Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Jan. 25-31)

Turning Back the Clock: Tennis’ Old Guard Returns at the Australian Open

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Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray could only watch on Sunday, as two of the all-time greats duked it out for the thirty-fifth time. The match was their ninth meeting in a Major Final, with Nadal entering holding a 6-2 advantage. The two legends put on an amazing spectacle, trading sets in a back and forth battle. After over three and a half hours, and Federer emerged with a record eighteenth Major title. Coming into the tournament, Federer had not won a Major since 2012 at Wimbledon, and had not been to a Final since the 2015 US Open. Federer’s injury problems mounted last year, having had knee surgery and back problems throughout the 2016 campaign. After injuries and inactivity, Federer’s fourteen year streak in the Top 10 came to an end last November. Expectations were low for the aging star.

What may be even more incredible than Federer’s struggle was that of Rafael Nadal. Nadal had not made a Major Final since the 2014 French Open, which he won. However, it was not like Nadal was at the top of his game during this span. Since the 2014 French Open, Nadal had only made two Major Quarterfinals prior to this year’s Australian Open. Nadal was ranked ninth coming into the Australian Open, while Federer was ranked seventeenth. Their combined seeding of 26 was the highest seeded Major Final since the 2008 Australian Open, when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made the Final as an unseeded player. Needless to say, Nadal and Federer have had their struggles in the past five years, as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had appeared to take over the throne. With their Australian Open apperances, Nadal and Federer have made it clear that they are nowhere near being done.

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Roger Federer is finally healthy again, and Federer’s consistency has always been part of the reason he is such a phenomenal tennis player. At 35 years old, age is an unavoidable issue for Federer. However, coming off of numerous injuries and an extended rehab he looked healthy as ever. If Federer can stay healthy, he can undoubtedly control the tempo in matches. Of Federer’s 150 points won against Nadal, 73 were winners, and 20 were aces. Moreover, of Nadal’s 139 points won, 57 of those came off of unforced errors by Federer. This shows that Federer is controlling the pace of the match and its energy, which plays into his hands. Federer has used his serve to set up his pace, sporting the fifth best serve rating in tennis over the past year. Statistics can be found here: http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/stats/leaderboard?page=serve. Over the past year, Federer has won 89.5% of his service games. With such an impressive offensive repertoire, opponents are hard pressed to break the Swiss Superman.

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Nadal’s strength lies in his ability to return opponents’ serves and his consistent first serve. Per the ATP, Nadal has the highest return rating over the past year. Statistics can be found here: http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/stats/leaderboard?page=return. Nadal has won 38.4% of his return games, better than the top two players in the world, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. What may surprise people is Nadal’s ability to land his first serve. He holds the highest first serve percentage on tour over the past year at 71.2%. Even after missing his first serve, Nadal has an excellent second serve, which has him second to only Roger Federer in percentage of second serve points won at 56.2%. And, while Nadal will not blow the ball past you on his serve, he also does not miss often: Nadal averages 1.7 double faults per match, fourth best on the Tour.

While Murray and Djokovic are quite possibly at the peaks of their careers, these two legends are not going to go away. With the French Open starting in May, you can expect Nadal to be gunning for his fifteenth Major title. As well, expect Federer to be pushing to reclaim Wimbledon as his kingdom in July. These legends are not done quite yet.

Australian Open Tennis

On the women’s side, it would be naïve to not recognize the greatness of Serena Williams. Williams won only one Major in 2016, a disappointing total. The role model, and an inspiration to many, claimed her twenty-third Major title on Saturday, defeating her sister, Venus, in an emotional Australian Open Final. Williams has done just about everything in tennis. But, one accomplishment remains untouched; Williams has never won all four Majors in the same year. She has completed it in a calendar year, which was coined the “Serena Slam”. If Williams could win the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open this year, it would be immaculate, and something that has not been seen in women’s tennis since Steffi Graf accomplished the feat in 1988. Williams did not even drop a single set at the Australian Open, despite playing three seeded players. Needless to say, she is the women to beat at every tournament, and the Grand Slam is within her capabilities. If Williams wins all four this year, she may truly cement herself as the greatest women’s tennis player of all-time, surpassing the likes of Martina Navratilova, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf. Either way, look forward to watching Williams continue to dominate her opponents on the court.

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The NHL All-Star Weekend has become a complete joke. Don Cherry, who was reluctantly brought to Los Angeles for the weekend, spoke out about the farce. Cherry said “I’m supposed to come on here and say what a great game it is. They’re not even trying!” I do not agree with a lot that Cherry says anymore, but he nailed it. Nobody enjoys watching players coast around the ice and defenders wave at their opponents going past them.
  • Mike Yeo is once again a head coach in the NHL, coming at the expense of Ken Hitchcock. The St. Louis Blues went on a ride last season by reaching the Western Conference Finals, only to come up short against the San Jose Sharks. The Blues goaltending, which was their strong suit last season, has seen a huge dip. Jake Allen, who was given the starting job, has seen a huge drop in production. After being signed to a 4-year extension worth $17.4 million, Allen has been pulled in eight of his 36 starts. Despite never holding the true starting job, and not being their starter in the playoffs, Allen was given this extension by Blues’ General Manager Doug Armstrong. Armstrong somehow still has his job over Ken Hitchcock, which is baffling and frankly concerning for the Blues’ direction.

Stars of the Week

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  • If there was one good thing coming from the NHL All-Star Weekend, it was seeing Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby on the same line. Metropolitan Head Coach Wayne Gretzky decided that putting the rivals together would be a great idea. It was fun to watch the two to play together, and something tells me they had fun. Ovechkin was asked if he and Sid were friends after the All-Star Game. He responded emphatically, saying, “Yes. Best friends.” After all the comparison and animosity, it is nice to see these two getting along.
  • Braden Holtby had a flawless record of 9-0-0 in January, along with three shutouts, a 1.82 G.A.A., and a save percentage of .935. Needless to say, the Vezina winner was locked in to start 2017, and a huge reason why the Washington Capitals are at the top of the NHL. With the Capitals playing such great defensive hockey, life has been easier for Holtby, who has quietly climbed back into the Vezina Trophy race to contend with Devan Dubnyk and Sergei Bobrovsky.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Toronto Raptors went into the locker room on Tuesday evening trailing the New Orleans Pelicans by 14. Frustrated and in shock, Kyle Lowry said the feel was like “a funeral”. The Raptors had mounted a comeback in the second half and forced overtime. In overtime, with the game tied at 106 apiece, Kyle Lowry delivered a dagger over the much taller Solomon Hill. The Air Canada Center went into a frenzy as the Raptors ended their tough spell and won an important ball game.
  • Last night’s victory was that much more important when you look at Wednesday’s matchup. The Toronto Raptors go up against the Boston Celtics, who they now find themselves chasing in the standings. After being a steady second in the Eastern Conference almost all season, the Raptors are now half a game back on the Celtics going into Wednesday’s crucial game. Nevertheless, a Raptors win would be huge for their confidence, and with the Cleveland Cavaliers reeling, they could actually catch up to the first placed team.

Top 5 NBA Power Rankings

Washington Wizards v Golden State Warriors

  1. Warriors (41-7)
  • The Golden State Warriors are not going to go 73-9 again, but they continue to dominate each night, especially against their potential playoff opponents. Golden State dismantled the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. The Warriors put up 144 points and held the Clippers to 98. Stephen Curry dropped 43 points and nearly had a triple-double in only 29 minutes of action. Once again, the Warriors demonstrated their deep arsenal, as any of their stars can go off any night.
  1. Spurs (37-11)
  • San Antonio has looked weaker without Pau Gasol, as he recovers from a fractured finger, but they remain at number two because of their depth at the five spot. Most teams are very thin there, but Head Coach Gregg Popovich has increased minutes for David Lee, Davis Bertans and Dewayne Dedmon, who have all been able to fill time for Gasol. Despite being Pau-less for the last few weeks, the Spurs have still recorded victories against the Cavs, Raptors and Thunder. This team can still beat anyone, any night, the Warriors included.
  1. Wizards (28-20)
  • After having a horrible start to the season the Washington Wizards have been reborn. And no, that is not because of Donald Trump, but because of John Wall and Bradley Beal’s incredible play. The backcourt combo have combined to average over 40 points per night this season, and are both shooting north of 45%, despite shooting at a high volume. The Wizards have won 12 of their last 14, and will get a crack at a struggling Cavaliers squad on Monday to prove just how good they are.
  1. Celtics (30-18)
  • Coming off a 15-point loss to the aforementioned Wizards, Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics have heled no prisoners in winning their last four. These four wins include an impressive win over James Harden and the Houston Rockets, where Thomas outdueled Harden, dropping 38 points and dishing out 9 assists in the victory. All of this success has come without starting shooting guard Avery Bradley. The Celtics have played with 10 players a night, and have been getting results out of this formula. You can expect them to be that much more dangerous when Bradley returns. As for now, the Celtics are only concerned about their upcoming opponent, as a win over the Raptors would be huge in the race for first place in the Atlantic division.
  1. Heat (19-30)
  • Power rankings talk about who is playing great right now, and the Miami Heat have been red hot. Now only 4 games back of the Charlotte Hornets for the final playoff spot in the East, the Heat are riding a huge amount of momentum. During their current eight game win streak, the Heat have beaten the Rockets and Warriors, amongst others. In his last six games, Dion Waiters is averaging 24.2 points per game, while chipping in with 4.5 rebounds per game and 5.3 assists per game. All of these are above his averages this season, and we might be seeing what Waiters is truly capable of. Now it is time to figure out if this Heat can truly have this kind of success over an extended period of time.

NFL News

Super Bowl Primer:

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It is the battle of the old versus the new. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s leading the New England Patriots, against the dynamic duo of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. A victory for the Patriots would be the duo’s fifth Super Bowl victory together, and it would certainly improve their future Hall of Fame resumes. Brady has led the Patriots to the Super Bowl once again, this time without his favourite target Rob Gronkowski. However, with the emergence of Chris Hogan, and Julian Edelman’s usual consistent play, the Patriots made the Super Bowl with ease. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots’ defense will face what is likely their toughest test of the season, taking on an explosive offense with dominant rushing and passing games. Between Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, the Falcons can run the ball against anyone, and the running backs even contribute to an already potent passing attack, complementing Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. As the Falcons close the doors on the Georgia Dome by moving to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season a Super Bowl victory would be a terrific way to close out this chapter in their franchise’s history.

X-Factor for Patriots: RB, Dion Lewis

X-Factor for Falcons: WR, Taylor Gabriel

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Raptors vs Celtics 7:30pm ET, Bruins vs Capitals 8:00pm ET, Bulls vs Thunder 9:30pm ET
  • Thursday: Oilers vs Predators 8:00pm ET, Hawks vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Warriors vs Clippers 10:30pm ET
  • Friday: Blue Jackets vs Penguins 7:00pm ET, Grizzlies vs Thunder 8:00pm ET, Bulls vs Rockets 8:00pm ET
  • Saturday: Capitals vs Canadiens 1:00pm ET, Penguins vs Blues 8:00pm ET, Grizzlies vs Jazz 9:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Kings vs Capitals 1:00pm ET, Oilers vs Canadiens 1:00pm ET, Clippers vs Celtics 2:00pm ET, The Super Bowl 6:30pm ET,
  • Monday: Cavaliers vs Wizards 7:00pm ET, Clippers vs Raptors 7:30pm ET, Jazz vs Hawks 7:30pm ET, Spurs vs Grizzlies 9:30pm ET
  • Tuesday: Ducks vs Rangers 7:00pm ET, Blues vs Senators 7:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

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