Up a set in the women’s final at Roland Garros, at 0-1 in the second, Serena Williams hit a hard serve down the T. Maria Sharapova whaled a backhand deep into the corner, the kind of return that only one of the best returners in the game can hit, the kind of return that would force an error or be an outright winner against most players. Serena lunged to her right and hit a half-volley from the baseline, swinging her racket up over her back, which was nearly parallel to the court. She looked like a sprinter exploding from the blocks — except that with her second step she skidded to a halt and changed directions, her navy skirt flying, her orange shorts beaming against the terre battue. She floated to the center of the baseline, somehow skimming the surface as lightly as the blown clay despite her strong build. She hit a standard, crushing forehand, her feet kicking slightly from right to left, and then another forehand, this time pulling Sharapova off the court — always a weak position for Maria — and forcing her to block back a backhand on the run, drawing a short ball. Williams closed toward the net and hit a bad drop shot. The ball sat up and Sharapova knocked a passing shot down the line — except that Serena was there for the volley. She flicked a lob that flew high over Sharapova and landed just inside the baseline. The crowd gasped and roared. Serena barely acknowledged the winner. I’ll bet she was thinking about that drop shot.
In case you were busy accidentally watching a performance art piece in which the notion of sports was approached from many perspectives without any sports actually happening, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Miami Heat bounced back from their Game 1 defeat to even the NBA Finals with a 103-84 win over the San Antonio Spurs. Despite the win, questions must be asked of LeBron James, who was held to only 17 points, and I'm not afraid to be the one to take it right to James and throw it down, to split this whole issue wide open, so
OH ARE THERE QUESTIONS? LOOK AT THE RING ON MY FINGER AND ASK ME A QUESTION. HUH? WHAT QUESTION DO YOU HAVE TO ASK THE KING? IS IT "WHO BROKE INTO YOUR HOUSE AND ANSWERED ALL YOUR QUESTIONS?" BECAUSE I THINK THAT'S THE QUESTION YOU SHOULD BE ASKING.
Holy crap guys. I'm not positive, but based on the welt on my forehead and the above text, I think LeBron James just came out of nowhere, broke into my house, knocked me out, and typed up a vicious and unexpected rejection to my question. Well, um, asked and answered. I'm going to go lock my door. Moving on.
In case you were out playing it real cool about the NSA's newly revealed data-mining operations because you have nothing to hide, nope, nothing at all, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Tim Duncan shook off a poor first quarter to post a double-double as the San Antonio Spurs stole home-court advantage in the NBA Finals with a 92-88 Game 1 win over the Miami Heat. Spurs point guard and noted Frenchman Tony Parker, who scored a game-clinching circus shot with 5.2 seconds remaining, said after the game, "You say this is a shot at a circus? Like I am some sort of sad clown, with a smile painted over downward-facing lips? You would misunderstand the meaning of both circus and sadness." Parker then pulled a pack of Gauloises from behind the ear of a reporter, and lit one using a match that he pulled from the mouth of the imaginary bird that follows him around before continuing, "Circuses are mere entertainment, and sadness is mere emotion, but both of those assume a world that is, how would you say it, existing in a reality that we can all access and accept." Parker then quickly shook his head and said "I do not accept" as the cigarette he was smoking disappeared from his mouth.
Stanford starting pitcher Mark Appel was chosen first overall in the Major League Baseball draft by the Houston Astros, a year after turning down the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted him eighth overall, and electing to return to school. When asked if he regretted his decision, Appel laughed. When asked the question again, Appel said, "Seriously? I spent the last year in Palo Alto instead of Altoona. I have a degree from Stanford. And I'm the top pick in the Major League Baseball draft. I even look a little like a Harbaugh. I spent the last year of my life becoming perfect. So, what do you think?" When asked again if he regretted his decision, Appel shook his head and walked away muttering about how hard it is to try to engage with the common man.
It wasn't unthinkable that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could beat Roger Federer. On clay. In Paris. At Roland Garros. Maybe it was even likely. Tsonga is one of a handful of men who knows how to play Federer on any surface, how to stand strong under his relentlessness. But Federer relented quite a bit on Tuesday. He doesn't express much when he's losing badly, but when he does he makes the face old Parisian women make upon discovering that they've carelessly boarded the metro car with the busking accordionist. Tsonga wasn't electric against Federer. He didn't have to be: Federer was simply ordinary. They've called him FedEx for years. But Tuesday, he was FedUSPS.
In any case, now that he's gone, France is starting to believe that on the 30th anniversary of Yannick Noah's being the last of their countrymen to win the championship, Tsonga could be the next. (We'll see. If Andy Murray's Wimbledon frustrations indicate anything, it might just mean Tsonga will be the first Frenchperson to win the U.S. Open in August.) For three days, the sports shows and newspapers have quietly conjoined commemoration and speculation. Will Noah be there Friday to root Tsonga on against David Ferrer? Will Tsonga, who's seeded sixth, find the right game plan to stop Ferrer? Is the country even doing all it can to support and encourage its native son?
In case you were out looking for a shooting star to wish on, but finding only derelict satellites, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
It took two overtimes and 53 saves from Tuukka Rask, but the Boston Bruins took a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden. Rask was jubilant after the win, saying, "Rask! Rask! Rask!" while pounding his stick on the ground. When asked what had inspired him to produce such a stellar showing, Rask added, "Rask! Rask! Rask!" before again pounding his stick on the ground. When asked whether Boston's poor showing after taking big leads in previous rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs had him at all nervous going into Game 4, Rask slashed the reporter in the knee with his stick, severing the bottom portion of his leg from the rest of his body, before adding, "Rask! Rask! Rask!"
After 13 scoreless innings, the White Sox and Mariners engaged in a seesaw battle at Safeco Field, including a game-tying Kyle Seager grand slam, before Chicago finally put away Seattle, 7-5, in the 16th inning. White Sox pitcher Addison Reed, who pitched three innings in relief, wound up getting the win despite allowing all five Mariners runs. Adjusting for park and opponent, Reed's win is hold on a second, let me just carry the three yes, yes, yes, eureka! It is the proof I've been looking for! Wins are the most useless statistic in sports! I win! Now if anyone has seen where I've put my ironic victory trombone, I have some Sousa marches to play whilst stomping around my living room in my boxer shorts.
In case you were out living your own sports dreams by eating pretzels like Jason Alexander circa '94, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Los Angeles Kings once again showed that Staples Center is a fortress, extending their unbeaten home playoff record with a 3-1 win over the Blackhawks to narrow Chicago's Western Conference finals lead to 2-1. "Man, it's harder to win there than it is at a Staples," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. "I mean, you go in, and the prices are way higher than you'd find online, but it's like, I need index cards today and where the hell else can you get index cards? Then you end up wandering down an aisle and remembering that your wife told you the router was on the fritz, so you go to pick up a new one, but all the models are weird and overpriced. Then you get up to the counter, and boom, Jonathan Quick rejects your credit card. So you go to shoplift some highlighters. Which, and trust me on this one, only makes things worse."
Oklahoma avenged its defeat in last year's Women's College World Series by completing its sweep of the Tennessee Volunteers with a 4-0 series-clinching win. Oklahoma became the first WCWS champion to finish first in the nation in ERA and scoring, putting it in the conversation about the greatest women's college softball teams of all time. Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops differed in his assessment, however, saying, "Last year's model was definitely better; it's always better when you make it to the finals and lose. Builds character. Shows true greatness."
In case you were out protesting your local movie theater for continuing to show After Earth, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Miami Heat played their best game of the Eastern Conference finals when the stakes were the highest, closing out Game 7 with a 99-76 win over the Indiana Pacers behind another exceptional performance from LeBron James and a resurgent Dwyane Wade. "What about me?" said a distant voice from the nether reaches of the Heat locker room after the game. "The Big Three we were to be, and yet there are but two I see." When no one acknowledged the voice squeaking off in the periphery, it grew louder. "Remember me? Ol' Chrissy B? So sad am I to feel and see, that I've been forgot, been left behind, I'm all for naught, you're so unkind." But despite his growing voice, no one noticed the sad, lanky man in the corner in the midst of jubilant celebrations, no one except Shane Battier, who registered a DNP-CD in Game 7, who told Chris Bosh to stop using slant rhyme if he wanted to be noticed.
Brad Marchand had two goals as the Boston Bruins destroyed a lackluster Pittsburgh Penguins team, 6-1, to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals. What appeared on paper to be a relatively even series is turning into a massive mismatch with the Bruins outscoring Pittsburgh 9-1 through two games in a display that can only be described as the sort of savage thrashing that an actual bruin would deliver to a flock of actual penguins, with the bruin eating nine penguins before succumbing to the cold, and dying tragically on the glaciers of Antarctica, far from her home, her bear husband, and her cubs.
In case you were busy WATCHING GAME OF THRONES OH MY GOD YOU GUYS, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Chicago Blackhawks took a 2-0 series lead on the Los Angeles Kings with a 4-2 win at United Center. The loss was as bad for the Kings as oh no. I want to spoil Game of Thrones’ most recent episode so badly with this punch line. Not going to. This is a safe place. OK here is a spoiler-free Kings/Game of Thrones punch line to that setup: I CAN'T DO IT OH MY GOD GUYS. GUYS. GUYS. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN? DO YOU SEE THE PARALLELS? OK. OK. Just, um, OK, I'll set it up again, and do something else: The loss was as bad for the Kings as oh this is hopeless. As hopeless as the oh man, that was close to being a spoiler again. As close as Arya was to ah! It's impossible! As impossible as no! This has to stop. As much as Joffrey has to stop OK I owe it to you all to walk away. And much as the Lannisters do, I always pay my debts, even if they end in — AHHH!
Bankers Life Fieldhouse again proved an uncrackable vault for a Pacers opponent as Indiana forced a deciding Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals with a 91-77 win over the Miami Heat. Dwyane Wade was again ineffective in the loss, scoring 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting despite 34 minutes on the floor. "It doesn't make any sense," Wade said in the locker room after the game. "Why would I be breaking down?" Just then, Chris Bosh yelled, "does anyone have any lip balm?" and Wade sprang into action, running past three journalists and a towel boy, drawing contact from all four before falling violently to the ground, and retrieving an extra tube of lip balm from a duffel bag he had stashed by the showers. Wade then got up limping and staggered over to Bosh, who high-fived Wade hard enough to send him flying into Mario Chalmers's locker. Wade then got up again, grimaced, and doubled over in pain, before dragging himself back to his own locker. "Again, it doesn't make any sense. A guy like me should be able to play forever."
The color of the clay at Roland Garros is spray-tan orange. In French, it's "terre-battue," as in "beaten earth." But after the court's been combed and brushed, it's basically a glorious patch of suede. When it rains, the suede turns to mud. And off and on for the opening two rounds of this year's tournament it's been raining — enough to interrupt play, enough to create some near misses between umbrellas and eyes, enough to make you very sad for the people in open-toe shoes. Their feet got an uneven tan.
On Tuesday, play didn't start until well after one, which guaranteed backups on Wednesday. On Thursday, it barely got under way, which guaranteed backups on Friday. In the U.S., when there's a rain delay at the French Open, you probably go back to sleep. Here, whether you're the BBC broadcast team or one of the linespeople, you wait. If you're a spectator, you pray. Those people you always see on television, huddled in the stands beneath an umbrella or slumped in a plastic poncho? Those people once seemed silly to me, but they're fervent optimists. And eventually, their optimism produced a match in Court Philippe Chatrier, the tournament's intimately scaled main theater, between Marion Bartoli and Olga Govortsova.
In case you were busy listening to Steve Winwood, wondering when you would be back in the high life again, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Despite being denied a late winner in regulation because of a delayed concurrent penalty call, Brent Seabrook's overtime goal gave the Chicago Blackhawks a 2-1 Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings. The Blackhawks advance to the Western Conference finals, where they will face the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. If they beat the Kings they will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they will be forced to forfeit after being held by the Kingsguard for attempting to usurp the throne. Justice will come quickly, as the Stanley Cup monarchy does not wait for due process or jury trials, and punishment will be severe. The Kings' public enemies are few at this point, and while many may support the Blackhawks, when the guillotine falls those supporters will stay silent, lest a similar fate befall them. Hope is a forgotten word in the NHL, but, futile as such wishes may be, best of luck to all four conference finalists!
While recovering from his fourth wrist surgery of the offseason, sources are reporting that Rob Gronkowski will undergo back surgery that will put his participation in the New England Patriots' training camp in doubt. While many are concerned about Gronkowski's long-term ability to contribute in the NFL with his continued injury issues, personally, I am concerned that Gronkowski is abusing his deductible. We get it Rob, you blew past your annual maximum on arm surgery no. 3. You don't need to rub your ability to receive quality medical care in our faces.
In case you were busy making more than $1,244 a week from home using one simple trick, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Things are getting interesting in the Eastern Conference finals as the Indiana Pacers took Game 4 from the Miami Heat, 99-92, to even up their series at two games apiece. Roy Hibbert was immense for the Pacers, amassing 23 points and 12 rebounds while anchoring an impressive Indiana defense that held All-Star forward Chris Bosh to seven points on 1-for-6 shooting. "They seem to be playing some sort of strange formation," Hibbert explained after the game. "They put out guys who are shorter than we are on the court, and then they try to go around us. It's like they have no idea that height is an advantage in basketball. It makes no sense. It's some crazy sort of tiny orb strategy, because they're small and we play with a regulation-size basketball. I think I'm gonna dub it 'wee sphere,' and hope they keep doing it because man, it's really easy for me to guard short dudes." Hibbert then shrugged before adding, "Baby globe."
The Los Angeles Kings will be returning to the Western Conference finals after holding on to beat the San Jose Sharks, 2-1, in a climactic Game 7 at Staples Center. It was a Pyrrhic victory for the Kings, however, as they lost the services of superfan Samuel L. Jackson midway through giving the following motivational speech: "You think water moves fast? You should see ice. It moves like it has a mind. Like it knows it killed the world once and got a taste for murder. After the Avalanche knocked us out at this stage in '01, it took us a decade to climb out. Now, I don't know exactly when we turned on each other, but I know that nature is lethal but it doesn't hold a candle to man. To Kings!" Jackson was then bitten savagely by Sharks goal scorer Dan Boyle, and decided that hockey "ain't worth my damn time."
In case you were out grillaxing (grilling while attempting to fend off an ax-wielding dwarf) here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Tony Parker had 37 points as the San Antonio Spurs completed a four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies with a 93-86 win. Despite having only two first-half dunks, the Spurs outscored Memphis 52-32 in the paint, as they once again reinforced the old Popovichian adage, "Dunk for show, make relatively uncontested layups and midrange jumpers for dough."
We're heading back to Chicago as the Blackhawks overcame a second-period deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 4-3, to force a Game 7 in their Western Conference semifinal. The decisive goal was scored on a penalty shot by Michael Frolik, despite Red Wings coach Mike Babcock distinctly warning his goalkeeper Jimmy Howard: "I know his move, triple deke, hit the brakes, pause, glove side." Howard asked, "What if he goes stick side?" but Babcock insisted that Frolik was fancy and would go glove side. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, while Frolik did go glove side, he did not stop his action to grin at the opposing goalkeeper, keeping the entire audience in suspense before firing off his shot, instead taking it as part of a single fluid motion.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The L.A. Kings are Stanley Cup champions. For the first time in franchise history, they're taking home the title after a 6-1 rout of the New Jersey Devils in Game 6. With the end of the NHL season, Canadians allowed themselves a night of celebration before migrating to their caves this morning to begin a long hibernation. But be warned — just because they're inactive for a few months doesn't mean you can disturb them without consequence. Canadians have been known to react violently when woken from a hibernation slumber. They can rise quickly to defend themselves if they think an attack is imminent — a necessary skill, since they can't burrow underground for protection.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
LeBron James finished with 31 points and 12 boards, and Chris Bosh hit several clutch fourth-quarter shots, as the Miami Heat beat the Celtics 101-88 in Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals. "I tried," said Rajon Rondo, his eyes misting as he stood with his teammates in the parking lot after the game. "I want you all to know how much you meant to me, all these years. This place it's not so bad. It's not so bad." They were about to ask him why he was so emotional, but then they saw the spaceship land.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
LeBron James choked by scoring just 15 points in the second half, including a mere four in the fourth quarter, as Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat overcame his nervy effort to beat Boston 98-79 and force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals. In frustration, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra benched James for the final three minutes of the game in favor of Juwan Howard, who is no longer ambulatory.