Australia may catch the attention of the sporting world for the next couple of weeks or so, including today.
The Australian Open of tennis began in the very preliminary rounds on January 10th, and having finished the Qualifiers yesterday, today begins the Round of 128. Play continues for the next two weeks, until reaching the finals on the weekend of January 27th and 28th. In other words, stay tuned for updates in this space in two weeks time.
Australia also hosts cycling's first UCI event of the year, even if the cycling season doesn't really begin until the one day classics in March. Riders of the 18 teams of the UCI pro peloton (World Tour Teams), as well as the wild card invited team of UniSA-Australia, will take part in the Santos Tour Down Under, January 16-21. The race will take place in six stages, in and around Adelaide, and riders will ride just over 500 miles (800 kilometres) before the big finish next Sunday. Team Sky, while on a training ride, was pulled over by the local constabulary for traffic violations the other day. Other violations have also been rumoured for this team, which formerly has always held itself forth as a paragon of dope free virtue. Apparently not everyone is pleased to have the cycling world take over Adelaide for the Tour Down Under.
Australia is also still hosting The Ashes tour, with England hoping for revenge, after having lost the possibility to take home the Ashes due to poor Test Match showing (yes, technically the "Ashes Tour."). Revenges is a wicket best served cold, and England has a real chance as a series of One Day International (ODI) matches begins today at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. Thrashed in the Ashes and now facing the world champions on their home turf, England's prospects in the one-day series in Australia may appear bleak, but instead experts sense that England may be coming into their strength. England's 50-over side have plenty of reasons to believe they can succeed where their Test counterparts failed when the five-match one-day series starts today at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. The ODI squad will play the next two Fridays and Sundays, in Brisbane, then Sydney, then Adelaide and then Perth. Although England's Tour of Australia will officially wrap up then, Twenty20 International players will remain, for February's Trans-Tasman Tri-Series among England, Australia and New Zealand.
In the United States, in Professional Football, the NFL Divisional Round continues today with the Jacksonville Jaguars visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the New Orleans Saints visiting the Minnesota Vikings. We're sure all the teams feel that second best is not good enough.
The Steelers (13-3) entered the season as one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl. On October 8th, they lost big to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but are confident at this rematch. Should they win, they would be the second team from Pennsylvania to advance in the playoffs, Jacksonville win, it would be a landmark in franchise history. Pittsburgh All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown is expected to play after missing the final 2½ games of the regular season with a left calf contusion. Brown practiced all week, though he was sent home on Friday because of an illness. Brown caught 10 passes for 157 yards in the first meeting with Jacksonville and his return means all of Pittsburgh's "Killer Bs" will be ready to go. The temperature is forecast to hover around 17 at game time, which may give the northerners an advantage over the tropical Floridians.
Minnesota will host the game to the farthest north this weekend, at their new stadium in Minneapolis. Frigid temperatures will not be a problem for either team, however, since the Vikings stadium is marvelously climate controlled. The last time these teams played in the post season, Brett Favre was playing for Minnesota, and the Saints felt they deserved a win, having survived Hurricane Katrina, etc. They certainly did win, with the help of the league and their referees, but this win and their savage attitude caused the Saints to be investigated, and to be sanctioned for injury bounties played to players. . Minnesota's Defense is second to none, but New Orleans benefits from the strong playing of Drew Brees and other great offensive players. The Vikings have reactivated Sam Bradford but his status is unclear on Sunday.