RIO DE JANEIRO — The Canadian duo of big-serving Vasek Pospisil and doubles legend Daniel Nestor are into the medal round at Rio 2016 after a convincing win in the men’s doubles quarter-finals over Italians Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi at the Olympic Tennis Centre.
Taking advantage of the fact that both Italians had played singles matches on Tuesday, with Fognini coming off a three-set win that finished just a couple of hours earlier, the Canadians overpowered their opponents with big serves: Nestor and Pospisil lost only two points on serve in the first set and just three in the second, in the 6-3, 6-1 win.
“We played a great match, very crisp, and we’re hitting the ball great, both of us, we were all over them,” Nestor said after the match. Asked about only dropping the handful of service points all game, the 43-year-old from Toronto said that he thought it showed that the Canadians “played extraordinary.”
“Those guys are good returners, and I don’t think they played bad, I thought we just played well. That’s a great stat against a team that returns the ball well like they do.”
In a doubles draw in which the top three seeds are all out, Nestor and Pospisil, 26, of Vancouver, now have an excellent shot at a medal. Their opponents in the semi-finals, Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez of Spain, are the sixth seeds. (The Canadians are seventh.) One more win, and they will play for the gold medal. A loss, and they go into a bronze-medal match.
Americans Jack Sock and Steve Johnson meet Romanians Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau in the other semifinal.
Nestor, who has 90 doubles titles, eight of them Grand Slams, said Canada will stay aggressive in the next match.
“Obviously, we have one French Open champion from this year, and a nine-time singles French Open champion and, you know, they are going to play similar to our last two opponents, but better,” he said. “I don’t think our game style is going to change. We’re going to go after them and hit big and take the net away and see what happens.”
On the women’s side, Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and Gabriela Dabrowski had their Olympic run come to an end after a wild, loud, three-set loss.
The Canadians took the first set in a tiebreaker against the Czech team of Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova, who upset the top-seeded Serena and Venus Williams in the first round, in front of a raucous crowd at tiny Court 4.
A group of five Canadians, three of them wearing maple leaf onesies under the hot Brazilian sun, chanted incessantly from the moment that the players took the court to warm up. As the match wore on, more Czech fans arrived, and by the end, with the Canada having dropped the second set, the chants were duelling back and forth. “CA-NA-DA!” was met with, well, something in Czech.
The key game of the match came with the Czechs leading 4-3 in the third set, having just broken Dabrowski’s serve. Canada kept getting break points, but Safarova and Strycova kept saving them, and the epic game lasted through nine deuces before the Czechs finally pulled it out.
“Genie was returning really well and she gave me a lot of break points, a lot of chances, but I unfortunately couldn’t capitalize on any one of them,” Dabrowski said. There were countless long points, with duels at the net, and lob shots, and saves, and the odd misfire.
“It was a long game. A very long game,” Bouchard said. There was general agreement from the press. “S— happens,” she said. After a strong service game from Bouchard, the Czechs closed out the match in the next game, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4.
Bouchard seemed to have a blast in the intense atmosphere, smiling and fist-bumping her partner even in the dramatic moments. She said afterward that she had fun with the match, and the scene.
“Especially when we have some of those crazy points. I find it so entertaining. I think the fans find it entertaining, but I find it entertaining as well,” Bouchard said after a match that lasted two hours and nine minutes. “It’s about competing hard, and battling, but also enjoying it.
The 22-year-old from Montreal also tipped her visor to the onesie-clad countrymen who hooted and cheered the whole match.
“I mean, I want whatever they’re on, you know what I mean?” she said. “To have that kind of energy throughout? Impressive.”
Bouchard said the exit won’t dampen what has been a great Olympic experience.
“I actually really enjoyed today, I’m happy we fought so hard. We were really close to beating a good team, you know what I mean?” she said. “So, learn some lessons, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
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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