Tag Archives: Sloane Stephens

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.

A beautiful story of a man recovering from a childhood trauma. The U.S. Open is here, whoo-hoo! And great SNL audition tapes of stars

**After watching three quarters of the Jets’ preseason game Saturday night, I’m seriously contemplating not watching all their games this year. I mean, what’s the point? If this team wins 6 games, it’ll be a greater miracle than the ending of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

How do you spend the rest of your life dealing with a tragic accident that changed your life forever when you’re 14?

It sounds like the beginning of a Hollywood movie, or a novel. But it’s the real-life story of Kemp Powers, who at 14 accidentally shot and killed his best friend while fooling around with a gun he had in his room. The next 20 years after that for Powers have been a constant reminder of what he did, even though everyone around him tried to let him forget it.

I’ve written before about how awesome “The Moth” storytelling podcast is, and have linked to a few stories.

But Powers’ story might be the most powerful one I’ve ever heard on “The Moth.” It’s Monday, take a few minutes and listen to a man struggling with demons, and eventually starting to win out. It’s a wonderfully-told tale that shows one mistake doesn’t have to ruin you forever.

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**So today starts the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center, and to say I’m psyched would be a massive understatement.

I’ve got tickets to go to three of the first five day sessions, and I’ve been counting down the weeks (out loud) for the whole summer (which has annoyed my wife, who said “you’re making the summer go by too fast by looking ahead to the end of it!'” I s’pose she had a point.)

Love, love, LOVE the U.S. Open; went every year as a kid, missed quite a few years as an adult, what with college and then moving all over the country for newspaper jobs.
But since I moved back to N.Y. two years ago, it’s my favorite annual event. A ticket to a day session to the Open during the first week is the best bargain in sports; for about $60, you get around 10 hours of tennis on 20 courts, and much of the time you’re within 10 feet of some of the greatest players in the world.

This year I expect awesomeness as usual. Can Rafa Nadal continue his summer dominance and win the Open again? (Nope.) Will Andy Murray defend the title and keep his incredible 12 months going? (Maybe). Will Novak Djokovic win it all? (Yep.) Can anyone beat Serena? (Keep an eye on Sloane Stephens.) Does my man Federer have any shot? (A small one. But he’d have to beat Rafa in the quarters.)

If you’re a tennis nut like me, the New York Times did an awesome Open section Sunday; click here for all the goodies.

**Finally today, I got a kick out these. The website Mental Floss has gathered eight great videos of “Saturday Night Live” audition tapes; the Jimmy Fallon one I posted above, but the Dana Carvey and John Belushi ones are stellar, too.

There was also a really cool Sunday story in the N.Y. Times, an oral history about the pressure of auditioning for Lorne Michaels, the longtime head honcho of “SNL” who never, ever laughs during auditions.

Djokovic powers through to another Aussie Open title. Harry Reid disgusts me yet again. And an awesome NHL goal celebration.

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One of the many, many awesome things about being a tennis fan in 2013 is that the Golden Age we’ve been since about 2008 or so shows no signs of slowing down.
The storyline just changes a little. Where once it was Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal towering above all, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray creeped into the picture, and the four of them have raised the sport I love most to an un-Godly level.
And as the Federer-Nadal rivalry has dissipated, because of injuries and age, we’re so lucky to have two guy born within days of each other to carry us throug, and be the new pre-eminent rivalry.

Djokovic and Murray have already played some classics in the last two years, and it looked like Sunday’s Aussie Open final would be another. They traded tiebreak wins for the first two sets, but Djokovic (my 2nd favorite player behind Fed) ran away with the match in four sets.

He’s just so hard to beat when he’s defending like he did Sunday; Djokovic is truly the best defender I’ve ever seen, retrieving balls he has no business getting to. I thought Murray played pretty well, but couldn’t hit enough winners, or enough first serves, to hang in there.

As for my man Federer, no shame for him this tournament, going out in 5 sets to Murray in the semis. Roger is far from done.
It was really a great Aussie Open; I should’ve blogged about it more. We got a new American star on the women’s side (Sloane Stephens is fantastic), some great matches on the men’s side throughout the two weeks, and ESPN even gave us some good announcing with Chris Fowler and Patty McEnroe actually shutting up once in a while and letting the match breathe (Pam Shriver, Cliff Drysdale and Mary Joe Fernandez would not shut the hell up for even a second during the Serena-Stephens match, and it was highly annoying)

Love that the tennis year is underway. Can’t wait till the French Open in May, when Rafa will be back and healthy and ready to defend his crown.

For a really good column on Sunday’s match, check out Jason Gay’s Wall Street Journal piece here.

**Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers is 19 years old, and has major, major potential. In his third NHL game Thursday night, he scored a game-tying goal, batting the puck out of mid-air, with only five seconds left.

He then enjoyed one of the best NHL goal celebrations in years. I loved it; I wish more players would react like this when they score.

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**And finally, a few words of disgust for the Senate Majority Leader, Mr. Harry Reid, who is a Democrat that consistently continues to let down those in his party, but being a spineless, compromising, collapsing jellyfish of a man.

Late last week, without much fanfare in the press, Reid completely folded in negotiations about ending or reforming the filibuster. The filibuster, if you are not aware, is the process by which the minority party in the Senate can block legislation from coming to a vote. In the old days, Senators had to actually stand on the floor of the Senate and talk and talk and talk for as long as they wanted to filibuster (like Jimmy Stewart in the classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Now, a filibuster is incredibly simple; a minority party Senator simply and often anonymously says he wants to filibuster something, and poof! there goes the legislation.
It’s why a majority seemingly must have 60 votes now to do anything, and it’s yet another sign of dysfunction in Washington.

So last year, at the urging of some real Dems in the Senate, Reid decided that filibuster reform would be a big deal in 2013. He was in a strong negotiating position, his party just won the White House again, and the GOP was wounded.

And yet, Harry Do-Nothing Reid got just about ZERO reform done. He caved like he always does; he’s an awful, ineffective leader, and I wish he had lost re-election in 2010 so the Democrats could get a real leader at the top of the Senate.

Sigh. Harry Reid, what a disgrace.

A winter getaway to Florida brings back fresh memories. Thoughts on the Inaugural speech. And Seattle gets its Sonics back

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Still jazzed up as I write this, minutes after a fantastic women’s tennis match at the Australian Open Tuesday night. 19-year-old Sloane Stephens stunned the greatest player in the world, Serena Williams, with a three-set win in the Aussie quarterfinals. American tennis has a new star, and it’s about time. Look at that kid’s smile!

Sorry there was no blog post Tuesday; your humble correspondent was traveling back from a weekend trip to Florida, where new memories collided with old ones for me.

It was my first time back in the state since I left in the summer of 2011, when I chucked my career as a journalist to become a teacher, and Florida is also the place where my marriage ended.

So even though life is going awesome right now, with a new career and a fiance who I can’t wait to marry in a few months, I was a little nervous about going back to the Sunshine State.

We went down to see some dear friends who live outside Orlando, and I was afraid that every 10 minutes I’d see painful memories of what my life used to be there.

Instead, it was fabulous. My friends Jen and Greg were wonderful hosts, and their two adorable daughters showed us a good time. We went to Blue Springs State Park in DeLeon Springs, which I visited once before when I lived in Daytona Beach, and saw the manatees. The weather was great, I saw some of my old friends in Daytona, and only good memories came flooding back, not painful ones.

Plus, I got on a plane Friday and it was 35 degrees, and stepped off a few hours later into 68 degrees. Can’t beat that

Couple other airplane related thoughts, which I always seem to have after a trip:
— Is there a law that I’m unaware of that says I have to get the middle seat on every flight from now on? I swear I’m on like a 12 “B” seats in a row streak.
— Flying JetBlue > flying any other airline. It’s not just the TV that makes it better; more legroom, friendlier flight attendants, and always have an enjoyable ride. I love JetBlue so much.

**Didn’t get a chance to comment on Barack Obama’s inaugural address Monday. I thought it was terrific, as I expected, and I’m so glad he sounded so many liberal notes in it. It was powerful to hear him talk about gay marriage, and even climate change got mentioned.

I wish I could say I was real optimistic about “Obama the Liberal” getting a lot of major legislation passed on guns, climate change, poverty, and a ton of other progressive ideals.

But I don’t know. Hey, maybe this is a good sign: Mitch McConnell said the “era of liberalism” is back.

We can only hope.

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**Finally, the world of sports seems to offer karmic payback every once in a while, but not without someone else getting hurt.

The good sports fans of Seattle had their NBA team ripped away by owner/hijacker Clay Bennett in 2008, an outsider who bought the team then drove them off to Oklahoma City right after drafting some kid named Kevin Durant (he ever amount to much, that kid?).

It was not quite as bad as Art Modell stealing the Cleveland Browns, but it was close. The Sonics fans supported their team through thick and thin, and now were left bereft of a hoops team.

Well, five years later, the Sonics are coming back to Seattle, in the form of the Sacramento Kings, who of course are another team that was once loved, once a civic institution, but fell victim to a bad arena deal and owners who couldn’t convince the city fathers in Sacramento to buy them a new building.

So Seattle gets a team back, which is only right, but now Sacramento loses out. On the karmic justice scale of sports, that’s still a win.

12 hours at the U.S. Open make me deliriously happy. And a political video that may move you

I turned 37 two weeks ago.
And yet, every single time I walk through the gates of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY, I turn back the clock 30 years.
I become a 7-year-old again. I want to do everything, see everyone, and run around like a kid set loose in Willy Wonka-ville, for as many hours as they’ll let me stay.

Tuesday, that number of hours was 12. My fiancee, my mother, and stepfather all arrived around 11 a.m. for a sensational day of tennis, the second day of the 2012 Open (God bless her, my wonderful bride-to-be stuck it out with me until 9 p.m. and was a total trooper as I schlepped her around from court to court, only leaving because she had to go home and do some work. Mom and stepdad pooped out around 4 p.m. But hey, they’re no spring chickens anymore. I digress.)

Many, many thoughts on my mind from today as I sit down to write this, including…

— The single best thing about the Open in the early days of the tournament is getting to walk around the outside courts and literally stand five feet from where top pros are competing. You don’t get that in ANY other sport.
At one point Tuesday I was in the first row for a doubles match involving great American comeback story Brian Baker, and a serve ricocheted off a racket and flew right at me.
With the dexterity and timing I rarely showed in the Commack North Little League, I snagged it with my left hand, drawing a few cheers from my fellow spectators. Sadly, as is the rule in tennis, I had to throw the ball back to the ballboy.

— Speaking of ball boys and ball girls, how bizarre is this? During my match tour on Tuesday (I saw parts of 12 matches), I saw not one but two ballpersons who had prosthetic limbs. One male, one female, both who seemed to have no trouble bouncing around and performing all ballperson duties. Never seen a ballperson without two natural legs, and now I saw two in one day. Crazy.

— Another awesome moment: After the aforementioned doubles match featuring Brian Baker, I was on line for the bathroom near the court and saw a white-haired guy with a “Player guest” credential and the last name Baker. Yep, it was Brian Baker’s Dad Stephen, and because I’m me, I chatted him up before we got to the urinals.
He was super nice and thrilled his son was getting the chance to play at the Open again.
Again, I ask you: You think you ever run into Derek Jeter’s dad waiting to pee at Yankee Stadium? This is why the U.S. Open rules.

— Most dramatic singles match we witnessed Tuesday was between two players you’ve never heard of, Fabio Fognini and Edouardo-Roger Vasselin. Again on an outer court, we watched the end of the fifth set, both players fighting for a few thousand dollars a win would provide. It was competition at its finest, and the 75 or so people huddled around the fence watching were enthralled.

— Jack Sock. I’ve mentioned his name a few times on the blog before (he’s on the right, above), and the young American phenom (he’s 19) scored a huge win in doubles Tuesday, as he and partner Steve Johnson beat the No. 1 seeds. This kid is a future star; he won his first singles match Monday and is back in action Thursday.

— Really impressive wins from famous people: Jo-Willie Tsonga, Venus Williams (though that dress was, um, weird) and Andy Roddick. Impressive win from a future star: Sloane Stephens (above in photo). She can really, really play and has a great personality.

Bad losses: Christina McHale, a young American ranked No. 21. Blew a winnable match.

— Finally, cell phones and tennis matches. People, is it really that hard to turn the damn thing to vibrate when you go watch a tennis match? Three times Tuesday a phone went off during a point. Just makes me mad.

But only for a moment. It’s hard to stay mad when you’re a kid in a candy store. God I love the U.S. Open.

**OK, time for something else. This was definitely unusual; a political parody video set to the tunes from “Les Miserables,” about Barack Obama. Weirdly compelling.