Category Archives: No. 1

Serena No. 1 Again. Still Time to be Best Ever?

Serena Williams No. 1 again

Serena Williams No. 1 again

In summer 2009, Serena Williams was playing a mandatory tournament in Cincinnati against a woman most people have never heard of, Sybille Bammer. By “playing,” what I mean is that Williams was there, on the court, holding a racket. Bammer won that day, as Williams, the best player in the world, committed two unforced errors per game.

A bad day? No. Williams wasn’t trying, or at least she wasn’t fighting. In tennis, it’s called tanking a match. So ticket-buyers and tournament officials were angry. Williams was in a stretch of 17 straight months where she wouldn’t win any tournament unless it was a major. In every nowhere she went to, she lost to nobodies, often in the first round. Or she faked an injury and didn’t go at all.

She went to one tournament saying she was going only to avoid being fined an amount that would equal her remodeling budget. She went. She left in the middle of a match.

On Monday, Williams regained the No. 1 ranking in the world. She’s 31 now, the oldest woman to hold the top spot. It’s a big deal, a huge accomplishment. And as much as she has downplayed the No. 1 ranking, it meant a lot to her. Last week, when she knew she had done enough to move to No. 1, she cried.

“I’m so sensitive nowadays; I’m always crying,” she said on the court. “But I never thought I would be here again. I’ve been through so much.”

A few years ago, I thought Williams was showing a serious lack of respect for the sport and the fans by not trying unless a tournament was a major. At one point, Chris Evert wrote her a letter begging her to focus, saying she could reach incredible heights.

Well, Williams did it her way.

Feb. 18, 2013: Serena No. 1 again, but might not reach best ever

Please read the rest of the column here at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: Roger Federer Wins Again. No. 17, No. 7, and now No. 1

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND – It’s not that Roger Federer is great, but that his greatness keeps going and going and going. He doesn’t get hurt because he floats above the court. He doesn’t give in. He doesn’t get old. And it’s amazing that he has never had enough.

He’s greedy about winning. It’s like he has an insatiable tennis libido or something.

Federer won Wimbledon on Sunday, beating Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. The key numbers are these: 17, 7 and 1. It was his 17th major championship, adding to his record. It was his record-tying (with Pete Sampras) seventh Wimbledon win.

And now, Federer jumps over Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — two guys who had bypassed him — in the rankings. Roger Federer is No. 1 again.

“I knew how close I was for the last few years, and some people didn’t quite see that, maybe out of different reasons,’’ he said. “But I knew, and I think the belief got me to victory today.’’

As he held the championship cup, his first major in 2½ years, he said this: “Feels nice. Like it’s never left me.’’

Oh, it left him. Federer needed this championship badly.

Please read the rest of my column at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: Serena Williams Wins 5th Title. Great Comeback Story. Is She the Best Player Ever?

 

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND – This was not just more of the same for Serena Williams, another Wimbledon, another championship. No, what’s lost is that this was a great comeback story for her.

Two years ago, she won Wimbledon and seemed unbeatable. Since then, she had been beaten down. A foot injury followed by life-threatening blood clots in her lungs. Then, lost confidence followed by lost composure.

Her match Saturday, like her life the past two years, was filled with crazy ups and downs. And how does her story end? Williams beat Aga Radwanska 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 on Saturday to win her fifth Wimbledon title.

She dropped to her back on the court in joy, then climbed into the stands and hugged her dad and her mom and sister Venus, as well as her other sisters. Then she broke into tears while publicly thanking friends and family who were with her in the hospital day after day.

“There was a moment, I just remember, I was on the couch and I didn’t leave the whole day, for two days,’’ she said later. “I was praying, like `I can’t take any more. I’ve endured enough.’ Let me be able to get through this. I was just so tired at that point.

“I had a tube in my stomach and it was draining constantly. Gosh, I mean, right before that I had the blood clot. I had lung problems. You know, then I had two foot surgeries. It was a lot. It was a lot. I felt like I didn’t do anything to bring on that.’

Please read the rest of my column at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: Like Every Great Champ, Roger Federer Deserves This Run. He Crushes Novak Djokovic

 

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — Everyone deserves one last run, and this is Roger Federer’s. The gods and the weather and the schedule and even Wimbledon’s Centre Court roof have lined up for him. The opponents have all-but fallen down, and the guy he can’t beat, Rafael Nadal, cleared out early by losing to a nobody.

It’s the right time and the right place, and now Federer is giving his career the right tribute. He beat No. 1 ranked Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 Friday to advance to the Wimbledon final.

“Obviously, I’m ecstatic, and so happy,’’ Federer said as he left the court. “I played a great match today. I was able to maybe step it up, get a little lucky maybe.’’

Yes, both. Skill, luck. Magic, too. This is what happens sometimes when these superstars have another run. They wring out another moment.

 

Please read the rest of my column on FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: So Much for the Reborn It Girl. Sharapova Loses Instead of Sticking it to Gilles Simon

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — So much for Maria Sharapova as tennis’ reborn “it girl.”

While men’s tennis thrives on Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal making history every few months, the women’s game plays on without a leader.

When Sharapova won her first French Open a few weeks ago and became No. 1 again, bringing her star power along, the question was whether women’s tennis finally had a leader it could count on and build from, or whether Sharapova was only “It” in lieu of anyone else.

On Monday, she lost to 15th seed Sabine Lisicki 6-4, 6-3 in the fourth round at Wimbledon and will lose her No. 1 ranking when Wimbledon is over.

And just like that, women’s tennis is a mess again.

Please read the rest of my column, at FoxSports.com

FRENCH OPEN: Greed Costs Nadal, Djokovic, Tennis Great Moment in History

 

You can’t force history to happen. But you sure can stop it with greed, stupidity, recklessness. Tennis ruined a great moment Sunday, just sold it out to broadcasters, to NBC.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, two all-time greats, were both going for historic heights in the French Open final. It was a dream buildup in a great, new rivalry for a sport that needs as many big moments as it can find. But it rained the whole match, and officials, trying to keep broadcasters happy, kept letting the match go on and on, anyway.

What happened? Not historic greatness, that’s for sure. The showcase was ruined. Everyone lost. Fans saw a crummy match, and it never even finished. Nadal led two sets to one, and trailed 2-1 in the fourth when the match was finally stopped because, well, it’s hard to say why it was stopped, really.

Nothing had changed over the final hour of the match. It just kept drizzling. Maybe officials realized that their greed over TV money, their desperation to make broadcasters happy, had stolen Nadal’s magic and was turning their party into a disaster.

Well, the match is supposed to start up again at 7 a.m. (ET) Monday. But the forecast in Paris calls for more rain. This could drag on for a while.

It comes down to this: They never should have played that match Sunday.

Please read the rest of the column on FoxSports.com


FRENCH OPEN: Maria Sharapova Not Just for Show. Killer Barbie Back to No. 1

 

Maria Sharapova could be Danica Patrick now. She surely could have been a Go Daddy girl while dabbling in sports on the side. It would have been so easy.

Instead, with her win Thursday in the semifinals at the French Open, Sharapova will move to No. 1 in the world. She came back from career-threatening shoulder surgery. She still fights the yips on her serve at times. And a win in the final Saturday against Sara Errani will give her a career Grand Slam — at least one title in every major.

Sharapova would be just the 10th female tennis player in history to have done that. Even Venus Williams hasn’t done it.

“It’s a pretty nice feeling,’’ she told reporters as she left the court after her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Petra Kvitova. “I did not know that that (No. 1 ranking) would happen again a few years ago. So I’m just happy to be in this position.’’

When you think of Sharapova, do you think of one of the most focused, determined athletes in the world?

She is. She is Killer Barbie.

And this is just to give people a better feel for what they’re looking at. Or, as Nike is already putting it in an ad: “THOSE WHO BELONG AT THE TOP NEVER FORGET THEIR WAY BACK.’’

The balance of sex appeal and athleticism is always a factor in women’s sports. To be honest, plenty of men are watching women’s tennis for the sex-appeal side of the equation. And there’s always a debate about whether selling sex appeal cheapens the women’s sport or just celebrates athletic bodies. So when someone like Patrick, or Anna Kournikova a few years back, makes huge sponsor dollars without winning anything, it just doesn’t look good. You can’t really expect them to pass up golden opportunities, but it’s hard to say they send the right message to your daughters.

Sharapova does.

Please read the rest of this column at FoxSports.com


U.S. OPEN: Will Tennis Survive After Serena Williams?

Reporting from the U.S. Open for FoxSports.com

Serena Williams

NEW YORK – The cliff is always there. The road is always going to end.

But the joy ride is just too fun to worry about it, or to do anything about it.

The Indianapolis Colts have been riding Peyton Manning for years, building everything around him. And now, suddenly, the cliff: He apparently has had neck fusion surgery and will miss the season. You’re reminded that at some point, sometime soon, the whole ride will end.

Should the Colts have done something before now to prepare?

Tiger Woods ran off the cliff, too. Golf was a thrill with him on top. Now golf is just golf again.

Serena Williams is driving perilously close to the cliff. Venus Williams, too. But Serena is so amazing in general that no one seems to notice how amazing her story has been these past two weeks at the US Open. Amazing is commonplace for her, expected.

 

Please read the rest of my column at FoxSports.com


FRENCH OPEN: Roger Federer Will Beat Novak Djokovic. Here are 4 Reasons why

Roger Federer is going to beat Novak Djokovic Friday in the French Open semifinals.

The washed-up old guy is going to end the never-ending streak, beat the unbeatable player. He is going to ruin the coronation that everyone thought this tournament was all about, and remind people that he’s still here, still on the mountaintop.

This is Fab Friday at Roland Garros, as the world’s top four men’s players are meeting up. First, it’s Rafael Nadal against Andy Murray. Murray has been playing on a sore ankle, and Nadal finally found his mojo in the quarterfinals. I’ll take Nadal. 

But why Federer, when Djokovic has surpassed him and keeps looking stronger and stronger while Federer is starting to show age? Well, to me, everything is lining up perfectly for Federer. Every Federer flaw is negated, every strength enhanced. The predicted heavy winds, the new Babolat ball, the buildup, the slow clay. It all adds up on Federer’s side. Plus, Djokovic has to lose sometime. Plus, Federer has won the French before. Plus. . .

There is still the chance that Djokovic will simply power Federer off the court, push him backward. I just don’t think that’s going to happen. Here are four reasons why: Continue reading


FRENCH OPEN: Caroline Wozniacki Loses Big to Career Choker, Daniela Hantuchova. Could This Start the Fall of Another No. 1?

Caroline Wozniacki loses at French Open

At least Caroline Wozniacki didn’t start crying on the court and openly, loudly, asking why she’s such a chicken. That’s what Dinara Safina did a few years ago, in her classic No. 1 women’s tennis meltdown.

We’ve seen all sorts of No. 1 players on the women’s tour get to the top and then just blow away like a leaf in the wind. Wozniacki, the current No. 1, lost to career choker Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 6-3 Friday in the third round of the French Open. It was another embarrassing moment for women’s tennis, but more importantly, I wonder if this was the beginning of the fall of Wozniacki.

It’s not that she lacks mental fortitude like Safina. Or Ana Ivanovic. Or Jelena Jankovic. The problem with her is her game. And I’ve gone into it enough times in this space that I won’t spend much time on it now. But she’s way too passive, and doesn’t go out and take anything. She won’t lose to you, but will let you beat her if you are strong enough mentally to bash several shots on the court in a row. That has worked for her, except in majors, because of the nervousness throughout the women’s tour.

But the pressure on other players going against Wozniacki has just dropped for good. She lost her mystique with this match. If Hantuchova can hold it together against her for two sets in a major, then anyone can.

First set: Zero winners. What’s to be afraid of, anyway?

Women’s tennis has a problem. A sport needs to have a champion, someone who is best. Instead, this sport now has a void. A computer has to spit out a name, so it will still say Wozniacki. But she still hasn’t won a major. Serena Williams was best a year ago when she left, but who knows now? And she doesn’t play enough. Kim Clijsters has won the past two majors, so maybe she’s best, but her collapse to a nobody on Wednesday suggests her focus might be slipping, and her future short.

We’re still learning about Wozniacki. She tried to become more aggressive in the second set, even drilling a forehand right at Hantuchova once and knocking her off the baseline. Wozniacki came to net a few times, too, but didn’t seem to know how to get there. She tried to do more with her serve. And she hit eight winners in the set.

Give her credit for trying to adjust. It was still awfully passive to count as “aggressive,’’ though, and she also wasn’t very good at it. But this was a disturbing quote from her afterward: “She knew what she was going to do, and she was too good.’’ Continue reading


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