Welcome to this week’s column. Top has to be news from the first Fed Cup ties to be held in Great Britain for 26 years. But there’s plenty of other stuff for us to get our teeth into. Stories this week come from netball, football, cricket, hockey, tennis, volleyball, rugby union plus a bumper selection of winter sports stories.
Let’s crack on.
A quick recap on what GB are aiming to do at this four-day tournament in Bath:
Eight teams split into two groups for the Europe/Africa round robin event. Eventually just one team will go on to the play-off event in April which will decide who wins promotion to the second tier of the Fed Cup structure.
Wednesday 6 February
Group A: GB, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia
Great Britain 3-0 Slovenia.
Katie Boulter started it all off with a straight sets win over Kaja Juvan 6-4 6-2. Then Jo Konta beat Dalila Jakupovic 7-6 6-2.
The win was sealed by GB’s doubles team of Harriet Dart and Katie Swan who beat Jakupovic and Juvan 6-4 6-2.
Hungary 2-1 Greece
Dalma Galfi beat Valentini Grammatikopoulou 6-0 6-3
Maria Sakkari beat Anna Bondar 6-3 6-2
Dalma Galfi and Reka-Luca Jani beat Maria Sakkari and Despina Papamichail 6-3 6-4.
Group B: Croatia, Georgia, Serbia, Turkey
Croatia 2-1 Turkey
Cagla Buyukakcay beat Ana Konjuh 7-6 2-6 6-3
Donna Vekic beat Pemra Ozgen 7-6 6-3
Jana Fett and Darija Jurak beat Cagla Buyukakcay and Pemra Ozgen 6-4 6-4
Serbia 2-1 Georgia
Ivana Jorovic beat Mariam Bolkvadze 6-3 6-1
Olga Danilovic beat Ekaterine Gorgodze 7-5 6-3
Mariam Bolkvadze and Oksana Kalashnikova beat Olga Danilovic and Ivana Jorovic 6-3 7-5
On Saturday, the two group winners will play each other, with the winners progressing to the April play-offs.
Thursday 7 February
Great Britain 3-0 Greece
Boulter started it again, beating Valentini Grammatikopoulou in three sets, 6-3 4-6 6-3.
Konta also took three sets to beat Maria Sakkari 4-6 6-2 6-3 and the doubles pairing of Dart and Swan made it 3-0 winning over Anna Arkadianou and Despina Papamichail 6-1 6-4.
Hungary 3-0 Slovenia
Dalma Galfi beat Kaja Juvan 6-1 6-4
Anna Bondar beat Dalila Jakupovic 4-6 6-1 6-4
Reka-Luca Jani and Adrienn Nagy beat Nina Potocnik and Nika Radisic 7-4 4-6 6-2
Croatia 2-1 Georgia
Ana Konjuh beat Mariam Bolkvadze 6-4 6-3
Ekaterine Gorgodze beat Jana Fett 4-6 6-3 7-5
Darija Jurak and Ana Konjuh beat Ekaterine Gorgodze and Oksana Kalashnikova 7-5 6-1
Serbia 3-0 Turkey
Ivana Jorovic beat Cagla Buyukakcay 6-2 6-3
Aleksandra Krunic beat Pemra Ogzen 3-6 6-4 6-2
Olga Danilovic and Aleksandra Krunic beat Berfu Cengiz and Ipek Soylu 6-2 6-3
Still to come:
Friday, 8 February
Great Britain v Hungary (16:30)
Greece v Slovenia (16:30)
Serbia v Croatia (10:00)
Turkey v Georgia (10:00)
On Saturday, the two group winners will play each other, with the winners progressing to the April play-offs.
Saturday, 9 February
Play-off: TBC v TBC (16:30)
St Petersburg Open
In the semi-finals, eighth seed Donna Vekic saw off the challenge of Vera Zvonareva 6-2 6-2 and second seed Kiki Bertens beat fourth seed Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 6-2.
Bertens then went on to win the final against Vekic 7-6 6-4.
In the semi-finals, eighth seed Dayana Yastremska defeated Magda Linette 6-4 6-3 and sixth seed Ajla Tomljanovic beat Tamara Zidansek 6-4 6-1.
Yastremeska went on to win an exciting final 6-2 2-6 7-6.
She took a 5-0 lead in the first set, eventually taking it 6-2. Tomljanovic roared back in the second to take it by the same score. It looked as though the momentum was with Tomljanovic, as she went into 5-2 lead in the final set, but Yastremska came back to take it to a tiebreak, which she won to three.
Six Nations Championships
There were wins for England, France and Italy in the first round at the weekend.
Ireland 7-51 England
There were eight different try scorers for England as they made a great start to the championship. Katy Daley-McLean also scored 16 points including a try. Ireland’s score came through a penalty try on the hour when England were penalised for deliberately collapsing the drive after a series of five metre scrums.
England tries: Breach, Bern, Davies, Daley-McLean, Harrison, Scott, B Cleall
Conversions: Daley-McLean (4)
France 52-3 Wales
Nine tries for France saw them get off to an impressive start.
France tries: Thomas (3), Murie (2), Menager (2), N’Diaye, Constanty
Conversions: Imart (2)
Wales penalty: Wilkins
Scotland 7-28 Italy
Italy also managed a bonus point win over Scotland at Scotstoun.
Scotland try: Bonar
Italy tries: Arrighetti, Franco, Rigoni, Giordano
Conversions: Madia, Sillari (3)
This weekend’s fixtures:
Friday 8 February: Scotland v Ireland (19.35, live on BBC Alba and RTE)
Saturday 9 February: Italy v Wales (19.00, live on Eurosport IT and BBC Wales)
Sunday 10 February: England v France (12.45pm, Sky Sports and France 2)
Hockey – Off the Pitch
Sophie Bray has announced her retirement from international hockey.
The 28-year old won 134 caps for England and Great Britain. She won Olympic gold with Britain in 2916, European gold in 2015 and bronze in 2017 and Commonwealth Games silver and bronze (dates).
She was awarded an MBE in 2017, with the rest of the 2016 Olympic hockey team.
She announced her decision on Instagram:
“After a very tough couple of months it is with great sadness that I have taken the difficult decision to step down from international hockey.
“It has been a huge honour to represent Great Britain and England, and I will be forever grateful for all the incredible memories in an international shirt.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has supported and believed in me and made the amazing journey so special.
“I still have a lot to give the sport I love and I am looking forward to what the future holds.”
Hockey – On the Pitch
FIH Pro League
New Zealand 5-1 Great Britain
Great Britain began their FIH Pro League campaign with a defeat to the Black Sticks. Olivia Merry opened the scoring for New Zealand in the fifth minute. It was 1-1 at the end of the first quarter as Giselle Ansley equalised from a penalty stroke on 11 minutes.
There was only one goal in the second quarter, scored by Ella Gunson from a penalty corner and New Zealand went into the break 2-1 up.
In the third, Merry scored her second on 35, and from then on New Zealand were in control. Merry sealed her hat-trick from a penalty corner on 51 and Amy Robson made it 5-1 on 59.
The other scores so far:
Argentina 2-0 Belgium
New Zealand 0-1 Netherlands
New Zealand 0-1 Belgium
Australia 1-0 Netherlands
Argentina 2-2 United States
(Argentina won 3-1 on penalties)
Australia 1-2 Belgium
The next fixtures:
New Zealand v Germany (Christchurch)
Australia v GB (Perth)
US v Netherlands (Winston-Salem)
New Zealand v China (Christchurch)
Last weekend’s Vitality Netball Super League results were:
Saturday 2 February
Surrey Storm 47-70 Wasps Netball
Loughborough Lightning 60-49 Strathclyde Sirens
Monday 4 February
Celtic Dragons 44-66 Saracens Mavericks
Manchester Thunder 62-47 London Pulse
Wasps are top with three wins from three, nine points and a goal average of 1.46. Manchester Thunder are second with an inferior goal average (1.33) and Mavericks are third, again with an inferior goal average (1.25), and have played a game more.
This weekend’s round five fixtures are:
Friday 8 February
Strathclyde Sirens v Celtic Dragons (7.30pm)
Saturday 9 February
Severn Stars v Manchester Thunder (6.00pm)
Loughborough Lightning v Team Bath (6.00pm)
London Pulse v Surrey Storm (7.00pm)
Monday 11 February
Wasps Netball v Saracens Mavericks (7.00pm – Live on Sky Sports)
Winter Sports – off the Snow
This week Lindsey Vonn announced her retirement, saying her “body is broken beyond repair”.
She had been trying to surpass Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 World Cup wins, but will retire on 82.
In a quite outstanding career, the 34-year old won downhill Winter Olympics gold at Vancouver in 2010, bronze in the super-G and a downhill bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018.
She has comeback from several career-threatening injuries, but the knee injury sustained at Lake Louise last year has proved the final straw.
Like many sportswomen she has had more than her fair share of haters, particularly when she raced against the men and even after all her achievements it is quite telling that her announcement, released on Instagram, ended,
“So please let my story be of comebacks, victories and even injuries, but do not tell my story as one of failures or unreached goals.”
Winter Sports – on the Snow/ice
Lindsey Vonn – Again
However, it did not all go to plan for Vonn in her penultimate race.
She crashed spectacularly in the super-G at the World Championships in Are, Sweden. She hit a gate and ended up in the safety nets. She was treated by medics before getting up and skiing down to the end of the course.
Her final race will be in the downhill on Sunday.
Great Britain claimed mixed relay bronze last weekend at the Short Track World Cup in Dresden.
Although Korea initially won the race, they were afterwards disqualified and Russia awarded the gold. Hungary won the silver and the GB team of Elise Christie, Farrell Treacy, Jack Burrows and Kathryn Thomson the bronze.
Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships
Charlotte Bankes won Britain’s first ever World Championship snowboard medal when she took silver in the snowboard cross in Utah. Eva Samkova of the Czech Republic took gold.
Izzy Atkin won bronze in the freestyle skiing big air category at the same event. Gold went to Tess Ledeux of France and silver to Julia Crass. Atkin was just five points behind in third.
Telemark World Cup Ladies Classic
Meanwhile, in Pra Loup, France Jasmin Taylor won World Cup silver. She finished 7.84 seconds behind the gold medal winner Amelie Reymond of Switzerland. Argeline Tan Bouquet of France finished third.
I know my coverage of winter sports is quite patchy – my knowledge, I confess, is a bit thin on the subject, but it seems that Great Britain’s women are whipping up a storm across several different disciplines at the moment. If any of you out there have specialist knowledge in this area and would like to contribute to the column, please let me know!
One pairing I do know a bit about is Menna Fitzpatrick and Jen Kehoe. And last week they were in action at the Para Alpine Skiing World Championships in Italy.
And once again they were in great form. They claimed gold in both the downhill and the visually-impaired super G. They then took silver in the super-combined.
FA Cup Fourth round results:
Saturday 2 February
Manchester City 3-0 Watford
Sunday 3 February
Brighton & Hove Albion 0-2 Manchester Utd
West Ham Utd 3-1 Blackburn Rovers
Leicester City 0-2 London Bees
AFC Wimbledon 0-3 Bristol City
Crystal Palace 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur
Crawley Wasps 0-4 Arsenal
Everton 0-2 Chelsea
The weather put paid to half of the 16 ties and these will now be played on 10 February:
Durham v Cardiff
Charlton Athletic v Huddersfield Town
Loughborough Foxes v Sheffield United
Yeovil Town v Birmingham City
Liverpool v MK Dons
Millwall v Lewes
Reading v Keynsham Town
Stoke City v Aston Villa
Fifth round draw
Ties to be played on 17 February:
Liverpool or MK Dons v Millwall Lionesses or Lewes
Bristol City v Durham Women or Cardiff City
Reading or Keynsham Town v Yeovil Town or Birmingham City
Chelsea v Arsenal
Manchester United v London Bees
West Ham United v Charlton Athletic or Huddersfield Town
Stoke City or Aston Villa v Loughborough Foxes or Sheffield United
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City
The Continental Cup final will be between Manchester City and Arsenal after they saw off Chelsea and Manchester United respectively in the semi-finals this week.
Chelsea 0-2 Manchester City
Nikita Parris scored twice to see City through to their fourth League Cup final in five years.
After a goalless first-half, City were awarded a penalty on 49 minutes after Parris was brought down by Deanna Cooper. Parris took the penalty herself and scored.
She scored her second on 81 and that was enough to seal the win.
Arsenal 2-1 Manchester United
Vivianne Miedema also scored twice to help Arsenal defeat Manchester United.
Molly Green pulled one back for the Championship side, but it was too little, too late.
The final is at Bramhall Lane, Sheffield on Saturday 23 February.
World Cup Warm-ups
The Lionesses will prepare for the World Cup with four home games, as well as the SheBelieves Cup in the USA at the end of February.
England v Canada – Friday, 5 April (Academy Stadium, Manchester City)
England v Spain – Tuesday, 9 April (Swindon Town)
England v Denmark – Saturday, 25 May (Walsall FC)
England v New Zealand – Saturday, 1 June (Brighton & Hove Albion)
If you can’t get to France this summer, these matches are a brilliant chance to get out and show your support for the Lionesses before they set off for the tournament.
Sheffield United Racism Allegations
The FA has charged Sheffield Utd striker Sophie Jones with the racial abuse of Tottenham’s Renee Hector.
I reported at the beginning of January that Hector had reported the incident to the referee during the game and to the FA afterwards.
Jones has until 15 February to respond to the allegations.
The ECB has announced the women’s central contracts for 2019.
There are 21 in total, 17 full-time and four “rookie” contracts.
Freya Davies has been moved up from rookie to full-time. Bryony Smith has received her first (rookie) contract, but Beth Langston and Tash Farrant miss out completely.
I interviewed Farrant at Loughborough for WSUK some time ago and I have to say I’m gutted that she hasn’t been offered a contract. She has boundless enthusiasm and is still a developing talent. I hope that she will be able to work at her cricket during the county season and bounce back into contention next year.
The overall salary pot has increased by 10%.
Full Time: Tammy Beaumont (Kent), Katherine Brunt (Yorkshire), Kate Cross (Lancashire), Freya Davies (Sussex), Sophie Ecclestone (Lancashire), Georgia Elwiss (Sussex), Jenny Gunn (Warwickshire), Alex Hartley (Lancashire), Amy Jones (Warwickshire), Heather Knight (Berkshire), Laura Marsh (Kent), Nat Sciver (Surrey), Anya Shrubsole (Somerset), Sarah Taylor (Sussex), Fran Wilson (Kent), Lauren Winfield (Yorkshire), Danni Wyatt (Sussex),
Rookie: Alice Davidson-Richards (Kent), Katie George (Hampshire), Bryony Smith (Surrey), Linsey Smith (Sussex).
As we know, the Women’s Premier League has now split into “Top 5” and “Bottom 4”. Last weekend there was just one bottom four fixture:
Bristol VC1 0-3 Polonia SideOut London (15-25, 22-25, 19-25)
Another week, another staggering feat of endurance running. Susannah Gill won the women’s World Marathon Challenge after completing the seven marathons across seven continents in seven days in a world record time of 24 hours 19 minutes and nine seconds.
She came second in the first marathon in Nova, Antarctica, but then won the subsequent races in Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Madrid, Santiago and Miami.
But it’s a competition not without its detractors. 55,000 miles of flying time in seven days – not the most environmentally friendly undertaking . You also have to pay a 39,000 euro entrance fee, thus excluding a goodly proportion of the population from entering.
Unsurprisingly, fewer than 200 people have ever completed it. Not wanting to sound like an old curmudgeon, I can understand, on several levels, why.
More news and views next week.