior to that he comprehensively defeated pre-tournament favourite Arthur Abraham in Helsinki after suffering his only defeat in a thunderous war with Viking warrior Mikkel Kessler in Denmark.

Rival: American Andre Ward

Rival: American Andre Ward

The last time Froch fought in his home town, or country, was when he out-pointed another smooth American operator, Andre Dirrell, more than two years ago in his first Super Six bout.

Prior to that he had to travel to America to defend his WBC world title against Jermain Taylor, landing a sensational last-half-minute KO when behind on points.

That is the most demanding series of consecutive battles against world-class rivals undertaken by any boxer in recent years.

Now,as he braces himself for the toughest test of all, he says: “I”m not bothered about giving up home advantage, even though I still believe I would have got the decision against Kessler anywhere except in Denmark.’

Froch recently revealed to the Mail that he and his fiance, glamour model Rachael Cordingley, are considering setting up home In the US, where they plan to spend much of each year.

Ready to rumble: Froch, who had been training at the Trinity Gym in New York, can show off his talents to a wider audience this weekend

Ready to rumble: Froch, who had been training at the Trinity Gym in New York, can show off his talents to a wider audience this weekend

He says now: “The fans here seem to love my fighting style and American television has been much more supportive of me than the networks in Britain in the past.”

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His exposure at home will increase this week with Sky taking over from the fringe Primetime cable company as the Super Six comes to its climax… in the hope that a famous victory will lead Froch on to more and even bigger fights next year.

But for the moment, he is fighting to put the smile back on the bloodied face of British boxing.

Iron Mike”s conqueror Williams finally bows out

Danny Williams has finally thrown in the towel after prolonging his career by fighting in Germany on a Lithuanian license.

Two successive defeats in those curious circumstances have persuaded the loveable London heavyweight to call time on his switch-back career.

Calling it quits: Former British heavyweight champion Danny Williams, who memorably defeated Mike Tyson in July 2004 (below), has retired from boxing

Calling it quits: Former British heavyweight champion Danny Williams, who memorably defeated Mike Tyson in July 2004 (below), has retired from boxing

Night to remember: Williams knocked Tyson out in the fourth round of their contest seven years ago

He will treasure the memory of his astonishing victory over Mike Tyson, just as we recall the affability with which he accepted victory and defeat alike.

Williams will go into retirement as a popular former British champion… and with our best wishes for wherever his unpredictable life takes him from here on.

Pound-for-pound ratingsWORLD POUND-FOR-POUND TOP 10

No 1 MANNY PACQUIAO
Born: 17/12/1978
Kibawe, Bukidnon, Philippines
Current titles: WBO welterweight world champion
Jeff”s verdict: Still the best despite almost coming undone his his third installment with Marquez.

No 2 FLOYD MAYWEATHER JNR
Born: 24/02/1977
Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA
Current titles: None
Jeff”s verdict: Hates being second best.

No 3 SERGIO MARTINEZ
Born: 21/02/1975
Quilmes, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Current titles: WBC Diamond and Ring World middleweight champion
Jeff”s verdict: Showed his class to dispatch Darren Barker recently.

No 4 JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ
Born: 23/08/1973
Mexico City, Distrito Federal
Current titles: WBA, WBO and The Ring lightweight world champion
Jeff”s verdict: Classic Mexican warrior who took Manny to the wire in another epic contest.

No 5 NONITO DONAIRE
Born: 16/11/1982
Talibon, Bohol, Philippines
Current titles: WBC and WBO bantamweight champion
Jeff”s verdict: The next Pacquiao.

No 6 WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
Born: 25/03/1976
Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan
Current titles: IBF, IBO, WBO and WBA heavyweight champion
Jeff”s verdict: Longest reigning champion, completely commanded Haye in a one-sided fight in Germany.

No 6 VITALI KLITSCHKO
Born: 19/07/1971
Belovodsk, Kirghiz SSR (now Kyrgyzstan)
Current titles: WBC Heavyweight champion
Jeff”s verdict: It is now time Vitali gets the recognition he deserves

No 8 CARL FROCH
Born: 02/07/1977
Nottingham, England
Current titles: WBC super middleweight
Jeff”s verdict: Fantastic run against five consecutive world class opponents.

No 9 ANDRE WARD
Born: 23/02/1984
Oakland, California, USA
Current titles: WBA world super middleweight champion
Jeff”s verdict: Super-slick Olympic gold medallist but come on Carl.

No 10 BERNARD HOPKINS

Born: 15/01/1965
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Current titles: WBC and The Ring Light Heavyweight champion.

Jeff”s verdict: The 4Os phenomenon.

BRITISH POUND-FOR-POUND TOP 10

No 1 CARL FROCH
Born: 02/07/1977
Nottingham, England
Current titles: WBC super middleweight
Jeff”s verdict: Super Six final awaits the Nottingham Cobra.

No 2 AMIR KHAN
Born: 08/12/1986
Bolton, England
Current titles: None
Jeff”s verdict: Mugged in Washington and will want revenge against Peterson next March.

No 3 NATHAN CLEVERLY
Born: 17/02/1987
Caerphilly, Wales
Current titles: WBO light heavyweight world champion
Jeff”s verdict: Thinking man”s world champion.

No 4 RICKY BURNS
Born: 13/04/1983
Bellshill, Scotland
Current titles: WBO world super featherweight
Jeff”s verdict: Scotland”s finest and exceptional in points win over Katsidis.

No 5 KEVIN MITCHELL
Born: 29/10/1984
Romford, England
Current titles: WBO intercontinental lightweight champion
Jeff”s verdict: A focused, dedicated Mitchell is world class.

No 6 KELL BROOK
Born: 03/05/1986
Sheffield, England
Current titles: British welterweight title and the WBO Inter-continental title
Jeff”s verdict: Rising as fast as Haye punches.

No 7 DARREN BARKER
Born: 19/05/1982
Barnet, England
Current titles: British and European middleweight champion
Jeff”s verdict: Class boxer who almost made Martinez think twice.

No 8 GEORGE GROVES
Born: 26/03/1988
Hammersmith, England
Current titles: Commonwealth and British Super Middleweight
Jeff”s verdict: On the up, great win over Smith at Wembley.

No 9 MATTHEW MACKLIN*
Born: 14/05/1982
Birmingham, England
Current titles: None
Jeff”s verdict: Just fell short against Felix Sturm in what may be his best world title chance.

No 10 TYSON FURY
Born: 01/06/1988
Manchester, England
Current titles: British and Commonwealth heavyweight

Jeff”s verdict: Showed great character to climb off the canvas and stop Neven Pajkic.

*Macklin fights under the Irish flag but was born in Birmingham.

THE OCTAGON

Michael Bisping, having put his mixed martial arts career back on track with his recent win over Jason Miller, is being given the chance to climb back into contention with the leading lights of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Still the best hope of Britain producing its first MMA world champion, Manchester”s Bisping is scheduled to fight Demian Maia on the big UFC ON FOX2 card in Chicago on January 28.

A win there would lift him close to a title shot.

On the up: Michael Bisping

On the up: Michael Bisping”s recent win over Jason Miller has put him back in UFC title contention