Tag Archives: Stan Wawrinka

“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.

An incredible, unusual walk down the aisle for a heart transplant and his donor’s daughter. Fallon plays Wii Tennis with U.S. Open champ. And the truly tasteless ad a mattress company made about 9/11

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One of my most rewarding subjects I’ve gotten to write about during my journalism career is the importance of organ donation.

I’ve done, I think, three stories about how organ donors either saved the life of someone else, or helped multiple people live better lives. Organ donation is such a simple thing to sign up for, and it can do so much good.

So it’s a pet cause of mine, and I love stories that highlight how organ donors have made a difference. Gotta say, though, this story that I somehow missed from a few weeks ago might be my favorite yet.

Jeni Stepien’s father, Michael, was shot and killed by a teenager during an attempted robbery in 2006 in Pennsylvania.

Michael was an organ donor, and his heart would go to Tom Thomas, who for years had suffered from congestive heart failure.

Over the next decade, Jeni and Michael exchanged phone calls and letters but had never met. Michael would send Jeni’s mom fresh flowers on holidays.

They might never have met, until a few months ago Jeni’s fiance, Paul, suggested that at their wedding, Jeni ask Michael if he’d walk her down the aisle. That way there’d be a little piece of her Dad at the wedding.

“I thought he would be the perfect person because he has a piece of my father living within him,” she said in this great Washington Post story.

Jeni wrote Michael a letter. “She said, ‘Is there any chance you’d consider walking me down the aisle?’ ” Thomas told The Post. “I said, ‘Oh, there’s a big chance.’

And so in on early August day a few weeks ago, Jeni Stepien was given away at her wedding by a man who literally had her father’s heart, and the gift of life that it gave him.

What a beautiful, beautiful story. Click through just to watch the video, and then grab some tissues.

“If I helped just one person change their mind to become an organ donor, my wish in sharing my story has come true,” Jeni said.

If you’re not already an organ donor, you can learn how to become one here.

**Next up today, I love when Jimmy Fallon and “The Tonight Show” do stuff like this. Stan Wawrinka, newly-minted U.S. Open champion, was on Monday night and was challenged by Jimmy to a tennis match.

A Wii tennis match. Let’s just say it’s clear Stan hasn’t spent much time playing Nintendo Wii in his life.

**And finally today, oh you know I love a good “horrible promotional idea” story, but this one was truly beyond the pale.

A mattress store called Miracle Mattress in Texas decided to run a commercial invoking 9/11 in their “Twin Towers” mattress sale. It is so tasteless and bad, it’s almost comical.

I’m sure it won’t shock you to learn that it sparked so much outrage, the store said it’s going out of business.

Too bad. I can’t wait to see what they would’ve done for a big Holocaust remembrance sale.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales from 2 awesome days at U.S. Open qualifying. Letterman remembers Robin Williams, beautifully. And a terrific speech from a Little League coach to this team

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I’ve spent the last two days out at the National Tennis Center in Queens, watching one of my favorite events in sports, and the ticket didn’t cost me a dime.

I’ve written in this space before about the awesomeness of the U.S. Open qualifying tournament, when 128 men and 128 women compete for 16 spots in the main U.S. Open draw (for those not familiar with it works at Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the top 110 or so players in the world rankings automatically get into the main draw of the tournament, while the rest of the spots go to players who get wild cards (usually up and coming players for the host country, or older players whose injuries have made them drop way down the rankings) or those who make it through qualifying, where you have to win three matches in a row to reach the coveted main draw).

It’s free to the public, you get hour after hour of competitive tennis (there are rarely any lopsided matches in “qualies,” because there’s not much difference between players ranked No. 145 and No. 165, for example), and you can get even closer to the court than you can during the regular U.S. Open:

Some scattered thoughts from my heat-fried brain after two days of tennis nirvana:
— My biggest takeaway from the two days was how physically brutal tennis is. I’d say in at least 50 percent of the matches I watched, at least one player took an injury timeout (in one match Wednesday, both players took simultaneous injury timeouts, which I’d never seen before.) Tuesday a promising young American woman named Sachia Vickery hurt her knee late in the second set and tried really hard to keep playing.
She managed to get the match to a third and deciding set, while barely able to move between points. During the points she ran and played her best, but she was in agony for a good hour out there. She finally lost and had to be helped off the court.
This sport just punishes your body when it’s played at a pro level.

— Got a real good look at the two most promising young American men to come along in a while, though calling them “men” really isn’t accurate yet; 16-year-old Stefan Kozlov (above, who looks about 12 if you just see his face) won his first-ever adult qualies match, while 16-year-old Francis Tiafoe, who I’ve written about here before, lost a close night match before a raucous crowd cheering him on vociferously. Both are outstanding talents that could win the Open one day.

— Another cool feature of qualies week is you never know when you’ll stumble upon major stars practicing to get ready for the Open, unannounced. Wednesday around 3 p.m. I wandered over to the Grandstand court, just to see if anyone was over there, and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka was practicing with No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych. Two of the top 6 players in the world, playing a practice set just 20 feet from me.

— Maybe my favorite thing I saw in 2 days? A teenager walking around with a “Commack Tennis” t-shirt on. That’s my old high school! And man, we never had T-shirts advertising our Commack pride. I was totally jealous.

**Next up, David Letterman always is funny, but he also does a fantastic job with sad news on his show as well.
The other night Dave gave a moving speech about Robin Williams’ death, followed by a terrific short montage of the comedian’s finest moments on Letterman’s TV shows.

Watch and enjoy… Dave’s the best.

**Finally today, the Little League World Series has been going on all week, with Wednesday night seeing new Sports Illustrated cover girl Mo’Ne Davis and her Philadelphia teammates lose to Las Vegas.
As always, there are winners and losers in Little League, where millions of kids learn how to do both. But it’s losing with class and grace, and seeing the positive in defeat, that’s often hardest for kids to learn.
Which is why I loved this speech from Rhode Island coach David Belisle, who had to try to console his players after they were eliminated from the World Series. His words are beautiful, uplifting, and exactly what we want all coaches to be.

Hockey at Yankee Stadium looked awesome. The Grammys were awesome this year. And Nadal is stunned at the Aussie Open

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Pretty terrific Sunday, headlined by the New York Rangers kicking the tushies of the New Jersey Devils before a crowd of 50,000 at Yankee Stadium in the first-ever outdoor NHL game in New York.

Was asked a bunch of times leading up to Sunday if, as a die-hard Rangers fan, I was going to see this live. Each time I replied “Are you crazy? Sit in 20-degree weather, 500 yards from the ice, and pay hundreds of bucks to do it?”

Nah, I had a pretty great seat in front of my TV in my warm apartment. The visuals on TV were, of course, stunning, especially when it started snowing midway through the game.

Big win for the Rangers, and very cool that they knocked out Devils “starting pitcher” Brodeur after scoring six goals on him.

I really hope the NHL keeps these outdoor games to one or two a year, because each one this year has been special.

**Next up,  I say this every year when I blog about the Grammys: I know almost nothing about current popular music, and I’m OK with that. My wife has vastly broadened my knowledge, but still, I’m in no way qualified to comment on the music that does or doesn’t win Grammys.

I can however, happily comment on other aspects of the show, such as:

–Wow. That Macklemore/Ryan Lewis/Queen Latifah/Madonna/Mary Lambert performance near the end of the show, with the awesome “Same Love” song playing and 34 couples getting married live in the Grammy audience? Best thing I’ve seen on an awards show in many, many years. Just a chill-bump-inducing moment, about how far we’ve come in America. I may need a whole separate blog post tomorrow to talk more about this. Two quick thoughts:
A, If Archie Bunker were alive today, his head would’ve exploded at that, and 2, why did Madonna feel the need to dress up like Dolly Parton in “9 to 5?”

— Also, I’m not the only one who thought Macklemore looked a little too much like Vanilla Ice, am I? And has it ever been established which one is Ryan Lewis and which one is Macklemore?

— My mother was quite upset at the “stupid song” Mrs. Carter and her husband sang to open the show. “How can they sing about something that bad?” she hissed at me. (On the other hand, my father-in-law’s response: “Beyonce looked fabulous, who cares what she sings?” Ah, ‘Merica.)

— Must echo what so many else said on Twitter when it happened: Robin Thicke performing with Chicago may have been the whitest moment in pop music history.

— Taylor Swift really is a pretty fantastic singer, and a great talent. I just feel like she tries too hard at awards shows to seem earnest. And she looks totally ridiculous when she dances.

— I have no idea who Kendrick Lamar is, but that performance was super-intense.

— That said, Pink kicks her, and everyone else’s, ass. Another awesome performance from a woman I got to see live twice last year.

— Do you think LL Cool J wears that outfit every Saturday night, or just for the Grammys?

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**And finally, the Australian Open men’s final threw me and every other tennis fan for a loop Sunday morning. Rafael Nadal, who looked so indomitable at the Open this year, and destroyed Roger Federer Friday, surely was going to beat Stan Wawrinka, a Swiss player now in the Top 10 but not nearly in Rafa’s class.

And yet… amazing things happen in sports sometimes. Like Wawrinka dominating the first set, and going up a break in the second. And then Nadal hurting his back on a serve, and being unable to move, and being down two sets.

And then Rafa, an unbelievable fighter and competitor, somehow hanging in and getting a set, and even at 2-2 in the fourth. But he just couldn’t move much at all, and Wawrinka pulled it together to win a most-unlikely Aussie Open.

Shocking, that someone other than the Big 4 in men’s tennis won a Slam. Shocking, too, that it was Wawrinka, who never before seemed to have the stones to win 7 matches at a major.

This was great for tennis to see someone else break through the Big 4 monopoly. Sure, Nadal’s practically a lock for the French, but who knows?

The most impressive college student summer job, ever. Connors-Krickstein turns 20. And a beautiful essay on love and loss

So as you or someone you know or love is heading back to school this month, the inevitable stories of how the student spent their summer vacation are bound to be told.
Well, I don’t think anyone has a better story than this guy. Chris Jeon is a 21-year-old senior at UCLA. Who, three weeks ago, decided to fly to Libya to join the rebels trying to overthrow Mohammar Gaddafi. Despite speaking no Arabic, or really having any clue what to expect,  Jeon explained his motives by saying “It is the end of my summer vacation, so I thought it would be cool to join the rebels. This is one of the only real revolutions” in the world.
This story is crazy interesting, and it reads like a movie pitch.
He actually flew to Cairo, then took trains and buses to Libya, and since there he’s learned how to use an AK-47 (always a needed skill on a college campus), seen the fall of one of the most brutal dictators in history, and had a rollicking good time.
He only bought a one-way ticket because, naturally,  “If I get captured or something, I don’t want to waste another U.S. $800.”
The best part? His folks don’t know he’s in Libya fighting and stuff.
My summer vacation in Tripoli. Beats the hell out of Jeon’s classmate who interned at Yosemite.

**Twenty years ago Friday, one of the most famous U.S. Open matches in history took place. Young American Aaron Krickstein took on some old 39-year-old named Jimmy Connors, and it became an American classic when Connors rallied from 2-1 sets down, and 2-5 in the fifth set, to win in a fifth-set tiebreaker.
I wrote a blog post about poor Aaron Krickstein a few years ago, and how every year when it rains at the U.S. Open, he’s got to see that match on TV again.
Here’s hoping Friday wasn’t too rough for him. Besides, it didn’t rain in New York so we got 2011 tennis, not 1991 tennis (freaking amazing day, too, at the Open Friday: Maria Sharapova got upset, young American Donald Young scored the win of his life, a five-setter over Stan Wawrinka, and Andy Roddick turned back the next great American hope, Jack Sock. But it was a little struggle.)

**Finally, if you have some time, I highly recommend this Joel Drucker piece. It’s tangentially about him and his lifelong love of Jimmy Connors, but really it’s about his longtime girlfriend/wife, and her courageous battle with disease. Truly written so well it took my breath away at the end.