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?
It can hurt to see someone in pain. It’s real, not metaphorical, and it’s strange. The flash of pain across a face can signal across the space between bodies and the other mind will flash like lightning in response. A faint rumble of pain follows like thunder. I can’t explain the mechanics. It has to do with mirror neurons or the somatosensory cortex or something. Your brain is fooled. Your heart tightens and your stomach jumps. If you’re like me, you might feel tears threaten your eyes. There is something ridiculous and egomaniacal about this. I was not injured watching Serena Williams play last night. But it hurt all the same.
In case you were out brainstorming baby names with Shakira and Gerard Pique last night, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
American teenager Sloane Stephens upset Serena Williams at the Australian Open in an exhilarating, injury-plagued three-set thriller, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. As the final shot was struck just before the clock struck midnight in New York, a hirsute figure scaled the walls of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center. "American tennis is dead! Long live American Tennis! American Tennis is dead! Long live American Tennis!" Was the figure that of Pete Sampras? Was it? Who could possibly know? (It was.)
At this very moment, there are no matches being played at the Australian Open. This is true for two reasons: (1) Everyone's asleep, because it's early in the morning, and (2) we, the East Coast liberal media elite, need time to write about what happened the day before without the distraction of amazing tennis matches.
The creators of the Australian Open, which is now more than 100 years old, knew that it was hard for American bloggers to write about tennis while tennis was taking place. Sure, writing about tennis is great, but at the end of the day, you'd rather be watching tennis.
Which is why, when the Internet gets ready for bed in the early evening, around 9 p.m. EST, the Australian Open wakes up.
It's perfect. Sure, you're kind of always between rounds, never really knowing who is at what stage, but that's fine. That's a completely manageable sacrifice to make for writing time, watching time, and (most importantly) no sleeping time.
In case you were out getting arrested while rehearsing your Les Misérables flash mob, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The Chicago Bulls held the Atlanta Hawks to 20 first-half points en route to a 97-58 win in Chicago. It was the fewest points the Hawks had scored in a game since 1955, the year the shot clock was introduced, when they scored just 57 against the Boston Celtics. "I can't believe you clowns," joked Bulls coach and amateur insult comic Tom Thibodeau after the game. "One fewer basket, and we would've really stuck it to that old nincompoop Red Auerbach. He hasn't been had that bad since someone replaced one of his stogies with an exploding cigar. I guess you kidders will just have to win nine championships now to make it up to me. Am I right? Now which of you buffoons wants to get silly and see this ol' wisecracker work out some new material down at the Chuckle Bin?" There were no immediate takers, but Thibodeau thought he could get Kirk Hinrich to bite if he picked up the tab on the club's two-drink minimum.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been ruled out for the remainder of the postseason after reinjuring his broken arm in New England's game against Houston on Sunday. "I thought it was worth playing through it, and Coach thought playing was the right choice." Gronkowski said to the media. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick quickly interjected, "Thinks. Not thought. Coach thinks playing is the right choice."
It was a year that provided plenty of personalities, story lines, and moments, but the question is, which of those moments got their due and which did not? Could LeBron James actually be underrated? Could the Olympics? They just might be.
Underrated: LeBron James's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Indiana
Everyone remembers the 45-point evisceration of Boston on the road in an elimination game, and the ultra-efficient inside-out torching of the Thunder in the Finals. But Game 4 against the Pacers has sort of gotten lost in the shuffle, which can happen, I guess, when a game kicks off one of the greatest 15-game stretches in the entire history of a sport. Miami felt like it was on the verge of a franchise-altering crisis going into Game 4, down 2-1 to a feisty Indiana team and missing Chris Bosh. Dwyane Wade had shot 2-of-13 and snapped at Erik Spoelstra during a Game 3 blowout loss. It wasn't an elimination game, but in that moment it was hard to imagine Miami coming back from a 3-1 deficit against a Pacers club that clearly didn't fear them.
And when Miami fell behind by 10 points in the first half of Game 4, looking a bit listless, it was tempting to start thinking about the consequences of a conference semifinals loss. Would they make a panic trade of one of the stars? Would they conclude James and Wade just couldn't coexist well enough to win a title? Would they fire Spoelstra before his extension — which was signed before the season — even kicked in?
Then LeBron and Wade went absolutely bananas, scoring 38 straight points for Miami in a second-half stretch for the ages. It wasn't just the production; it was the way it looked. Both were cutting actively off the ball and feeding each other for the sorts of semi-improv scores we all envisioned when they teamed up. Spoelstra began leaning on sets in which Miami cleared one side of the floor for LeBron and letting James go to work. He was dominant in those sets, which were rarely a major part of Miami's offense before, and they morphed into post-ups as the playoffs wore on — the post-ups for which Oklahoma City had no answer. It all just came together, at a startling speed. James finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds, and nine assists, numbers that no other player has ever put up in a postseason game since the mid-1980s. He hit post-up shots, jumpers, graceful floaters over Roy Hibbert in the lane — shots he just didn't quite have down even two or three seasons before. It was masterful, and the Heat needed every bit of it. — Zach Lowe
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Peyton Manning threw his first two touchdowns as a Bronco, and the 400th and 401st of his career, in a 31-19 victory over the Steelers. After the game, Peyton received a phone call from someone with a high-pitched voice saying, "Ooooh, mister, you look so sexy in orange. You are like a big stupid carrot." Peyton's face clouded over. "Cut it out, Eli, you little dingus, or I'll tell dad!" he screamed, drawing stares from his teammates.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Quarterback Logan Thomas led no. 16 Virginia Tech back from the brink of defeat with two key drives as the Hokies beat Georgia Tech 17-14 in overtime. Unfortunately, the celebrations on the Blacksburg campus got a little out of hand late Monday night when Virginia Tech students began throwing upholstered hay bales out their dorm windows.
I, Rembert Browne, have nothing to offer an Olympian with regard to the holding of hands, the making of love, the walking of aisles, or the having of children. Please do not waste time trying to convince me otherwise; I know it to be true and I am slowly coming to grips with that as fact. It's OK, though, because for the sake of the Human Race, I firmly believe Olympians need to mate with other Olympians, if for no other reason than to create super-offspring that will protect our kind against the Unknown when they attack Earth in 36 years.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports since Tuesday.
Phoenix Sun? More like Phoenix done! Steve Nash is headed to the Lakers the Los Angeles Lakers, that is. The Suns point guard worked out a sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix that will send him to L.A., where he'll chase an NBA title with a certain fellow superstar. Maybe you've heard of him: Kobe Bryant.
Perhaps it's too early to say an era is coming to a close, but this is definitely a moment. Just a few days into the French Open, both of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, have been eliminated.
Both losses were shocking in their own way. Serena's first-round exit Tuesday, one of the bigger upsets in recent Grand Slam memory, was shocking because she's Serena Williams and her opponent was the 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano. It was shocking because she was up a set and still lost in three. It was shocking because she lost a second-set tiebreaker that she had been leading 5-1. It was shocking because she got down in the third set, fought back, but then still lost.
Venus's second-round exit Wednesday was also shocking, not really because she lost (she was unseeded, facing the 3-seed Agnieszka Radwanska), but because her defeat only took one hour. She won five games and lost 12 in 60 minutes. Even though Venus is no longer the Grand Slam favorite like she once was, we're used to her serving and hitting people off the court in an hour's time, not the other way around. Never the other way around. Because she's Venus.
Like I said, an era ending? Maybe not. But this is most certainly a moment.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Tony Parker scored 34 points and dished out eight assists as the Spurs remained unbeaten in the postseason, beating the Thunder 120-111 and going up 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals. "I'm I'm running out of time," the Doctor told the Spurs star, in a quiet nook of the locker room. "The Bentonite has been too close to me for too long. Without the powder, I won't last much longer." Parker put his head in his hands. "But without you my God, the whole sports landscape will explode! Only you can cure its ills!" The Doctor nodded wearily. He stood, slumped to the right, and walked away, weaker than Parker had ever seen him. "I can't help you anymore," he whispered, and was gone.