Cubs

Serena's run ends at Aussie Open

505524.jpg

Serena's run ends at Aussie Open

From Comcast SportsNet
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Numbers told the surprising story for Serena Williams in her fourth-round loss at the Australian Open on Monday. Seven double-faults, including four in one game; 37 unforced errors, and a first-serve percentage of just over 50 percent that had her convinced "maybe I should have started serving lefty." Some other numbers indicated why her 6-2, 6-3 loss to Russia's Ekaterina Makarova on what she admitted was a still-sore left ankle was more of a shock, particularly at this stage of the year's first major. She has played 43 singles matches at Melbourne Park since she won the first of her five Australian Open titles in 2003, and Monday's loss was just her third. She's 54-7 since playing here for the first time in 1998, and she hasn't gone out this early here since 2006. "I'm not physically 100 percent, so I can't be so angry at myself, even though I'm very unhappy," Williams said. "I know that I can play a hundred times better than I did this whole tournament." Without Williams, who injured her left ankle in Brisbane two weeks ago, the only major winners still in contention were Maria Sharapova, defending champion Kim Clijsters and Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova. Sharapova earned the right to play Makarova in the quarterfinal when she beat Germany's Sabine Lisicki 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in a night match. The 2008 champion blew a 3-0 lead in the opening set, needed three set points to win the second and advanced on her second match point despite making 47 unforced errors and eight double-faults. "A lot of ups and downs today -- fortunately I finished on a high note," she said. "Even though I didn't play my best tennis I fought to the end and sometimes that's what gets you through." Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, still in search of her first Grand Slam title, played Clijsters in a quarterfinal on Tuesday. The Belgian veteran advanced to the quarterfinals with a comeback win over Li Na on Sunday in a rematch of the 2011 decider, while Kvitova had some trouble late before beating former top-ranked Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 7-6 (2) Monday. Kvitova will next play Sara Errani of Italy, who beat 2008 semifinalist Zheng Jie 6-2, 6-1. In the late night match, defending champion Novak Djokovic reached the Australian Open quarterfinals for the fifth straight year with a 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over former No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt. Djokovic, who is aiming to become only the fifth man in the Open era to win three consecutive majors after collecting the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles last year, was up two sets and a break before Hewitt won six straight games to force a fourth set. But after losing a set for the first time in the tournament, Djokovic regained his composure to ensure all of the top five men reached the quarterfinals. He will next play No. 5 David Ferrer, who had a 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Richard Gasquet of France. The loss for former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Hewitt ended his 16th campaign at the Australian Open and also meant there's no locals remaining in the men's or women's singles draws. Hewitt's best performance at Australian title remains his run to the final in 2005. Earlier, two-time runner-up Andy Murray was leading 6-1, 6-1, 1-0 when Mikhail Kukushkin retired from their fourth-round match with a left hip injury, giving Murray an easy path into the quarters. "It's obviously good for me, I get to conserve some energy," Murray said. "Tough for him, first time in the fourth-round of a Slam." Murray will next play Kei Nishikori, who had a 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist. The 22-year-old Nishikori became the first Japanese man in the last eight at the Australian Open in 80 years, and only the second man from his country to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal since the Open Era started in 1968. Shuzo Matsuoka reached the 1995 Wimbledon quarterfinals. "Is feeling unbelievable. My first quarterfinal and beating Tsonga, makes me really happy," Nishikori said. "I hope it's big in Japan. A lot of people messaged me a couple of days ago about the round of 16 and now the quarterfinals. It's really exciting." Makarova, a 23-year-old Russian left-hander, was equally thrilled about her win over Williams. And considering she'd lost in the first round of the last six tournaments she'd played, in awe over who she beat. "Yeah, I'm surprised because she's a great player and it's really tough to play against her. But, I don't know, I just feeling so good and so focus. So I played my game, and that's it. I won against Serena. That's amazing." Makarova overcame plenty of Williams crowd support, many of whom weren't that familiar with the Russian. Oracene Price, Williams' mother, was in the players' box with her sunglasses on and a wide-brimmed hat. In the fourth game of the second set with Makarova serving, Williams netted an easy forehand return. She made an angry sound, and there was a bit of laughter in the crowd. Price just turned away, shaking her head. After Williams' fourth double-fault in the fifth game of the second set, which gave Makarova the game and a 3-2 lead -- Williams shouted "Oh my God." She looked ready to smash her racket, but in the end bounced it on the court and caught it on the rebound. The 13-time Grand Slam winner had only played two competitive matches since losing the U.S. Open final to Sam Stosur in September, and her light preparation was curtailed when she badly twisted her ankle as she won her second-round match at Brisbane earlier this month. For that reason, Williams wasn't about to beat herself up over Monday's loss. "Am I usually angry? I don't know. Crying? I don't cry. So I don't know what I usually project," she said. "I feel like I didn't play well today. I don't feel like I can't get better."

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

kipnis-1030.jpg
USA Today

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said that he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted that the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.” 

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

baez_thumb.jpg
USA Today

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.