Tag Archives: Roger Federer

Everybody into the pool! I give you some tips on winning your NCAA March Madness bracket. Federer gets “interrogated” by 50 kid reporters. And SNL with a pretty fantastic sketch on Ivanka Trump

Sing it with me now! It’s, the most wonderful time, of the year…

At least for me it is. After I just spent five amazing days at Barclays Center in Brooklyn last week covering the ACC basketball tournament (something I last covered in 2000), I am wiped out but incredibly excited for March Madness. (More on my strange back-in-time week as a sportswriter, including when I ran into Chris Christie twice and nearly got bulldozed by Notre Dame star Bonzie Colson in a hallway, in Wednesday’s post.)

Sunday night we learned who’s playing who, when, and where, and I have to say, usually on these nights I’m bitching and moaning about the selection committee snubbing a team badly, or drastically over or under-seeding somebody. But this year, I think the committee did a real good job. Wichita State and Wisconsin got jobbed, both should’ve been at least a 6 or 7 seed, and I can’t understand how a good Wake Forest team was made to play in the play-in game, but those are minor quibbles.

I know a majority of you are going to be filling out office pools this week, and you want to know which upsets to pick, who’s going to the Final Four, and all that stuff. So as I do every year, I am here to guide you, my fine reader. Last year’s opening rounds were insane (remember this shot from Northern Iowa?), so don’t expect nearly as much drama this time.

But we can hope.

Couple quick thoughts on the bracket; not ready to pick my Final Four yet, that’ll be Wednesday.

— OK, right off the bat a few upsets I like: UNC-Wilmington, a 12 seed in the East, to beat Virginia. UVA has really struggled lately and the Seahawks can really shoot. I could see No. 13 Bucknell beating No. 4 West Virginia (I always pick against Bob Huggins teams), No. 12 Middle Tennessee State (who shocked Michigan State last season) beating Minnesota, and maybe, maybe, No. 13 Florida Gulf Coast over No. 4 Florida. Also don’t be stunned if No. 14 Iona beats Oregon, or Winthrop beats Butler.

— As always, some tantalizing possible second-round matchups: Kentucky vs. Wichita State in a rematch from three years ago, when the Wildcats eliminated the then-undefeated Shockers; Duke-Marquette (Coach K vs. his old player, Steve Wojciechowski), and Louisville vs. Michigan. The loaded South bracket could give us Kentucky vs. UCLA in the Sweet 16 (think that might get some decent ratings), Arizona-Florida State in the Sweet 16 in the West would be tremendous, and a Kentucky-North Carolina Elite 8 game looms huge.

— Someone on the committee really, really hates Kansas. The Jayhawks got a brutally tough bracket, stuffed with No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 Purdue, and a second-round game with either Miami or Michigan State. I don’t see the Jayhawks surviving all that.

–Meanwhile, my Duke boys, fresh off an improbable ACC Tournament championship, got a real nice draw. They could face old friend Steve Wojciechowski in Round 2, and Baylor in the Sweet 16, but really, Duke should get to the Elite 8 at least, where they’d play defending national champion Villanova. That would be sensational.

The madness begins in just a few days. Can’t wait!

**Next up today, any chance I get to show Roger Federer being awesome, and super-humble, I’m going to take it. The greatest tennis player of all time is in Indian Wells, Calif. this week for a pretty major tournament, and as part of promoting the event he did a “press conference” with 50 local 2nd-graders. It’s pretty hilarious and adorable, especially the end.

As the great Jon Wertheim said on Twitter, you can’t fake this level of engagement. What a great, fun little few minutes this is to watch.

And finally today, I haven’t seen “SNL” in a few weeks but they’re still turning out great, slightly subversive material. Over the weekend they did a fake commercial on Ivanka Trump called “Complicit,” and it’s pretty fabulous. The tagline, delivered with about 20 seconds left, is devastating.

Anger, joy, sadness: So many thoughts from another Trump-ruined weekend. A Monty Python video to make you laugh. And an epic Aussie Open ends with Federer and Serena on top

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I really don’t even know where to begin.

Since Friday afternoon, when the current leader of our country signed an incredibly cruel, stupid and inhumane executive order barring citizens from seven nations from entering the U.S., and also inexplicably banned legal residents with green cards, until Sunday night, when I beamed with pride looking at all of the protests (and one big ACLU legal victory) across America at what that president has done, I’ve had so many emotions and thoughts running through me.

Fear. Anger. Sadness. Pure joy (that’s when I was watching the Australian Open tennis, more on that later). Frustration.

I don’t know how coherent any of this is in my head right now, but the only way I think I can try to be semi-intelligent on this is through some bullet-points thoughts.

So here goes, on yet another almost-unprecedented weekend (I’m imagining this is a little bit like what the mid-1960s felt like, and not I’m not equating the two eras .. yet)

— The first thing I could not get over Friday was how fast this executive order from the White House was implemented and had its effect. Do you realize that government never, ever works this fast? I mean, it takes days, weeks, months to get anything done, whether it’s legislation, or just a trip to the DMV. Yet somehow at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday the President signs a piece of paper and suddenly the entire federal government apparatus at airports and other border checkpoints springs to life and begins detaining anyone from those nations on Trump’s order, as well as legal green-card residents trying to get back into the country.

The speed and power of how this happened should frighten the hell out of any American.
One other quick point: I see lots of people calling this a “Muslim ban.” Trump is not banning ALL Muslims from entering the U.S. It’s not a Muslim ban. No need to make it worse than it is when it’s already terrible.
Besides, the full “Muslim ban” is probably still ahead of us from Trump.

— One of the many unbelievable parts of the executive order was that legal green-card U.S. residents were detained, including 88 and 83-year-old Iranian green card holders who were detained for 17 hours at the airport. You have a new administration refusing to allow people who are LEGALLY allowed to be in America access. It took 48 hours but the Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly, said Friday night that green-card holders should be allowed back in.

Wow, what a hell of a compassionate stance. Put him up for sainthood.

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— Two quick facts that help to illustrate how ridiculous Trump and Bannon’s “this will keep us safe from terrorism” bullshit is:

1. It’s worth noting that South Carolina born terrorists killed more Americans on US soil in last decade than terrorists from the 7 named countries.

2. There have been 3.2 million refugees admitted to the U.S. since 1975. 0.00062% of them committed terrorist acts, killing a total of three Americans.

So, you know, those are my “alternative facts.”

— The airport protests were fantastic, all across the country, Americans coming together to protest the grotesque and inhumane treatment refugees were receiving, and protesting that so many people here legally (there’s that pesky word again). I loved the passion, the chanting, the sheer “we can’t let them get away with this” attitude.

I wonder if this is what it’s going to be like for a while, every week a new Trump administration atrocity, and every week new protests.  As an anonymous Twitter person said Sunday: “If you’re looking for something to invest in during the Trump presidency, I think the poster board market is going to hold up pretty well.”

— So oh yeah, while everyone was rightfully pissed at the executive order, two other huge and awful things happened from the White House. First, and this is pretty inexplicable, the White House didn’t mention Jews in their statement commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day because, and I quote spokeswoman Hope Hicks here, “because we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all those who suffered.”

Wow. I mean… wow. Six million Jews killed, and you don’t mention them on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Shameful. The other huge deal that is getting less attention is that Stephen Bannon, the white supremicist (sorry, “nationalist”) who is basically running the White House has been named to the National Security Council while two other high-ranking security officials are told they can only go to some meetings. This is unprecedented, and wildly dangerous. For why, read this and get chills.

–Finally, I don’t ever wanna hear a Republican talk about a Democratic president overreaching, ever again in my life. That was the one of their huge complaints about Obama. Go ahead and tell me how Trump/Bannon aren’t acting like dictators right about now.

**And now, because I think we ALL need something completely pointless and hysterical today, I give you my favorite Monty Python sketch ever, the iconic “Black Knight.” I’ve seen it 100 times, still makes me laugh every time. “OK, we’ll call it a draw then.”

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**Finally today, this weekend’s Australian Open finals, as I alluded to earlier, brought me much joy. Sure, I was rooting for older sister Venus to beat Serena on Saturday morning in the women’s final, but it was a competitive match and hey, Serena is an incredible player and as I’ve said before, clearly now the greatest female to ever play this sport.

Sunday morning, my goodness, what a match. I don’t want to gush on too long about the great Roger Federer because this post is super-long already, but what a tremendous show he and Rafael Nadal, his greatest rival, put on. Five sets, back and forth, one of their best matches ever, plot twists aplenty in the fifth set, Federer getting down 3-1 and me getting pretty upset as I paced the room… and then somehow the Swiss master found a way.

The greatest men’s player ever won five straight games over as good a competitor as the sport has right now. Somehow, despite being 35, coming off a six-month layoff and being deep in the fifth set, Federer pulled it out.

There’s so much about him to admire, but how about this quote from Federer: “Tennis is a tough sport and we don’t have draws but if I could have shared it today with Rafa I would have taken a draw.
“Keep playing Rafa, please. Tennis needs you. Thank you for everything you do.”

We are so, so fortunate to be tennis fans in this age of Federer and Nadal, two supreme sportsmen who have a wonderful rivalry and are both thoroughly decent human beings.

Eighteen Grand Slam singles titles for Roger Federer. What a champion.

“Fences” was fabulous, and hey, the Oscars aren’t so white this year! Aziz Ansari really brought it on “SNL.” And Roger Federer turning back the clock at Aussie Open

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I love, love, love movies that are beautifully written, with monologues that go on for minutes, acted out by thespians who are at the top of their craft, with a cast that is as good as they are.

Sitting in a movie theater while a screen legend brings the fire, the pain, the heart, and the love, using words that were written by master craftsmen, just inspires me so much.

I felt that way when I sat mesmerized in a theater last week by “Fences,” the new movie Denzel Washington and Viola Davis burned through the screen in. Based on a Pulitzer-Prize winning play by August Wilson, “Fences” tells us a simple story of a married couple in 1950s Pittsburgh, with Denzel’s Troy character the hero of his own world as a garbageman still bitter about not getting the chance to play baseball in the major leagues. He’s a flawed man raging at slights, real and imagined, but he’s trying to do his best by his family and his son.

Denzel is phenomenal in this role, especially in the scenes where he’s just riffing to his buddies and his wife. Oh yeah, that wife is played by the fantastic Viola Davis, who more than holds her own as Rose, Troy’s long-suffering wife who indulges his crazy talk because she knows he’s, deep down, a good man.

Until we learn, maybe he isn’t. Davis lights up when she finally gets a chance at a few good monologues of her own, tearing into Troy as she asserts herself for the strong, independent woman she is.

The supporting cast is great, too, especially Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s brother, who suffered a serious head injury in World War II and has been radically altered in more ways than one.

“Fences” is terrific filmmaking, which is why I’m thrilled it got nominated for Best Picture on Tuesday, with Davis and Washington deservedly getting acting nods as well.

Oh yeah, the Oscars nominations came out Tuesday! And some non-white people got picked in the big categories, whoo-hoo! After two years of the Oscar picks being paler than a Trump rally, we got some welcome change.

All kinds of people of color are up this year, including Washington, Davis, Dev Patel for “Lion” and director Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight.”

We’ll see if any of these people actually win, but hey, at least you gotta give the Academy credit for finally realizing that non-white people occasionally do good stuff.

**Next up, I wrote here last year about my newfound appreciation for Aziz Ansari, who created and starred in the Netflix show “Masters of None,” which ought to be coming back for Season 2 soon.

Ansari is also a fabulous stand-up comic, and over the weekend he did a really strong opening monologue (apparently that’s the word of the day here at Wide World of Stuff) on “Saturday Night Live.”

Stay through to the end, that’s the best part.

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**And finally today, it’s feeling an awful lot like 2006 at the Australian Open, and it’s so great.

Venus Williams, age 36, making one hell of a resurgent run and reaching the semifinals, where she’s one win away from probably playing her sister Serena in the finals (wouldn’t that be something?)

And my man Roger Federer, given up for dead in terms of him ever winning another major, just two wins away from Slam title No. 18 in his first major tournament since missing six months with a knee injury last year.

Federer is playing out-of-his-mind right now, hitting winners and moving about the court like a guy who’s 25, not 35. He has to play Stan Wawrinka in the semis, which will be no cakewalk, and then maybe, could it be… Rafa Nadal in the finals?

The tennis Gods have been so good to us the last 10 years or so. Is it too much to ask for one final Williams-Williams championship match, followed a day later by one more Federer-Nadal match? I mean, come ON tennis Gods, we’re stuck with President Trump, can’t we at least get this?

Jason Gay at the Wall Street Journal has a fabulous article up on the Federer resurgence, and what so many of us tennis fans are feeling right now.

Thoughts on a glorious 2 days at Wimbledon, where crowds are deathly quiet and the champagne flows

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And a Happy 4th of July to all of you there in Web-land! Hope everyone has a safe and fun holiday (and that means no fireworks for you, Jason Pierre-Paul).

My apologies for not having a post up last Friday; I fully intended to write about my incredible adventures at Wimbledon on that day, but I caught some sort of cold/sinus/virus thingy on the plane home from England and had no energy for a couple of days.

However, thanks to the power of Advil Cold & Sinus and some hot tea, I’m feeling much better and ready to try to put into words the wonderful, strange, and dream-fulfilling trip.

— It’s not often in life that something you build up in your mind for decades ends up being as great as you hoped. But Wimbledon absolutely was. As my friend and SI writer Jon Wertheim has written, nobody ever comes to Wimbledon for the first time and comes home and says “Meh. Wasn’t so great.” From the historic grounds of the All England Club, to the friendly British ushers/fans/security people, to the fabulous tennis we watched, the two days my wife and I spent at Wimbledon last Monday and Tuesday will go down as some of the best of my life.

— OK, so some details. First off, the most immediate and striking difference from Wimbledon to the U.S. Open or any other sporting event I’ve been to in America? The quiet. The absolute, library-like silence in the stands even after a great shot or exciting point. I’m telling you, it’s three or four seconds of polite applause, nobody says anything, then you could hear a pin drop.

No lie, I must have gotten a dozen dirty looks over the course of two days just for saying things like “Way to go, Venus!” or “Great shot, Dennis!” in a normal tone of voice. The British tennis fans simply do not like exhortations.

— On the other hand, the other thing that struck me most about watching Wimbledon live was that on multiple courts, we saw fans drinking and pouring Champagne out of full-sized, glass bottles. Like it was no big deal; I asked someone about it and they told me it’s basically encouraged. “It’s a British thing and a Wimbledon thing,” she said matter-of-factly.

I cannot even imagine any American sporting event allowing glass Champagne bottles to be brought in. So odd.

— The jokes write themselves when it comes to British food, but it actually wasn’t that bad. We are, I think, legally required to eat the strawberries and cream while at Wimbledon, and they were decent. The rest of the food was typical middling British fare, but we had a great dinner at a Lebanese restaurant one night that was very different than what we’re used to.

— Much less seating on the outdoor courts at Wimbledon than at U.S. Open; we stood a lot of the time, even on matches that it would seem few cared about. The upshot of that is that you’re often standing a few feet away from a player’s girlfriend or coach. Makes for great eaves-dropping.

–Two major highlights stood out from the two days: First, we didn’t have Centre Court tickets for Monday but Roger Federer, my all-time tennis idol, was playing on that cathedral of the sport at the end of the day. So even though the way you’re “supposed” to get onto Centre Court if you don’t have tickets is to go to the window and buy “returned” CC tickets after 5 p.m. that day, we did it the unauthorized way: Basically we stood outside a gate and as people walked out, begged them for their tickets if they were leaving. Two nice folks gave my wife and I their seats, and for one glorious set and a half, I got to watch Federer on Centre Court.

Imagine watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, or the Beatles at Shea Stadium. That’s what it felt like.

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— The second highlight was what happens when you push your luck just a little bit. After the rains came Tuesday around 5, lots of fans left and there were plenty seats close to Centre Court. Our CC tickets were for a pretty high section, but we had made a friend with amazing 2nd row CC seats and I asked if we could try to sneak down there with her. At the gate entrance I of course started schmoozing the nice female security guard, threw every reason I had as to why she should let us sit there for a pretty un-exciting match (Coco Vandeweghe vs. Kateryna Bondarenko), and finally she relented.

So for an hour this was our view (above) for tennis. It was … breathtaking being that close to world-class tennis on the greatest court in the world. I was praying for a three-setter but alas, we only got two.

— Other different vibe from U.S. Open: Way more ushers/security guards here, less seating on outside courts, fewer lines to get into matches on outside courts

— grass court tennis is wild; the ball stays so low, skids and goes very fast, players have to be fast to scoop ball off shoe-tops

— Not Wimbledon but still cool: My favorite new thing I saw in London was in a bathroom near the London Eye tourist wheel thingie: It was a water faucet that also doubled as a hand dryer. The whole hand-cleaning and drying process all in one spot! I get excited by things like this.

— We picked one hell of a week to be across the pond, when it comes to news. I arrived two days after the shocking Brexit vote (and I highly recommend John Oliver’s take on it.) , and then while we were there the English national team lost to Iceland (Iceland!) in soccer.

Honestly, reading the London tabloids I’m not sure which calamity was more painful. Man, the English athletes get killed 100 times worse in the press than American athletes do. U.S. stars have no idea how easy they have it. My favorite story included “The 23 members of the English soccer team, having made complete asses of themselves earlier that night, flew home to Heathrow Airport…”

And they only lost 2-1! Imagine if they’d lost 6-0, I think they might not be allowed back in the country.

Alex Rodriguez and Tiger Woods, you should thank your lucky stars you weren’t born in the U.K.

 

 

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.

Fourteen years ago, the world changed. Ellen DeGeneres helps out an awesome educator. And Roger Federer saves an autograph-seeking boy from being crushed

It is Friday, which usually means only good news stories on this site. But it is, of course, also 9/11 today, and I would be pretty heartless to ignore that fact.

It’s been fourteen years since the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by planes, a fact that doesn’t get any less surreal or scary by the passage of time.

As always, I watched the above video last night to remember and think about 9/11; I couldn’t find the original version, by Jason Powers, to embed, but this one is pretty good as well.

Please take a few minutes today to listen to the roll call of names being read in New York, or think about someone who died that day (like Tyler Ugolyn), or think about a visit to the 9/11 Memorial site the next time you’re here in N.Y.

Fourteen years. Never forget.

**Moving on, two videos that I hope will make you as happy as they made me. Ellen DeGeneres’ show came back on the air for a new season this week, and I very much enjoyed Pink’s performance and interview on Thursday (Pink totally rules, and I will not accept any other opinion.)

Ellen always makes people feel good, and for some reason I must’ve missed this awesome clip from last spring. Sonya Romero, an incredibly dedicated teacher in New Mexico, was on Ellen’s show explaining how much she does for her students, and Ellen and Co. decided to give something back.

This is beautiful, even Ellen cries…

**And finally, I’ll be at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center today, getting a thrill of a lifetime watching the men’s semifinals at the U.S. Open at Arthur Ashe Stadium (a fantastic birthday present from my wife).

Happily, Roger Federer, maybe my all-time favorite athlete, will be playing. I love Federer for so many reasons, but certainly for stuff like this.

After his match the other night there was a crush of people trying to get his autograph, and a little boy was getting smushed.

So Fed did this…

Go Fed. Two more wins and Slam No. 18 awaits…

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.

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

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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.

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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.

Good News Friday: A high school hoops team tells its fans to root for the other team, in an awesome gesture. A Chicago Blackhawk makes a blind girl’s dream come true. And stop the presses: I say nice things about a U. of Kentucky basketball player

And a Happy Friday to you all, it’s my favorite sports time of year, March Madness is around the corner, with Selection Sunday a mere two days away! Truly, our cup runneth over with good news this week; besides the three stories below, check out this awesome 12-year-old kid hitting a lob winner over Roger Federer at an exhibition match at MSG this week, and check out Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams stop addressing his team during a tense moment of Wednesday night’s ACC Tournament game to help a young fan with her shooting form as she took place in a contest on the court.

Not too many coaches would do that.

With it being Tournament time at all, I’ve got 2 hoops-related items today. First, this has nothing to do with big-time athletics but it was so fantastic. CBS Sunday Morning profiled the Gainesville (Texas) Tornadoes, a team of high-school boys who live in a juvenile detention center.

They hardly ever get even one or two fans at their games, and when one of their opponents, Vanguard College Prep in Waco, Texas, heard that Gainesville was coming to play them, they came up with a heartwarming and wonderful idea: They told their fans to root for Gainesville.

Watch this fabulous short video story from Lee Cowan. Those troubled kids from Gainesville, who obviously have a lot going against them right now, get one wonderful memory.

**Next up, the NHL, and the Chicago Blackhawks in particular, seem to do a lot of this beautiful, heartwarming stuff, and I always enjoy highlighting it, because hockey still doesn’t get enough love in this country.

Duncan Keith, an all-star defenseman, took part with his teammates in a “What’s your Goal” campaign, helping out disadvantaged youngsters and giving them a few smiles.

Keith met Cammy, who was born without the ability to walk or speak, but is a huge fan of the Blackhawks. Her dream was to score a goal with Keith making the assist, and, well, just watch.

I say it all the time: It takes so little for athletes to give kids a lifetime memory.

MarcusLee

**And finally, a few positive words about the University of Kentucky basketball team, a group I generally have only loathing for.

As a big Duke fan I’ve hated Kentucky for many years (their fans are the most obnoxious on the planet, and yes I realize as a Duke fan I have little credibility saying that to many of you), and when John (Satan’s Helper) Calipari took over their program, my hatred for “Big Blue Nation” went to a whole new level.

Cal is as dirty and slimy as they come, but he seems to recruit a bunch of high-character kids, like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and now Marcus Lee.

Lee is not one of the superstars on the currently-undefeated Wildcats squad, but he’s a superstar in the hearts of all the sick kids he’s helped. Check out this great story from the Louisville Courier-Journal on what a kind-hearted kid Lee is, and how he wants zero publicity for his kind gestures.

“Why didn’t you tell us you were doing these things?” Lee remembers Calipari asking him. “And my first reply was, ‘What do you mean?’ I thought it was just a natural thing to help people, and I didn’t think it was a big thing to tell anybody.”

Great kid.