Preps Talk

Novak Djokovic loses for the first time in 2012

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Novak Djokovic loses for the first time in 2012

From Comcast SportsNet
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Top-ranked Novak Djokovic lost for the first time this season, beaten by Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5 Friday in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships. Djokovic had been on a 10-match winning streak that included the Australian Open title. In the final, Murray will play Roger Federer, who edged Juan Martin del Potro 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6). Del Potro lost four set points in the second-set tiebreaker at 6-2, with Federer winning the last six points. Federer will be going for his fifth Dubai title, but his first in five years. This was a big boost for Murray, who lost to Djokovic in five sets in the Australian Open semifinals. "Hopefully, that will set me up well for the year," Murray said. "Confidence in tennis and almost any individual sport is so important." Murray had lost seven of the last 11 matches against Djokovic, who was bidding for a fourth straight Dubai title. But the Scotsman made it look easy at the Aviation Club. "I was fighting for it, but, you know, Andy played a great match," Djokovic said. "He was the better player today. He was serving really well." Murray broke to go up 4-2 in the first set and saved two break points to make it 5-2. He used a stellar serve, winning 94 percent of his first service points in the first set and 85 percent overall. "The first set I served very well and was aggressive when I had my chances," Murray said. "In the second set, he started going for more and making mistakes because it's tough to always grind out matches." Murray had a 3-0 advantage in the second set and led 5-3 while serving for the match. But Djokovic broke Murray for the first time and tied it at 5-all. Murray won the final two games, breaking Djokovic to win the match when the Serb sent a forehand long. Murray felt his nearly five-hour loss to Djokovic in Australia paid dividends Friday, especially in the second set. "The thing you learn after a match like that is how much you need to sort of suffer on the court to win matches like that, and also how important it is," he said. Djokovic lauded Murray's aggressive play. "I made a lot of unforced errors when it was important," he said. "But, look, this is sport. It's normal that in some matches you can't pull out your best when you need to." Djokovic denied that his four weeks off since the Australian Open -- when he collected several awards and skied with friends -- influenced the outcome of the match. Still, he appeared rusty early in the tournament, struggling to beat 72nd-ranked Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and 74th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky. "I thought I've been doing well since Wimbledon last year," he said. "You know, I've been having a lot off-court activities since I became No. 1, but I have a team of people that controls it well. "Obviously there is a lot of temptations and a lot of things that you can enjoy. But it's normal. You can't on one hand just be 100 percent of your life in the tennis. You are young. You have to enjoy life." Federer, who came into the match with a 9-2 record against del Potro including win in this year's Rotterdam finals, struggled early on. Both players held serve in the first set and the third-ranked Swiss squandered three set points in the tiebreaker before converting the fourth with a forehand down the line. The second set was just as tight, with del Potro winning points off his big serve and Federer dominating at the net. It went to a second tiebreaker, this time with del Potro going up 5-0 and 6-2. But Federer ran off four points to tie it and won when del Potro's backhand went long. "It was a good comeback, especially on a quick court," Federer said. "I didn't believe I was going to come back, but at least sort of make him a bit nervous. Next thing I know, I had a great point at 6-all and I was able to come through. So it was a great match for me." Federer enters the final with a 6-8 record against Murray. He hasn't played him since a victory at the ATP World finals in 2010. "I just think Andy is an amazing player, and so far he's proved that this year. He's in the finals now with a great win against Novak," he said. "I expect a really difficult match in the finals." In the doubles semifinals, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski of Poland beat Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram of Israel 6-4, 3-6, 1-0. Erlich-Ram were hoping to become the first Israelis to reach a Dubai Championships final.

43 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

43 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Shepard

Head coach: John Rone

Assistant coaches: Vincent Holmes, Andy Schindel, Chris Lewis, Justin Harris and Mark Thomas

How they fared in 2018: 8-3 (5-1 South Suburban Red Conference). Shepard made the Class 6A IHSA state football playoff field, defeated Springfield and then lost to Normal West in second round action.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 vs Leyden
Sept. 6 vs St Francis
Sept. 13 @ Reavis
Sept. 20 @ Evergreen Park
Sept. 27 @ Eisenhower
Oct. 4 vs Oak Lawn
Oct. 11 @ Lemont
Oct. 18 vs Richards
Oct. 25 vs Argo

Biggest storyline: Coach Rone’s first season was a success. Can the Astros make another state playoff run in 2019?

Names to watch this season: LB Matthew Hightower (Sr.), WR/DB Jalen Smith (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Astros welcome back six returning starters back on defense, but they will feature nearly an entire starting offense with very limited experience.

EDGY's Early Take: Head coach John Rone was able to get the Astros into the  playoffs in his first season in charge of the Shepard program. It was also the fourth straight playoff appearance for the school. The Astros always have plenty on hand in the skills department. But the defense may need to carry a talented —but younger— offense. If the pieces can gel, they can challenge for another IHSA state playoff appearance.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.