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The Master On Clay
[Posted Sun. PM, prior to Blues-Bruins]
Men’s Tennis Quiz: This one is hard...and I’ll warn it is tricky. Name the only five in the “Open Era,” post-1968, to win all four Grand Slam titles (Australian, French, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open). Answer below.
*As detailed below...I was out of touch for a long stretch today, which impacts some of the following.
In the first men’s semi-final, Rafael Nadal defeated long-time rival Roger Federer without working up much of a sweat, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, securing a berth in yet another French Open final, Nadal gunning for his 12th, which is beyond remarkable.
Nadal is now 6-0 against Federer at Roland Garros, with Rafa moving to 92-2 in the tournament overall.
Following Federer-Nadal, world number one Novak Djokovic lost the other semi-final to 4-seed Dominic Thiem of Austria in five sets, a match that began on Friday but was interrupted by bad weather three times and ended Saturday morning. Former players and journalists pointed out that after Friday’s play was suspended once, then cancelled because of wind and rain, that the skies later cleared with daylight still left and Djokovic was none too pleased.
Thiem snapped Djokovic’s 26-match winning streak in Grand Slam matches and ended the Serb’s hopes of holding all four of the sport’s major prizes simultaneously for the second time, having achieved it by winning his only French Open in 2016. Djokovic had won his previous 10 Grand Slam semi-finals.
The 25-year-old Thiem, who lost to Nadal in last year’s final, kept alive his dream of winning a first major title as he then faced Nadal on Sunday. The French Open is his most successful Grand Slam, having reached the U.S. Open quarterfinal in 2018 but has never made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon or the Australian Open.
So it was Nadal vs. Thiem, and Nadal prevailed 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1, with Thiem throwing everything he had at the Spaniard, but Nadal picked up French Open title No. 12, and the 18th major of his career, which pulls him closer to Federer’s record 20.
Thiem winning the second set seemed to incite Nadal. No one had won a finals set from him since 2014.
For Thiem, at least it was an improvement on his straight-set loss to Nadal last year.
On the women’s side, Australian Ashleigh Barty beat Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova to win her first Grand Slam singles title on Saturday.
Barty, 23, the eighth seed, defeated the 19-year-old unseeded Vondrousova 6-1, 6-3. She thus becomes the first Australian to win a singles title at Roland Garros since Margaret Court in 1973. That’s kind of shocking. Neither Barty nor Vondousova had ever reached a major singles semifinal, let alone a final.
So Barty climbs to second in the world rankings as of next week, making her the highest-ranked Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in Dec. 1976.
Now that is both amazing and incredibly depressing for some of us old folks. Geezuz, I remember Evonne Goolagong Sports Illustrated covers vividly. She was a terrific story.
But get this, Barty is the ninth different female champion in the last 10 Grand Slams. That’s not exactly a good thing. She also follows the 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza, 2017 champ Jelena Ostapenko and last year’s winner Simona Halep as players who have captured their maiden Grand Slam championship in Paris.
As for American sensation Amanda Anisimova, the 17-year-old lost her semifinal match to Barty in a wild affair, 6-7 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3.
Friday night out in Oakland, the Toronto Raptors moved to within one victory of their first NBA title with a 105-92 victory over the Warriors, taking a 3-1 lead in the series as they headed back to Toronto for the potential clincher Monday night.
Kawhi Leonard again led the way, scoring 17 of his game-high 36 in the third quarter. Leonard was 5 of 9 from three, 9 of 9 from the line, had 12 rebounds and added 4 steals in a dominating performance, easily offsetting a combined 55 from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the latter returning from injury.
It was 46-42 Warriors at the half, but Toronto blitzed Golden State 37-21 in the third.
So if you were in Antarctica the last few days and haven’t been following, yes, you can tell Kevin Durant is still out and who knows if he’ll play in Game 5.
But it was kind of shocking seeing Warriors’ backup center Kevon Looney back and effective (10 points in 20 minutes). Looney was supposed to be out the rest of the way with a major shoulder issue.
And I have to add the contribution off the bench for Toronto in the form of Serge Ibaka, 20 points in 22 minutes.
Also, for the record, since this came after I last posted, Golden State had lost Game 3 123-109, despite a heroic effort from Steph Curry, 47 points, as he tried to make up for the loss of Durant and Klay Thompson, as well as Looney, but the Raptors got 30 from Leonard and huge games from Kyle Lowry, Danny Green and Ibaka (6 blocks).
--Looking at the coming offseason and free agency, the Brooklyn Nets are in the conversation big time, it seems, when it comes to both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant...and not the Knicks.
The Nets recently sent shooting guard Allen Crabbe, the No. 17 pick in this year’s draft and a protected first-rounder next year to the Atlanta Hawks for small forward Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-round pick.
The point of the move was to dump the contract of Crabbe, who is set to earn $18.5 million next season, giving Brooklyn $46 million in salary-cap space this summer.
But the thing is, if Brooklyn goes after Irving and Durant that means they’re allowing free agent point guard D’Angelo Russell to sign elsewhere, to clear enough room for two max-level free agents.
Boy, I’d re-sign Russell and ditch the idea of Irving. But the Nets should be a better attraction for Irving and Durant than the Knicks. Brooklyn made the playoffs, has a strong supporting cast, and less pressure while still being in New York, as opposed to the hapless Knickerbockers.
As for Kawhi Leonard, also a free agent, he’ll go home to the Clippers, says moi.
--Dan Wolken / USA TODAY
“Adam Silver’s free ride from second-guessing as NBA commissioner ended Wednesday night when one of his star players made a routine play during an NBA Finals game that brought him face-to-face with a billionaire. That billionaire happened to own a piece of the opposing team and responded with vulgarity and a shove.
“In more than five years on the job, Silver has managed to handle the league’s various flare-ups as if he had tanks of foam strapped to his back, all the while maintaining the respect of the players, the trust of the owners and the embrace of the fans.
“By Thursday afternoon, Silver might have taken a blow torch to all of it.
“The NBA’s announcement that Golden State Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens has been banned from the league for a year and fined $500,000 for yelling ‘Go (blank) yourself’ repeatedly at Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry while aggressively reaching over to shove him during Game 3 isn’t enough.
“It’s not going to be enough for Lowry, who explicitly said Thursday that Stevens should be ejected from the Warriors ownership group. It’s not going to be enough for a number of players around the league, who rightly noted on social media that they’d end up in jail if they went to a billionaire’s office and put their hands on him. And it shouldn’t be enough for the Warriors, who have held themselves up as a model NBA organization but will come out of this series looking like clownish hypocrites if they don’t actively pressure Stevens to sell his stake in the team....
“For the most part, Silver has earned his reputation as a decidedly pro-player commissioner. Before the suspension and fine was handed down, players from both the Raptors and Warriors talked about having trust in the league to do the right thing in this situation.
“But Thursday should remind us all who Silver really works for.”
--In college basketball, the NCAA announced the 3-point line is being pushed back next season to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches. It goes into effect this coming season for Division I, but 2020-21 for Divisions II and III.
The current 3-point line is 20 feet, 9 inches. It was moved back from 19 feet, 9 inches prior to the 2008-09 season. The NBA 3-point line ranges from 22 feet in the corners out to 23 feet, 9 inches.
The NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel also approved resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound.
Stanley Cup Finals
St. Louis shocked Boston in Game 5 with a 2-1 victory at TD Garden to take a 3-2 series lead, but what had been a hard-hitting, terrific Cup Final contest, with Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington making 38 saves, was overshadowed by the NHL’s suspect officiating.
There have been a slew of missed calls in the Finals amid mounting evidence on-ice officials can’t keep pace and are too open to suggestion. Such as Blues coach Craig Berube’s insistence after Game 3 that his team was being penalized too often. That seemed to then have the desired effect.
The big issue came in Thursday’s third period, St. Louis up 1-0, when the Blues’ Tyler Bozak clearly tripped Bruins forward Noel Acciari, who had the puck in the Blues’ zone as he faced the boards.
But the tripping wasn’t called, play continued and David Perron scored for the Blues and the 2-0 lead.
Acciari was pulled from the game by the concussion spotter and sent to the locker room for observation. He didn’t return. And it all happened right in front of the official. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said, “It’s egregious. I’m a fan of this game. This is the National Hockey League and they’re getting a black eye with their officiating in the playoffs.”
Or you can go back to the San Jose-St. Louis, Game 3, when a blatant, uncalled hand pass allowed the Sharks to win that one. And there have been other huge calls made, or not made, with major impacts.
So with the Bruins’ backs up against the wall, and facing the din of Enterprise Center in St. Louis tonight....well, time to post....
--Since I last posted, the damn broke on the final two big free-agent targets...Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel.
Kimbrel signed with the Cubs for a prorated 3 years, $43 million, while Keuchel signed with the Braves for a one year, prorated $21.05 million ($13 million).
It’s been reported that the Yankees, who very much could use Keuchel, offered the prorated qualifying offer of $17.9 million (about $11.6 million), he had been offered by the Astros, which he rejected.
So with the Yankees suddenly struggling, and with a very iffy rotation, will they try to pry Madison Bumgarner from the Giants? I don’t believe the stories that have Max Scherzer being available for the right price.
J.A. Happ, Domingo German, James Paxton, CC Sabathia and Masahio Tanaka represent the rotation on paper, plus Luis Severino could be returning in July. But Paxton has already had several injuries this season, Sabathia is pitching on one leg, Tanaka is as fragile as they come (though he’s been more durable than I would have thought a few years ago) and today German was placed on the IL.
I mean that rotation isn’t scaring anyone. They’ve gotta bring in a horse. And they should have overpaid, for one year, Keuchel.
Back to Kimbrel, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he believed he would be available in three weeks, but it all depends. The timeline on Keuchel is about the same.
--The Mets defeated the Rockies Saturday night, 5-3, as Pete Alonso hit No. 21. He leads all rookies in home runs and RBIs (46), has a super attitude, is a better fielder than any of us were told he would be at first base, and Mets fans expect the team in the offseason to lock him up on one of those contracts buying out his arbitration years. [OK, I’m rushing things.]
Today the Mets made it 2 out of 3 against the Rockies, 6-1, as Noah Syndergaard gave up just one hit in seven innings of work. New York is within a game of .500 at 32-33.
Back to Saturday night, both Johnny Mac and I agreed that we had never seen worse home plate umpiring than we had in this one.
--The aforementioned Max Scherzer threw seven scoreless Saturday for the Nationals, gaining the 4-1 win out in San Diego. It was Scherzer’s ninth consecutive quality start, but Washington is still just 4-10 in his starts overall, despite the fact only two of the 14 have been poor ones and his ERA is down to 2.83.
--Minnesota’s Max Kepler was mired in a 0-for-21 slump when he broke out with three home runs against Cleveland Thursday night, a 5-4 Twins victory.
It was Kepler’s second three homer game, the other also coming against the Indians back in 2016.
So why is this factoid important? Kepler thus joined Ted Williams as the only players to have multiple three-homer games against Cleveland. Williams did it in 1946 and 1957.
The Twins, by the way, have now had 10 three-homer games in their history, but no Minnesota player has ever homered four times in a game.
And today, the Twins destroyed the Tigers 12-2, hitting four more home runs, as Jake Odorizzi moved to 9-2, 1.92, though he’s only averaging 5.4 innings per start.
--Speaking of big pitching performances, the White Sox are 31-33 after a 5-2 win over the Royals today, but after a 2-0 win over K.C. last night, Chicago’s Lucas Giolito is 9-1, 2.28 ERA on the season.
What makes this rather remarkable is that this is the same Giolito who was 10-13 in 2018, with a 6.13 ERA and 90 walks in 173 1/3.
How did the 24-year-old turn it around? Try walking only 22 in 75 innings thus far in ’19 for starters.
--Looking back at the recent Major League Baseball draft, as the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond and Tom McGinty put it: “If you want to play in the Show, stay in school.
“Two decades ago, about 40% of the players selected in the first 40 rounds came directly from high school, the norm for much of the 1990s. Of the 1,217 players taken this season, only about 24% of draftees jumped straight from high school, the seventh consecutive year with a decrease in that category.”
Only 19% of players taken in the first 10 rounds this season were high-schoolers, a new low, down from 46% in 1999, according to a Journal review of data from Baseball-Reference.
Scott Barnsby, the Cleveland Indians’ director of amateur scouting, said: “A lot of times in high school they need to get stronger; there’s a lot of things that they need to work out mentally. They go to college, they perform for three years, and then all of a sudden you feel a little more comfortable about taking those guys.”
There can be a big payoff if you find the right high-schoolers, such as Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout...all of whom skipped college.
But the Journal article was Friday, days after I last posted and my mention of a 1966 Mets No. 1 overall pick, Steve Chilcott. Or you have Brien Taylor of the Yankees, 1991, another prime example of a No. 1 that was a total bust.
Of the top-10 picks between 2000 and 2010 who failed to reach the majors, more than 70% were high schoolers. Bill James once said of the draft, “college players are a better investment by a huge, huge, laughably huge margin.”
College ball, these days, also increasingly offers the kinds of data major league teams seek; not just velocity of the fastball, but the spin rate of a guy’s curveball, for example...data simply not available in high school, unless it is from one of the elite programs in the country.
--Speaking of college, the NCAA Baseball Tournament’s super-regionals have been playing out this weekend (and tomorrow), and Duke destroyed Vanderbilt 18-5 in the first of their best-of-three. This would be a major upset; Vandy a perennial top-five program in recent years.
So facing elimination, Vanderbilt sent a freshman pitcher, Kumar Rocker, to the mound for Game 2 and as Shu pointed out to me, all Rocker did was pitch the greatest game ever in college baseball history, given the circumstances...a no-hitter, 19 strikeouts, just two walks (131 pitches). It was the first no-hitter in Super Regionals history, and just the eighth in NCAA Tournament history.
Incredibly, it’s also the first for the school in 48 years.
Well this set up a deciding Game 3...and after a few rain delays, Vanderbilt defeated Duke 13-2.
--Rory McIlroy picked up his second win of the season, No. 16 of his PGA Tour career, in winning the RBC Canadian Open today by seven strokes over Shane Lowry and Webb Simpson, McIlroy with a final-round 61.
Rory is now well set for Pebble.
--Earlier in the tournament, Brandt Snedeker, who finished T-4, made some history with a second-round 60, becoming the first player since 1983 to record at least one round of 59, 60 and 61 on the PGA Tour.
In 2018, Snedeker shot an opening-round 59 at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., where he went on to win by three strokes. He also shot a 61 in the second round of the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
--One other...Davidson’s Alex Ross fired a 57 in the third round of the Dogwood Invitational (a top men’s amateur event held at Druid Hill Golf Club in Atlanta). What makes the score all the more intriguing is he played 36 holes on Thursday, recording a one-over 73 in the morning, before improving by 16 shots in the afternoon!
This past season at Davidson, Ross started in 11 tournaments and had a 73.03 scoring average, with four top-10 finishes. But his best career college score was just a 67.
Webb Simpson once won the Dogwood Invitational shooting 63-63, after a course-record 60 in a practice round in 2007.
--Sir Winston, a 10-1 long shot, won the Belmont Stakes. I wanted to catch it but totally forgot it was on until it was over....that kind of sums up the Triple Crown season...just a mess, beginning with the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Derby. One thing we do know, the Breeders’ Cup Championship will be up for grabs.
I do have to note that trainer Mark Casse thus won the final two legs in the Triple Crown, having won with War of Will at the Preakness.
Meanwhile, the dark cloud over the sport of racing continued to hover, as a 27th horse died at Santa Anita while training Wednesday; Derby River, an unraced 2-year-old suffered a fractured shoulder.
The horse, however, was euthanized at an equine hospital in Chino, so it’s not known if it will be technically called a Santa Anita fatality, nonetheless, damage done.
By the way, as the Los Angeles Times’ John Cherwa pointed out, horse racing in New York is among the safest in the nation, “last year averaging 1.20 fatal injuries every 1,000 starts. The national average is 1.68. Santa Anita’s was 2.04, better than Churchill Downs at 2.73.”
Looking back, the sport of racing is incredibly lucky that there wasn’t a catastrophic accident in the stretch run of the Kentucky Derby. It was certainly set up to be.
--The Philadelphia Eagles agreed to a four-year contract extension with 26-year-old quarterback Carson Wentz, more than $107 million in guaranteed money, topping Seattle’s Russell Wilson and his $107 million guaranteed. Wentz, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, will receive a $66 million guarantee on signing.
At an average annual salary of $35 million, Wilson’s four-year deal still sets the top league mark, with $70 million of this at signing.
Wentz’s $128 million over four years has him slated for an average of $32 million; behind Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers.
Boy, I don’t know about this one, but after Nick Foles bolted for Jacksonville (after Philly failed to franchise tag him for 2019 as insurance for Wentz), it was kind of tough for the Eagles to do anything but lock Wentz down for a while.
--We note the passing of Dr. John, 77. Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack, the nine-fingered New Orleans-based pianist, singer, songwriter and session musician best known for his 1973 top 10 hit “Right Place, Wrong Time” (super tune), served as the unofficial voodoo ambassador of the Crescent City, and starting in the 1960s helped update the region’s distinctive boogie-woogie sound for a new generation. The cause of his death was a heart attack.
Rebennack was born in New Orleans in 1941. As Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times put it:
“His persona both on and off stage was a wonder built on myths, lies, speculation and deceit. He willfully obscured his biography in service of his art. Starting with his 1968 debut, ‘Gris-Gris,’ and extending through at least 30 studio albums, the artist created singular works that used as a template classic American songcraft – but with a handmade New Orleans roux mixed in.
“In his 1994 autobiography, ‘Under a Hoodoo Moon,’ Rebennack described his mystical creation as ‘a medicine man who claimed to be a prince of Senegal before he was abducted and taken to Cuba.’
“He came up with the idea while living as a session musician with a community of roustabouts in a Melrose Avenue building misleadingly called the Hollywood Executive Hotel. He recorded ‘Gris-Gris,’ a swamp rock classic, at Gold Star Studios with off-hours studio time paid for by Sonny and Cher.
“As a session musician, Rebennack played on seminal 1960s and ‘70s recordings by artists including Aretha Franklin, Harry Nilsson, Canned Heat, Carly Simon, Buddy Guy and Joe Cocker, and was a memorable presence in ‘The Last Waltz,’ Martin Scorsese’s documentary on The Band’s final performance....
“Across his life on the stage, the self-described ‘Night Tripper’ wondered on the nature of death and even used his record-store-owning father’s ghost as a muse.
“ ‘There’s times I’ve been sat on his grave and heard him hummin’ stuff without seeing him,’ he told the Independent in a 2001 interview of one such session, ‘but on this occasion he was sitting close as you are now. He looked like when he was young, and he was singing that exact melody.’”
Top 3 songs for the week 6/7/75: #1 “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” (John Denver) #2 “Sister Golden Hair” (America) #3 “How Long” (Ace)...and...#4 “Bad Time” (Grand Funk) #5 “Old Days” (Chicago) #6 “When Will I Be Loved” (Linda Ronstadt) #7 “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” (Freddy Fender) #8 “I’m Not Lisa” (Jessi Coulter) #9 “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” (Major Harris...great tune...huhhh...) #10 “Philadelphia Freedom” (The Elton John Band)
Men’s Tennis Quiz Answer: Only five to win all four major titles in their career in the Open Era.
Roger Federer... 6 Australian – 1 French – 8 Wimbledon – 5 U.S. Open...20
Rafael Nadal... 1 – 12 – 2 – 3 ...18
Novak Djokovic... 7 – 1 – 4 – 3 ...15
Andre Agassi... 4 – 1 – 1 – 2
Rod Laver... 1 – 1 – 2 – 1 (for just 1968-69....the tricky one...and getting Agassi is no layup).
Sampras never won the French; Borg never won in Australia or the U.S. Open.
1969 Mets cont’d....
The red-hot Metsies traveled to San Diego for a weekend set (attendance was awful for the expansion Padres), and New York kept it going, their pitching holding sway.
June 6: Mets win their eighth in a row, 5-3, behind Gary Gentry, who went 8 1/3 before Ron Taylor came in for the save.
June 7: Mets make it nine, 4-1...Jerry Koosman with the complete game, 11 strikeouts.
June 8: And the Mets upped their winning streak to ten, completing the sweep, 3-2, as Tom Seaver (9-3, 2.51) struck out 14 in seven innings, Ron Taylor with another save.
The Mets are now 28-23, but with this record winning streak, they have picked up just 1 ½ on the Cubs and remain 7 ½ back.
That said, as Dodgers manager Walter Alston put it: “They’ve grown up. They no longer beat themselves. They hold on to one-run leads and they make the big plays.”
And with the exception of Tommie Agee, a pickup in 1968 from the White Sox, and catcher Jerry Grote, acquired from Houston, all the Mets are home grown – a testament to the farm system directors, Joe McDonald and Whitey Herzog.
On to San Francisco...can they keep it going?
So as alluded to at the top, I went to a local minor league game today, the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League, for the sole purpose of seeing ’69 Mets players Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda, Art Shamsky and Cleon Jones.
Now I was doing it with two friends from high school who were meeting me there, Brad and Leah K., and Sundays aren’t the best day for me to do something like this, but at least the three of us had a good chat for nearly two hours as we broiled in line. [Thankfully I had put sunscreen on my nose before I left...or I would have looked like a Chernobyl victim.]
Let’s just say the Patriots didn’t handle the logistics well at all...and because of this, they stupidly missed out on a ton of concessions from what had to easily be their best crowd of the year.
As in your editor, who was looking forward to a hot dog and a beer or two, didn’t even have that by the time he left, hopelessly behind in the line, column to write.
And then as I was walking out, I’m feet from the four heroes of mine, behind the rope, and I thought at least I’d get a photo of them at the table (I originally didn’t want an autograph....just wanted to shake their hands...which I just learned from Brad was not allowed), and that’s when I realized my phone battery was dead....when I thought I had charged it!
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.