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Sports Then and Now

Alexandr Dolgopolov: Rising Star in Men’s Tennis? 5

Posted on February 26, 2011 by Rob York

Robin Soderling at the 2011 Australian Open.

Robin Soderling is one of the biggest men in pro tennis, at 6’4” and nearly 200 pounds.

He has ridden one of the most overpowering serve-and-forehand combinations in the game’s history to a ranking of No. 4 in the world, scoring wins over the game’s biggest names.

And his personality, while less prone to controversy than it was just two years ago, could hardly be described as “warm.” I say all of this as a way of illustrating that the big Swede has rarely, if ever, been one to elicit sympathy.

Yet in the fourth set of his fourth-round Australian Open match, I couldn’t help but feel for the guy a little. Having battered his way past his first three opponents, he had won the first set easily, was up a break in the second and looked headed for a showdown with fellow Slam contender Andy Murray.

Alexandr Dolgopolov came alive in his match with Soderling at the 2011 Aussie Open.

Then suddenly his opponent, Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, caught fire, winning five of the last six games of set two and routing the Swede 6-1 in set three.

Suddenly, I was rooting for Soderling to win the fourth, if not the match, in the hopes of that he could leave the court having restored some respectability.

He did capture set four, forcing his streakier, less experienced opponent to play a fifth. That was a challenge Dolgopolov was up to, however, winning the final set 6-2.

As big a ball as Soderling hits – and its as big as anyone today – players such as he are always vulnerable to evolutions in the sport, as a player who relies almost entirely on serving and baseline power has little answer when another player learns how to hit bigger than he does.

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The 2011 Australian Open and Rafael Nadal’s Legacy 4

Posted on February 12, 2011 by Rob York

Rafael Nadal completed his career grand slam by winning the U.S. Open in 2010.

Rafael Nadal missed a chance at history when he fell short at the Australian Open, one short of having won four Grand Slams in a row.

He’s in good company, though; in the 42 years since Rod Laver’s 1969 season, a long list of greats from Jimmy Connors in 1974 to Roger Federer in 2006-07 had fallen short of that same designation.

It’s hard to imagine Nadal playing any better than he has in last 12 months, just as it’s difficult to see the 29 and a half year old Federer regaining his form from 4-5 years ago.

It is, therefore, unlikely for us to see anyone knocking on that door again anytime soon.

Does missing out on that bit of history, however, make a significant difference in how the Spaniard will be viewed in the record books? Not in my view, unless the injury he sustained is much more serious than indicated.

Natal has already done so much of historical import that missing out on the Rafa Slam is just a loss of increments. The record books already show that, from 2005-07, the most (if not only) dramatic time of the tennis season was the May-July period, when a young Nadal and some soft surfaces were the only things making Federer look somewhat less than invincible.

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Tennis Power Rankings: Kim Clijsters Holds the Aussie Trophy and the Top Spot 3

Posted on February 01, 2011 by JA Allen

Kim Clijsters of Belgium won the 2011 Australian Open title defeating Ni La of China.The 2011 Australian Open’s evolving storyline for the ladies never ceased as one drama after another unfolded both on and off court.

First and foremost, Serena Williams, defending champion, still injured, decided to withdraw before the tournament Down Under got underway.

Sister Venus Williams hobbled briefly into Melbourne, eliminated when she could no longer move. At that point, the elder Williams retired in the third round against up-and-comer German Andrea Petkovic.

Svetlana Kuznetsova entertained all with the most thrilling matches of the tournament. The newly svelte Russian held on to defeat Justine Henin in the third round 6-4, 7-6.

Subsequently, Henin announced her second permanent retirement from professional tennis.

But the best match of the tournament followed in the fourth round as Kuznetsova met the feisty Italian Francesca Schiavone.  The two veterans battled for four hours and 44 minutes making it the longest women’s match ever.

It ended with Schiavone winning 6-4, 1-6, 16-14.

The Italian, however, had nothing left when she met the No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals.

The tournament ended with the crowning of Aussie Kim—her first championship in Melbourne.

The seasoned professionals, for the most part continued to give way to a new wave of hard-hitting ball-strikers working their way up the ranking.

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Novak Djokovic Captures His Second Australian Open Crown 7

Posted on January 30, 2011 by JA Allen


Novak Djokovic lost the 2007 U.S. Open to Roger Federer

Remember the U.S. Open in 2007?

Remember how happy Novak Djokovic was and how happy he made the New York crowds with his impersonations of the top players like Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, Roger Federer and even Rafael Nadal?

While the guys growled, seemingly a little scratchy about his antics, Sharapova loved it and even sat in the Serb’s box with his parents!  Life was good then, Nole. Wasn’t it? Simple, but good.

Djokovic made it all the way to the finals, where he faced Federer down.  The Serb lost, of course.  Nerves.  Actually, he lost in straight sets, but the match was closer than it looked on paper.  That’s what everybody said, anyway.

After mixed reviews, Nole faded fast in the 2007 fall indoor season—tired no doubt from all that instant fame and the rocket-ride to the top of the men’s game at age 20.  He could barely hold up a racket during the Masters Championship in Shanghai.  Noticeably, he didn’t win a rubber.

Extreme fatigue.

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Roger Federer Asserts Reports of His Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated… 5

Posted on January 29, 2011 by JA Allen

Roger Federer won the Australian Open a year ago, in 2010.

2011 Australian Open Analysis

The thought of Novak Djokovic’s mom once again pronouncing gleefully, “The King is dead!” might have been the ultimate capper on an already miserable 2011 Australian Open semifinal for Roger Federer fans.

That magical moment from the 2008 Australian Open still sends shivers of revulsion down the spines of a legion of the Maestro’s avid supporters.

While that did not happen this year, some other reactions to a Federer defeat never change.

After Federer suffered a similar straight set semifinal loss to Djokovic this past Thursday, the inevitable headlines leading articles hinting at the demise and death of an illustrious tennis career immediately followed.

Andrew Webster of The Daily Telegraph touched on the topic but wisely never made a definitive pronouncement of the end of Federer––just hinted at it.

Webster drew attention to Federer’s growing annoyance at Djokovic’s unending ball bounces before serving––noting that the Swiss finally complained about it.

This, the author pointed out, was just a surface tic, reflecting Federer’s true consternation at his own inability to keep his foot on Djokovic’s neck in the second set. Webster called it a “whinge.” In other words, in Australian parlance—he accused Federer of whining.

The author ended his heavily connoted death notice with the phrase “the king is dead;” but then backed away reminding his audience that we had all heard this before.

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A New Champion Down Under: Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray? 7

Posted on January 27, 2011 by JA Allen

The 2011 Australian Open final may feature Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Their names roll off the tongue easily like Simon and Garfunkel, Abbott and Costello, Batman and Robin—Djokovic and Murray.

It is hard to say one name without adding the other.

They are linked inevitably as part of the current tennis landscape because they have existed as backups to the top two guys, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Like the ingenue treading the boards waiting backstage for a chance to take over the lead role, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, both age 23, have been waiting for their moment in the spotlight, learning their lines and practicing their art for over three years.

They have been ready to go, according to their fans and supporters, since 2007 or 2008.

But, so far, neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal have been willing to step aside to allow the World No. 3 or World No. 4 the opportunity to take home the major award at one of the grand slam events.

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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Rusty Staub: A Man For All Ages
      April 8, 2024 | 1:26 pm
      Rusty Staub

      The Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is a former major league baseball player who came into the game as a teenager and stayed until he was in his 40s. In between, Rusty Staub put up a solid career that was primarily spent on expansion or rebuilding teams.

      Originally signed by the Colt .45s at age 17, he made his major league debut as a 19-year old rookie and became only the second player in the modern era to play in more than 150 games as a teenager.

      Though he hit only .224 splitting time between first base and rightfield, Staub did start building a foundation that would turn him into an All-Star by 1967 when he finished fifth in the league with a .333 batting average.

      Read more »

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