Monday, July 07, 2008

Tennis is Good

I must tell you: I am not a tennis fan. I likely cannot name 5 men’s tennis players who are currently in the mix. I do not watch matches very often. In fact, I watched the French Open Final and the Wimbledon Final this year, and that is about it. I also have no plans to watch another match until the US Open comes around.

What I saw yesterday, was about as great a sporting event as I have seen in a long time. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal put on a show that will not soon be forgotten. Awesome does not describe it fully. I saw to competitors who both had plenty of chances to give in, and both of them fought like champions to avoid defeat.

Roger Federer, in particular, came back from an impossible 2 sets down and despite almost never breaking Nadal, still remained in the match until the very end.

But there is the younger, confident Nadal. Rafa makes shots that are just sick. He seems to have some physical advantages against Federer, who many believe is the best player ever. Nadal and Federer have already set a record by meeting each-other 6 times in Major Finals. And, after that, we can only hope for many more.

If they compete that long, that hard, with that much drama, Tennis will become a big deal again.

I have my doubts – since I don’t know who the 3rd best player in the world is, but the experts are saying that might have been the best Wimbledon Final ever so that certainly says something.

Anyway, phenomenal stuff from Tennis of all places…

NY Times is on the story

The loss kept Federer from matching the men’s record of six consecutive Wimbledon titles set by Britain’s William Renshaw in the 19th century. Federer had won 65 straight matches on grass.

“I’m disappointed, and I’m crushed,” Federer said. “He played a super match, and I’m sure it was a great match to watch and to play, but it’s all over now. I need some time.”

Federer, 26, earned himself more time on Centre Court by saving two match points in the fourth-set tie breaker. He was later only two points from victory himself with Nadal serving at 4-5, 30-all in the fifth set. But Nadal, like his opponent, has a remarkable will as well as a remarkable topspin forehand.

And although Federer kept chipping and ripping away at Nadal’s service games, he broke him just once in the match, and that was early in the second set. In all, Federer squandered 12 of 13 break-point opportunities.

Nadal, a Spaniard whose serve was once considered his weakness, converted 4 of his 13 chances against Federer, none more important than the break that came when Federer, serving at 7-7 in the fifth, took a huge cut at a short forehand and knocked it just long.

Nadal, seldom short of positive energy, leapt with delight and hustled to his chair to prepare to serve for the championship. It was 9:10 p.m. in London when he walked to the baseline, and the light was so dim at the end of this intermittently rainy day that both players were concerned.

“I almost couldn’t see who I was playing,” Federer said, shaking his head.
Nadal agreed. “In the last game, I didn’t see nothing,” he said. “Was unbelievable. I thought we have to stop.”

Wimbledon’s organizers have pushed their sessions to the limit this year, with other matches finishing at 9:30 p.m. Not finishing on Sunday would have forced the tournament to extend to Monday, with all the logistical challenges that would have entailed.

“It would have been brutal for fans, for media, for us, for everybody to come back tomorrow, but what are you going to do?” Federer said. “It’s rough on me now, obviously, to lose the biggest tournament in the world over maybe a bit of light.”

But Nadal still had to hold serve one more time to get his hands (and teeth) on the gold-plated Challenge Cup. And although Federer did save a third match point at 40-30 with a bold backhand return that Nadal could not handle, Federer could not save the last, which came two points later.

As soon as Federer’s forehand hit the net, Nadal dropped to the grass as if he had been hurled there, his racket flying out of his left hand. Among those standing and cheering in the front row of the Royal Box were Manuel Santana and Borg.

Nadal, a 22-year-old from Majorca, joined them both on Sunday by becoming the first man to complete the grueling French Open-Wimbledon double in the same year since Borg in 1980 and also becoming the first Spanish man to win here since Santana in 1966.

After four straight titles in Paris, Nadal finally had a Grand Slam title on a surface other than clay.

Nadal wanted to share his victory with his family, and after shaking Federer’s hand, he climbed into the players’ box to hug his parents, Sebastian and Ana Maria, and his coach and uncle, Toni. Nadal then became the first Wimbledon champion to walk across the sloped roof of the commentary booths to the royal box —flashbulbs lighting his way — to shake the hand of Spanish Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia.

As is his custom, Nadal did not strike a triumphant tone in victory. He has long been deeply respectful of Federer, even as he has built a 12-6 career record against him and beaten him in the last three French Open finals.

“He’s still the best,” Nadal said. “He’s still five-time champion here. Right now I have one, so for me, it’s a very, very important day.”

Federer, who had not dropped a set until the final, will still be ranked No. 1 on Monday, but this has clearly been Nadal’s season, with victories in two of the first three Grand Slam tournaments.

Federer came into 2008 hoping to match Pete Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles. He is still holding at 12, with his only tournament victories this year coming in minor tour events.

Federer certainly responded like a champion to Nadal’s pressure on Sunday, and he also dispelled concerns that — after winning just four games against Nadal in last month’s lopsided French Open final — he would be unable to stay with the physically imposing Nadal on grass.

The London Times

Rafael Nadal became a true giant of tennis last night as he won the Wimbledon singles title for the first time with an extraordinary five-set victory over Roger Federer that lasted nearly five hours.

The Spaniard defeated the five-time champion 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 in the longest singles final in the history of the All England Club. The match finished at 9.15pm after rain interruptions and no one in the grounds could remember seeing anything like it.

Nadal became only the third man in history and the first since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in succession and ended Federer’s chances of beating Borg’s record of five successive Wimbledon singles titles.

Federer, who called it his hardest loss by far, had hoped that Nadal might succumb to the pressure. “I thought maybe he was feeling it a lot, for the first time in his life,” the 26-year-old said, as he sought to be the first player since 1927 to win this grand title from two sets to love down. But his opponent would not hear of it.

Nadal had won the French Open for the fourth consecutive time a month earlier, having trounced Federer for the loss of only four games, and we wondered if he had done permanent damage to the world No 1’s psyche. When the 22-year-old strode to the first two sets, it appeared as if he might make humiliatingly short work of a player acknowledged as the finest grass-court practician in the world. But this is Federer’s fiefdom. Chasing his thirteenth grand-slam title, having not lost in 65 matches on the surface, he would not go down without a fight.

What a comeback he produced. When the rains came for the second time at 2-2 and deuce in the final set, we wondered whether we might have a resumption on Monday. That would have been a crushing blow after such a Sunday. It was, thankfully, not to be.

Guardian Unlimited

There were two rain interruptions, one of more than hour, the second of less than half an hour, but the pulse of the match was unrelentingly. It might have gone either way in the fifth. Finally, in what remained of the light at a quarter past nine, Nadal triumphed 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7, the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon back to back.

Nadal had looked by far the more composed at the start of the game, breaking his opponent's serve in the third game and closing out the opening set in 47 minutes. Federer's backhand, his weaker side, looked especially vulnerable; however, his response was immediate and incisive. Perhaps his mind flashed back to his previous five victories, two of them against Nadal, and he drew strength from these memories. In the second game of the second set he forced the Spaniard into an unaccustomed forehand error and then swept over a forehand cross-court winner of his own. At 4-1 to the Swiss it seemed that not even Nadal would be able to prevent him drawing level. That was to underestimate this bull of a youngster.

The switch of momentum was as quick as it was unexpected: 4-1 became 4-4, although not for the last time Federer had chances. He simply could not convert the break points - in all he managed just one out of 13. Nadal is a difficult enough opponent at the best of times and Federer was making it doubly difficult for himself. Having broken his serve once, Nadal did it again and served out the set for what appeared to be an unassailable lead, given the Spaniard's unbending will. But then that was to underestimate Federer.

The champion was hurt, and hurt badly. He had only one alternative and that was to attack. Twice he had Nadal at 15-40 in the fourth and sixth games of the third set. Twice Nadal held him off, although for one horrible minute in the third game it seemed the Spaniard's final might be over there and then. He slipped, his right knee thumping into the turf. He lay on his back and grimaced.

Michael Novotny, an ATP trainer who speaks Spanish, scurried to Nadal's chair but after a little gentle poking and prodding there was no medical time-out called. He had a similar scare in his fourth-round match against Russia's Mikhail Youzhny but, as then, all was well. It was extraordinarily tense tennis and at 3-3 all finally seemed lost for the five-times champion. Nadal had three break points for a 4-3 lead. Somehow Federer clung on and then with him 5-4 ahead the rain came, holding up play for nearly an hour and a quarter.

On the resumption the set went into a tie-break, with Federer in the ascendancy. Yet even then Nadal saved two set points before a final Federer ace sealed the beginning of his comeback. The 15,000 Centre Court crowd now wanted this match to go on for ever such was the amazing quality of shot-making coupled with the highest of tension. Another set, another tie-break and this time it was the Spaniard who leaped into a 5-2 lead, as Federer had done in the third-set decider.

Nadal was two points away from victory, only for the realisation to grip him by the throat. He choked, as he had never choked before, double faulting with an 83mph second serve. Federer had no need to sense that his opponent was in trouble, it was obvious to everybody and Centre Court fell eerily quiet. The Swiss levelled at 5-5. It was unbearable. Federer was hanging on by the nail of his smallest fingers. Somehow he managed to stave off two Championship points, the second with a stunning backhand down the line that no other player would have made. The fourth set was his. The tension in the final set was intolerable, with a second rain delay at 2-2. Federer saved another match point but not, at the next, the match. It had been a final of finals.

To baseball, the big story over the weekend was the All-Star Teams being named, And the Rangers got all 4 that they campaigned for …Padilla? Not so much…

For the guy who has battled back from the throes of addiction to become a Sports Illustrated cover boy, making the All-Star team Sunday was a "dream come true." For the second baseman who might be having the best offensive year in the American League, it was "exciting." And for the former All-Star MVP, his fifth appointment was just as "humbling" as the first.

Try as they might, though, Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Michael Young could not find the same passionate, emotional words that engulfed Milton Bradley.

"I've never had many father-son moments in my life, but when Wash (manager Ron Washington) came up to me and told me the news and gave me a hug, well, that's what I always thought a father-son moment would be like," Bradley said after the Rangers hung on for an 11-10 win over Baltimore. "It was as humbling, fulfilling and special a moment as I could have. I could never imagine this happening to me.

"No matter what image I may portray, I've never really felt like I fit or like I was respected. To be recognized this way is just a blessing."

When Bradley and the others line up at Yankee Stadium on July 15, it will be the fifth time in 37 seasons in Texas the Rangers have had as many as four All-Stars (they had five in 2004). It's the first time they've had four position players. In 2005, Mark Teixeira was the last Rangers position player to start an All-Star Game.

Hamilton was voted a starter by the fans, zooming past Manny Ramirez to get the most votes (3,708,709) among the outfielders. Hamilton has also been asked to participate in the home run derby the day before the game and said he almost certainly will participate.

"I think it's just one of those things you have to experience," Hamilton said.

Bradley will also start, AL manager Terry Francona said, as a replacement for injured DH David Ortiz. Young and Kinsler each finished second in the fan voting.

Young, however, edged elected starter Derek Jeter (470-463) among the players, and Kinsler, who leads the AL in batting average (.332) and runs scored (79) throttled Boston's Dustin Pedroia, the fans' favorite, 389-215, among the players. With a late voting rush among fans, Kinsler made a run at Pedroia's starting spot, but fell 34,000 votes short.

Bradley, who leads the AL in on-base percentage (.439), slugging (.605) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.044), finished sixth among outfielders in the fans' vote. He was about 300,000 votes behind Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki for the final spot. He was listed on the players' ballot at DH, however, because he's spent most of his time there this year. He is still recovering from knee surgery after he tore ligaments during an awkward spill while arguing a call last September.

And the quality baseball continues as the Rangers win 4 of 6 out east

The Rangers finished a grueling month-long coming-of-age stretch in appropriate grueling fashion Sunday.

In a stretch of 28 days, the Rangers went to Kansas City, New York (twice), inside (Washington) and outside (Baltimore) the Capitol Beltway, and to Houston. They spent all of five nights and six games at home in the 24-game stretch. And after outlasting Baltimore, 11-10, in three hours, 48 minutes Sunday, they had won 14 games during the stretch.

Their reward?

What could be a do-or-die series – at least where their playoff hopes are concerned – against the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels. The clubs play a four-game series, and the Rangers are likely to start four first-year starters while trying to close some of the 7½-game gap in the AL West.

So, maybe the reward doesn't sound so enticing. It certainly beats the alternative. The Rangers enter the final week before the All-Star break with a chance to play their way into contention as opposed to last year when the club was already starting to prepare for 2008.

"It feels like we've spent our entire lives on the road," said shortstop Michael Young, who was a late scratch out of concerns a rain-slicked field might cause problems for his sore groin. "I don't think any of us has really unpacked for a month. It's been a battle. But we've responded, we've played well and we're proud of our effort. Now we've got a chance to focus on the task at hand."

When the Rangers embarked on their odyssey, they trailed the Angels by 7½ games, and the task
was to simply not let themselves get buried while Los Angeles was mostly tanning. Given the schedule, which included two brief three-game home stands, treading water seemed like a nice goal.

On Sunday, that's exactly how the Rangers won the finale. They paddled along, every once in a while having to deal with the thrashing Orioles. Every time, though, the lineup calmly put another big number on the scoreboard.

The Rangers fell behind, 2-0, in the first two innings, but rallied to tie the score in the third. When Baltimore went ahead in the bottom of the inning, the Rangers answered with four runs in the fourth, three coming on David Murphy's first homer since the odyssey started back in Kansas City in mid-June.

When the Orioles closed the gap, the Rangers constructed a workmanlike five-run eighth built on singles, walks and a sacrifice fly. Then they survived two ninth-inning homers given up by closer C.J. Wilson to get the win.

By hanging on, the Rangers may just be able to hang around the race for a while. If the Rangers can win three of four from Los Angeles, they could move within 5½ games of the Angels and probably pass second-place Oakland. And if they can hang around, they've got the knowledge that they are road-tested and have the advantage of having the more remaining home games of any other team in the AL.

"We feel good about the way things are going right now," said All-Star Ian Kinsler, who had three more hits to raise his AL-best batting average to .332. "This is a pretty big series. We want to play for a pennant. We want to make a playoff push late. We think we can do that."
Are those the words of the road-weary? Or the battle-tested? The Rangers will find out this week.

So here come the Angels, with the Standings looking like this:

LA Angels 53 35 .602 -
Oakland 47 41 .534 6.0
Texas 46 43 .517 7.5

And here are the less than promising pitching match-ups. Keep in mind that Padilla is a big question for Wednesday, and that could end up being Matt Harrison’s MLB debut. Also, keep in mind that the Angels rotation is sick – and we are even missing John Garland. Ervin Santana and John Lackey have been particularly absurd recently.

Kids, that is what a contending rotation looks like.

Mon. vs. LAA 7:05 FSNSW Luis Mendoza(1-2) Ervin Santana(9-3)
Tue. vs. LAA 7:05 Ch. 27 Eric Hurley(1-1) Joe Saunders(12-4)
Wed. vs. LAA 7:05 FSNSW Vicente Padilla(10-5) Jered Weaver(8-8)
Thu. vs. LAA 7:05 FSNSW Scott Feldman(3-3) John Lackey (6-2)

In celebration of nothing, Josh Howard’s crazy rant

Thanks to Chad and Brett, here is the best we could find on the Ventura Ryan scrap…it is #1 on our countdown…

Naija Boy (as in Nigerian)


fickle said...

Nolan vs. Ventura reminds us. . . no matter how big you get. . . you're never big enough to whip your pa.

Lance said...

Major props to Nadal for holding on to win in that epic. I don't follow tennis much either, but you know greatness when you see it, and what happened yesterday was certainly greatness.

That match along with the 1980 Wimbledon Final (Borg/McEnroe) are almost certainly the two greatest tennis matches of all time.