Amazing! Roger Federer will not be in the final of a major …
Roger Federer's streak of 10 straight Grand Slam finals came to an abrupt end Friday when he lost to No. 3 Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in the Australian Open semifinals.
The top-seeded Federer, who had been seeking his third consecutive title here, didn't look like the same player who has won 13 majors. The emotional Djokovic had a lot to do with that, hitting 13 aces and 50 winners, largely avoiding the nerves that have occasionally troubled him.
"I am just very amazed I coped with the pressure today," Djokovic said. "In the most important moments, I played my best tennis."
"It's just amazing, indescribable, to beat the No. 1 player of the world, one of the best players this sport has ever had, in straight sets."
He will face unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Sunday's final. Tsonga beat No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals Thursday.
Kobe is in town; happy again …
Sorry to disappoint those who predicted a nuclear winter for LA’s favorite team, but Bryant remains in a Lakers uniform and seems, dare we say it, content. Given his profound frustration a few months ago, it’s safe to say what’s happening now is the best scenario he could have envisioned.
“It certainly seems that way,’’ Bryant said.
“Unless they want to send me here to Dallas with Dirk. You know what I mean.’’
We know what you mean.
That’s the riveting beauty of Bryant. No one can be sure what he’s going to do on the court or say off it. He’s the ultimate competitor and entertainer, a basketball prodigy whose every word and deed is open to interpretation.
Was Bryant serious about wanting to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki, or was he simply playing to the home crowd and taking a good-natured dig at the Lakers, letting the organization know it shouldn’t take this relative calm for granted? My belief is a little of both.
The Lakers and Bryant have called a truce. But truces can be broken.
Still, there are two things you should know before you dig into Mark Cuban’s pockets and devise all sorts of trade packages.
One, the Lakers aren’t about to send Bryant to the Mavericks this season.
Two, Bryant feels good about the 27-13 team that will face the Mavericks tonight at American Airlines Center.
“We’ve got a really good situation now,’’ Bryant said. “I’m very pleased with the
development of our young players. They all have a confidence about them, a swagger about them that I really enjoy. They have a great work ethic.
“And I couldn’t be more pleased with the development of [Andrew] Bynum. I’ve really been pleased to see how hard he’s been working, how he’s stepped up from his work ethic of last season. I’ve been very, very pleased with that.’’
Bynum won’t play against the Mavericks, or for the next seven weeks for that matter. He’s been sidelined by a bone bruise and subluxation of his left knee. Small forward Trevor Ariza, who fit nicely into the team’s rotation, is out for a comparable period with a broken bone in his right foot.
You might remember that Bynum was the subject of a YouTube rant by Bryant during the off-season. Caught by a fan in a mall parking lot, the Lakers star vented about how the club didn’t send the young center to New Jersey for Jason Kidd before the trade deadline.
We’re not here to rehash the dysfunctional declarations of the past eight months or dwell on Bryant’s trade demands and contempt for Lakers management.
We’re here to point out that Bryant now believes the Lakers are a championship-caliber team when Bynum is healthy. He will tell you this is the best team he’s been on since Shaquille O’Neal departed for Miami.
Kobe’s comments buried amongst the plugs:
The Western Conference is led by New Orleans? …
They are playing just fine. Entering tonight, they are one game behind Phoenix and another member of the new elite, New Orleans, for best record in the conference.
They have won eight of their last 10 games. Their home record (18-3) is the best in the NBA, including the Boston Celtics. Coach Avery Johnson may find himself coaching the West All-Stars in his New Orleans hometown because he is that close to having the team with the best record in the West.
Then again, if injuries caused the Mavericks to go into a little tailspin and they dropped 4 ½ games in the standings, do you know where they would be?
Yes. Out of the playoffs.
To get to the NBA Finals, the Mavericks used to have to fight their way through the Suns and the Spurs.
It's more than that now.
Every opponent – as we saw last spring – will be dangerous.
The team that spoiled Dirk Nowitzki's MVP season, Golden State, is five games out of first in the West.
Once again the Warrriors are the eighth seed.
Last year was the first time since 1990 that neither the No. 1 nor No. 2 seeds reached the conference finals in the West. As deep as this conference is, it won't be 17 years before that happens again.
Really, the elite in the West could be as many as 10 teams.
NBA fans know how scary the Houston Rockets can be, even if Tracy McGrady is still looking for that first playoff series victory. McGrady was injured but is back in the lineup. The team is on an 8-2 run.
The Rockets are 6 ½ games out of first, but they are no better than 10th in the Western Conference. That is crazy.
And it's why I have to restate what I said a year ago, because commissioner David Stern and the league's board of governors clearly missed their copy of the newspaper that day.
The NBA would be better off scrapping history and going to a best-16 team format. Forget Eastern and Western Conference playoffs. Get the best teams into the tournament and get the two best teams into the Finals, regardless of geography.
If that turned out to be San Antonio and Phoenix or Dallas and the Lakers, would anyone really object just because there's no Eastern time zone representation?
Is Shaq done? …
Shaquille O'Neal on Thursday denied speculation that he planned to walk away from the Heat after 2008, telling ESPN Radio's Jack Ramsay that he will play out his contract despite his current injury-riddled year.
O'Neal suffered an acute hip injury while diving for a loose ball against Utah on Dec. 22 and re-aggravated the injury Monday against Cleveland. He will miss at least six games, barring a change in the rehabilitation schedule.
In the interview Thursday, O'Neal strongly disputed media reports this month that reportedly characterized the All-Star center as being prepared to walk away from the last two years of his five-year, $100 million contract.
"I'm the son of an army drill sergeant and when we enlist, we go out full-term. So I got two years left on my term and then, after that, I'll be looking to do other things," O'Neal said on the show.
"I'm not the type to say every game, 'my leg is hurt, my leg is hurt.' I just tried to do it the old-school way for so long, just play on ... rather than try to get healthy," he added. "I'm not even playing at 50 percent right now. I just got to focus on getting that leg back strong."
When asked if he could get back into form this season, O'Neal said: "We're going to be trying to do it. I just have to get through it."
O'Neal has missed an average of 20 games over the past six seasons because of an array of injuries. The earliest he could return from the current injury, under the timetable released by the team, is Feb. 6 at Detroit.
Tom Hicks gets his loan, and now tries to win fans back at Liverpool …
Tom Hicks and George Gillett are expected to cement their control of Liverpool this morning by announcing that they have secured a £350m loan to refinance their takeover and allow work to start on a new 70,000-seat stadium. The news will be a major setback to Dubai International Capital's attempts to buy out the Americans and to supporters in revolt at the co-chairmen's controversial reign.
The Liverpool owners had intended to unveil both the refinancing package and their new designs for a stadium on Stanley Park before yesterday's self-imposed deadline. That deadline passed without an announcement but it is understood terms were agreed with the Royal Bank of Scotland and the US investment bank Wachovia last night. The delays were the result of lawyers and accountants on both sides of the Atlantic having to sift through documentation concerning the loan, with the signing and announcement of the deal postponed until the start of business today at the request of RBS.
Gillett and Hicks believe the package will end the uncertainty over the ownership of the club after DIC re-emerged as a serious bidder. The hope that it will also allow them to regain favour with Liverpool supporters over the 18-month duration of the loan may prove more forlorn, because fans are now organising financial boycotts of the club and of Liverpool's sponsors. That will not deter the co-chairmen from populist moves in an attempt to regain supporters' confidence, however, with the long-term signing of Javier Mascherano a priority once the loan is in place.
The Argentina international is in the final six months of an 18-month loan spell at Anfield but is attracting interest from Manchester City, Barcelona and Juventus after Gillett and Hicks refused to sanction a £17m deal to sign him on a long-term basis. However, the midfielder has frequently stated that he would prefer to remain with Liverpool and the co-chairmen intend to revive talks with his owner, Kia Joorabchian, with a view to securing his signature before the end of this season.
A more direct route towards supporters' trust would be to end the uncertainty over the future of the popular Rafael Benítez, whom Hicks undermined further last week with the admission that he and Gillett had approached Jürgen Klinsmann with a view to having the German replace the Spaniard as manager. That confession accentuated a divide between the Liverpool co-chairmen over how much of the £350m loan should become a burden on the club, although Gillett did not take up an approach from DIC to present his business partner with an offer for his 50% share.
Hicks has since vowed to learn from the mistakes that have destabilised the Americans' reign and reassuring Benítez he has a long-term future at Anfield would be a start. But the Liverpool manager's relationship with the Texan remains fractious and whether Benítez would want to continue working for the current owners, despite his deep affection for the club, is uncertain. Benítez also knows he needs a strong run in this season's Champions League and a vast improvement in Liverpool's league form to persuade the Americans to allow him to continue his rebuilding of the club.
The RBS and Wachovia loan will enable Hicks and Gillett to repay the £298m they have
borrowed over the past 12 months to purchase the club, absorb existing debts of £44.8m, sign players and finance work on the new stadium. The additional funds will repay interest and enable work on the stadium project - revised after Hicks's plans came in over budget - to commence. Designs for the stadium are expected to be made public along with the announcement of the loan.
Of the £350m refinancing package only £105m will be saddled on Liverpool, with £185m secured on Hicks's and Gillett's holding company, Kop Investment. The Americans have increased their personal guarantees from £30m each to about £55m.
Favre skips Pro Bowl….Again …
Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre pulled out of the Pro Bowl Thursday.
No reason was given for Favre skipping the Feb. 10 exhibition game in Honolulu.
Favre was voted in as a starter by the fans. He received the most votes (1,140,863); New England quarterback Tom Brady was second (1,037,608).
Either Dallas quarterback Tony Romo or Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck will start for the NFC. Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia was chosen to replace Favre on the NFC roster.
Favre last played in the all-star game in 1996 and has now backed out five times since then.
Don Banks has the Cowboys grabbing a few high profile skill guys in his early mock …
22 WR Mario Manningham Michigan Jr. 6-0 188
The Cowboys want to get younger at receiver, where both Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn are 30-somethings who entered the NFL in the celebrated class of '96. Manningham has deep speed and could supply the vertical threat opposite T.O.'s strong intermediate routes.
28 RB Felix Jones Arkansas Jr. 6-0 205
If the Cowboys don't package their two No. 1's in an effort to move up and take Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, maybe they'll sit tight and settle for the Hogs' other playmaking rusher. Jones has speed, good size (200 pounds) and he's a threat both as a receiver and in the return game.
Continued Good Sex in the Big East
The following 2 clips were enjoyed last night in the press box of the Stars game, and I thought it was the most memorable part of the hockey night, and that I would pass it along for your enjoyment….
Pinky the Cat
Lucky the Cat attacks the Reporter