Tag Archives: Novak Djokovic

The U.S. Open is here! I’m in heaven as always. Some superstitious cows amuse me.. And a shocking retirement announcement from an NFL star

 

It feels like the night before Christmas, y’all.

I know, I know, I’m Jewish. But the U.S. Open tennis tournament starts in, oh, about 13 hours from the time I’m typing this, and as always, I am super-duper excited.

I am so damn lucky for many reasons in life, but one is that for the past eight years I’ve lived less than 45 minutes away from the greatest spectacle in tennis, and for the past six I’ve been lucky enough to have an up-close seat as a writer covering the tournament.

Every year I say this to myself when I look around the Bud Collins Media Center, and see some scribes or broadcasters muttering or complaining about something: Are you freaking kidding me? You people have the best job ever, getting to come to the U.S. Open, FOR FREE, and someone else is paying you to be there, and you get free food! And great seats to the matches!

The Open is amazing, and I’m expecting another great tournament. Since this is my blog I ought to first let you know a few of my U.S. Open preview stories have already been published; first, in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in Rochester, N.Y., I profiled Jessica Pegula, a super-nice woman who I’ve known and covered for years, who has made a huge breakthrough in the rankings this season.
And then for my new “regular” tennis writing gig at Tennis.One, I did a quick-hitting Open preview for the men and the women, with first-round matches to watch, three players who may win the whole shebang, and other fun stuff.

OK, on to a few other scattered thoughts as this two-week extravaganza gets underway.

— Can’t remember the last time I had this little clue who’d win the Open on the women’s side. You can make a case to me for nine different players, at least, and I’d buy in. Naomi Osaka, the defending champ? Maybe, but her year hasn’t been great since Australia. Ash Barty, the French Open champ? Maybe, but she too isn’t playing great. Serena? Sure, why not, but there are so many psychological, emotional and physical factors she has to deal with this year here at Flushing Meadows.
I’ll pick Wimbledon champ Simona Halep, but really I have no clue (aren’t you glad some people are paying me to cover this?)

— As for the men, well, that’s much easier. Bet almost everything you own on Novak Djokovic, who is by far the best hardcourt player on the ATP Tour. Bet the rest on Rafael Nadal. And say a little prayer for Roger Federer, who will need everything to go right to win.

— Coco-mania is in full swing here. I’m speaking of course of 15-year-old Coco Gauff, playing her first Open and drawing huge crowds last week at practice wherever she went. I attended one of her sessions for a story I’m working on for the Palm Beach Post, and it was pretty raucous when she signed autographs. Gauff is a great, great kid off the court, definitely someone to root for. She starts on Tuesday.

The Open is here! Happy times are here again.

**And now, just because this made me laugh hard, a video of cows all thinking they have to jump over the white lines on the road, and doing it beautifully.

Hilarious. It’s like they’re superstitious baseball players or something.

**And finally today, it’s pretty rare when an NFL superstar retires in his prime, two weeks before the season starts, but that’s happened Saturday night.

Shockingly, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, age 29, announced his retirement. Luck has been battling injuries for several years, and hasn’t played at all this preseason due to a calf injury.

After a constant cycle of injury and rehab, the mental and physical toll finally got to be too much for Luck.

I say good for him. Let him get out while he can still enjoy his life. The NFL chews these men up and spits them out, leaving them broken.

And it was despicable that when news broke Saturday night at a Colts preseason game, and Luck trotted off the field at halftime, some Indy fans booed him.

How dare he try to protect his future health and life, right??? Awful.

My man Pearlman has a great column up on Luck, the booing, and how he made the right decision.

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Djokovic and Osaka consolidate their dominance with beautiful Aussie Open wins. The man who does rock stars’ laundry on tour. And “SNL” brings back the legend, Steve Martin, for a funny sketch

We have come to the end of the Australian Open, and as always at the end of Grand Slam tournaments, I am a little thrilled and I am a little sad.

I am thrilled because for two weeks I got to immerse myself in tennis as much as I possibly can, and while that’s certainly not as much as it used to be before I got into the human-making business (well, I’m a co-creator at least), it’s still way more than normal. And once again over the past two weeks we were treated to some fantastic tennis and drama on the men’s and women’s sides.

But of course, also a little sad because it’s over, and I delete the tournament app on my phone, and don’t wake up checking scores to see what I missed overnight from Melbourne.

Still, I’m mostly happy, because this Australian Open was great, punctuated by two very worthy champions, in Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka.

— Novak Djokovic’s performance in victory Sunday… I mean, what can you say? Maybe the most dominant performance in a final I’ve seen since Rafael Nadal destroyed Federer at the French Open in 2008, losing only four games total.  From the opening five minutes, the Serb was dominant. He lost only ONE point on serve in the first set, he never let Nadal have time to hit his deep groundstrokes, and never left the Spanish lefty have a chance. Djokovic has now won three straight Slams, and could hold all four majors at the same time, for the second time in his career, if he wins in Paris in a few months.

I thought he couldn’t possibly ever be better than he was in 2016. But Djokovic has gone to a whole new, scary level. Wonderful to see tennis played that well.

— Meanwhile, I’ve never seen Rafael Nadal look so… helpless as he did Sunday morning in the final. He couldn’t do anything on Djokovic’s serve, and the Spaniard saw his own massive serves fired right back at him like they came from a ball machine. Nothing Nadal did in the final worked, and he looked so much like … 99 percent of the world’s other tennis players do against Nadal.

— My good friend Dave, who is a tennis fan that parachutes into the sport during the Grand Slams, texted me a great point in Djokovic’s favor, as he grows inexorably closer to Roger Federer’s record of 20 Slam titles (he’s now only 5 away) and the Greatest of All Time debate:

A good chunk of Federer’s Slam titles have come against finals opponents who are, shall we say, less than legendary. Among those Fed has vanquished to win the trophy include Mark Philippoussis, Marcos Baghdatis, Lleyton Hewitt, and Marat Safin.

For Djokovic, in 12 of his 15 title wins, he’s had to defeat either Federer, Nadal or Andy Murray, the other three members of this “Big Four” in the Golden Age of the sport. That’s mighty freaking impressive.

— Can’t say enough how impressed I am that Osaka, all of 21 years old, can have the life-changing win she had at the U.S. Open last September, with all the attendant controversy and drama that that win entailed, then come back four months later at the next Slam and win the trophy again, in a thrilling three-set final over Petra Kvitova.

That’s really, really hard to do. She’s humble, she’s shy, she’s funny… everything about her screams “star.” Hard not to be happy for, and root for, this young champion.

**Next up today, gotta hand it to “Saturday Night Live” for responding to breaking news events with a major guest appearance, within 24 hours. This cold open spoofing Tucker Carlson’s show on the day Trump consigliere Roger Stone was arrested is funny enough (again, Kate McKinnon is a national treasure!), but then comedy legend Steve Martin comes on as Stone and it goes to another level.

Please tell me some of you in the younger generation catch the throwback reference Martin tosses in at the 6:33 mark.

**Finally today, sometimes you just read a really cool profile of someone that isn’t particularly timely or newsworthy, it’s just a fascinating feature on an idea I wish I’d thought of.

The New York Times’ Thomas Rogers introduces us to Hans-Jurgen Toph, the German man who has become legendary as the proprietor of Rock N’ Roll Laundry, a company that tours with countless music acts and cleans their clothes, expertly, and for decades.

Go behind the scenes and learn great details like how Toph and his company shrunk a pair of David Hasselhoff’s gold pants, how he calls himself “Der Toph” un-ironically, and what some of the challenges of the job are.

I enjoyed this story so much more than I thought I would, thanks to quotes like “I know every disabled bathroom in every German football stadium,” and “Thanks for taking the rocks out of my pants.”.

Really fun story here.

Two giants leave the stage: Wrestling with the many things to love and hate about John McCain. And Neil Simon was a playwright God. And the U.S. Open begins!

Messy, non black-and-white lives make for very confusing obituaries when a person dies.

We so easily want to place people into neat categories: Good guy, bad guy. Hero, or villain. Genius, or idiot. Nuance doesn’t play so well in 2018, when everyone must have a take on something immediately.

The life of John McCain, which ended Sunday at 81, does not categorize easily. There is so much that happened to him, or that he made happen, and if you take just that side of it, you can decide for yourself if McCain was a hero, or someone not worthy of admiration.

Me, I think he’s both. Let’s start with the good of John McCain: He was a war hero; he survived 5.5 years of captivity as a prisoner of war, refusing to be let go early because of his famous Navy family and suffering unspeakable horrors. He also had a distinguished career as a Senator, helping write the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws which have been obliterated over the past 20 years.

In 2000 he should’ve been and could’ve been the Republican presidential nominee, but George W. Bush and Karl Rove did some unspeakable things to McCain in S. Carolina, and so he lost, but he captured the imagination of millions of voters who believed he was a “different” kind of politician.

He ran a poor, mostly civil campaign for President of the United States in 2008, and in the last two years battled brain cancer bravely, and battled (in spots) the evil of Donald Trump.

And now the other side: He was a major figure in the Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s, and possibly should’ve seen jail time. He inflicted Sarah Palin on the world, and you absolutely can draw a straight line from that dim-witted fool being named as a VP nominee in 2008 to the intelligence-deprived Americans who put a failed business exec turned TV star into the damn White House.

McCain, for all his bluster, was much more conservative in his voting record than Democrats pretended he was, and for all his anti-Trump blather, he still voted to pass tax cuts that were horrendous to the middle class, and he still refused to stand up to Trump legislatively and give him more losses that he deserved. There was a lot to like about John McCain, and a lot to dislike about him.

As one of my favorite writers, Bruce Arthur, said on Twitter Sunday, McCain lived “a big, messy, significant life.”

He was many things, to many people. But I do believe his heart was usually in the right place, and he thought what he was doing was right.

I’ll leave you with this, that stuck out at me Sunday: John McCain lost the Republican nomination for President to George W. Bush, and he lost the presidential election to Barack Obama. He has asked both men to deliver the eulogies at his funeral.

**Next up, it’s a holy day in my life today as my annual two week bacchanalia of fun, freelance writing and so much great tennis begins with the start of the U.S. Open.

Qualifying week last week was awesome as usual, but now, the real party starts: 128 men, 128 women, all as of 11 a.m. this morning with an equal shot to win the last major of the year.

I have no idea who will win the women’s title; many are picking Serena Williams but I just can’t see it; she’s still playing her way back into match shape. I could see Sloane Stephens repeating, I could see Angie Kerber taking the title, too. But I’m sure I’ll regret this but I’m going with American Madison Keys to finally make her big breakthrough and take home her first Slam.

On the men’s side, of course my heart says a certain Swiss gentleman will win, but he’s got a tough draw once we get to the second week. I’d love to see Novak Djokovic follow up on his Wimbledon win with a title, but not sure he’s all the way back yet.

So I’m picking Nadal, boring though it is to go with the top seed.

Whoever wins, I guarantee one thing: It’s going to be a fantastic tournament. Couldn’t find a really good preview or hype video for the upcoming Open, so I thought I’d play my favorite Roger Federer shot of all time, from the 2009 semis. Unbelievable.

**Finally today, a few words about the great Neil Simon, the playwright who died Sunday at 91. Maybe, along with Arthur Miller, the greatest American theater writer ever, Simon wrote so many classics, including “The Odd Couple,” “The Goodbye Girl” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs.” He was a television and film writer as well, and he was so, so damn funny.

“The Odd Couple” alone was such a classic it’s been made into movies, TV shows and been imitated forever; the slob who lives with the neat freak is a staple of popular culture.

Simon was the recipient of four Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, the Kennedy Center honors (1995), four Writers Guild of America Awards, an American Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement honor and, in 1983, he even had a Broadway theater named after him when the Alvin was rechristened the Neil Simon Theatre. (pretty great honor when you’re, you know, still alive.)

What a remarkable life he led.

Fifteen years on, hoping 9/11 memories don’t fade. NFL football is back, and the Jets blow one they should’ve won. And Kerber and Wawrinka win terrific U.S. Open finals

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Sunday was the 15th anniversary of September 11, and in so many ways I can’t believe it’s been that long since the worst day of most of our lives. It’s hard to believe that there are high school students about to graduate this year who were still in diapers when the Twin Towers fell.

I have to be honest: I didn’t watch much of the 9/11 remembrances on Sunday. Between NFL football starting and my son turning two and us having his birthday party, and the U.S. Open finals still going on, I didn’t spend as much time as I usually do reflecting on the meaning of 9/11.

I know the NFL did some really nice tributes before games, and of course the readings of the names who died, always shown on 9/11 on New York City TV stations, was powerful.

I hope 9/11 continues to stay fresh in our minds, and that the horror of that day doesn’t fade with time.

I remember as a kid watching some Holocaust movie on TV and wondering why we were still talking about this tragedy, 40 years later. Some grownup (it might have been my parents, or a teacher) told me that it’s incredibly important to keep talking about these things, as fewer and fewer people who were alive then are around, to keep the horrors fresh in our minds about what happened.

Fifteen years isn’t that long in the great span of time; I just hope as the years go by, the memories of that horrible day continue to remain fixed in our minds.

And now, the one 9/11 tradition I always do manage to uphold (and put on the blog): “Can’t Cry Hard Enough,” a montage of the images and sounds of 9/11.

**Next up today, the U.S. Open men’s and women’s finals were this weekend and both were pretty darn great. Angelique Kerber, who has been the best women’s player in the world this year, outlasted Karolina Pliskova (conqueror of Serena in the semis) in a three-set thriller. Then Sunday Novak Djokovic, who I would’ve thought was a shoo-in to win once he got through his first few matches unscathed, was beaten again by Stan the Man, aka, the Other Swiss Guy, aka Stan Wawrinka.

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With Djokovic hobbling around and Wawrinka blasting winners, Wawrinka won his third major title, in four sets. It’s pretty amazing how Wawrinka, after spending years being a pro ranked in the 11-25 range, has become a legit Top 5 player the last two years. Proves how even when you’re one of the best in the world at what you do, you can still get better.

On a slightly personal note, I was fortunate enough to do a ton of freelancing at the Open this year, and one of the players I got to know was 16-year-old Kayla Day, from Santa Barbara, Calif. She got to the second round of the women’s draw before losing to Madison Keys, then rolled through the juniors tournament and won her first Grand Slam title on Sunday.

She’s a terrific kid, really smart, and friendly and kind, and her Mom’s great, too, and sometimes it’s just so much fun as a reporter being in on the “ground floor” of a star’s career, seeing what they’re like at the beginning.

I have no idea if Kayla Day is going to be a star, but she’s off to a fantastic start, and maybe one day I can say “I knew her when.”

(By the way, if you’re wondering “Really Michael? You’ve been covering her all week? Where are your stories?” To which I sadly answer, “behind a paywall on the Santa Barbara News-Press website)

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**Finally today, football, football, football! Specifically, NFL football. More specifically, my New York Jets.

Yep, another banner start to the season for my Gang Green. Play well enough to win, make some big plays on offense and defense, but give up plenty of big plays on D (hey Darrelle Revis, didn’t you used to be awesome), and oh what the heck, miss an extra point and a field goal and lose by one to the Bengals.

From what I saw the Jets offense, with Matt Forte having a great debut, was fine until they got inside the 10-yard-line. And the defense couldn’t cover anybody in a Cincy uniform, and of course a kicker the Jets used to have (Mike Nugent) scored the winning points against them.

Yep, going to be a fabulous season.
Just a couple quick-hit NFL thoughts before I turn out the light:

— Good for Oakland’s Jack Del Rio, going for two points when down 1 with less than a minute to go against New Orleans. NFL coaches are so freaking risk-averse, it’s so rare to see one with guts. The Raiders went for two instead of playing for OT, scored, and won by one.

— Oh, the Browns. Such a Browns way to start a new season (it’s kind of amazing they’ve lost 12 consecutive season openers. Hard to do.) Not only lose, but lose to a rookie quarterback (Carson Wentz) who they could’ve drafted if they’d stayed at the No. 2 spot in the draft.

— I already hate this new Patriots QB who we will never see again after Tom Brady comes back. Arizona, you’ve gotta find a way to win that game Sunday night.

— Finally, nice to see Victor Cruz playing football again for the Giants, and that Cowboys receivers are still making horrible decisions at the end of games (though Dez Bryant wasn’t the culprit this time). How do football players STILL not know they’ve got to get out of bounds at the end of games?

Farewell to Muhammad Ali, the most famous athlete in world history. And Novak Djokovic completes a career Grand Slam in Paris.

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“You know I’m bad, I have murdered a rock,
I injured a stone, and hospitalized a brick.
I’m so bad, I make medicine sick.”

— Muhammad Ali, 1974

I have never in my life felt more utterly inadequate as a writer than right now, trying to sum up and analyze the life of the most famous athlete in world history.

Cassius Clay, who became Muhammad Ali, was more than just an athlete, of course. He was a trailblazer, an icon, a pioneer and a humanitarian, though we never saw that last attribute until long after his boxing career was over.

I’ve read so many tributes and obituaries to the “Greatest of All Time” over the past 48 hours, since I learned of his death late Friday night, and so many of them have been great (I’ll link some below).

It seems a criminal understatement to say Ali changed the world we live in. From the time he burst onto the scene in 1960 at the Rome Olympics, until his last major public moment, lighting the torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he has been the most intriguing figure in all of sports.

I’m glad that most of the obituaries haven’t whitewashed his flaws; Ali was far, far from a saint. His philandering in regards to women, his horrendous, criminal verbal treatment of decent men like Joe Frazier and Ernie Terrell, and his race-dividing comments on behalf of the Nation of Islam from the 1960s should be as much a part of his legacy as his remarkable personality, his devastating skill in the ring, and the way he became a symbol of hope and courage in dealing with Parkinson’s Disease the last 30 years of his life.

As a writer I loved that Ali loved reporters, using them to entertain, and often inflame. What other athlete, ever, has written poetry like the one I quoted up top? He was an incredibly smart man, something he rarely got credit for.

I never got to meet Ali, which is a huge regret. And I was certainly born too late to have any real memories of him as a fighter. But I remember getting goosebumps seeing him up on that podium in Atlanta, a symbol of America in all its messy, complicated glory.

Before I leave you with the best I’ve watched and read over this weekend, I want to tell one more Ali story that’s always stuck with me, and always made me smile. The story may be apocryphal, it may be true; no one really knows.

The champ was on an airplane once and ignoring the flight attendant’s request to put on his seat belt.

“Superman don’t need no seat belt!” Ali exclaimed.

“Superman don’t need no plane, either,” the flight attendant replied.

Rest in peace, Superman. And thanks for taking so many of us on such a wonderful ride.

**The best on Ali’s death: This column by Jerry Izenberg, legendary sportswriter and Ali’s longtime friend, was excellent.

Robert Lipsyte was one of the first sportswriters to “get” Ali and what he was about, and has spent decades chronicling him. He wrote the New York Times obit, and it was outstanding.

And Dave Kindred, another legendary sportswriter, also covered Ali for almost his entire career, and wrote probably the best thing I read this weekend on the champ: 

— HBO, which always does the best sports tributes, put together this fabulous 8-minute piece on Ali’s life, with some of his most memorable quotes as well.

— And finally, I embedded the famous 1979 Billy Crystal roast/tribute to Ali, called “15 Rounds,” above. Damn, Billy Crystal is talented. His monologue/impression is just perfect.

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**While Ali’s death was by far the saddest sports news of the weekend, Sunday brought me and other tennis fans great joy, as Novak Djokovic finally won the French Open title that’s long eluded him.

I’ve written many times of my admiration of Nole; he’s my second-favorite player, I admire his generous spirit and genuinely good heart, and am thrilled he’s completed the career Grand Slam.

His match Sunday with Andy Murray wasn’t one of their classics; Djokovic started slow, then steamrolled Murray until the end, when at 5-2 Djokovic got tight and dropped two straight games.

I thought it was sweet how after he finally won, Djokovic seemed totally confused about how to react; he’d been thinking about this moment for so long that it was like he didn’t know what to do first.

He ended up painting a heart in the clay (a move Gustavo Kuerten first did at Roland Garros), then summoning a bunch of ballkids to salute the crowd.

He was gracious and classy as usual in victory, and I’m glad crowds finally seem to be responding to him.

Djokovic is up to 12 major titles now, and I can’t believe I’m ever writing these words, but he’s got an excellent shot to pass Federer’s once-unassailable total of 17 Slams.

I mean, Nadal’s body is cruelly breaking down, Federer hasn’t been able to beat Nole in a Slam in years, and Murray just can’t quite top his rival in big matches anymore.

Barring injury, who’s going to stop Djokovic? We are so, so spoiled as tennis fans, seeing three of the all-time greats playing in this era.

Win Wimbledon and then the U.S. Open this year, and Djokovic will have the calendar Slam that eluded Serena in 2015.

I think he’s going to do it.

Seriously wondering what it would take for Trump poll numbers to drop. The Jets are officially pathetic, while the Pack is back. And saluting Djokovic on an incredible year

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I can’t even get outraged anymore at the things Donald Trump says.

I mean, what’s the point? This lunatic is so far off the reservation, I don’t think any GPS ever created could find him.

So I just laugh, and shake my head, and keep telling myself that this disgusting, racist, elitist pig of a human being will soon be off the presidential candidate radar, in a few short months; kicked to the curb by voters who will finally, inevitably, wise up.

Then I stop laughing and get scared. Because it seems every time Trump gets further and further off the ledge, and says even more offensive shit like his cracks on Friday that there should be a database of all Muslims in the U.S., and they should have to carry ID cards (hey Donald, isn’t that what they did to Jews in 1930s Germany? Just asking), his poll numbers stay strong.

Then Sunday he claimed he saw thousands of Muslims from New Jersey cheering on 9/11 as the Twin Towers fell, a statement that is 100 percent bullshit. And no one cares.

So I thought to myself Sunday night: What would it take for Trump’s numbers to actually fall? Is there anything he could say or do to lose this unfathomable popularity?

So I came up with this list of stuff that might, might make him lose voters:

  • Have a picture surface of him hugging Hillary Clinton
  • Stand up in the middle of Charlotte, N.C. and declare NASCAR is stupid and not a sport.
  • State that “The Dukes of Hazzard” is an overrated TV show and Daisy wasn’t even that pretty.
  • Admit his home state of New York is the greatest state on Earth, and the rest of you people live in “loser” states.
  • Declare a book other than The Bible as the greatest tome ever written.
  • Announce plans to nominate a Muslim as his vice-presidential pick.
  • Say that he’s in favor of gun control

OK, maybe that last one would do it. All the rest? Who knows. Truly, the man is a political miracle.

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**Pathetic. Embarrassing. And, yeah, typical of the New York Jets.
Sunday continued the freefall of a once-promising season, as the awful, horrific Jets were beaten by the legendary T.J. Yates (T.J. Yates, for god’s sakes!) and the Houston Texans.
This was bad, man. The Jets were outclassed, outcoached, and even the great Darrelle Revis was torched time and time again.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two late INT’s, looks like the Jets drafted yet another second-round wide receiver bust in Devin Smith, who dropped a sure TD pass, and the running game was non-existent.
Hard to believe this team almost beat the Pats a few weeks ago. Disgraceful effort Sunday.
More quick-hit NFL thoughts…

— After three weeks of awful football, the Green Bay Packers sure looked like themselves. Beatdown of Minnesota, 30-13. The Pack is back.

— The Tampa Bay Bucs as a playoff contender? Yep. The NFL’s favorite alleged rapist, Jameis Winston, is having a hell of a rookie year, and his Bucs are 5-5 now after thrashing the Eagles. Pretty stunning. (FYI, saw a few minutes of “The Hunting Ground,” Sunday night on CNN, a powerful documentary about the Winston-FSU rape case and other sexual assaults on campus, and it looked great.)

— The Arizona Cardinals are pretty freaking good. And fun to watch. I want them in the Super Bowl.

— At some point, Greg Hardy is going to punch out the entire Cowboys coaching staff and Jerry Jones is still going to defend him, right?

**Finally today, I hardly ever write about tennis here once the U.S. Open is completed in September, because I and many other diehards usually pay little attention to October/November results, since the tournaments don’t matter as much and many top players tend to “mail it in” after a long and grueling year.

But I must take a minute today to acknowledge the incredible, historic year that Novak Djokovic completed Sunday, as he turned back Roger Federer at the prestigious season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London, 6-3, 6-4.

Djokovic won three major titles in 2015, and lost in the finals of the fourth, the French Open. With all the talk about Serena Williams’ near Grand Slam, it turns out the Serb technically got closer, as Serena lost in the U.S. Open semis.

Djokovic went 82-6 this season (82-6!), captured 11 tournament titles, and lost only three times to players other than Federer, the world No.2

Djokovic has never gotten the love and adulation of Federer or Rafa Nadal, and if he were American the U.S. media and corporate world would have made him a much bigger household name.

But what he accomplished this year is phenomenal. And historic. His 2015 was for the ages, and I can’t wait to see what he does as an encore.

I’ve said this for 10 years now, but we truly are in the Golden Age of tennis.

Saluting 3 worthy Wimbledon champions: Djokovic, Serena, and Opelka. And R.I.P. Robin Colcord and Lord John Marbury

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It’s the Monday after Wimbledon, which always makes me a little sad, because it means my favorite tennis tournament in the world has ended for another year.

But I’m not sad today. I’m actually thrilled, because these last two weeks have given us tennis nuts so much magnificence.  Some of it we expected, some of it we most certainly did not (I’ll get to that in a minute).

Today on the blog, a few words about three extremely worthy champions.

First, Novak Djokovic. I was, as usual, pulling with all my heart for Roger Federer to win another Grand Slam title on Sunday, and I really thought he could do it. He played one of the best matches of his life in Friday’s semifinals, and I thought if he could come close to duplicating that, he’d have a real shot at Wimbledon title No. 8.

But Novak Djokovic, who doesn’t inspire nearly the passionate fan base as Roger or Rafa Nadal, just keeps winning anyway. He’s too good, too impenetrable at the baseline, and too clutch in the key moments. He and Federer played two of the best sets of tennis you’ll see Sunday, before Djokovic raised his game to another level and won the match in four sets.

He’s a tremendous sportsman, a class act on and off the court, and still very much in his prime. He’s likely to continue leading this incredible era of men’s tennis for years to come. And the Swiss guy ain’t done yet.

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**Serena Williams has never been nor will she ever be a favorite of mine; I’ve made that clear many times in this space over the years. But what she’s doing these last 12 months is beyond ridiculous, it’s just silly. Four straight major titles, including the first three this year. She wins when she’s playing poorly, she wins when she’s playing great. She’s winning some matches in a breeze, others she has to gut out by the skin of her teeth.

She is an incredible athlete, the best female athlete of her generation, and I must admit her attitude and off-court actions have improved quite a bit in recent years. She is an admirable player who has taken her sport to a new level that others cannot yet reach, and isn’t that the greatest legacy someone can leave?

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**Finally, the third champion I want to write about is one I’m much more personally connected to than Novak and Serena. I’ve written about Reilly Opelka since he was 12 years old, when while working at the Daytona Beach News-Journal I went out to his house in Palm Coast, Fla. and hit with him and watched him play.

He’s grown more than a foot since then, to 6-foot-10, and gotten five years older. But he’s still the same kinda goofy kid with deep humility and respect for others, and a low-key demeanor that almost borders on catatonic sometimes.
Except now, he’s a freaking Wimbledon champion. In a week no one saw coming, least of all him, Opelka won the junior boys singles title Sunday, his first-ever Grand Slam title and becoming the first tennis major champion from his hometown.

I was along for the ride “virtually” all week, watching Opelka’s matches on the Internet, interviewing him each day for my part-time writing gig at FlaglerLive.com (his town’s best news source/website), and marveling at how this kid who has gotten zero of the hype accorded other U.S. prospects showed he’s every bit the potential star they are.

One of my favorite things about being a sportswriter was watching a kid grow up and mature athletically right before your eyes; I felt more than a little pride Sunday that the little boy I first met became this enormous champion.

Djokovic. Serena. Opelka. Worthy title winners, all.

**Finally today, one of my favorite character actors from the last 30 years on TV died over the weekend. Roger Rees, who so perfectly played Kirstie Alley’s billionaire boyfriend Robin Colcord, and then showed a terrific comedy touch as Lord John Marbury on “The West Wing” died on Saturday.

He was 71 and an accomplished Broadway actor. But to me, he’ll always be Marbury, the loony but brilliant political ambassador who the Bartlet administration called on from time to time.

This is one great scene of his, but he had so many more.

A weekend in Philly and a return to my alma mater was wonderful. And quickie thoughts on a huge sports weekend

UD.alumni
Lots of people romanticize their college years, mythologizing them beyond all actual truth because their memories (often drug-affected) get worse over the years, or because in college, everything seems possible.

I’m one of those people who had an incredibly wonderful college experience; as I’ve written about on here before, attending the University of Delaware (above) was the best decision I made in my life, professionally and personally.

It was the launching pad for so many wonderful things, and the best part of it was The Review, the completely student-run newspaper where I spent the better part of three years learning, screwing up, getting better, having an insane amount of fun and losing an insane amount of sleep while learning to be a journalist.

So when word got out a few months back that the paper was in financial trouble, many of us alumni, who used The Review as a springboard to fantastic and successful journalism careers, started raising money, spreading the word, and doing what we could.

Saturday night there was a fundraising dinner for newspaper alumni at UD, and I was thrilled to be there. We didn’t get as many old scribes as I would’ve hoped, but the atmosphere was terrific, and it was great seeing how many care. In talking to the current editors, it turns out that the fundraising has made a difference, and the paper is in better financial shape than it had been (Truth be told, all independent college papers seem to be struggling; ad dollars are down, and kids just don’t read their school paper anymore.)

It was great to be back. UD will always hold a place in my heart.

Some other thoughts from a fun weekend, where the family and I stayed in Philadelphia and I drove down to UD on Saturday:

— The cheesesteaks in Philly are all people talk about and rightfully so, I had two this weekend and they’re awesome. But for my money, the best gastronomical delight in the city are the hand-rolled cannolis from Termini Bros., three of which came home with us in the car (I won’t tell you how many made it all the way back to NYC). I mean, they are sinfully good.

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— Went to the Franklin Institute Saturday morning; what a wonderful museum. Saw a fabulous exhibit by Nathan Sawaya, a guy who builds incredible sculptures painting re-creations (like the one above of Edward Munch’s “The Scream” using only LEGO. Blew my mind. Check it out if you’re in Philly the next few months.

— Stayed in a lovely Center City hotel in Philly, except for the 12:15 a.m. Saturday night fire alarm going off, followed by five consecutive obscenely loud announcements telling us an emergency had been reported, please stand by, followed five minutes later by five more obscenely loud announcements piped into our room as well, telling us the fire dept. said all was clear, we can relax.

Shockingly, all that woke our 9-month-old.

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**Finally today, there was so much great stuff in sports this past weekend that I could write several hundred words about each one. But neither you nor I have time for all that, so some quick-hit thoughts on a sports-gasm that lasted for two days:

— Gotta start, of course since it’s my passion, with the tennis. Serena Williams continues to show why she’s now, at worst, one of the two or three best players of all time. As much as I dislike Serena for her histrionics and poor sportsmanship, she continues to blow away all criticism by continuing to win, so deep into her career. I think she’s erasing all argument about the G.O.A.T. debate, and after winning a few more Slam titles and passing Steffi Graf’s record of 22, she’ll be acknowledged No. 1 of all time.

And of course, on the men’s side at the French Open, Stan Wawrinka shocked the hell out of everyone, including himself, with an incredible win Sunday over Novak Djokovic. Everyone, including me, thought that after Nole beat Rafa Nadal in the quarterfinals, he’d find a way to win the one Slam crown that has eluded him. But Wawrinka and that postcard-perfect one-handed backhand were just too good.

I love Djokovic and felt terrible for him, still not able to win the one title that he doesn’t have. He’ll get one one day, but he’ll never have a better chance than this.

— So American Pharoah shut up all those people who said there’d never be another Triple Crown winner, huh? Tremendous horse. Happy the drought is finally over after 37 years. Amazing that after all those horses before him had failed, American Pharoah simply led wire-to-wire and made winning the Belmont look so easy.

— These first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals have been wild. Blackhawks definitely seem like the better team to me, but Tampa’s offense is explosive. And the goalie musical-chairs thing Tampa pulled in the 3rd period of Game 2? Bizarre.

— LeBron James. What more can you say about this man? Single-handedly carrying the Cavaliers on his back, and got zero help from his teammates down the stretch in Game 2, saw the referees do their damnedest to help Golden State win the game, and still the Cavs pulled it out. What a fantastic first two games of the NBA Finals, though honestly, that was the worst-officiated fourth quarter of an NBA game I’ve seen, maybe ever.

I don’t care if the Cavs win this series or not. LBJ has, in my mind and that of many others I’ve read in the past week, reached that rarefied air inhabited only by Michael Jordan.

I’m not saying LeBron’s better. I’m saying he’s Jordan’s equal. And I never in a million years thought I’d write that sentence in my lifetime.

The match of the year in tennis arrives at French Open today. The Onion fools another official, hilariously. Woman throws out old computer worth $200,000

Djokovic.French

It’s rare that you say  “finally, the match I’ve been waiting for all year is here!” on the Wednesday of the second week of a tennis Grand Slam tournament.

But that’s what we’re saying today, as Rafael Nadal plays Novak Djokovic in the match of the year.

The French Open is in the homestretch, and of course I’ve been following it closely as all tennis diehards have been.

Every year there are upsets at Roland Garros (I am sad about Federer losing on Tuesday) , hand-wringing over the lack of U.S. men’s success (though rising star Jack Sock had a fantastic tournament, getting to the fourth round and even taking a set off Rafa on Monday), and generally, we’re left with a lefty from Mallorca, Spain named Nadal holding the trophy aloft while taking a bite out of it for photos.

Nadal.French

But 2015 has been a strange year. Nadal has lost plenty of times already, including on clay, which is home to him. Djokovic has soared while Nadal has dipped, as the Serb has dominated practically every tournament he’s played, coming into the French as the unquestioned No. 1 player.

The only thing Djokovic hasn’t won in his brilliant career is the French Open, because Nadal has always blocked him.

A couple of months ago you figured they’d meet in the French Open final this year as they have several times before. But then Rafa started losing and suddenly he was seeded a preposterous No. 6 before the tournament, befitting his current ranking but a little ridiculous considering he’s won Roland Garros nine times! (Cue Mr. Rooney from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” please. Nine times.)

And so because Nadal’s ranking has fallen so low, he stood a chance of being drawn into the same quarter of the French Open draw as Djokovic. He was, and now they’re playing in the quarterfinals today, which seems crazy considering this is really the final.

The two best players in the sport, going head-to-head, with legacies on the line? Should be epic. I can’t wait. Give me Djokovic in five sets, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

**Next up, I love stories like this: A couple of weeks ago in California a recent widow dropped off a bunch of boxes that she’d cleaned out from her house after her husband died. She figured it was a bunch of his old electronics junk and wanted to get rid of it, so she brought it to a recycling company.

Two weeks later the company, Clean Bay Area, went through the boxes and found a vintage Apple I computer. There are only 200 or so left in the world of these babies, the first-generation of computers put together by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne in 1976.

According to this story, the recycling firm sold the Apple I this month for $200,000 to a private collection, Vice President Victor Gichun said. And now, because company policy is to split proceeds 50-50 with the donor, he’s looking for the mystery woman who refused to get a receipt or leave her name.

So there’s a woman walking around Northern California, entitled to a $100,000 windfall and she doesn’t even know it.

Hopefully the publicity being generated will reach the woman.
And now every single man in America who loves garage sales on Saturday mornings can say to their wives, “See! This is why I go to these things, I could find something that’d make us rich!”

**Finally today, there was huge soccer news on Tuesday when FIFA president Sepp Blatter, maybe the most corrupt person in sports (and that’s saying something), finally saw the writing on the wall and resigned, creating an opportunity to have a less-awful organization running soccer in the future.

But you can read about that plenty of other places, I want to talk about something more fun. Like once again The Onion getting mistaken for a real newspaper.

An ex-FIFA crook, Jack Warner, went on a rant against the U.S. Justice Dept., and America in general the other day, saying that all the recent charges against FIFA were trumped-up, not legit, etc.

And what did he use in his defense of this argument? A headline from The Onion. Yep, he uses a fake article from the wonderful satirical newspaper that contains this paragraph:

AT PRESS TIME, THE U.S. NATIONAL TEAM WAS LEADING DEFENDING CHAMPIONS GERMANY IN THE WORLD CUP’S OPENING MATCH AFTER BEING AWARDED 12 PENALTIES IN THE GAME’S FIRST THREE MINUTES

Too funny.

A damn entertaining Super Bowl, with some great commercials to boot. And Serena and Djokovic rule again at Australian Open

Pats.SuperBowl

Never in Super Bowl history have so many jaws hit the floor at the exact same time as they did a little after 10 p.m. Sunday night, in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played.

You don’t have to ask what I’m talking about. From sea to shining sea, all 110 million football fans watched the Seattle Seahawks just GIVE away a championship to the New England Patriots in the final seconds of Super Bowl 49.

At the 1-yard-line, with :30 left, with the BEST SHORT-YARDAGE BACK in the NFL on your team (Marshawn Lynch), with a touchdown winning the game, the Seahawks decided to throw the ball.

I had to watch it four times to actually believe what they did. But it happened. And Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted, and the Patriots won, and oh my God that was one sensational football game.

And it’s too bad that so many great moments from the game will be forgotten because of the worst play-call in Super Bowl history. The incredible Jermaine Kearse catch to get Seattle down there in the final minute (and if that had led to a Seahawks win, on yet another fluke/crazy catch in a Super Bowl, the entire New England region would’ve been on suicide watch, I think).

Tom Brady, cool as Fonzie, bringing his team back from 10 down. The great games by guys you never heard of, like Seattle’s Chris Matthews and New England’s Malcolm Butler.

One of the five best Super Bowls of my lifetime, with an ending that’ll never be forgotten.
It pains me, really, really pains me to type this.  But congratulations to the legends, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. To win four Super Bowls in 14 years is insanely difficult, and worthy of much praise.

Some other Super Bowl thoughts from my scattered brain…

— Idina Menzel sang the hell out of the anthem. God, what a voice.

— Loved the cool new NBC overhead camera angle they showed us at times; really let you see the whole field.

— Real classy, Doug Baldwin of the Seahawks, pretending to poop out the ball after scoring a TD (NBC cut away from this delightful act, but it’s all over the Internet if you haven’t seen it.) Your whole life, you wait to score in the Super Bowl, and that’s what you do?

**Loved a bunch of the Super Bowl commercials, including the Dove for Men ad (yes, of course me being a new father had a little to do with that), the Budweiser Lost Puppy ad, and this Snickers “Brady Bunch” ad was hilarious:

I also loved the Dodge commercial featuring the 100-year-old people giving pearls of wisdom. And I thought the Nissan commercial with the race-car driver and Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” was good too, though as many pointed out on Twitter, Chapin died in a car accident so maybe not the best idea to have his song there, Nissan?

**On the other hand, that Nationwide commercial? Way too dark. Scared the hell out of me. Yes, let’s talk about kids dying from being unsafe on the Super Bowl.

— Didn’t watch much of the halftime show, since Katy Perry doesn’t do it for me. But seeing dolphin mascots dance alongside her was … interesting.

— It’s unconscionable that the Pats’ Julian Edelman wasn’t checked for a concussion after that severe hit he took in the fourth. It’s all about the safety of the players, right Roger Goodell?

— No more football for awhile. Boo.

Serena-Williams-5

**Finally today, I want to say a few words about Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, who just completed dominating performances in winning the Australian Open, once again.

Serena, who it’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog I have long loathed for her poor sportsmanship and arrogance on and off the court, was once again her dominant self. She now has 19 Grand Slam singles titles, rapidly closing the gap on Margaret Court’s total of 24 (and let’s be clear, it’s MUCH harder to win Slams these days, because the field is so much tougher than it was in Court’s day.)

She’s inching up the ladder toward being considered by most tennis experts as the greatest of all time. I still have her behind Steffi Graf and Martina, but it’s damn close. Serena is an incredible athlete, an unmatched competitor with a killer instinct like few others.

And Novak Djokovic? Well, he just about owns the Australian Open now, winning it for the fifth time. His defense, his shot-making, his mental toughness, just so impressive. Andy Murray had plenty of chances to win Sunday, and he played great at times.

But Djokovic was fitter, stronger, and better. He’s not in Rafa or Roger Federer’s category yet when it comes to all-time greats, but shoot, he’s getting closer.

Great Australian Open.