Cubs

Roger Federer breaks the heart of Great Britain

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Roger Federer breaks the heart of Great Britain

From Comcast SportsNet
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- A Grand Slam title drought did indeed end in Sunday's historic and riveting Wimbledon final, only it was Roger Federer's lengthy-for-him gap between trophies that came to a close, rather than Britain's 76-year wait for a homegrown men's champion. Making sure everyone knows he is still as capable as ever of brilliance on a tennis court -- particularly one made of grass, and with a roof overhead -- Federer came back to beat Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 indoors on Centre Court for a record-tying seventh championship at the All England Club. "It feels nice," Federer said, clutching the gold trophy only Pete Sampras has held as many times in the modern era. "It's like it never left me." The victory also increased Federer's record total to 17 major titles after being stuck on No. 16 for 2 years, and clinched a return to the top of the ATP rankings, overtaking Novak Djokovic, after an absence of a little more than two years. Federer's 286th week at No. 1 ties Sampras for the most in history. "He doesn't want to stop now. He knows he's going to continue to play well and try to break seven, and he could very well end up with eight or nine Wimbledons," Sampras said in a telephone interview. "I just think he's that much better than the other guys on grass, and he loves the court the way I loved that court. He's a great champion, a classy champion, and I'm really happy for him." After a record seven consecutive Wimbledon finals from 2003-09, winning the first six, Federer lost in the quarterfinals in 2010 and 2011, then wasted two match points and a two-set lead against Djokovic in the U.S. Open semifinals last year, raising questions about whether he might be slipping. "A couple tough moments for me the last couple years, I guess," Federer said. "So I really almost didn't try to picture myself with the trophy or try to think too far ahead, really." After losing in the semifinals each of the previous three years, Murray was the first British man to reach the final at Wimbledon since Bunny Austin in 1938, and was trying to become the hosts' first male title winner since Fred Perry in 1936. Alas, Murray dropped to 0-4 in Grand Slam finals, three against Federer. Only one other man lost the first four major title matches of his career: Ivan Lendl, who is coaching Murray now and sat in his guest box with chin planted on left palm, as expressionless as he was during his playing career. While Lendl never did win Wimbledon, perhaps Murray can take solace from knowing his coach did end up with eight Grand Slam titles. "I'm getting closer," Murray told the crowd afterward, his voice cracking and tears flowing. "Everybody always talks about the pressure of playing at Wimbledon, how tough it is," he said. "It's not the people watching; they make it so much easier to play. The support has been incredible, so thank you." The Scotland native was urged on by 15,000 or so of his closest friends in person, along with thousands more watching on a large video screen a short walk away across the ground -- not to mention the millions watching the broadcast on the BBC. The afternoon's first roar from those in attendance came when Murray jogged to the baseline for the prematch warmup; there even were cheers when his first practice stroke clipped the top of the net and went over. Any omen would do. The British, tennis enthusiasts and otherwise, searched for signs everywhere. Murray turned 25 in May, just as Perry had turned 25 in May 1934, shortly before he won his first of three consecutive Wimbledon titles; 2012 is Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, celebrating her 60-year reign, just as 1977, when Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon women's championship, was the Silver Jubilee, marking 25 years on the throne; on Saturday night, Jonathan Marray (paired with Frederik Nielsen of Denmark) became the first Brit to win a men's doubles title at Wimbledon since -- yes, that's right -- 1936. Royalty -- real and of a celebrity nature -- began arriving more than a half-hour beforehand: Prince William's wife, Kate, and her sister, Pippa Middleton; British Prime Minister David Cameron; soccer star David Beckham and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria. Also present in the Royal Box: Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who wants Scotland to break away from Britain. Early on, every point Murray won earned cheers as though the ultimate outcome had been decided. Every miss, even a first-serve fault, drew moans of "Awwwwwww," as though their lad had lost any chance. Murray got off to a glorious start. Federer, appearing in his 24th Grand Slam final, appeared the tenser of the two, amazingly enough, and when he sailed a swinging forehand volley long to get broken in the opening game, spectators rose to their feet and waved their Scottish and Union Jack flags. That said, they do appreciate greatness here, and so Federer's best offerings drew applause, too. There was plenty of clapping and yelling to go around for both men, who produced extremely high-quality play, filled with lengthy exchanges, superb shotmaking and deft volleying -- all befitting the setting and the stakes. Murray's second break helped him take the opening set, and things were even as could be for much of the second, until deuce at 5-5. From there, Federer stepped up, in large part by winning 43 of the 57 points on his serve the rest of the way. He saved all five break points he faced after the first set. After holding for 6-5 in the second, Federer broke. At 30-all, he won a 17-stroke point with a drop volley that Murray got to but sailed a lob attempt long. And then Federer carved -- caressed, really -- another drop volley, this one bouncing to the side after it landed for a winner, impossible to reach, closing a 20-stroke exchange. "Roger did a good job in the second set, turning the momentum around, and really changing things a lot," said his coach, Paul Annacone, who also worked with Sampras. A real key switch happened at 1-all in the third, when a drizzle transformed into heavy showers, causing a 40-minute delay while the retractable cover was moved over the court. The roof was installed before the 2009 tournament; this was its first use for a singles final. Until then, Federer had won 86 points, Murray 85. Under the roof -- with no wind to alter trajectories, allowing the third-seeded Swiss star to make pure, explosive contact with the ball -- Federer won 65 points, Murray 52. "The way the court plays is a bit different," the fourth-seeded Murray said. "I think he served very well when the roof closed. He served better." The most monumental game, though, came with Murray serving and trailing 3-2 in the third. It was chock-full: 10 deuces, six break points for Federer, three falls to the turf by Murray, all spread over roughly 20 gloriously intense minutes. Murray went up 40-love, then began to crack as Federer walloped two backhand returns to 40-30. On the next point, Federer conjured up another beautiful drop shot and Murray tumbled head-over-heels while giving chase; both Federer and the chair umpire went over to check on him. A few points later, Murray did a somersault at the baseline when he slipped going after a lob. And on it went. At the 10th deuce, Federer sent another lob over Murray, who hit the deck yet again, but got up in time to see the ball plop on the baseline. This set up Federer's sixth break point, the last he would need -- in the game and the set, certainly, but also in the match and the tournament, it seemed. He converted it with an inside-out forehand that landed in a corner, and Murray could only push his reply into the net. There would be no more shifts of control, no reasons for Federer to doubt -- or for Murray and his legion of backers to believe. The final break for Federer made it 3-2 in the fourth, when he flicked a cross-court backhand passing winner that was powerful and perfect. Federer made a rare show of strong emotion, shaking his right fist and bellowing. That, essentially, was that, no matter how many times the fans were going to sing their choruses of "An-dy! An-dy!" and "Mur-ray! Mur-ray!" Federer only needed to hold serve three more times, and he did, then crumbled to the court when Murray sailed one last forehand wide. "This is, I guess, how you want to win Wimbledon -- by going after your shots, believing you can do it," Federer said, "and that's what I was able to do today." He most definitely is back to being the best at what he does. Federer turns 31 on Aug. 8, and is the first thirtysomething man to win Wimbledon since Arthur Ashe in 1975. No matter. He and Sampras -- and, by now, plenty of others -- see no reason why Federer can't keep adding to all of his records. "I'm so happy I'm at the age I am right now, because I had such a great run and I know there's still more possible. To enjoy it right now, it's very different than when I was 20 or 25," said Federer, whose twin daughters, wearing matching black-and-white dresses and frilly socks, applauded from his guest box during the trophy ceremony. "I'm at a much more stable place in my life. I wouldn't want anything to change," he added. "So this is very, very special right now."

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.