WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — There are two stops on the London Tube rail line called Wimbledon Park and Wimbledon. Neither of them is the right stop for The Championships, which I learned the hard way Sunday.
The proper Tube station is Southfields — one stop before the two Wimbledons. From the Southfields station it’s a beautiful 12-minute walk along Wimbledon Park Road to the All England Club on Church Road.
The road to the club is like something out of a movie set: tree-lined with old English row houses on one side and gated stand-alone homes on the other. You can smell the gardens behind the manicured hedges. It seems almost too beautiful to be real — but you need to stay alert when crossing the street with traffic coming in the wrong direction.
Before the exterior of the Centre Court stadium comes into sight, you can hear tennis balls being pounded on the 22 practice courts behind the wrought iron fences and hedges of the oldest tennis tournament in the world, started in 1877.
It was on the No. 5 practice court where Westmount’s Eugenie Bouchard was Sunday afternoon, hitting balls with Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay from 2-3 p.m. Watching Bouchard’s every move ever so closely was coach Nick Saviano, who began working with the 22-year-old again in April. Saviano started coaching Bouchard when she was 12, but she dropped him after her successful 2014 season when she advanced to the semifinals at the Australian and French Opens and made the final at Wimbledon before losing 6-3, 6-0 to the Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova.
The odds of Bouchard making it back to Centre Court for the women’s final at the end of this special tennis fortnight are slim. After climbing to as high as No. 5 in the world rankings in 2014, Bouchard is now No. 48 and lost her first-round match here last year in straight sets (7-6, 6-4) to Chinese qualifier Ying-Ying Duan. The British bookmakers have Bouchard listed at between 33-1 and 50-1.
As she left the practice court Sunday afternoon, Bouchard was asked if she had a couple of minutes to talk. She politely said she didn’t have time because she was headed to another training session, but added: “Try me again tomorrow.”
Bouchard will be back on the practice courts Monday since her first-round match isn’t until Tuesday when she will face Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova, who is ranked No. 92.
Saviano will surely be on the practice courts watching Bouchard’s every move again Monday. But Bouchard no longer demands the attention she used to from others both on and off the court. When she arrived for her afternoon practice session Sunday wearing a white Nike T-shirt and dark purple shorts with her blond hair in a ponytail, only a few of the cameramen in place at the court entrances focused their lenses on her. A little while later, the cameramen were tripping over each other as they chased Novak Djokovic while the No. 1 men’s player headed to his practice session.
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic practices during a preview day at the The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London on Saturday. The Wimbledon tennis tournament begins Monday.
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic practises during a preview day at the The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London on Saturday. The Wimbledon tennis tournament begins Monday. Adam Davy / Associated Press
Djokovic will be the main attraction here as he looks to take the third step toward completing the calendar Grand Slam with wins already at the Australian and French Opens and the U.S. Open waiting in September. The last man to do that was Rod Laver in 1969. Djokovic already holds all four titles after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.
“Obviously, I’m at the peak of my career at the moment,” said the 29-year-old Djokovic, who will play Great Britain’s James Ward, ranked No. 177, on Monday. “It hopefully can still keep going. I see still lots of room for improvement, things that I can work on. That’s something that encourages me. That’s something that keeps me grounded in a way, gives me more reason to practise.”
On the women’s side, the main focus will be on top-seeded Serena Williams, the defending champion and a six-time winner. Williams starts against Swiss qualifier Amra Sadikovic on Tuesday
“I’m feeling pretty good,” the 34-year-old Williams said. “I don’t feel any pressure or stress.”
The same can’t be said for Bouchard.
Canadian tennis fans will also be watching Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., who has a legitimate shot at the men’s title. The 6-foot-5 tower of power is seeded sixth and the 8 millimetre grass surface will make his serve even harder to return. Raonic has also been working with three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe as a coaching consultant to improve the finer points of his game, including going more to the net. The British bookmakers have Raonic listed at between 12-1 and 14-1 odds.
“It’s a very different story this year,” Raonic, who plays his first match Monday against 45th ranked Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, told The Canadian Press on Saturday. “I feel like I’ve done all the right things and put myself in position. Now is the opportunity to make it count.”
Bouchard also spoke with The Canadian Press Saturday, saying she’s trying to forget what happened here last year.
“I’ve done a much better preparation,” she said. “I feel much better physically I’ve gotten in more matches on grass and feel like I’m on the right path with my coaching situation as well.”
Monday is a huge day for sports fans in Britain with Wimbledon getting started in the morning and England playing Iceland at night in the Round of 16 at the Euro soccer tournament. But the big front-page headlines are still about England voting last week to leave the European Union, including the Sunday Times with “After Brexit, what now?” and the Sunday Telegraph’s “Tories at war.”
Times are tense and it took three hours to get through UK Border customs early Sunday morning at Heathrow Airport. And after making the walk from Southfields station to the All England Club, I was stopped en route to getting my accreditation by a very polite British man in a blue suit who was joined by two security guards in uniform. Apparently, I had been picked up on surveillance cameras outside stopping, taking photos and writing in my notebook and he wanted to know what I was doing.
I showed him my passport and told him it was my first time covering Wimbledon, but he still politely asked to see my notebook.
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”
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