Tag Archives: Rafael Nadal

Another Friends of Jaclyn “Angel Walk” makes me so grateful. Federer/Nadal playing doubles together was awesome. And NFL Week 3 was bananas and unpredictable (the Jets even won!)

Sunday was a glorious and sad day, at the same time for me. The day my family and I participate in the Friends of Jaclyn Angel Walk always is.

I’ve written a lot about the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation here, because it is the No.1 charitable cause near and dear to my heart. Pairing up high school and college sports teams with children suffering from pediatric brain tumors and other deadly cancers, FOJ is an incredible beacon of light for thousands of sick children, and for the athletes on teams who adopt them. (All my stories on FOJ’s kids and teams can be found here, if you’re interested.) It is run by wonderful, kind-hearted people who work so hard to make so many lives better.

Every year FOJ holds an “Angel Walk,” to honor those children who have died at some point after being adopted by a team. While thousands of children are thriving and beating cancer, way too many others bravely lost their battle (we’ve lost 144 children overall, since FOJ’s founding. And so every year, teams, athletes, families and others involved in FOJ meet at the Bridge over the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to keep memories alive.

There are speeches given by players and coaches, and by founders Denis and Jaclyn Murphy. We walk across the bridge, bagpipes are played, and at the end of the ceremonies, white doves are released into the sky, as a symbol of those who we lost.

It’s a glorious day because we come together and show our support for so many, for such a good cause. But it’s a sad day because of all we have lost.

My favorite comment every year in a speech came Sunday from a University of Hartford basketball coach named Matt Mihalich, who said “I can’t wait until FOJ becomes obsolete. Because that means there’ll be no more pediatric cancers.”

Amen to that. But while there still is, this beautiful ceremony every year makes me realize how important FOJ’s work is.

**Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have done so many amazing things in their careers; they are two of the 5 or 6 best male players ever, they’ve made more money than small countries take in in a year, and they have absolutely nothing left to prove.

But what they’d never done, not in any real competition, is play doubles together. It’s so unusual to even think about, the two best players of an era teaming up on the same side of the court. Did Borg and McEnroe ever play as a team? Sampras and Agassi? Navratilova and Evert? Nope.

But at a newfangled tennis competition this past weekend called the Laver Cup, Federer and Nadal actually teamed up. The competition is Europe vs. the World, so once again the best rivalry in the sport were oddly on the same team.

And it was … jarring to watch. But so much fun. I knew they were the same height, even with such different body types, but seeing them standing next to each other was great. They made mistakes as a team, seemed to constantly be smiling, and it was just a joy to watch.

Highlights above. Who says tennis season has to end after the U.S. Open?

**After a couple of really drab weeks of NFL football, Sunday was filled with fabulous games, none of which I saw since (see above) I was out all day. But lots to catch up on…

— J-E-T-… wait, what??? They WON? Don’t they realize they’re supposed to tank, go 0-16, and draft No.1? Can’t even do the “losing on purpose” thing right.
No, I’m kidding. I knew they were going to win at least 2-3 games this year, because it’s really really hard to go 0-16. Sunday the Dolphins helpfully decided to roll over and play dead, the Jets defense decided to show up (what, you’re allowed to tackle before the end zone?), and Josh McCown at quarterback actually played pretty damn well. 4-12 here we come, baby!

— The Jets have more wins the Giants. Never thought I’d say that this year. A 61-yard field goal at the buzzer by the Eagles’ rookie kicker, Jake Elliott to win the game?  Crazy.

— Also, Odell Beckham Jr. made ridiculously impressive TD catches for the Giants. Then somehow decided it was a good idea to pantomime a dog peeing in the end zone for one celebration, drawing a flag. So, you know, business as usual for him.

— Go ahead, bet on the NFL: Saints crush Panthers. Bears beat Steelers. Jets dominate Dolphins. Yeah, I’m sure everyone predicted that Sunday morning.

— NFL referees are still horrible. Just thought I’d let you know that. Lions got totally screwed Sunday on that TD at the end of the game, not being called a TD.

— Never underestimate our current President’s ability to make new enemies. During a rambling, mostly incoherent 9o-minute speech in Alabama Friday night, the Orange Grifter managed to piss off both NFL players AND owners, not an easy task. The owners in particular, nearly all of whom are wealthy white men who are Republicans, came out strongly against Trump’s idiotic comments, releasing all kinds of strong statements like this one from Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch.

This is all well and good, these owners making statements condemning Trump. But I guarantee you most of them gave money to the RNC or Trump personally last year; suddenly they are realizing what he is, because he’s attacking football? They didn’t know he was a sexual abusing, racist arrogant a-hole in 2016?
Still, it was good to see some owners standing with their players, and even better to see SO many players either kneeling, or in the Steelers, Titans and Seahawks’ cases, refuse to even come out on the field for the national anthem.

–One more time, for the people who still think, like our President does, that this is about “disrespecting the flag.” It’s not. It’s never been. It’s been about protesting the racial injustices in our society, that see African-Americans and other minorities get the short end of the stick on everything, and white police officers never, ever getting made to pay the price for their deeds. That’s it.d That’s what this is about.

Of course these players love America. They just hate how unequal things are now, not as bad as they’ve ever been of course, but still pretty bad.

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Wrapping up a fabulous and weird U.S. Open, where Stephens and Rafa shone and I peed next to a Hall of Famer. Remembering 9/11 on this day, always. And Week 1 in the NFL, when both NY teams stunk

So much to get to you today, I hope this blog doesn’t go 2,000 words or something. Of course I, like most of you, have loved ones living in Florida in the path of this hellacious Hurricane Irma, and I’ve been worried about them most of the weekend. Thank God so far my friends in Tampa, Miami and Orlando seem to be doing OK. But the videos and photos from the weekend were just awful. The ocean receding in Tampa? Roofs being blown off in Miami? Godspeed to all down there.

Want to write more today about the terror of hurricanes, and about my son’s 3-year-old birthday party Saturday and why it eerily felt like my wedding.

But I’ll get to that Wednesday. Today, I want to start with the U.S. Open, which was wacky, wild and wonderful. So many top players were missing this year (Serena, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka) that you knew some different names would show up in the late rounds. But Sloane Stephens? Kevin Anderson? If you had both of them playing after Labor Day, you were in the distinct minority.

Stephens was once a rising phenom in the tennis world, beating Serena at the Aussie Open three years ago and seemingly destined for the Top 5. And then… not so much. Her dedication to tennis was questioned. Stories about how she just wanted to be famous, and her attitude, were abundant. Then her results suffered, she was injured and didn’t play for nearly a year, from summer 2016 to this summer, and her ranking fell to 957.

And today she is the U.S. Open women’s champion. She was flawless on Saturday in the women’s final, pummeling Madison Keys all over the court, smiling and consoling and acting stunned at the amount of the winner’s check she earned (hey, $3.7 million IS a lot of money.)

I have no idea if this will propel Stephens into being a consistent force at Slams, or if Keys will learn from this experience of being overwhelmed on the big stage after playing so brilliantly in the semis. But I do know that both Stephens and Keys are worthy of praise and admiration today.

— I’ve seen a lot of beautiful displays of sportsmanship after a match is over, because tennis players almost always comport themselves as sportsmen (or women.) But this one, this one I’ll never forget, and will pretty hard to top. Sloane Stephens, the champion, moments after winning a Grand Slam, stands at the net consoling her sobbing good friend, Madison Keys, on the loss. Really sweet moment.

— And on the men’s side, to quote my friend Jon Wertheim, how about on Jan. 1, 2017 I told you Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would combine to win all four Slams this year? You’d have laughed so hard and then recommended a good psychiatrist.
But it happened. Sunday Nadal put on a clinic in the final against Anderson, a 31-year-old South African who’d never gotten this far. As disappointed as I was that Federer and Nadal didn’t finally play in New York this year, in the semis, the Federer fan in me is glad they didn’t. Because Roger was shaky the whole tournament before losing, and Nadal was playing extraordinarily well, I think Rafa would’ve beaten Fed easily.

As it was, Nadal had the easiest road to a Slam, maybe ever, not having to beat even one Top 25 player. But that doesn’t matter; he was on his game and is such a worthy champ.

— So as I’ve mentioned a few times in the past few weeks I was once again fortunate enough to be credentialed as a reporter during the U.S. Open, and it was once again the best gig ever. I wrote 14 stories, for seven different newspapers, covering men’s, women’s and juniors players.
The USTA and tournament organizers make it ridiculously easy for us journalists, giving everything we could want, and you will never ever hear me complain about getting into the U.S. Open for free, receiving a meal per diem that actually goes pretty far, and getting sweet seats on every court (for a few non-marquee matches on Ashe Stadium I actually was sitting ninth row, baseline, where all the fancy people usually sit.

A couple of behind-the-scenes memories from my third straight year covering the Open:

— I peed next to NBA legend David Robinson. Not something that happens every day. I wandered into the closest bathroom near the afore-mentioned sweet Ashe Stadium seats last Tuesday, and a second after I approached the urinal I heard large footsteps, and a very large African-American male peeing to my left. He finished before me (hey, he was a Navy officer, I’m guessing he does everything fast) and as he turned away from the urinal I caught a glimpse of his face. Me and David Robinson, emptying our bladders together. Good times. (No I didn’t ask to shake his hand).

— Definite journalistic highlight was getting to ask Roger Federer a question in his pre-U.S. Open press conference. I really, really don’t get excited about talking to athletes anymore, I’m way too jaded/experienced for that. But this was Roger freaking Federer, maybe my favorite athlete of all time. So it was pretty cool.

— Got to see wheelchair tennis up close for the first time. Truly extraordinary watching what these athletes can do. Except for being allowed two bounces to return the ball, the rules are almost all the same. Watching these players spin and push themselves all around the court was inspiring.

— Finally, when I was 9 years old I watched Boris Becker win Wimbledon at 17 and I went outside my house right after the match and started hitting tennis balls against a brick wall on the side of our house. To say Becker inspired my love of this sport is an understatement.

I saw him several times walking around the Open this year, and spoke to him for 20 seconds about a match we were both watching on a TV monitor. The little kid in me was very excited about that.

**Next up, today is of course September 11, which means we should all stop and take a few minutes to think about the events of that horrible day in 2001. It’s been 16 years now, and it doesn’t seem any more real.

I watch this video (above) and a few others like it every year, and as I type this thousands and thousands of motorcycles are roaring into Manhattan as they do every year for the 9/11 ceremony, and this anniversary will never, ever be forgotten.

Sixteen years. Wow.

**Finally today, because I’ve rambled long enough in this space, I’m going to cover Week 1 of the NFL very very quickly, and briefly. Here goes:

— The Jets stink, as we expected. Fifteen more losses to go, and we get the No. 1 pick in the draft!
— The Giants might stink, which is unexpected.
— The Houston Texans hosting a home game two weeks after the worst storm in the history of the city seems crazy to me. Although this story makes me think maybe it was a necessary distraction for the city.
— Tom Brady lost at home. Always noteworthy and always puts a smile on my face.
— I can’t remember an NFL season where I was less excited for opening day. Lot of possible reasons why, but I was really just not into it.
— There are a lot of shitty, shitty quarterbacks in the NFL. Methinks Colin Kaepernick won’t be unemployed all season.

A kid gets baptized inside the Stanley Cup and it’s great. Darci Lynne slays me again on “America’s Got Talent.” And Federer vs. Nadal at the Open, so close I can taste it!

We begin today with a hockey story, because it was 88 degrees here in New York City Tuesday so of course we’re all thinking about things played on ice.

As sports fans know, one of the awesome perks of being on a team that wins the Stanley Cup is that in the offseason following the win, each player gets to take the Cup for a day, to do with it whatever they want.

There has been some adventures with the Cup, including rumors that the 1994 New York Rangers did some, let’s say, R-rated things with it. But for most creative Stanley Cup experience, let us pause and honor Pittsburgh Penguins forward Josh Archibald, who along with his wife Bailey baptized their three-week-old son Brecken in the beautiful silver chalice.

You think that kid will be telling that story for the rest of his life, or what?  No truth to the rumor that after lying in the Cup for a few seconds, Brecken got out and started skating immediately.

**Next up today, yes I know I’ve featured the amazing 12-year-old ventriloquist from Oklahoma, Darci Lynne, a few times on here before, but I can’t help it, the kid is freaking amazing.

“America’s Got Talent” held their first semifinal Tuesday night and America’s Sweetheart (yeah I’m calling her that) brought out a new puppet to sing an Aretha Franklin classic to Simon Cowell. It was, as usual, all kinds of awesome.

**Finally today, I’m afraid to jinx it. It’s almost happened so many times, we thought it was going to happen, then it didn’t happen, and we’re all disappointed.
No, I’m not talking about Kim Kardashian going away forever, or me growing to be 6 feet tall.

I’m talking about Roger Federer playing Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open, the one major venue in the sport that they’ve never met. It’s really improbable that they’ve never played here, because they’ve both been at or near the top of tennis for so long.

But it’s never happened, and now, tantalizingly, it’s one match away, and me and millions of other tennis fans are hoping/praying it happens. At this thoroughly weird and wonderful U.S. Open (seriously, it’s been very strange, and that was before Sloane Stephens fell off her chair trying to avoid a fly at her press conference Tuesday (fast forward to the 11:50 mark, it’s pretty damn funny), Nadal plays outstanding youngster Andrey Rublev Wednesday afternoon, then Federer plays Juan Martin Del Potro on Wednesday night. If they both win, they play each other Friday night, and man won’t the ticket scalpers be happy that night.

Come on fellas, three more sets each and we finally, finally get a showdown on the biggest court in the world. Fingers crossed.

With so much oxygen sucked up over Trump, let’s not forget the health care debacle GOP is trying to pull. The most incredible in-game promotion race you’ll ever see at the ballpark. And Nadal and Ostapenko amaze at Roland Garros

The drumbeat is unceasing, hour after hour, day after day. There is so much coverage, in print, on the Internet, on the radio and TV, of the latest stupid thing President Donald Trump has said, or done, or threatened to do, that it overwhelms you.

You spend so much time trying not to laugh when one of his own sons contradicts what the President has said about to James Comey, or when you read that this egomaniac lunatic in the Oval Office actually demanded GOP House members go on TV to defend him after the Comey testimony, or that someone who blasted Obama for always playing golf has spent every weekend of his Presidency on the links.

My point is, the Orange Cheeto-man sucks up so much oxygen, it’s so easy to get lost in his drama, and forget the real, sinister things going on in the Senate right now. Especially when it comes to health care.

As you read this, Mitch McConnell and his merry band are planning to ram through new health care legislation that will cost millions their health insurance, and give huge breaks to corporations. This bill is being crafted in secret, by a handful of men, without any hearings, discussions, budget analysis, or amendments. It is the complete opposite, in every way, of the ObamaCare process, which took more than a year to complete, and was packed with GOP-favored amendments. (Go ahead and disagree, GOP, with this plea from Sen. Claire McCaskill.)

But you’re not hearing nearly as much as you should about this horrendous miscarriage of justice, but everything is Trump, Trump, Trump. It is one of many, many unfortunate results of the 2016 election, that so much nefariousness is going on in the Oval that lots of other deleterious changes are happening while few are paying full attention.

Here’s an ad the Democratic Senate Committee has put out, that ought to shock people into action:

It is a disgrace that a health care bill that will affect so many millions, is only discussed in secret.

For shame.

**And now, maybe the funniest in-game baseball promotion ever. So the Atlanta Braves are terrible once again this season, in their first year in a new stadium, but they’ve got one awesome contest. They’ve come up with this gimmick called “Beat the Freeze,” and it goes like this: “The Freeze” is a former college sprinter from Iowa Wesleyan College, and every game he races a fan. The fan gets a huge head start, then “The Freeze”tries to catch him.

This is what happened Friday night, and it’s one of the greatest athletic feats you’ll ever see. The expression on the fan’s face when he realizes “The Freeze” has caught up to him is freaking priceless. So, so great. Hope it gives you a Monday laugh.

**And finally, the French Open concluded over the weekend with one wholly expected result, and one shocker.

The expected was, of course, the incomparable Rafael Nadal, utterly destroying the competition on his way to a Grand Slam. There’s a lot of numbers I could throw at you about how dominant Rafa was in winning his record 10th (10!) French Open titles, but try this one on for size: In the semifinals Nadal played the No. 6 player in the world and the No. 3 player in the world. In six sets, he lost a total of 13 games. That. Is. Insane. Even for Nadal, who has been winning on clay forever.

As the great Jon Wertheim pointed out, imagine at the start of 2017 someone told you Federer and Nadal would win the first 2 Slams, most of the major events in between, and be the two best players of the year so far. You’d have probably told them to lay off the drugs. But here we are, going into what should be an awesome Wimbledon in a few weeks.

The big shock at Roland Garros was Jelena Ostapenko, a 20-year-old Latvian who was still a teenager when the tournament started. She was ranked 47th in the world coming in, but slugged and shrieked her way to the title. An amazing accomplishment, because you almost never seen players this young win majors anymore (the sport has become too physical for younger players to win seven matches over two weeks).

 

Some thoughts after a crazy awesome week at U.S. Open. A picture unlike any I’ve ever seen. And why I think about Jerry Lewis every Labor Day

USOpen.LaborDayblog

Happy Labor Day, my fellow Americans (and if you’re reading this somewhere else, happy Monday).

I’ve had an amazing week at the U.S. Open, once again freelancing for multiple newspapers and websites, earning some scratch while also watching fantastic tennis.

I’ve walked more steps than even my FitBit cared to count, spent hours in the sun (yes Mom, I lathered on the sunscreen) and saw some amazing stuff. Won’t bore you with all the tennis greatness, but definitely wanted to share a few sights, sounds and smells I was lucky enough to experience.

I am so damn fortunate.

— So I have to lead off with the highlight of my journalism year, or maybe the decade: The greatest tennis player of all time (non-Federer division) is Australian Rod Laver, who dominated tennis in the 1960s. He’s also famous for being one of the nicest people ever. I stumbled upon a note in the U.S. Open program Sunday that “Rocket” Rod was doing an autograph signing of his new book in the Open bookstore at 4 p.m.

Now, there was no indication he’d be doing any press, just a simple meet and greet for anyone who wanted to buy his book. And I had no specific story I was working on that needed quotes from him.

But I mean, COME ON, it’s Rod freaking Laver! I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. So I schmoozed his publicist who was standing three feet away from the stack of books and the line of people waiting to meet Laver, told her I just needed five minutes, and then waited an hour until he was free. I knelt next to him, asked a few fairly relevant questions about young players he’s liked and the Aussies and racket technology and like Elaine when she first talked to John F. Kennedy Jr. on “Seinfeld,” all I could keep thinking was “I’m talking to Rod Laver!”

Interview was over, I shook his hand, walked away, and smiled for 20 minutes. After so many years as a journalist, I never get starstruck, but this was awesome.

— So you sit next to all kinds of people at the U.S. Open, and some of them are really, really clueless. On successive days last week I had someone ask me if I was Australian because I had an Australian accent, and someone else started speaking Polish to me because he thought I was Polish.

— Silliest thing in all of tennis: Player wins a point because a shot hit the net and barely trickled over, and the opponent was way back at the baseline and therefore can’t get there in time. The player who won the point holds up his/her racket and hand to say “Sorry.”

In what other sport does luck get apologized for? Does an NBA player who accidentally banks in a 3-pointer apologize? How about a wide receiver in football who catches the ball that deflects off a defender?
So silly that this still goes on in tennis.

–I know he lost in heartbreaking fashion on Sunday, but Rafael Nadal hit the shot of the tournament the other night. This is just ridiculous.

— Saw at least three women wearing leather skirts and carrying Hermes bags around the grounds. Really people, this is what you wear to a tennis match?

–Finally, it was very cool getting to see the making of a new star up close. Two weeks ago I’d never met Jared Donaldson, the 19-year-old pride of Rhode Island. Then I covered his qualifying matches, interviewed him a bunch of times, met his dad and agent and sister, wrote four stories about him, and seen the best week of his life as he reached the 3rd round. He’s a smart, kind kid who was off the radar screen for a while, but no longer ignored in the tennis world.

Suddenly, he’s a little more famous, and likely will be a lot more famous. Very cool to be there at his “coming out party.”

helmetpopper.photo

**Next up today, I thought I’d seen pretty much every kind of football photo there is. But this picture from the Dallas Morning News photographer Jae Lee, during a high school game last Friday, is unlike anything ever.

The offensive lineman’s helmet coming off and Lee snapping the picture at exactly the right moment makes it looks like there’s a ghost player protecting the quarterback.

How cool is that picture?

** And finally today, on this Labor Day spare a thought for Jerry Lewis, who is still going strong at age 90. If you’re like me, you remember the more than three decades Lewis spent doing the Muscular Dystrophy telethon every year on Labor Day.

Say what you want about Lewis (and the ignoble way the telethon streak ended, with he and the MDA parting on ugly terms), but he raised millions and millions of dollars for a worthy cause, and spotlighted a problem few others were talking about.

Just a little clip to remind that beyond the jokes, those telethons did a lot of good for a lot of people.

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

Aliphoto.Leifer

“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.

djokovic.rolandgarros

**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.

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.

Rafael Nadal, King of Clay and pretty much unbeatable. Jonah Hill with a legit celebrity apology. And the Rangers, down but (maybe) not out

Nadal.FrenchOpen

One of the reasons I love sports so much is that it gives you a front-row seat to greatness on a regular basis.

LeBron James, Sunday night for the Miami Heat, was incredible. But he was only the second-most dominant athlete performing Sunday, because as has become as reliable as death, taxes and the GOP Republicans in Congress trying to repeal Obamacare, Rafael Nadal won the French Open, fairly easily.

This is the ninth French Open win for Nadal. Let me say that again: He was won NINE titles at Roland Garros, an absurd number for a guy still in his prime.
He’s as unbeatable on that court as any athete in an individual sport has ever been. Did Nicklaus or Tiger ever win nine Masters tournaments? No. Did Michael Phelps win nine 100-meter Olympic butterflys? Nope. You could throw any boxer, track sprinter or anyone else you want at me, and they won’t measure up to Nadal on Court Phillipe Chartrier in Paris in June.

What’s a little scary for the rest of the tennis world is that Nadal didn’t even play all that well for a while against Novak Djokovic Sunday. Djokovic took the first set and was right there at 5-all in the second, before Rafa turned it up a notch, and didn’t look back.

I was fooled once again, as I have many times before, in thinking this would be the year the Djoker finally toppled Nadal at the French. But nope, he couldn’t get it done, partly due to feeling ill during the match (and hey, NBC, did we really need the super-slo-mo look of Djokovic vomiting on the court? I know I didn’t).

Nadal is an incredible specimen, a marvelous sportsman, and a guy who is creeping up ever-so-closer to catching Roger Federer for G.O.A.T. and in Grand Slam titles won (it’s now 17-14 Roger).

It’s a privilege to watch him work.

**I’ve heard thousands of celebrity “apologies” in my lifetime, and 99 percent of them come off as incredibly fake and insincere. Most of them are written for the celeb in trouble by an agent or P.R. person, and rarely do the words “I’m sorry” or “It was my fault” get uttered by the famous person.

Which is why this apology, by Jonah Hill on the Jimmy Fallon show the other night, was so refreshing. You can tell in his face how upset he is at what he did; I’m not a huge fan of his movies in general, but I’m a big fan of his character as a person now.

Good job.

**So, the Rangers did everything they could Saturday night to give me both a heart attack and send me jumping through the roof with joy, and then after nearly five periods of incredibly intense hockey, they made me collapse on the couch, mad, tired and wondering why the L.A. Kings needed the referees’ help.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: The Rangers did plenty to dig themselves the 0-2 hole they’re in right now in the Stanley Cup Final. They turned the puck over way too much Saturday, they failed to take advantage of several fantastic opportunities to win in OT (Chris Kreider, you gotta bury that breakaway!), and look, the Kings are really, really good and punished the Rangers’ defensemen much of the night.

But come on… that third goal by the Kings was such utter and complete B.S., it was clearly goalie interference, 100 times out of 100 they’ve called that this year in the NHL. I mean, look at this replay of the goal, starting at the :38 mark:

When I tell you that SO much less contact than that has been called interference all season in the NHL, and for that not to be called, a game-turning, and maybe Stanley Cup-final turning, goal, was absolutely bogus.

And listen, I never complain about officiating, in any sport. All calls eventually even out, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve come away from a game bitching about the zebras. But that was an awful non-call.

Anyway, it’s done, Rangers are down 2-0, and must, must, must win tonight. For inspiration, I will watch the as always superb CBC Stanley Cup montages, like the one above. Nobody does these videos better than them… Let’s Go Rangers!

Rafael Nadal wins a scintillating U.S. Open final. Photos from a new school year. And “Boardwalk Empire” is back, with too many people on the boardwalk

Nadal.USOPEN

I have been denying that Rafael Nadal is the greatest tennis player of all time for years now.
I have been saying that Roger Federer won more, more consistently, on different surfaces and against different opponents. Federer is, in my mind, the G.O.A.T., and will always be.
But I’m starting to crack a little. Because this Nadal kid just continues to amaze. Less than a year after being out of the sport with another knee injury, he has roared back and won another U.S. Open on Monday, in four compelling and high-quality sets over Novak Djokovic. The second and third sets featured as brilliant and high-level tennis as you’re likely to see, including this phenomenal 54-shot rally that you really must see if you haven’t.

Nadal looked headed for defeat, down 3-1 in the third set, yet his will, his unbending will, prevailed. He is so strong, so consistent, and so powerful that if he is somehow able to stay healthy, I now think he’ll go down as the greatest of all time, because if he stays healthy he’ll pass Federer in Slam titles (17-13 right now for Fed).
Which is really hard for me to admit as a Federer fan.
Couple quick-hit thoughts on the match:

— Don’t let the score fool you; Djokovic played very well for long stretches. But his will was broken by Nadal after the Serb lost that third set; his mental toughness was unparalleled just two years ago, when he crushed Nadal and all other comers. Now? I’m wondering if his confidence is gone.
— Nadal never looks tired. Ever. Even after epic rallies, he seems ready to go a few more rounds. He said it best after the match, that only Djokovic can bring out this level in him. And the two have played some epic matches over the years; we’re so fortunate that they have each other as foils.

— Mary Carillo, as usual, was fantastic in the CBS commentary booth, even though as usual John McEnroe wouldn’t shut the hell up, even for a second, to let the match breathe. Carillo’s best comment? She said Nadal was a part of the best matches she’s ever seen on a hardcourt (his 2012 six-hour epic loss to Djokovic), on grass (his 2008 Wimbledon win over Fed, the greatest match ever played), and on clay (this year’s 5-set triumph over Djokovic in the semis).
That’s pretty high praise coming from a lifetime tennis-watcher like Carillo.

— Loved how into it the New York crowd was. Don’t love a 5 p.m. Monday start for a championship final. But I am glad the Open gave these guys a day off between the semis and final; it made for so much better tennis.

bigpicture.schools

**So Monday was the first day of school in New York City; I know most of you around the country have had your kids back in school for a while now.
Looks like I’ll be doing the substitute teacher thing again this year, as I wasn’t able to land a full-time classroom position. Which of course means, for all of you, more crazy stories from my professional life of herding teenagers in small rooms.

To celebrate the new school year, the awesome photo site on Boston.com, the Big Picture, has photos of what school looks like from around the world.

Definitely some eye-opening pictures there; the one above is from a school in Japan (I love the half-asleep girl with her hand up).

BoardwalkEmpire

**Finally today, one of my favorite shows is back, Part 2. “Boardwalk Empire” started its fourth season Sunday night, and as much as I like the show and am happy it’s back, I don’t understand why they keep adding new cast members. (SPOILER ALERT. STOP READING IF YOU’RE A FAN AND HAVEN’T SEEN THE PREMIERE YET.)

The show has so many supporting players who aren’t used enough, including Al Capone (who was hilarious and crazy as usual Sunday), Arnold Rothstein, and Chalky White, that I don’t know why they keep insisting on adding new actors and actresses. I’m not really interested in Gillian and her whorehouse anymore, although apparently she’s still a big character.  The only new character who seems intriguing is the young FBI agent, Knox, who beautifully set up his partner to be killed so Knox could keep a bootlegger’s liquor.

Still, there were good signs on Sunday. I like that Nucky is getting back into business with Chalky, and I like that he threw out that floozy who was just using him to become a star. I also think Al Capone is just about ready to overthrow Torrio in Chicago, and that should be fun to watch.
And Richard Harrow’s killing spree? Always a good time.

For all its flaws, “Boardwalk Empire” is still beautiful to watch, and beautifully acted. I just wish they would focus on the characters they already have.

The brilliance of Rafael Nadal. Alyssa Milano makes a great spoof sex tape. And the most helpful criminal this year

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A Happy Rosh Hashanah to all my fellow Jews in the world; spent part of Wednesday night in synagogue where I once again pretended to know the words to prayers others were saying around them, then hugged total strangers and wished them a Happy New Year. Ah, tradition.

Between 2004-2008, Roger Federer played the most sublime tennis anyone had ever seen.
This summer, Rafael Nadal is getting damn, damn close to that level.
Nadal destroyed yet another opponent Wednesday night at the U.S. Open, allowing poor Tommy Robredo only four games over three sets.
Now, Robredo is one of the 20 best players in the world, and Monday he took apart Federer in straight sets with brilliant tennis.
And yet Wednesday, it was like Nadal was playing with a racquet and Robredo with a teaspoon. Nadal crushed his forehands, placed every serve where he wanted to, and showed exquisite touch at net. He was dominating in a way he hasn’t dominated at the Open before, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

It sounds crazy to say about a guy who’s won 12 Slams already, but he may be playing better than he ever has. Certainly better than ever on hardcourts.

He and Novak Djokovic are on a collision course to meet in Monday’s final; Novak hasn’t had a speed bump yet either.
They played some epic matches in 2010 and ’11; would love to see them resume their rivalry.
Not sure anyone could beat Rafa the way he’s playing right now.

**Next up, the tale of a criminal who just couldn’t help being helpful, even when it was going to get him in more trouble.

Forrest Lee Ames (a great name) was arrested in Fort Pierce, Fla. on a charge of crack cocaine possession last week, and while he was sitting in the back of the patrol car, he watched as the office began weighing his crack.

But instead of just staying quiet and watching, ole’ Forrest tried to lend a hand. According to the police officer, “Ames yelled from the back of my patrol car that I was doing it wrong. He told me that I needed to press the scale button to grams.”

Ames then explained that he knows this because “It’s what he does for a living.”

Always nice when one professional can help another, isn’t it?

**And finally today, the still beautiful and funny Alyssa Milano decided to fight back against the recent celebrity trend of sex tapes, by leaking one of her own.

OK, it’s actually a Funny or Die spoof, and it’s hilarious. Make sure you keep watching through the first minute to get a great surprise.