Other Sports

Djokovic is a man bearing titles, and chocolates

201301270856321858679-p2.jpeg

Djokovic is a man bearing titles, and chocolates

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Novak Djokovic wrapped up his victory at the Australian Open on a sweet note.

A master at playing to his audience, Djokovic came with several boxes of chocolates to his post-match news conference and then played host as he distributed them to a room packed with journalists.

``Please, take two,'' Djokovic said, offering his box of treats to one reporter at a time.

``I see nobody's on a sugar-free diet,'' he joked as the chocolates began to disappear.

The No. 1-ranked player became the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles when he beat Andy Murray 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday's final.

Djokovic has won four of his six major titles at Melbourne Park, and likes to give a little something back to the crowds who cheer him.

An entertainer on court and off, Djokovic is known for celebrating hard-fought victories at Rod Laver Arena by ripping off his shirt. He kept his clothes on for this final, but did bare his chest after winning a five-hour thriller over Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round.

``It's definitely my favorite Grand Slam,'' Djokovic said during his victory speech on center court. ``It's an incredible feeling winning this trophy once more. I love this court.''

To mark the national holiday on Saturday, Djokovic pinned a fuzzy koala to his sweat shirt and walked into his pre-final news conference saying, ``Happy Australia Day!''

He was asked on Sunday if his good humor was a conscious effort, which made Djokovic turn philosophical.

``I try to enjoy what I do, and every moment of the life that I have is a blessing,'' he said. ``What else can you do but to be happy and try to bring that joy to the other people around - especially in the tournaments.''

``Everybody has bad days,'' he added. ``I'm not always funny or laughing.''

He then apologized to reporters for canceling the winner's traditional day-after news conference scheduled for Monday. He said he wanted to get back to Europe to begin practicing for the Davis Cup, which starts next weekend.

That's when he brought out the chocolates, as a consolation prize.

``Let's keep it sweet,'' he said.

---

TRIBUTE TO ANDRE: Andre Agassi made his return to Rod Laver Arena in a suit and tie.

Now 42, Agassi was invited back to the site of some of his greatest tennis triumphs to present this year's trophies.

``It was obviously a big pleasure and honor for me to receive the trophy from him,'' Djokovic said.

By winning his fourth Australian Open, Djokovic matched a record set by Agassi who won the tournament in 1995, 2000, `01 and `03.

``He's a legend of the sport,'' Djokovic said. ``He won everything.''

An eight-time Grand Slam winner, Agassi won at each of the four Grand Slams and owns an Olympic gold medal from the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Agassi watched the final from the stands and then presided over the trophy ceremony. It was his first trip Down Under in nearly 10 years.

---

MIXED DOUBLES: It started with a long-distance text message.

Australia's Matthew Ebden picked up his phone and sent a message to Jarmila Gajdosova to see if she would play mixed doubles with him at the Australian Open.

``I got hold of her number from a secret person, and she was over in America,'' Ebden said. ``And I just texted her hoping that she would she would be available to play or wanted to play.''

She said yes and they won a wild-card entry to the mixed-doubles draw.

On Sunday, the Australian duo combined to win the mixed-doubles title with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Czech pair Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak.

They ousted second-seeded Elena Vesnina and Leander Paes in the second round and fifth-seeded Nadia Petrova and Mahesh Bhupathi in the quarterfinals.

Gajdosova praised her partner's strong serve and ``his Ninja skills on the net.''

Asked if they plan to play together in the future, Gajdosova said: ``Hopefully, he doesn't ditch me for somebody else.''

``No,'' Ebden said. ``I've already signed her up for next year.''

3.22.19: Rick Horrow sits down with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly

usatsi_10794131.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

3.22.19: Rick Horrow sits down with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly

TO LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST, CLICK HERE

By Rick Horrow

Podcast edited by Tanner Simkins

 

  • * This year, March Madness could cost employers over $13 billion. According to the annual study done by global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., every hour spent on games can cost employers $2.1 billion, for a total of $13.3 billion over the length of the tournament that will end with the NCAA National Championship game on April 8. Research done by staffing firm Office Team indicates that workers spent an average of 25.5 minutes of their workday on March Madness-related activities. And a survey by TSheets and QuickBooks showed that at least 48% of people participating in March Madness won their brackets during work hours. However, the basketball tournament can foster a little excitement among coworkers. “Streaming games during work hours, heading to a local restaurant to watch the games, filling out brackets or just discussing the games with co-workers will mean hours of distractions during the three-week tournament,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President.  But Challenger adds that employers should use the tournament games to build morale and not restrict employees. About 97 million people watched March Madness games last year, according to CBS – tens of millions of them during work hours.
  •  The purse for the just-completed The Players Championship increased for the second consecutive year. The purse at TPC Sawgrass expanded from $11 million in 2018 to $12.5 million this year, making the purse the “largest currently on the PGA Tour schedule,” according to Golf Channel. This marks a “dramatic bump considering that last year’s increase for the Tour’s flagship event was $500,000.” The Masters and PGA Championship had $11 million purses in 2018 and the Open Championship was at $10.5 million. Golf Digest noted 2018 Players winner Webb Simpson’s share of the $11 million purse was $1.98 million while 2018 U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka “took home” $2.16 million of the $12 million purse. Based on the same formula of 18% “going to the winner,” this year’s Players champion Rory McIlroy earned $2.25 million. McIlroy, who bested 48 year-old Jim Furyk to win The Players title – Furyk pocketed $1.35 million – is clearly the man to beat heading into The Masters next month. While The Players is a benchmark win for Rory and his brand, The Masters is the sole Slam trophy missing from his extensive trophy case. 
  • * Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed upon a series of rule changes that will kick in over the next two seasons, subject to ratification by all 30 clubs. Changes set to begin this year will include (but are not limited to and subject to broadcast partner buy-in) inning breaks being reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games. The All-Star Game will now see fan voting conducted in two rounds, a “primary round” that mirrors the All-Star voting of old, followed in late June or early July by an “Election Day” in which the top three vote-getters at each position will be voted on by fans. In addition, total player prize money for the Home Run Derby will be increased to $2.5 million with the inner receiving $1 million, while in typical games, maximum number of mound visits per team will be reduced from six to five per game. Changes for 2020 will include an opening day roster increasing from 25 to 26, while the 40-man active roster for September will be eliminated. The changes are meant to make America’s pastime more fan friendly – and less time consuming. 

Quick Links

Mike Trout raised the red flag about free agency, and Nationals players took notice

Mike Trout raised the red flag about free agency, and Nationals players took notice

WASHINGTON -- Mike Trout was everywhere, especially for the supposedly tough-to-market star of the game. 

Anaheim made Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million extension official Sunday. Trout was the center of a large press conference in California, hopped on MLB Network, made the rounds expected of someone who signed the largest deal in American sports history.

Trout made a telling remark at each stop: He noted watching Manny Machado and Bryce Harper slog through last winter as free agents. He then talked to both. The conversations and visual prompted him to label their situations a “red flag” when he thought about free agency.  

That term, from that player, is eye-popping, despite the heft of his current extension and others being struck around the league. It holds force even after Harper set a record with a new contract that was summarily crushed three weeks later by Trout. It also turned heads when read to players in the clubhouse before the Nationals played the New York Yankees on Monday in the final exhibition game of spring training.

“To me, that’s the red flag,” Sean Doolittle told NBC Sports Washington. “We’re not talking about a veteran guy that’s, you know...we’re talking about the face of our game. If he doesn’t want to go through the free agency process the way it’s been going for guys these past few years, like if he doesn’t think the process could benefit him and he could recognize his full value on the open market, that’s really tell you everything you need to know, right?”

Free agency, once referred to by Max Scherzer as the players’ “golden egg,” has pivoted. Players previously groused about the veteran player who was left jobless. Teams moved away from paying players 30-plus for past performance, both learning a more efficient way to run their team and more financially viable one. Younger players -- unproven players in the eyes of many major leaguers -- were receiving jobs based more on market forces and perceived value than actual value. The process rankled those already in a clubhouse.

“It’s not about players,” Ryan Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “It’s about the valuation or the way that they use it to say it’s going to change their organization. I’ve always said you have to have young guys come up and play. I get it. But my whole thing is to not sign legit big-league players, who you know what they’re going to do at the big-league level, because you have the best farm system in the league, two of those kids might be something. The other eight you’re never going to hear about them again once they leave Baseball America. I just think the percentage of people who become real big leaguers is not very high, and they hold it at a very high value.”

That portion of the debate is receding. What free agency has become is at the forefront. The recent cluster of extensions suggested players realized their best path under this collective bargaining agreement was to stay. The plight of Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel -- who remain unemployed just days before the season begins -- shows that premise is correct.

“[I do] recognize the free agent process has changed,” Scherzer said. “Teams used to covet players, marquee players, and be aggressive trying to bid on them -- don’t feel like that’s the case. That’s what I’ll say.”

Doolittle continued to churn through how the idea related to Trout. If he entered free agency, what could be the possible knock on him? 

It’s not on-field skill. It’s not how he interacts with fans. It’s not how he conducts himself off the field. 

“It would have been really fun to see him go through the free agency process,” Doolittle said.

Instead of finding out, Trout decided to take a lifetime deal to stay in Anaheim. The cash haul was enormous. The terms record-setting. The process? Not so good.

“We need to make some adjustments to the system,” Doolittle said. “Because, yeah, it’s good Manny and Bryce got those deals. It’s unfortunate it took so long. I think it’s very concerning and very notable the face of the game, one of the best players in the history of the game, didn’t want to have to go through that because of the way it’s been going.”

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: