Sunday, January 30, 2011

Australian Open: Novak No Joke!

CONGRATULATIONS TO NOVAK DJOKOVIC
2011 AUSTRALIAN OPEN CHAMPION

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Mission accomplished for World No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic has defeated No. 5 Andy Murray in straight sets (6-4, 6-2, 6-3) in dominant fashion to capture the Australian Open title. For Djokovic this is his second Aussie title (2008 was the other) and second overall Grand Slam title. As for the other majors, the 23-year old Serbian has twice been a runner-up at the U.S. Open (2007, 2010) and has twice made it to the Semifinals of both the French Open and Wimbledon. So no doubt it's just a matter of time before he wins a few of those also.

As for Murray, well, the wait continues. Murray is now 0-3 in Grand Slam finals and in fact, is yet to even win a set in those three Final appearances. He also lost the 2008 U.S. Open Final and the 2010 Australian Open Final to Roger Federer, both in straight sets.

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And on a larger scale, with Murray's loss, the 75-year drought for British players continues. A British player hasn't won a Grand Slam title since Fred Perry in 1936 and are now 0-7 in Grand Slam finals since then. But the 23-year old Murray is still Great Britain's BEST and ONLY hope and it's just a matter of time before he breaks the curse and wins a major title.

Murray is young and is only getting better, so if I were a British tennis fan I would feel pretty confident with his chances. There is no doubt in my mind he will someday win one. For sure.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Australian Open: Kim Clijsters Is On A Roll!

CONGRATULATIONS TO KIM CLIJSTERS
2011 AUSTRALIAN OPEN CHAMPION

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Kim Clijsters has done it again.

She defeated No. 9 Li Na of China, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, to capture her first-ever Australian Open title and 4th overall Grand Slam title. Clijsters, who has hinted that 2011 may be her final year, has now won back-to-back Grand Slam titles after winning the U.S. Open title last summer. It was her 3rd overall U.S. Open title (2005, 2009, 2010) and now she has added an Aussie to her Hall of Fame resume.

And the way she's playing, I don't think retirement is a good idea right now.

Clijsters will move up to No. 2 in the world when the new rankings coming out just 140 points behind World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki will retain the No. 1 ranking by virtue of reaching the Semifinals at the Aussie but Clijsters has put herself within striking distance. As it stands Wozniazcki has 8655 ranking points to Clijsters' 8515. A virtual dead heat.

Next up for Clijsters-- the French Open, where she should be the favorite. Clijsters has never won the French Open but she did reach the Final in 2001 and 2003.

As for Na, she started the match strong winning the first set but the pressure of the moment seemed to have caught up to her in the second set. There were moments when she seemed to lose her composer and an obvious frustration set in. She blamed everyone from the flash-happy photographers to the noisy Chinese fans in the stands for her loss of concentration. She even complained to the chair umpire about it. But all that is understandable because, after all, it was a pressure-packed moment for her. Not only was this her first-ever Grand Slam Final but it was the first-ever for a player from China. Heck, it was the first-ever for any player from anywhere in Asia.

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So CONGRATS to her on a historical moment. Regardless of what happens in the future of Asian tennis, she will always be the first Asian player ever to advance to a Grand Slam Final. That in itself is a huge step.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Australian Open: The Wait Of A Nation

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World No. 5 Andy Murray has reached the Australian Open Final.

He did so by disposing of No. 7 David Ferrer, 4-6, 7-6, 6-1, 7-6, in their Semifinals match in Melbourne. And now Murray has a monumental date in the Final with No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia for all the marbles.

Murray is looking to capture his first-ever Grand Slam title but probably more importantly to end Great Britain's long and exhausting title-less drought. It has been 75 years since a British player has won a major title, way, way back in 1936 when Fred Perry won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Murray is one win away from history and becoming the most revered man in Great Britain.

So step aside Prince William, if Murray captures this title, all the brouhaha surrounding your wedding will have to take a back seat for a few days.

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Here's a list of the FEW British player's who have made the Final of a Grand Slam event since Fred Perry in 1936, but came up short:

1. Bunny Austin - Lost 1937 French Open Final.
2. Bunny Austin - Lost 1938 Wimbledon Final.
3. John Lloyd - Lost 1977 Australian Open Final.
4. Greg Rusedski - Lost 1997 U.S. Open Final.
5. Andy Murray - Lost 2008 U. S. Open Final.
6. Andy Murray - Lost 2010 Australian Open Final.
7. Andy Murray - 2011 Australian Open Final (????)

Note: Prior to Murray, Tim Henman was England's most popular and highest ranked player (No. 4 in 2002) in recent times. Henman, however, never advanced past the Semifinals of any Grand Slam event. He reached the French Open semis once, Wimbledon semis four times and U.S. Open semis once but always came up short.

So does Murray have the WAIT and the WEIGHT of an entire nation on his shoulders? You betcha!

Good luck, Andy!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Australian Open: Finally China!

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CONGRATS to No. 9 Li Na on her 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 win over World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the Semifinals of the Australian Open.

The win for Na was a historical moment as she becomes the first player from China to advance to the Final of a Grand Slam event. It's a huge accomplishment, no doubt indeed.

After the match, Na said, "Maybe many young players or children (in China) will see and think, ‘maybe one day we can do the same or even better than her.’”

The match started poorly for Na as she was an unforced errors nightmare in the first set. But she began to compose herself in the second set and by the end of the set her cannon-like returns were visibly getting the best of Wozniacki. Once she was able to pull out a win in the second set it was not surprising she breezed through the third and final set because toward the end of that second set she was looking mighty strong. It was one of those "watch out" moments.

As for Wozniacki, her demons continue. Yes, she will hold on to the No. 1 ranking by reaching the semis, but there is no question she will continue to get dogged by the nagging questions of whether or not she is deserving of the No. 1 ranking without ever winning a major Grand Slam event. But I guess (fairly or unfairly) that will be her reality until she finally does win one.

Na, on the other hand, has a date in the Final with No. 3 Kim Clijsters who ousted No. 2 Vera Zvonareva in the other semi, 6-3, 6-3. Clijsters is looking to win her second consecutive Grand Slam title and 4th overall. She has won the U.S. Open three times (2005, 2009, 2010). And regardless of the outcome in the Aussie Final, Clijsters will move down to No. 2 in the world when it is all said and done.

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For Na, winning the title would be epic, but even if she doesn't, she has reached uncharted waters for China and I'm sure she'll receive a hero's welcome upon her return.

The best word to describe her win is MONUMENTAL. Indeed.

Australian Open: The Baton Has Been Passed

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World No. 3 Novak Djokovic has done it again!

For the second consecutive Grand Slam, Djokovic has defeated No. 2 Roger Federer in the Semifinals.

This time around Djokovic ousted the 16-time Grand Slam champion in straight sets, 7-6, 7-5, 6-4. It took him 5 hard-fought sets to defeat Federer at last summer's U.S. Open. But nonetheless, Djokovic has officially become Federer's Achilles heel.

Djokovic now awaits the winner of the Andy Murray-David Ferrer semifinal match. The 2008 champion is looking for his second Australian Open title, which would also be is second overall Grand Slam title. But I'm sure it's just a matter of time before this kid starts winning all the other majors because, at 23, he's only getting better and stronger. As for Federer, could it be that age may be creeping up on the 29-year old former World No. 1?

All in all, today is an eye-opening day in the world of tennis as it marks the first time since 2003 that Federer doesn't have any of the 4 major titles in his possession. It's been a LONG ride, that's for sure.

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However, I'm not going to call it the end of an era, like many are saying, just yet. When asked about it, a somewhat-defiant Federer said, "Yeah, I mean they say that very quickly, let’s talk again in six months!" I agree, Roger. Let's see how the rest of 2011 plays out before we start questioning your ability to be a dominant player.

Although Federer's quest for 20 Grand Slam titles is becoming that much more difficult with each passing Grand Slam, he still has enough in the tank to win 1 or 2 more in the future. Getting to 20 (as he has said he would like) may be a tall order but, I think, 1 or 2 more may be feasible. But it's going to be rather difficult if he keeps running into this brick wall in the Semifinals because as long as he and Djokovic keep shuffling the No. 2 and No. 3 rankings, that's exactly where they'll end up meeting every time. And Djokovic is 2 for their last 2, so no doubt it isn't a good sign for Federer.

And so the dawn of a new era has begun because, there's no question, this kid Djokovic is for real.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Australian Open: No Rafa Slam

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The great Yogi Berra once said, "It's deja vu all over again".

Well, now World No. 1 Rafael Nadal can say the same thing.

For starters, an injured Nadal lost his Quarterfinals match at the Australian Open to fellow countryman and World No. 7 David Ferrer. The loss ended a 25-match winning streak for Rafa in Grand Slam events and ended all hopes of a "Rafa Slam". It also ended all hopes for the much-anticipated epic clash with No. 2 Roger Federer in the Final.

So there will be no four consecutive Grand Slam titles for Nadal, which would have been the first since 1969. Rod Laver was (and still is) the last man to accomplish the feat.

As for this being deja vu--

This is the second year in a row that injuries have wrecked Nadal's Australian Open experience. Last year, on the very same court and very same round, injuries forced Rafa to retire from his match and this year injuries got the best of him again. Although this time around he played the entire match but it was obvious he wasn't himself. He fell to Ferrer, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

But deja vu may not be all that bad for Rafa. Last year he recovered from his injuries and went on to win the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. If that were to happen this year, I'm sure Rafa would take it any day of the week.

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So the Rafa-less Final Four are set. It'll be No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 3 Novak Djokovic and No. 5 Andy Murray vs. No. 7 David Ferrer.

The great Federer is looking to win Grand Slam title #17, while Djokovic is looking for Grand Slam title #2 and Murray and Ferrer are looking for their first-ever Grand Slam title.

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I guess Murray is my sentimental favorite based on the fact that he has the weight of an entire nation (Great Britain) on his shoulders. The last British player to win any Grand Slam title was Fred Perry way back in 1936, 75 long years ago. Between 1933 and 1936, Perry won 8 Grand Slam titles which includes the 1934 Australian Open. Since then no British player has won a major title and not only is Murray their best hope, he's their ONLY hope.

So I'm rooting for Murray to end this Chicago Cubs-like drought for Great Britain.

Go Andy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Australian Open: Sweet Caroline Soldiers On

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World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has advanced to the Semifinals at the Australian Open.

Wozniacki is now two wins away from capturing her first-ever Grand Slam title and putting to rest the annoying chatter she hears everyday of being ranked No. 1 without winning a major title. She will face No. 9 Li Na in the semis.

Na, herself, is trying to make history as the first player from China to ever win a Grand Slam event. Na is also a formidable opponent for Wozniacki as she is making her second consecutive Australian Open Semifinals appearance, so she's been there, done that.

If all else fails, the Quarterfinal win was huge for Wozniacki because, regardless of what happens, she will retain her No. 1 ranking after the tournament. She needed to advance to at least the semis to fend off No. 2 Vera Zvonareva and No. 3 Kim Clijsters in the event either one of these ladies win the title. Goal #1 was accomplished but Sweet Caroline wants the bigger prize which is winning the title and legitimizing her No. 1 ranking in the eyes of the hostile media.

To her credit, she showed grit and toughness (which at times has also been questioned) in her Quarterfinal match against No. 6 Francesca Schiavone. After convincingly losing the first set, Wozniacki surged back and won the match, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. She seemed to be bothered by a bum leg for a while but her trainer wrapped it up nicely and it seemed to have solved the problem. In the end, she was able to rally and ultimately defeat Schiavone.

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And of course, after the match, her press conference was as eventful as the match itself. As usual her humor and million-dollar-smile had the media going in circles. It seems like she has become a master at distracting them from, as she calls them, boring questions.

Regardless of whether or not she wins the Aussie, one thing is certain, Her Royal Sweetness is on her way to fame and greatness of epic proportions. And it couldn't have happened to a nicer "chick".

Australian Open: Bring On Mr. Federer!

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One half of the Semifinals is set at the Australian Open.

It'll be No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

Federer won the all-Swiss Quarterfinals match rather easily, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3, against his compatriot No. 19 Stanislas Wawrinka. In fact, the always-cool faced Federer barely broke a sweat and Wawrinka, well, his "15 minutes" went by rather too quickly. I'm sure the outcome came as no surprise to most but Wawrinka will get some decent ranking points for reaching the Quarterfinals, which is the second consecutive Grand Slam Quarterfinals for him. He'll probably reenter the Top 15 for the first time in two years when the new rankings come out after the tournament.

Djokovic, on the other hand, faced a much tougher opponent in 2010 Wimbledon-finalist and World No. 6 Tomas Berdych but was able to fend him off in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6, 6-1.

Now things get serious.

The Federer-Djokovic rivalry is becoming a classic in it's own right. This will be their second consecutive Semifinals meeting at a Grand Slam event. Djokovic defeated Federer in the semis at last summer's U.S. Open in a gut-wrenching match, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5. However, his biggest win over Federer came at the 2008 Australian Open, where Djokovic defeated Federer in the semis in straight sets, ending Federer's streak of 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals appearances. Djokovic went on to win the 2008 Aussie, which is still is only Grand Slam title. He lost the 2007 U.S. Open Final to Federer and the 2010 U.S. Open Final to Rafael Nadal.

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While the Nadal-Federer rivalry still gets all the attention, there is no question Djokovic is breathing down both their necks, and at only 23, there is no doubt the kid is at the brink of greatness.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers Get It Done!

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 - New York Jets 19
Green Bay Packers 21 - Chicago Bears 14

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A BIG CONGRATS to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers who are going to Super Bowl XLV as the AFC and NFC champions.

So who am I picking? This is a tough one, indeed.

As we all know, the road to the Super Bowl is a rough and tough journey and nobody had it rougher than the Packers. As the No. 6 seed they were forced to play all three playoff games on the road. And they won all 3 games on the road. Although I'm not taking anything away from the dangerous Steelers, they did have a bye and the luxury of playing two home games. So it's safe to say, their road was a lot smoother.

What does it all mean?

It means, I'm going with the road warriors, รก la, the 2008 New York Giants and the 2006 Steelers. Winning three road games elevated those two teams confidence to an invincibility-like level. It may just happen again.

Packers 28 - Steelers 21

Oh and I must say, CONGRATS to both No. 6 seeds (Packers and New York Jets) for almost pulling off the unthinkable. The Packers won all three road games and the Jets won 2 out of 3 on the road. A 5-1 record so far for the No. 6 seeds. Not bad.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Australian Open: A Quarter Pound Of Swiss

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Well folks, it happened.

There will be an all-Swiss quarterfinal at the Australian Open.

For starters--

Andy Roddick, the only American male still standing at the Aussie, is done. Out.

Roddick lost in three sets (6-3, 6-4, 6-4) to Swiss native and No. 19 Stanislas Wawrinka. And so the doldrums continue for American men's tennis.

As for Wawrinka, it sets up a dream match against fellow Swiss and World No. 2 Roger Federer in the Quarterfinals. Federer defeated unseeded Tommy Robredo, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, in their Fourth Round match. The win has put Federer in a jaw-dropping 27th consecutive Quarterfinals at a Grand Slam event, which ties an all-time record held by the legendary Jimmy Connors. To put it in perspective, the last time Federer DID NOT reach, at least, the Quarterfinals in a major was at the 2004 French Open when he lost in the Third Round. Oh and by the way, that year, he won all the other three majors.

The Federer-Wawrinka match will be the first time in the Open Era that two men from Switzerland play each other in the Quarterfinals and beyond of a Grand Slam event. Wawrinka, who has understandably taken a back seat to Federer throughout his career has a chance to be the most famous man in Switzerland if he can defeat the great Federer and move on to the Semifinals.

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Nobody, including Wawrinka, doubts that this will be a tall order. But Wawrinka is no slouch. This will be the second consecutive Grand Slam event in which he has reached the Quarterfinals. At the 2010 U.S. Open he defeated No. 4 Andy Murray in the Third Round and No. 20 Sam Querrey in the Fourth Round to reach the Quarterfinals, where he lost in five hard-fought sets to then-No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny.

The winner of the all-Swiss match will then face the winner of the other Quarterfinals match between No. 3 Novak Djokovic and No. 6 Tomas Berdych in the Semifinals.

In the end, one of these 4 men (Federer, Wawrinka, Djokovic or Berdych) will face the last man standing from the other bracket in the Final, which everyone anticipates will be World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

Unless, of course, No. 4 Robin Soderling or No. 5 Andy Murray have other ideas.

But for now I'm sure Wawrinka is happy with his shot at the great Federer and not to mention being in the same conversation with all the top players in the world.

You deserve it Stan. Good luck!

Finally--

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The only consolation for the bummed-out Andy Roddick is that by reaching the Fourth Round he will at least remain in the Top 10 when it is all said and done. I guess that's better than nothing.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Australian Open: The Rafa Slam

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All eyes are on Rafa!

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal has advanced to the Fourth Round at the Australian Open and is one step closer to making history.

If Nadal goes on to win the Aussie, he will become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all 4 major championships simultaneously. Laver, however, won all 4 in the same calendar year and is still the last man to hold the true Grand Slam. But since no player since Laver has won 4 Grand Slams in a row, many are dubbing this the "Rafa Slam" if Nadal can pull off the astronomical feat. This would be the equivalent of the "Tiger Slam" when Tiger Woods incredibly won all 4 majors in a row.

But Rafa still has a lot of work to do. He has a tough match coming up against No. 15 Marin Cilic and if he advances, fellow countryman and World No. 7 David Ferrer is in the horizon.

And down the road in the Semifinals he most likely will face one of the bigger boys, either, No. 4 Robin Soderling or No. 5 Andy Murray, who are both hungry to win their first-ever Grand Slam title. Soderling and Murray are a combined 0-4 in Grand Slam finals.

And for Rafa, that's the easy part.

On the other side of the spectrum lurks World No. 2 and potential finalist, the great Roger Federer. Federer, himself, still has some work to do. Interestingly enough, he may face No. 8 Andy Roddick in the Quarterfinals. Roddick, AS USUAL, is the only American left in the field and has always played Federer well. So it should be an interesting match if it were to materialize.

Getty Images - The Great Federer is still lurking in the bushes.
Another interesting possibility for Federer would be a Quarterfinal match against No. 19 Stanislas "I'm Also A Tennis Player From Switzerland" Wawrinka. What an accomplishment it would be for Wawrinka, who has lived in the shadows of Federer his entire career, if he can defeat his fellow countryman and advance to the Semifinals. I'm sure it would be the biggest highlight of his career by far. But a tall order, indeed.

Whoever survives between Federer, Roddick and Wawrinka would most likely have the daunting task of facing World No. 3 Novak Djokovic in the Semifinals. And that ain't gonna be no walk in the park, for sure. But I get the feeling that the Great Federer is on a mission.

Anyway, going back to the American front--

As I said earlier, Andy Roddick is, yet again, America's lone survivor in a Grand Slam event. As I stated in a post last summer, Roddick has been holding the fort for American men's tennis for a LONG, LONG time. And who knows how much longer he can carry the weight on his shoulders?

As for the other Americans, No. 16 Mardy Fish lost in the 2nd Round, No. 18 Sam Querrey lost in the 1st round and No. 20 John Isner lost in the 3rd Round. Another disappointing Grand Slam for the guys who are supposed to take the baton from the soon-to-be 29 year old Roddick.

Personally, I thought this Australian Open would be the breakout tournament for either Sam Querrey or John Isner, who are the youngest of the American bunch. But based on their disappointing performances with each passing Grand Slam event it doesn't seem that they are "big stage" material and all of America's hopes will remain on the shoulders of Andy Roddick. And that folks, is the reality of the situation. What a shame!

For my post on the state of U.S. Men's tennis click here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Australian Open: It's Time, Caroline!

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World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has advanced to the Fourth Round of the Australian Open with a straight set (6-4, 6-3) win over No. 29 Dominika Cibulkova. This is the second consecutive Grand Slam event in which Wozniacki eliminated Cibulkova in straight sets. She also beat the Slovakian last summer at the U.S. Open (6-2, 7-5) in the Quarterfinals, ending Cibulkova's Cinderella run.

But no matter how much we like Wozniacki (or as many have dubbed her, Sweet Caroline) and no matter how well she performs in non-Grand Slam events, she still has a huge mountain to climb before she is perceived as a consensus World No. 1.

You see, Wozniacki gained the No. 1 ranking pretty much by default late last year. Yes, she won a WTA-best 6 tournaments in 2010 but none of them were major events. Wozniacki snuck in and took over the No. 1 ranking because then-consensus World No. 1 Serena Williams had to end her season after winning Wimbledon due to a foot injury. By not playing in any more tournaments, especially the U.S. Open, Serena lost ranking points and slipped to No. 4 by year's end. Wozniacki took over the No. 1 ranking on Oct. 11, 2010 mostly in part because Serena wasn't around to defend it.

When asked,Wozniacki has said, time and time again, that she has nothing to prove and is proud and deserving of her No. 1 ranking because of the great year she had in 2010. True, 2010 was a monster year for her but even she knows, deep down inside, that her statement isn't 100% true. In the business of tennis, you are judged by how many Grand Slams you win and how well your overall performances in the 4 major Grand Slam events are. She knows that, I know that, everyone knows that.

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As of today, here are Wozniacki's best showings in Grand Slam events:

1. Australian Open - 4th Round (2008, 2010, 2011)
2. French Open - Quarterfinals (2010)
3. Wimbledon - 4th Round (2009, 2010)
4. U.S. Open - Final (2009)

For anyone else those are decent performances but when you are ranked No. 1 in the world, you are judged at a much higher level than anyone else. I'm sure Sweet Caroline knows this but, in her defense, she has to say something to fend off the media until she finally does win her first major title.

At this point her No. 1 ranking is very vulnerable. If she doesn't advance to at least the Semifinals, and either No. 2 Vera Zvonareva or No. 3 Kim Clijsters win the event, she will lose the No. 1 ranking to either one of them. Both Zvonareva and Clijsters have advanced to the Fourth Round.

But so far things are going her way and at only 20, it's just a matter of time before she does win her first Grand Slam title. I don't think anyone has any doubt about that.

And I'm sure she wants to win it at this Australian Open just to get the monkey off her back.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Original Big 3

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The original Big 3 are back!

And no, not Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics. And not the new Big 3 from down in the Valley of the Kings: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The original Big 3 (in by book) are Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs who at 35-6 have the best overall record in the NBA thus far. These three stars have quietly been together for 9 seasons and have been winning big for a LONG time. In fact, they've won 3 NBA Championships together and have posted 8 consecutive (and counting) 50-win seasons.

And this version of the Big 3 is not like the other two versions which were concocted in Pat Riley and Danny Ainge's basements. These three players were all drafted by the Spurs and have never played a single game for another team. I guess we can call them the Homegrown Big 3.

All in all, the Spurs are master drafters. In addition to the Big 3, other key players like, DeJuan Blair, George Hill, James Anderson (currently injured) and Tiago Splitter (love that name) were all drafted by San Antonio. Only Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner are key contributors who came from elsewhere. Not bad. The Spurs are the epitome of good drafting.

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The Spurs' savvy has resulted in a run of epic proportions which began, way back, in the 1997-98 season. In 1996-97 they were a woeful 20-62 which enabled them to land the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. As luck would have it that was the year Tim Duncan was the consensus and undisputed choice for No. 1 overall. The Spurs snatched Duncan with the first pick and the rest is history.

In the Tim Duncan-era they have won 4 NBA Championships and have posted 13 50-win seasons with a sure 14th coming this season. At 35-6 it's just a matter of time before they win their 50th game and 60th and who knows, maybe even 70th game. If we do the math: (35-6)+(35-6)= 70-12. Who's to say their second half won't parallel their first half? Anyway, the only season in which the Spurs didn't win 50 games (under Tim Duncan's watch) was the strike-shortened 1998-99 season when they went 37-13. Oh and by the way, they won their first NBA Championship that year.

But since winning their last championship in 2006-07 the Spurs have relinquished the podium to the Los Angeles Lakers who have won the Western Conference title for 3 consecutive years. But again, at 35-6, it looks like the old Spurs are back and their 3 star players are healthy and focused. During their 3-year hiatus, health and focus had eluded the Spurs' core three and the team was stopped short in the Conference Finals, First Round and Conference Semifinals, respectively. But it looks like this season they are healthy and focused on making a good run.

So if the Spurs dethrone the Lakers in the West, the original Big 3 may face one of the two latest Big 3 because it looks like the Celtics and Heat are on a collision course to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Unless, of course, Dwight Howard has other ideas.

Meanwhile, speaking of the Valley of the Kings--

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Relax LeBron. You guys are going to be in the conversation for a LONG time to come. In the meantime, send your ex-boss Dan Gilbert a get-well card because he is hurtin' in Cleveland. Big time!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jets-Patriots: What A Game!

New York Jets 28 - New England Patriots 21

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Well folks, the New York Football Jets are for real! No doubt about it!

They may have all the side-drama and all the baggage they carry around but, at the end of the day, they can play. Who would've thought after the 45-3 thrashing they took in New England just over a month ago that they would go back there and completely neutralize Tom Brady's potent New England offense and completely control the tempo of the game in every which way, shape or form? Wow!

No question head coach Rex Ryan and his coaching staff deserve an Academy Award for the Jets defensive performance yesterday and we gotta tip our hats to them because not too many people, including myself, thought that they could pull it off. And they did.

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Anyway, enough writing. I'm sure everyone saw the game and know exactly what went down yesterday. Besides, the above picture collages pretty much say it all.

My, oh my, when have we ever seen so many images of Tom Brady in the doldrums? Now that's a scene we don't see everyday but I guess great defense can do that to you. That's for sure.

Next stop for the Jets-- Steeltown.

Click on images to view larger

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ray Lewis Is (Somewhat) Upset ....And Rightly So!

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You don't have to be a football expert to know that the Baltimore Ravens were set up nicely yesterday to advance to the AFC Championship Game. They led 21-7 at half-time and all they had to do was NOT turn the ball over in the second half, control the clock with a few first downs here and there and let their Hall of Fame defense do their thing.

But unfortunately, somehow, some way, they figured out a way NOT to do that.

The end result: Steelers 31 - Ravens 24.

In Ray Lewis' own words:

"I’ve said it time and time again: The No. 1 thing you cannot do is turn the ball over,” Lewis said in the stoic Baltimore locker room. “That will never change in this business. Ever!"

"When you play the way we did in the first half and then you go into the second half and as soon as you start the game you give the ball away, it’s too much of a momentum swing. They’re already at home, they’ve already got things going their way, and you turn the ball over three, four times in our end of the field? We’re good, but to overcome all of that is harsh on my defense. I wouldn’t put that on my defense because we played our hearts out today.”

Yes indeed, Ray. You are 100% right.

Folks, it was ugly. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense need to seriously apologize to their defense. They put Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and the rest of the defense in some unbearable circumstances in the second half. I mean, these guys weren't even given a chance to catch their breathes when they were forced to defend in back-to back-to back-to back plays inside their own 20 because of the dreadful offense turning the ball over. Gimme a break!

It was a nightmare. It was dreadful. It was ugly. It was embarrassing. It was shocking. It was grievous. It was a total meltdown. It was ...... (fill in the adjective).

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Darn! I'm getting frustrated just writing about it. All I know is, Flacco and that offense ain't ready for the big time. Even a child could see that yesterday. SMH!

And then there's the Atlanta Falcons--


Hey Matt Ryan, don't feel bad. You and the Falcons wearing that No. 1 seed and the Packers wearing the No. 6 seed were just Halloween costumes. It should have been the other way around and everybody knew that. Just wish someone would have let you guys know.

Friday, January 14, 2011

NFL Divisional Playoffs: My "Expert" Picks

Drew Litton/ESPN
The road to the final four continues tomorrow! In the NFL that is.

As always everyone makes their predictions and gives their "expert" analysis as to why their picks will win. So I might as well join the bandwagon. Here goes:

1. Patriots vs. Jets - The Jets defense carried them all the way to the AFC Championship Game last year and it has carried them to the Divisional Playoffs this year with a nail-biting 17-16 win over the Colts in Round 1. The Jets offense will again score 17 points and their defense will tame the explosive Patriots offense somewhat. Unfortunately it won't be enough. Patriots win 27-17.

2. Steelers vs. Ravens - The Steelers are 20-3 since 2000 against the Cleveland Browns and are 2-0 lifetime in the playoffs against the Browns. Say what?! What does this have to do with their playoff game against the Ravens? It means that the Browns can't beat the Steelers even if their life depended on it, so the team formerly known as the Browns is going to have to do it for them. Ravens win 20-16.

Jeff Darcy/The Plain Dealer
3. Falcons vs. Packers - For some reason this doesn't feel like a No. 6 seed vs. a No. 1 seed. Or maybe it's just me? Regardless, Packers win 30-24.


4. Bears vs. Seahawks - At 7-9, the Seattle Seahawks became the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record. But I think someone forgot to tell that to the defending Super Bowl champions New Orleans Saints who were booted from the playoffs, 41-36, last week by the Seahawks. I guess the Seahawks turned that "Who Dat" thing into "Take Dat". Anyway, a great philosopher once said, "when the playoffs begin all regular season records get thrown out the window and everyone is at 0-0". Actually, like 10,000 "great philosophers" have said that but it's always true. So now the Seahawks march into Soldier Field as the first team ever to sport an 8-9 record. If they win they'll be the first 9-9 team ever and if they lose they will be the first 8-10 team ever. So regardless of the outcome the Seahawks will make history but I'm sticking with that "come playoff time everyone is at 0-0" thing. The Seahawks are 1-0 and the Bears are 0-0 at this point. I look for the Seahawks to continue to frustrate the so-called experts. Seahawks win, 31-27.

So there it is. I guess I'll call it my "expert" picks. Oh boy!

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Karma Bites Rich Rodriguez In The.....

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As we all know, the University of Michigan Wolverines gave head coach Rich Rodriguez the boot after three lame seasons at the helm. During is tenure (2008-2010) the Wolverines were a woeful 15-22 (3-9 in 2008, 5-7 in 2009, 7-6 in 2010)which is unacceptable for one of the all-time elite programs in college football.

But Rodriguez was doomed for failure from the very beginning because, first of all, his hiring wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms from all those associated with the Michigan program. In other words, he wasn't a Michigan man and wasn't viewed as a potential Michigan man. I guess we can say, he began the at-bat with no balls and two strikes. Pun intended.

Personally, I call it karma because Rodriguez had a good thing going at his Alma mater West Virginia before he abandoned the Mountaineers to take a much higher profile gig at Michigan. A so-called "dream job".

Rodriguez' career at West Virginia was booming to say the least. In seven seasons with the Mountaineers, Rodriguez was 60-26 and had lead his team to six consecutive winning seasons, 6 consecutive bowl games which included two BCS bowl games. The Mountaineers won the 2005 Sugar Bowl and the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

However--

The 2007 Fiesta Bowl win was NOT under his watch. This was when Rodriguez abandoned the Mountaineers for the "land of gold". He took the Michigan job just a couple of weeks before the big game leaving the Mountaineers scrambling to find a replacement. Lifelong West Virginian Bill Stewart was named interim head coach for the game and the Mountaineers responded by pounding the Oklahoma Sooners, 48-28, making Stewart the hero and Rodriguez the goat.

But what Rodriguez did is nothing new. Many coaches before and after him have left successful gigs for the quote, unquote dream jobs. Here are a few examples:

1. Dennis Franchione - Franchione left TCU after three very successful seasons in 2000 and took his "dream job" with Alabama. Like Rodriguez, he left the team right before their bowl game leaving the team scrambling to find a new head coach. Oh and by the way, Gary Peterson took over the head coaching duties for that bowl game in 2000 and the rest is history. Franchione was forced to leave Alabama after two seasons because the NCAA came down hard on the program with all kinds of sanctions and Franchione didn't want to deal with all the red tape. After a stint with Texas A&M, Franchione is now head coach of the Texas State Bobcats, which is not exactly a power program to say the least. On the other hand, Peterson has turned TCU into one of the elite programs of today which was showcased with their perfect 13-0 season and HUGE Rose Bowl win. Good for you, Gary Peterson!

2. Steve Spurrier - This one is a bummer. Spurrier was building a legacy of epic proportions at his Alma mater, the University of Florida before leaving it all behind. Under his watch the Gators became one of the elite programs in college football which has lasted to this day. In his 12 seasons with the Gators, Spurrier had an eye-popping, 122-27-1 record, and were the 1996 National Champions. Spurrier was on his way to a Joe Paterno/Bobby Bowden-type legacy and he threw it all away to take his "dream job" in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. And we all know how that turned out-- Spurrier stunk it up in two seasons with the Redskins going 12-20 and mighty Florida has won 2 more national championships since his departure. Today Spurrier is having decent success at South Carolina but I'm sure the immortal-like legacy he abandoned when he left Florida still haunts him today.

3. Brian Kelly - Kelly pulled the same stunt as Rodriguez and Franchione on the Cincinnati Bearcats last season. After leading them to a perfect 12-0 season and a Sugar Bowl berth, Kelly jumped ship right before the bowl game and took his "dream job" with Notre Dame. In his 4 seasons at Cincinnati, Kelly was an impressive 34-6 and had taken the Bearcats to a BCS bowl game for two consecutive years. To be fair to Kelly, however, the jury is still out on how his career at Notre Dame will end up. In his first season, the Fighting Irish were a decent 8-5 and they did win the Sun Bowl against their old nemesis, the Miami Hurricanes. So Kelly still has a shot at NOT regretting his decision.

Anyway, as we can see, coaches dumping potential legacies for "dream jobs" is nothing new. I just don't like how some of them do it though. Why do they abandon their players and programs right before a big bowl game? Can't they just wait until the end of the season and then leave to wherever the hell they want?


Quite frankly, I've never understood this practice. I guess maybe that's why, more often than not, karma comes back and bites these coaches in the you know what. No doubt!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's The Auburn Tigers By A Whisker!

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE AUBURN TIGERS
2011 BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONS

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The final score was 22-19 and another LONG and exhausting championship drought (54 years) bit the dust. 

The Auburn Tigers captured their second ever national championship (1957 was the other) on a last second field goal as time expired. The score was 19-19 with .02 seconds left, when Auburn kicked the field goal that broke the hearts of Oregon Nation. What a game!

As for the Oregon Ducks, they have nothing to be ashamed of. They left it all on the field last night, but in the end only one team can win. What a bummer.

The SEC has now won an eye-popping five consecutive BCS National Championships and seven overall since the formation of the BCS in 1998. The prior SEC schools to win it all are: Alabama (2010), Florida (2007, 2009), LSU (2004, 2008) and Tennessee (1999).

With Auburn's win, the state of Alabama won it's second consecutive national championship with the Alabama Crimson Tide winning it last year.

So the question is: Can anyone stop the SEC? No question they are on a championship run of epic proportions.

Finally--

Here are the final Top 10 rankings in the AP Poll, just released today:

1. Auburn (14-0) - Won the BCS National Championship Game
2. TCU (13-0) - Won the Rose Bowl
3. Oregon (12-1) - Lost the BCS National Championship Game
4. Stanford (12-1) - Won the Orange Bowl
5. Ohio State (12-1) - Won the Sugar Bowl
6. Oklahoma (12-2) Won the Fiesta Bowl
7. Wisconsin (11-2) - Lost the Rose Bowl
8. LSU (11-2) - Won the Cotton Bowl
9. Boise State (12-1) - Won the Las Vegas Bowl
10. Alabama (10-3) - Won the Capital One Bowl (or as I still call it, the Citrus Bowl).

I guess the only thing left is for unbeaten Auburn and unbeaten TCU to play one game for all the marbles. Call it the "Beyond A Reasonable Doubt National Title Game".

Wouldn't that be fun to watch?

Monday, January 10, 2011

BCS National Championship Game: Auburn vs. Oregon

No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Oregon

SI.com/Vault
The BCS National Championship logo from a different angle.

Ironically, for a long time, two of the most popular Sports Illustrated back-issues, amongst collectors, happen to be an Auburn cover from Sept. 21, 1964 featuring running back Jimmy Sidle and an Oregon cover from June 15, 1970 featuring long distance runner Steve Prefontaine on the cover. Both issues have always been hot items on eBay, even long before tonight's national title game, which is the first-ever meeting between these two schools.

However, the Prefontaine cover is more coveted and is a hotter seller than the Sidle cover.

Hmmmm? Is this an omen? So who will win?

Will Auburn (who were declared national champions in 1957 by the AP) win their second-ever national championship or will Oregon win their first-ever championship?

Can't wait to find out!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Plight Of Rafael Palmeiro

RJ Matson/Roll Call
First of all, let me just say CONGRATS to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven on their just-announced inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Alomar received 90% of the vote and Blyleven FINALLY got in with 79.7% of the vote. As we all know, it takes 75% or better to get in.

Both Alomar and Blyleven were shoo-ins since they both received 73.7% and 74.2%, respectively, last year and no player has ever come that close and not gotten in. So their induction was not a surprise to anyone who follows the voting on a yearly basis.

As for the black-listed Rafael Palmeiro--

This was Palmeiro's first year of eligibility and to no one's surprise, he DID NOT get in. Palmeiro received a paltry 11.0% of the vote and some are even surprised he got that much. On paper, Palmeiro should be a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer with his 569 HR, 3020 Hits, 1835 RBI, but we all know what his beef is--

In three words-- STEROIDS, STEROIDS, STEROIDS!

Mike Lester/Rome News Tribune
Palmeiro is the second member of the steroids-era group of stars (which I like to call the Usual Suspects) which has become eligible for induction and has been snubbed by the BBWAA voters. The ring-leader, Mark McGwire, was denied induction for a 5th consecutive year. McGwire received only 19.8% of the vote, which is less than his prior showings of 23.5, 23.6, 21.9 and 23.7 from 2007-2010. In other words, the voters are sending a tough message-- if you cheated, you ain't gettin' in!

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Of course, Palmeiro has vehemently denied ever using steroids and blames his failed test in 2005 on some steroid-laced vitamins given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada. He claims he innocently took the vitamins putting his trust on Tejada.

Nice try, Rafy. But hey, apparently, 11% of the voters believe you.

Anyway, the next 3 members of the Usual Suspects fraternity (Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens) all become Hall of Fame eligible in 2013 and I'm sure they'll meet the same fates Palmeiro and McGwire have, that's for sure.

So here are my predictions for the next 5 classes--

My Class of 2012:

1. Barry Larkin - This will be Larkin's third year on the ballot. He got 51.6% in 2010 and a big bump to 62.1% this year. 2012 is an off year and Larkin had great numbers for a shortstop, so why not?

My Class of 2013:

1. Craig Biggio - 1st Ballot
2. Mike Piazza - 1st Ballot

My Class of 2014:

1. Greg Maddux - 1st Ballot
2. Tom Glavine - 1st Ballot
3. Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas - 1st Ballot
4. Jack Morris - 2014 will be Morris the Cat's final year of eligibility and the voters will vote him in by a whisker.

My Class of 2015:

1. Randy Johnson - 1st Ballot
2. John Smoltz - 1st Ballot

*Pedro Martinez gets 72% of the vote in his first ballot and is livid.

My Class of 2016:

1. Ken Griffey, Jr. - 1st Ballot
2. Pedro Martinez - 2nd Ballot
3. Jeff Kent - 3rd Ballot

*Gary Sheffield gets only 69% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. When he hears the news he smashes his cell phone in anger and calls the voters a bunch of baseball illiterates.

In 2017, Chipper Jones should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if this coming season is his last. Gary Sheffield gets in on his second ballot. Mike Mussina (4th ballot), Edgar Martinez (8th ballot) and Tim "Purple" Raines (10th ballot) look decent for 2017 also.

Finally--

John Cole
As for McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa, Bonds and Clemens, who knows? Maybe towards the end of their eligibility the culture has changed and future voters won't be as harsh to suspected steroids era players. They'll just have to wait and see. All I know is, they ain't gettin' in any time soon. No doubt!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

TCU Wins The Rose Bowl

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The TCU Horned Frogs are unbeaten, untied, un-everything.

The No. 3 Horned Frogs (13-0) won a game for the ages against the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers, 21-19, in the most prestigious of all the bowl games, which has become to be known as "The Granddaddy Of Them All".

Once upon a time, if you go unbeaten during the regular season and you go on to win the Rose Bowl, you would probably be declared national champion in 99.5 out of 100 times this scenario happened. This won't be the case for TCU but that's a story for another day.

All in all, it was a huge win for TCU, probably the biggest in school history and the ramifications of the win itself are probably bigger than TCU. It was a win for all the "little guys", the so-called "mid-majors", who are not automatic qualifiers in a BCS bowl game which are completely monopolized by the so-called "Power Six" conferences. For a school, like TCU, to play in a BCS bowl game, they would have to have a perfect season. Anything less is unacceptable. We just have to look at the case of the hard-luck Boise State Broncos who were a field goal away from a perfect season and a possible trip to the national title game and because of that one tough overtime loss to the Nevada Wolf Pack were completely eliminated from every BCS conversation and wound up playing in the "Whatchamacallit Bowl".

Had TCU suffered one loss, like Boise State did, they would have been sent into oblivion and probably would've played in the "Peanut Butter and Jelly Bowl". But the same rules didn't apply for one-loss Wisconsin since they play in the Big Ten Conference and get an automatic bid.

AP Photo
Anyway, what the TCU win did was add more fuel to the age-old debate of whether there should be a playoff in college football. With TCU's win the mid-majors are now 5-2 in the last seven years in BCS bowl games, which includes two wins by Boise State (2006, 2009 Fiesta Bowls) and two wins by the Utah Utes (2004 Fiesta Bowl and the 2008 Sugar Bowl). So the point is, what Power Six conferences? These so-called "little guys" can play with the best of them.

AP Photo
Personally, I'm not a fan of a playoff system but I do feel that rather than a "Power Six Conferences" it should be a "Power 8 Conferences". The Mountain West Conference and the WAC Conference should get automatic BCS bids. This way, schools like TCU and Boise State don't have the pressure of having to be perfect in order to get an at-large BCS bid. If this were the case then the 12-1 Broncos would probably be playing in the Orange Bowl tomorrow.

Finally--

Why not make the Cotton Bowl a BCS bowl game? I'm still trying to figure out why the Cotton Bowl got hosed when this whole bowl coalition thing was concocted in the first place. If you add the Cotton Bowl to the mix, there would be room for a Mountain West and a WAC automatic bid and still have the two current at-large bids.

I think someone needs to remind the BCS hierarchy that, once upon a time, championships were won and lost at the Cotton Bowl (est. 1935) which is one of the oldest bowl games. Why they were squeezed out of this BCS thing will always be a mystery to me. No doubt.