Verdasco advances to face Raonic in SAP Open final

Verdasco advances to face Raonic in SAP Open final

Feb. 12, 2011TENNIS PAGE

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Fernando Verdasco made it to the SAP Open final for the second straight year, surviving a tough second set to beat Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals Saturday night.Verdasco will play Sunday against unseeded Milos Raonic, who advanced to his first ATP Tour final in a walkover after second-seeded Gael Monfils pulled out of the tournament with an injured left wrist. NEWS: Monfils withdraws from SAP Open with wrist injury
Verdasco improved to 9-0 at this tournament and is looking to follow up the title he won in three sets over Andy Roddick in last year's final.Verdasco was tested more than he has been all week by del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open winner who is working his way back into form after missing almost all of last year with a right wrist injury.Verdasco had his run of 37 straight service holds snapped early in the second set but responded to the early deficit by breaking del Potro's serve in two of his final three service games.He got right back into the set with a nifty forehand passing shot winner on the first point on del Potro's next service game and then earned a set point with another forehand winner. His deep return forced del Potro to hit a forehand wide and he was back on serve at 2-3.Verdasco then survived a three deuce game on his own serve to get to 4-all and came through on his fourth break point attempt in the next game to take control. He hit unforced errors on the three break chances, barely missing a forehand winner down the line. He won it with a forehand winner and then held his final service game at love, closing the match with his fifth ace.Verdasco broke del Potro's serve in the opening game of the match and was never threatened in the opening set, losing just three points in his five service games. Del Potro lost his serve three times in this match after losing it just once in his first three matches this week.Del Potro has fallen from fourth in the rankings after winning the 2009 U.S. Open to 484th heading into this week as he played only three tournaments last year because of the injury and did not win a match after January. He was looking to become the second lowest-ranked player to win an ATP Tour title since the rankings began in 1973. Lleyton Hewitt was ranked 550th when he won in Adelaide in 1998.Verdasco and Raonic have never played but will become quite familiar with each other in the next few days because of a scheduling quirk. After playing Sunday in San Jose, the two will meet again on Wednesday in the first round in Memphis.Raonic has had a strong start to the season, going through qualifying and winning three matches in the Australian Open and making it to his first ATP World Tour final. He has shot up the rankings from 156th at the end of last year to 84th heading into this week. He is expected to be 66th is he loses on Sunday and 59th if his wins the title."It's nice getting that kind of attention," he said. "But more importantly it's nice doing well at the top level of tennis because that's what my goals are."The 20-year-old is looking to become the first Canadian to win a title on ATP World Tour since Greg Rusedski won in Seoul in April 1995. He has never played Verdasco.He leads the tournament with 45 aces in just three matches, winning a staggering 87.4 percent of first-serve points. He tuned up for the final by playing Ivo Karlovic in an exhibition, losing a pair of tiebreakers to the big-serving Croat."It's nice to be in the final but it doesn't matter," Raonic said. "Tomorrow is a different match. I can enjoy that more after the tournament than during. I have to prepare for tomorrow and do what I need to do to have my best chance to win tomorrow."

How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’


How John Pagano plans to impact Raiders defense: ‘There is always room for change’

ALAMEDA – John Pagano can’t implement his scheme in a week. He can’t import his plays and preferences cultivated during five seasons as Chargers defensive coordinator. Full offseason programs and training camps are required for that.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired on Tuesday. Pagano will call his first Raiders game five days later against Denver at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders’ assistant head coach – defense believes he can impact how the Silver and Black does business.

“There’s always room for change and there’s always room for doing things better,” Pagano said Thursday. “Without telling you our game plan, it’s about how we go out and execute the call, bottom line.”

Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders weren’t playing fast enough. They weren’t creating enough turnovers, weren’t doing well enough on third down and weren’t regularly affecting the quarterback due to a lack of both rush and coverage.

That’s why Norton had to go.

Pagano’s first objective, which must get accomplished in a few days, is getting the Raiders to play with confidence. Then he can add some design wrinkles with some of his personality.

“You have to have that ability of going out there, knowing your assignment and playing faster,” Pagano said. “It’s not to say that there have been times where we’ve simplified things, but taking the thinking out of the game and making them react is, I think, most important. Going out there and playing fast and that’s doing the little extra things, the attention to details of studying and getting those things processed. See ball, go get ball.”

That last sentence sums up how Pagano wants his guys to play. He’s a quality play caller and creative blitzer with a knack making simple plays look complex. He can find and exploit opposing weak links. His defenses have always been good creating pressure and turnovers alike. The Raiders need more of both.

To do that Pagano wants to relieve a player’s mental burden and keep them focused on using talent well.

“The one thing I’ve always stressed and always been about is technique, fundamentals and unbelievable effort,” Pagano said. “I think those three things can get you home.”

The Raiders haven’t been home much as a defense. They’re tied for last with 14 sacks. They’re dead last with six turnovers. They’ve gone 10 games without an interception, the longest single-season drought in NFL history.

A lack of big defensive plays has killed the Raiders this season. It obviously increases points allowed. Good field position has been hard to come by. The offense has to earn everything the hard way. That’s a recipe for losing football, a maddening turn after the Raiders finished second with 30 takeaways last year.

Pagano has a chart listing “MOPs,” short for missed opportunities. There have been many, especially in a secondary he oversaw before this week.

“I talked to these guys this week about we need to do simple better,” Pagano said. “What is simple? It’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes. We’ve had opportunities. It’s not like we’re out there struggling and straining to dive and layout for the thing. It’s hit us in the hands where we’ve had many, many opportunities.”

Missed opportunities have also plagued a pass rush featuring reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack. Pagano brought up a moment early in Sunday’s lost to New England, when Treyvon Hester forced a fumble near three teammates that the Patriots somehow recovered.

Pagano’s goal is to improve performance. Players must buy in to do that. Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin headline a large group close to Norton, one with enough pride and professionalism to get behind a new playcaller in Pagano, who could be here long term.

“There is a human element to this,” Pagano said. “We are family. It’s sad any time a member of your family gets dismissed or something. At the end of the day, we have the Broncos coming in here on Sunday and we have to get our minds right to go play this game. That’s something that they’ve done a great job with this week, truly focusing in on what we need to do.”

Jordan Bell: Rookie year with Warriors 'like being a freshman all over again'


Jordan Bell: Rookie year with Warriors 'like being a freshman all over again'

Warriors rookie Jordan Bell made an instant impact for the team this season. But as of late, his playing time has dwindled. In four of the Warriors' last five games, Bell has been inactive. 

“It's just the life of a rookie,” Bell said to The Athletic. “That's what Steve Kerr always tells me. It's not because I'm playing bad. Just gotta be professional about it and stay ready. It's like being a freshman all over again.”

While Bell wants to be on the court with his teammates, what he appreciates most from Steve Kerr is his communication. Kerr is always honest about when he won't play Bell and he keeps the former Oregon Duck encouraged. 

“He talks to me about it every time he sees me,” Bell said. “Lets me know I'm not going to be active. Keep doing what you're doing, you're doing good. But it still f------ sucks. You're playing well and it doesn't mean anything because you're younger. It sucks, but you got to be professional about it.”

Bell has played in 12 of the Warriors' 18 games this season. The 22-year-old is averaging 3.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game over 8.3 minutes per game. 

The Warriors bought the 38th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft from the Chicago Bulls and selected Bell. On Friday night, the Warriors, and perhaps Bell, play the Bulls for the first time this season.