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Stu Cowan: Denis Shapovalov Canada’s only Wimbledon champion on Super Sunday



WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — After Super Sunday — the biggest day in the history of Canadian tennis — there’s only one person coming home from Wimbledon with a championship trophy.

That would be Denis Shapovalov, the good-looking blond kid from Richmond Hill, Ont., with the great smile and laugh — and an ever better tennis game.

Canada had a shot at three championships Sunday but Shapovalov was the only winner, beating Australia’s Alex De Minaur 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the boys’ singles final to start the day on the No. 1 Court. Milos Raonic, looking to become the first Canadian to win a major Grand Slam singles championship, lost in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2), to Great Britain’s Andy Murray later in the day on Centre Court. After that, Shapovalov and Montreal’s Félix Auger-Aliassime lost their boys’ doubles final on the No. 1 court, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, to Estonia’s Kenneth Raisma and Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Denis Shapovalov of Canada bites his racket in frustration as he loses a point to Alex De Minaur of Australia during the boys' singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Sunday, July 10, 2016.
Denis Shapovalov of Canada bites his racket in frustration as he loses a point to Alex De Minaur of Australia during the boys’ singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Sunday, July 10, 2016. Tim Ireland / AP

Things didn’t start off well for Shapovalov, who served the first game of the match and didn’t win a single point to fall behind 1-0. He broke right back in the second game, but then was broken again to fall behind 2-1 en route to losing the set.

“Yeah, I was very nervous, to be honest,” Shapovalov said afterwards. “Started off making a lot of errors in the first couple of games. I managed to break him back at the start, but I got broken once again. After I got broken the second time, just told myself: ‘Calm down a little bit.’ Started making some longer rallies. By the end of the first set, I gained my confidence back. I was ready to go in the second.”

Was he ever.

Denis Shapovalov of Canada plays a return to Alex De Minaur of Australia during the boys' singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Sunday, July 10, 2016.
Denis Shapovalov of Canada plays a return to Alex De Minaur of Australia during the boys’ singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Sunday, July 10, 2016. Tim Ireland / AP

Listed at 5-foot-11 — but looking a couple of inches taller — the left-handed Shapovalov put on an impressive display of power grass-court tennis, featuring a wicked one-handed backhand his mother, Tessa, taught him at the tennis school she runs in Vaughan, Ont. The Canadian kid, looking pretty cool with his long hair and white ball cap on backwards, hit 126 mph with his serve and pounded 25 winners, compared with only eight for his opponent.

Shapovalov becomes only the second Canadian to win a Grand Slam boys’ championship after Vancouver’s Filip Peliwo, who won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2012. Westmount’s Eugenie Bouchard is the only Canadian to win a girls’ singles Grand Slam title, doing it at Wimbledon the same years as Peliwo.

Before entering the main interview room after his doubles match, Shapovalov had a chance to phone his parents back home.

“I just wanted to thank them, actually, because of all their support they’re doing,” Shapovalov said. “I also want to thank my mom (who) opened up her own training club where I’m training at, TessaTennis. Without that, I wouldn’t have anywhere to train.”

Shapovalov was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, but his family moved to Canada when he was only nine months hold. He wanted to play hockey as a kid, but his parents were afraid he would get hurt and he started playing tennis at age 5.

“They congratulated me,” Shapovalov said about his phone call back home. “They’re extremely happy. Yeah, I mean, I couldn’t see, but it sounded like they even had tears in their eyes. For sure it’s very exciting for them. Hopefully we have a nice dinner when we get back. It will be good.”

Canada's Denis Shapovalov reacts after winning a point against Australia's Alex de Minaur during boys' final at Wimbledon on July 10, 2016. Shapovalov won 4-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Canada’s Denis Shapovalov reacts after winning a point against Australia’s Alex de Minaur during boys’ final at Wimbledon on July 10, 2016. Shapovalov won 4-6, 6-1, 6-3. Justin Tallis / AFP/Getty Images

The future of Canadian tennis is looking a lot better than just good. Shapovalov doesn’t turn 18 until next April 15 and Auger-Aliassime only turns 16 on Aug. 8. The Montrealer came within one point of winning the boys’ championship at last month’s French Open and advanced to the quarter-finals here before losing to De Minaur.

Even Raonic is only 25 and was looking to become the youngest man to win Wimbledon since Novak Djokovic did it in 2011 at 24.

Before the boys’ final, Shapovalov sat alone in the stands of the No. 1 Court, which seats just over 11,000, to soak in the atmosphere. It’s not as big as Centre Court, which holds 15,000, but it’s close. Shapovalov called the experience “nerve-wracking.”

Nerves are a huge part of tennis at the elite level — just ask Bouchard — but Shapovalov was able to overcome them on the biggest stage he has ever played on.

“As you can see, Canadian tennis is moving forward a lot,” said Shapovalov, who could easily play the boy-next-door role in a movie. “Hopefully it doesn’t stop here. I mean, hopefully even the next generation, they start seeing that it’s possible, they start working harder, too. Hopefully in the future, we’ll have more Grand Slam champions.”

Denis Shapovalov of Canada kisses the trophy as celebrates victory during the Boy's Singles Final against Alex De Minaur of Australia on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 10, 2016 in London, England.
Denis Shapovalov of Canada kisses the trophy as celebrates victory during the Boy’s Singles Final against Alex De Minaur of Australia on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 10, 2016 in London, England. Adam Pretty / Getty Images

On Super Sunday we got one.

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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.

Source: Pixabay

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.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

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.

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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.

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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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