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US Open begins today…be there…

venus williamsVenus Williams away from the court…
Chad Batka for The New York Times

To all of her matches at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in fact to all of her matches everywhere, Ms. Williams, 36, wears EleVen by Venus Williams, her fitness and and leisure clothing line. At the Olympics, she wore a Wonder Woman-inspired dress of her own design, and had red strands woven into her braids (“my Olympic hair,” she called it).

“I have always said that after sport, I wanted a life, I wanted an opportunity, I wanted to be able to do something,” she said. “And if something happens — the economy falls out or the dollar is worthless, anything could happen — you have to be ready to work. And I’m ready.”

Venus Williams, Off the Court, NY Times 8/27/2016

It’s Monday…keep up the good fight…

As I write this, we’re less than an hour away from a match between Serena Williams and Li Na. Ever since Maria Bartoli retired – then unretired – then decided to sit out the US Open – I’ve been looking for someone to follow. Serena would be too easy of a choice because she’s that good – I’m looking for someone to bring her down. Li Na may not be the one to do it – her record against Serena is less than stellar with 1 win and 8 losses racked up. But if anything, she’ll provide an interesting game.

Jimmy Connors was interviewed for the NY Times magazine this weekend – he commented that tennis has become a one-stroke power game. You can see it among the men – the serve and returns seem to be fired from baseline cannons. That’s probably why I would rather watch the women compete since they rely more on targeted strokes. Much like Bartoli did to eat her way thru Wimbledon. Surgery not sinew. Although Serena…my god, Serena…I don’t know how anyone can face her physically in racquet to racquet combat. Intimidating is an understatement. Or, as I’ve often said, I’d want her on my side in a street fight.

Connors gave me some insight on why the  Djokovic vs. Youzhny match was a joy to watch last night. Djokovic tried bullying him but Youzhny used top spin, slice, and drop shots to force The Djoker to use brains rather than brawn. And he did respond in kind, backing off on the power returns and applying a bit more art and physics. He was up 2 sets when Youzhny looked like he was making a comeback when he took the third set 6-3. But Djokovic put it to rest with a final 6-0 shutout to add to his totals.

I’m not a dedicated spectator. I’ve been to 3 baseballs games – it was about 35 years between games 2 and 3 – with game 3 during the last season played in old Yankee Stadium. Also caught one hockey game and one basketball game in the Garden. I did see an early US Open match but I think it was Roscoe Tanner and might have been the year of his retirement. Beyond that, I may watch a Superbowl game or the World Series – only if a New York team is playing.

But I can’t deny the excitement I’m feeling about the Open right now. And Serena…my god, Serena…

UPDATE – Serena takes it 6-0, 6-3. Next up will be Azarenka screaming and barking her way thru the Sunday final…

Li Na of China returns against Kim Clijs

In the end, they just wouldn’t give her the win.

Both Bartoli and Lisicki brought their best games and their worst errors. Bartoli’s game of returning balls flat and low ended up too many times in the net losing points and gaining frustrations. Even some of her most powerful serves got caught in the cloth after she swung her racket with that odd two stage hitch as if she was swatting flies instead of tennis balls.

Lisicki tried to take advantage of Bartoli’s fairy tale slowness on the court. But Bartoli showed for every drop shot and slice. If she didn’t return the same to the German’s side of the net, then she wound up her powerful two-handed grip and fired the ball deep into the corner.

Deep into the first set, Lisicki seemed to stop trying and her trademark smile disappeared. Every one of her trick shots was returned as winners. And as her game collapsed, she turned towards the stand hiding her face behind her racket and hands.

This was not going well.

Lisicki started to come back in the second set but Bartoli just went back to work. It was ended with a chalk-dust raising ace, something neither player expected.

But the media refused to give Bartoli the well earned and deserved congratulations of the win. Instead they offered up the fact that Bartoli never faced a competitor higher in ranking than herself. Closest was the American hope, the 17th seeded Sloane Stephens, who was beaten by the 15th seeded Bartoli.

The media called Bartoli’s style “quirky” as their euphemism for a perceived clumsy style and less than glamorous physical appearance.  Even Billie Jean King, in a death mask-like appearance, seemed amazed by Bartoli’s skill.

In the immediate post game interview, Lisicki would only say that she was overwhelmed by the stadium and the attention, did not play her best game, and was exhausted from having played some of the top ranked seeds including Serena Williams. In an allusion to Bartoli’s seeming lesser competition, she explained that Bartoli was definitely fresher. “Credit to Marion,” Lisicki said, “she has been in this situation before,” as she also expressed  a desire to return for another chance.

The fans agreed. When the trophies were awarded they gave Lisicki a standing ovation while giving Bartoli something only slightly above polite applause. Bartoli, the professional, agreed with the crowd, stating with confidence that Lisicki will most definitely be back.

At the end of the day, Bartoli said, “For a tennis player, you start to play like at 5 or 6 years old. When you decide to turn pro, your dream is to win a Grand Slam. You dream about it every day. And when it happens…you achieve something that you dream about for maybe millions of hours.”

She’s no longer that kid in the schoolyard imagining herself at the plate in the bottom of the ninth of the last game of the series. She did it. For real. She deserves the win.

Good for you, kid. Keep it coming…

bartoli

It was the air swings and the two-fisted forehand that got to me.

Between every point, Bartoli would turn her back to the net, face the wall and take swings at the air, bouncing up and down on her toes as if she just came to the starting line and not already an hour into the match.

She would make swooshing sounds staring into the ground, jabbering like the kid in the schoolyard imagining the magic moment where he would come up to the plate and in the ninth inning with two outs and two strikes he would take the next pitch, hammer into the the center field seats, and save the game. Only this wasn’t baseball. It was tennis. And it was Wimbledon.

Flipkens tried – she tried returning serve and charging the net only to have Bartoli lob a ball over her head. She tried cross court challenges with slices and drop shots but again Bartoli just rocketed the ball low into the corners as if she was carefully packing a suitcase. Flipkens took every shot with an intelligent arrogance – but she didn’t seem to realize that she was up against a tennis player who was already proven to have an IQ to match Einstein’s and around 40 points higher than the MENSA cutoff.

The final on Saturday might not be so easy. Lisicki comes in strong and positive with memories of having beaten Serena Williams, one of the most powerful women in tennis. Lisicki, who is rumored to have an allergy to grass, played as if she was born on the front lawn, reducing Serena to a grade school player. Although not as powerful, Lisicki returned shots in kind placing them carefully into the corners of the court and sucking Serena into the net with drop shots that Williams couldn’t return.

At one point, in between sets, Serena and Lisicki passed each other mid-court on the change. Lisicki kept her eyes on Serena as if to offer a nod of recognition but the powerhouse just looked away rumbling past to her seat. Lisicki smiled and seemed to mouth the word “whatever”, took her towel, and went back to work.

The Saturday final between Bartoli and Lisicki will be a match of power and intelligence. Bartoli, with a two-fisted forehand that she modeled after Monica Seles, a childhood hero, may prove to be her weakness. The style tends to shorten her reach and can weaken her return on the stretch. Lisicki has a powerful serve and is highly accurate at picking her spots on the court. But she’s playing a competitor with a great percentage at Wimbledon who has a powerful return and never seems to stop moving.

I lost interest in the men’s game a while ago. A bunch of guys trying to look good in tennis whites and hair gel who act as if they own the sport. But not here, not at Wimbledon. The women are the ones at work here. They’re the ones to watch.

bartoli_lisicki Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki

I’ve been caught up in The Art of Fielding, which is described as a book about baseball but not about baseball. Which is why I think I initially related to it since I grew up with baseball but I’m not about baseball either.

I was always surrounded by dedicated sports fans, the two most popular sports at the time being baseball during the warm months and football during the cold. There wasn’t a weekend afternoon that didn’t have a radio on out in The Patio, the gathering place carved out in between the four apartment buildings where I grew up.

The radio usually belonged to Benny who cradled it like a puppy in the angular bend of his arm. First it was a transistor with a piercing silver antennae, then eventually gave way to a larger combination turntable and AM/FM receiver. I didn’t understand why he traveled with this since he never played a record on it but then again, I didn’t understand much about baseball either.

At some point in the afternoon, The Cow would show up, his hair wet after the shower he took after the usual challenge by Bow in a schoolyard one-on-one basketball game. Underneath his arm was either a copy of the Daily News or the New York Post that would be unrolled and flipped over immediately to the sports news in the back. Headlines were sacrificed in the search for scores and game replays and the group would generally gravitate towards him on the bench, either sitting next to him or behind, peering over his shoulders at the pages.

Never understood why I didn’t pick up on either the romance or addiction to baseball and football. Not that I didn’t like the game and actually enjoyed playing it. Growing up in Brownsville, I belonged to the Rutland Little League and looked forward to the Saturday afternoon games. I think it was the uniform that attracted me, most especially the stirruped socks that fit over my thicker store bought socks adding a bit of style to an otherwise baggy costume. Somehow it made me feel like a pro – even though I wasn’t a standout player.

I wasn’t at the top of the ranks but lived somewhere in the middle of the talent field. Had no favorite position but usually ended up as catcher since I guess I provided a fairly large target. Don’t know what my stats were and generally I couldn’t do any damage squatting behind the plate. Except when I was up at bat and even there my hitting was somewhat average except when the opposing pitcher put it low and outside and I could be counted on socking it over the outfielder’s head.

Had no favorite team but became obsessed about the home run race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. I felt closer to The Mick since I had read his biography and was caught up in his, and his father’s, devotion to the game, and his ability to bat either right or left handed. Maris seemed like a loner, always scowling, while Mick always seemed to show his humor with a huge midwestern grin. And when Maris passed Mantle in the race, I would make up stories about Maris, casting him as evil and unfairly taunting the true hero of the game.

My only other connection to sports were baseball cards and only because of the street game we played with them, flipping them heads and tails until someone won the pot at our feet. I never got a Mantle card in the gum pack which probably also ruined my taste for spectator sports.

These days my two kids are devoted to sports and my son picks up the paper and flips to the back pages the way Cow did nearly 40 years ago. He’s a Yankees fan but inexplicably, my daughter is a Philadelphia Phillies fan which doesn’t make sense even to me since we live out here in the suburbs of New York, where everything seems to be Yankees, Giants, and Jets.

Then again not much makes sense to me about this new game with multiple divisions and pre-championship competitions. But the series is over and a New York team wasn’t in it so there was no real reason for me to get that interested.

But now that football season has started, maybe someone can please help me understand why the last four minutes of Sunday football takes an hour and a half…

[Simultaneously posted at the Glen Cove Patch…]

Schwartz, for his part, had vowed long ago not to become one of those pathetic ex-jocks who considered high school and college the best days of their lives. Life was long, unless you died, and he didn’t intend to spend the next sixty years talking about the last twenty-two.

That was why he didn’t want to go into coaching, though everyone at Westish, especially the coaches, expected him to. He already knew he could coach. All you had to do was look at each of your players and ask yourself: What story does this guy wish someone would tell him about himself? And then you told the guy that story. You told it with a hint of doom. You included his flaws. You emphasized the obstacles that could prevent him from succeeding. That was what made the story epic: the player, the hero, had to suffer mightily en route to his final triumph.

Schwartz knew that people loved to suffer, as long as the suffering made sense. Everybody suffered. The key was to choose the form of your suffering.

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach, Little, Brown and Company, © 2011

Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb

Excellent read…about baseball, but not about baseball…so it’s said.

[h/t to Steven Anderson and his OK, Coach series…]

Didn’t have much attraction for sparring let alone boxing in our class. But our instructor, classically trained in Korean moo duk kwan, felt that the leg dominated martial art needed some additional upper body training. Besides, he boxed himself in the evenings, sometimes opponent after opponent with no break for rounds.

I had a habit of dropping my left hand after a jab and was constantly open for a right cross that was gladly offered in return. My instructor was frustrated with me and when I dropped my hand, he would call out, “Right lead!” and inevitably popped me with his gloved fist. I depended solely on my left hook which is why I was so vulnerable and it did carry a bit of weight behind it – but in this case power and stubbornness always fell to a well-timed punch.

Maybe it’s why Joe Frazier fascinated me. Even though I followed Ali after his transition from Cassius Clay, and even though he really did dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee, it was the sheer stubbornness, the momentum of Frazier, that caught my interest.

I watched their fights, Ali’s relentless skills and well-timed hits, but never completely putting Frazier away. Here was a man who relentless moved forward, his massive back the driving force behind his hands. While Ali was graceful in body and movement, Frazier drove into him with a hydraulic force. Ali was talented, almost unbeatable with his speed and power. But even he admitted, after winning a fourteen round war with Frazier, that it was the closest to death he had ever come.

Frazier’s reliance on power didn’t always work, certainly not against the largest opponent he had ever met in one George Foreman. Brute force met even a more brutish force. It was later left to Ali to defeat the man who had defeated his most respected opponent.

It was sad to hear that Frazier died although I expected it when it was first announced that he had gone into hospice. And this was only a week or two after it was revealed that he suffered from liver cancer.

Smokin’ Joe Frazier had retired quietly and left many to admire his history, his power, his sheer obsessive drive to move forward into his opponent. I’ve no doubt this is what he again tried to do…

I’m feeling a bit better this morning – the swelling in my right knee has gone down and I don’t have that pain in my left hip anymore. I don’t know what Oedipal circuitry burst into play when I challenged my son to a few games of bowling at the local lanes. But the challenge was met and a date set.

Understand that there are about thirty four years between me and my son. He also earns his living as a personal trainer and lacrosse coach, thinks he’s all gangsta because he has a tatoo of a grenade on his bicep, wears his pants too low and his hoodie too high, and no doubt could bench press three times my bodyweight – as a warm up. The really frightening thing is that I realized he’s me times ten at that age. Or, as a mentor of mine once said, your children inherit your absolutely worst traits. Or my mother’s interpretation – one day you’ll have children just like yourself…

So we headed down to the bowling alley which, judging by the amount of cars and bobbing heads, the entire elementary and middle school population of Nassau County had decided to do the same.

Back in the day, you checked in at the desk, where you got your shoes, an oversized scoring sheet, a stub of a pencil, and change back from your dollar. Yesterday we were faced with the digital equivalent of air traffic control where we not only had to provide our names and shoe size, but we also had to tell them what size ball we wanted. I was expecting that, as we used to do, go from rack to rack finding the perfect fit for our chubby fingers with either two hole or three hole configurations.

I turned that one over to my son. “Just give him a ten”, he said, embarrassed as if he just had me on a day pass from the retirement village.

With shoes and balls in hand – don’t go there – we worked our way to the lane given to us. What I thought we would find was a molded plastic u-shaped lounge with a slanted table in the front where we would clip our score sheet. What we got was a round cafe table with four chairs and an overhead high defnition display of our names and scoring grid. No pencils, no paper, no arguments over how you scored a strike or a spare, especially in the last frame. The machine did it all. Including some cartoon puppetry between the frames.

Not only that, since we were surrounded by the Sesame Street set, all the lanes had these metal gates raised so that a literal sluiceway was formed for the ball to travel down without going into the gutters on the sides. In fact, I noticed that one third grader next to me had figured out a strategy of banking her shots off the back third of the gates to score a hook strike nearly every time.

“Hey,” I said to the older woman watching over the group, “I want a pair of those on my lane.’

She grinned and then immediately starting tapping on her Blackberry no doubt to see if my picture appeared on any of the local sex offender web sites.

My son and I played our games although I had asked for, and gotten, a handicap equal to the spread in our ages. I figured that with a few decades worth of pins to start with, I’d at least have a chance of beating back the obvious advantages of youth. Beat him by one pin in the first game, but my offense completely collapsed in the second, along with my knee and hip. Amazing how stiff you can get in just thirty years of inactivity.

On the way home, during which my son accused me of acting like it was the first time I had driven a car, we stopped at the supermarket where he picked up some ground beef for burgers and I a box of linzer torte cookies. I figured between the cookies and a handful of Advil I’d be ok in a few hours. As it turned out, he left for a Saturday night out, while I fell asleep in the recliner while doing the Sunday NY Times crossword.

Total cost for a couple of games and two pairs of rented shoes – $29.95 plus gas. It would have been cheaper, and lasted longer, if we’d gone to the movies.

If I’d used the senior discount, of course.

Which I don’t qualify for.

Yet.

Bowling alley

There’s something about the new Jets quarterback that will suck you in, that will make you consider buying a pair of Wranglers, brushing your teeth with Sensodyne and purchasing a Snapper riding lawn mower, even if you are not quite sure where in your studio apartment to keep it.

Yes, one of the most compelling things about Favre is that his life is sometimes a mess: He has been addicted to Vicodin, admitted to a drinking problem, lost his brother-in-law in an ATV accident, lost his home in Hurricane Katrina and lost his father to a heart attack the night before playing one of the greatest games of his NFL career. One thing he didn’t lose is a wife, Deanna, who not only managed to survive breast cancer but then wrote a best-selling book about everything their family had gone through.

Yet…Favre has been regularly able to rise above it all when he’s on the job, where he always looks like a guy who knows he’s luckier than lucky to be doing what he’s doing.

– Barbara Barker, Newsday, 9/7/08

I just may watch the opener today…

Breatt & Deanna Favre (still in Packer colors) at a charity softball event for their Fourward Foundation that raises money for disadvantaged and disabled children.

Since beach volleyball is considered Olympic competition material, then why not cannonballing!

“Each baller was judged on four characteristics: style, flair, splash and overall impression. The most important technical element of the jump is the integrity of the tuck, said master of ceremonies Nic Bayley”

“It’s not just the dispersion of water,” Bayley said. “A full tuck must take place or you will be deducted points.”

On to 2012!

Video here!

© Bill Israel

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