Warriors

All eyes on Maria Sharapova at U.S. Open

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All eyes on Maria Sharapova at U.S. Open

From Comcast SportsNet Monday, August 29, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) -- When third-seeded Maria Sharapova looks at the list of top contenders for the U.S. Open, here's what she sees: --Serena Williams, seeded 28th and on the comeback trail, and her sister, Venus, unseeded and barely on the radar this year. --A top seed, Caroline Wozniacki, who has never won a Grand Slam and a No. 2 seed, Vera Zvonareva, who has won a total of eight games in her two major finals. --And she won't see the name of two-time defending champion, Kim Clijsters, who last week said she wouldn't be in New York because of a freshly injured stomach muscle. Clijsters' withdrawal was the latest bit of news that -- on paper, at least -- appeared to open things up for Sharapova, a three-time major winner who, of late, has been playing her best tennis since shoulder surgery derailed her in late 2008. "I can't really think like that," Sharapova said when asked how Clijsters' absence might help her chances for a second title at Flushing Meadows. "I don't think that's a mindset of a winner, to be honest. You've got to be ready to face anyone at any given moment." On Monday, Sharapova will open against Heather Watson, the 104th-ranked 19-year-old from Britain making her U.S. Open debut. Also opening play Monday is fifth-seeded Petra Kvitova, who beat Sharapova in the Wimbledon finals earlier this summer, further cementing the argument that there are no sure things, or dominant players, at the current time in women's tennis. "She was able to find an answer, you know, in things that I kind of challenged her with," Sharapova said. "It was a really great match for her at a big stage. That's the only way you can really look at it." And yet, since that 6-3, 6-4 win over Sharapova at Wimbledon, Kvitova has won a total of two matches. "I think she's a good enough player to find her form back here," Sharapova said. After missing the better part of a year with a series of ailments that started when she got cut by glass at a restaurant in July 2010, Serena Williams is rounding into form. Earlier this month, she won tournaments in Stanford and Toronto and is 16-2 since June. Even as the 28th seed, she is widely considered the woman to beat. "I'm just here to play one match, and the next match, and hopefully I can get to seven wins," Williams said last week. Play was set to begin largely on schedule Monday despite Hurricane Irene, which washed out practice days over the weekend. The only exception is in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the first match will begin at 1 p.m. instead of 11 a.m., as workers prepare the stadium, which had been battened down for the hurricane. Headlining action Monday night are Venus Williams and third-seeded Roger Federer, who is trying to avoid going 0 for 4 in Grand Slams for the first time since 2002. Federer turned 30 earlier this month, which often signals the beginning of the end for top tennis players. Of the past 100 Grand Slam titles, only five were won by a man past his 30th birthday. The last to do it was Andre Agassi at the 2003 Australian Open. Federer, though, said that his age hasn't affected his expectations. "Hasn't changed anything. I'm still as professional. I'm still as hungry. Everything's still completely normal," he explained. "It's just a number that's changed. I'm ready to go." Among Federer's accomplishments: 16 Grand Slam titles and five straight U.S. Open titles from 2004-08. His 40-match winning streak at Flushing Meadows ended in the 2009 final against Juan Martin del Potro. Last year, Federer lost in the semifinals to Novak Djokovic, who comes in seeded first and going for his third major of the season. This will be the first time that neither Federer nor defending champion Rafael Nadal has held the top seed in a major since the 2004 Australian Open. But Djokovic has certainly earned it. He is producing one of the greatest seasons in tennis history. He's 57-2 with nine titles, including at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He's also 5-0 against Nadal, with all of those matchups coming in tournament finals: two on hard courts, two on clay, and one on grass at the All England Club last month. Djokovic retired from the second set of the final in Cincinnati earlier this month with a sore right shoulder, ending a 16-match winning streak and bringing a little bit of doubt into his health for the upcoming two-week grind at Flushing Meadows. His top two challengers, however, aren't expecting much of a letdown. "He's only lost two matches all year," Nadal said. "For everybody, (it's) surprising, but for me, (it's) no surprise that Djokovic is No. 1. For me, it is not a surprise that Djokovic is able to win Grand Slams, because he's very good."

With lofty win total unlikely this year, here's a number the Warriors can chase

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AP

With lofty win total unlikely this year, here's a number the Warriors can chase

OAKLAND -- Getting to 73 wins is impossible for the Warriors, and the pursuit of it never entered their minds.

Reaching 69 wins, their average in three seasons under coach Steve Kerr, is highly improbable.

Even winning 67 games, the lowest total under Kerr, is extremely unlikely.

There is, however, a number the Warriors are aiming for that also happens to be within their grasp -- but only if they can fight through the regular-season malaise and break an unhealthy tendency.

They can get to 35 victories at Oracle Arena. Currently 16-6 at home, the Warriors would have to go 19-0 to reach 35, and it’s possible insofar as they are less than two years removed from posting an NBA-record 54 consecutive wins at home.

Can a team that once went 14 months without losing at Oracle summon a three-month stretch of perfection at home?

The schedule invites the possibility, but it’s still up to the Warriors and how they cope with tug of three long seasons and that tendency to float a bit in front of their home fans, two factors that have had more effect at home than on the road.

“In general, the appropriate fear we always talk about, it’s there on the road for most games and it’s not there as much at home,” Kerr conceded Monday.

Kevin Durant used different phrasing but echoed the comments of the coach.

“You tend to relax a bit when you’re at home because you’ve got your home crowd,” he acknowledged. “You’re just comfortable in that situation. You can go home and go to sleep in your own bed after the game. So you relax a bit.

“On the road, it just feels like this is the last game of your career. It just feels that way, especially when you’re playing a tough opponent and somewhere with a crowd that’s going to be really, really into it.”

Having gone 39-2, 39-2 and 36-5 over the last three seasons, the Warriors are assured of having their worst home record under Kerr. Still, 35 is not impossible.

The drop is not unanticipated, as Kerr experienced something similar as a member of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when they won three straight championships as their regular-season wins steadily dropped, from 72 to 69 to 62.

“Where it has truly been the most tangible and palpable is home games against lesser opponents,” Kerr said. “We’ve lost six. Maybe two of those are playoff teams.

“We didn’t lose those games the last the last three years. We dominated the home floor. That’s where it really shows.”

The Warriors have lost at home to the Rockets, Pistons, Kings, Nuggets, Hornets and Clippers. Only Houston is a playoff lock. Detroit, Denver and the Clippers are on the fringe of the postseason race. Charlotte is a longshot, Sacramento a no-shot.

The Warriors, in every home loss, have started drowsily or played too carelessly or were self-destructive enough to give back a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.

“This is the first year in my four years where we’ve lost a lot of home games that we shouldn’t,” Kerr said. “That just points to emotional fatigue. Trying to get up for 82 games is a difficult thing, especially in Year 4 of a quest to get back to The Finals.”

Coming off a successful road trip during which they won four of five games, the Warriors this week face the Knicks, Timberwolves and Celtics -- the latter two being playoff locks.

A home sweep is difficult, of course, but hardly inconceivable. And if the Warriors can pull that off, they’d have only four remaining home games against teams fighting for a top-four playoff slot: the Thunder and Spurs twice each.

Oklahoma City appears to be getting their act together. The Spurs, while still formidable, are starting to look like a team in decline.

They’re also the two teams most likely to get the full attention of the Warriors, who began the week by sitting through video of their last three games, during which they committed numerous hideous errors.

The message: Their unforced mistakes are the surest route to defeat.

“There are key points of the year where we have to hit the reset button in terms of our priorities,” Kerr said. “Right now is one of those times. This is an important week for us. We need to take care of the ball. We need to be smart and make good decisions. If we do that, we’re really, really hard to beat.”

Carr excited to work with Gruden: 'I want him to be tough on me'

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AP

Carr excited to work with Gruden: 'I want him to be tough on me'

Jon Gruden has been interviewed several times since becoming Raiders head coach. Quarterback Derek Carr hasn’t listened to most of those sessions, and certainly doesn’t seek them out.

One landed in Carr’s inbox recently, and something Gruden said really resonated.

Gruden’s message, paraphrased: If Derek Carr is not successful, then I’ve failed as a coach.

There are two comments in that one. Gruden considers Carr extremely talented, and he’s taking responsibility for unlocking the quarterback's vast potential.

Gruden will be hands on in Carr’s development, with all the coaching intensity and fire and eyebrow raises that have become Gruden’s signature.

“He’s going to demand of me. He’s going to push me,” Carr said on this week’s episode of the Raiders Insider Podcast, which will drop Tuesday morning (Subcribe right here). “He’s going to make me be the best version of myself.”

Carr had a direct answer to skeptics wondering aloud whether he can thrive under Gruden’s particular coaching style.

“I want him to be tough on me,” Carr said. “For anyone who thinks I want him to be a different way has no clue about me or how I play football or how I prepare to play this game. I don’t need to tell stories about how I prepare or manage myself.

“(Jon) and I are going to get along great. I hope that he demands of me. I hope he’s hard on me. I don’t need to know he loves me. He has already told me that about 20 times. I appreciate that and we’ll be friends forever, but I know he’ll be demanding and tell me what I need to do. Let’s go fix problems that I have and let’s do what I need to do to win championships. Hopefully that will give people some insight and hopefully that’s the story that gets out, because that’s the truth.”

Carr met his new head coach briefly before his introductory press conference, but has known Gruden since filming the Gruden QB Camp segment back in 2014. They got along great then, and in each interaction since.

“We have so much more in common that people realize,” Carr said. “I think it would blow some people’s minds. Him and I are very similar in the way we go about our business and how we carry ourselves. It’s an exciting time.”

Carr’s excited to have some stability in his football life. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback will start his fifth NFL season with his fourth head coach, fourth go-round with an offensive coordinator and third offensive scheme. Gruden signed a 10-year contract. OC Greg Olson signed a four-year pact. They’ll be here a while, and Carr’s excited about that.

“It’s going to be really nice,” Carr said. “To know Jon signed on for a 10 years and (Olson) signed on for a long time shows me a couple of things. No. 1: that they believe in me. I don’t think Coach Gruden would’ve quit his day job, which I’m thankful he did. To get (Olson) out of a good spot in L.A (with the Rams), shows that they believe in me and that’s awesome. And, No. 2: I’m going to have two people I can talk to in a different language for years to come. We can grow within the relationship, and hopefully we’ll all ride off together. It’s set up that way right now, and we have a lot of work to do to reach that point.”