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Serena: Matter of time until No. 1 again

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Serena: Matter of time until No. 1 again

JOHANNESBURG (AP) In the midst of the Williams sisters' first bustling visit to Africa, Serena wasn't quite sure which country she was in Saturday.

But she's certain of one thing - it's only ``a matter of time'' before she'll be world No. 1 again.

Serena and older sister Venus arrived in South Africa on an early flight from Nigeria, though Serena told reporters at a luxury hotel and casino complex how nice it was to be in Australia. She quickly corrected her slip, joking that she was already focused on next season.

``I'm already thinking of the Australian Open,'' she said, smiling. ``I'm constantly thinking of Grand Slams.''

Venus also was feeling the travel fatigue after the siblings' arrived in Johannesburg after a busy three-day stop in Nigeria that included an exhibition match against her sister in Lagos. She opened the morning briefing with ``good afternoon.''

The duo arrived more than two hours late because of flight delays. But they were applauded once they arrived.

``It's so great to be in South Africa,'' Venus said. ``It's an honor to be here.''

The sisters went to the famous Johannesburg township of Soweto to pass on some tips to a group of local children, who got to hit balls with the multiple Grand Slam winners at the township's Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre.

The biggest cheer there was for a young boy in a bright red cap and white t-shirt who hammered a forehand winner past Serena. It also earned him a wide smile and a high five from Venus.

The sisters were in Africa in support of a women's charity, but also spent time coaching young kids in Nigeria and South Africa. They'll renew their rivalry on court in a second exhibition match on the tour in Johannesburg on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd of 4,000 fans.

It's understandable that Serena wants to get to Australia and on court at a major tournament soon. She had a stellar second half of 2012, when she won Wimbledon, Olympic gold, the U.S. Open and the season-ending WTA Tour Championships.

Serena finished ranked No. 3 after a slow start to the season, which was epitomized by a first-round exit at the French Open. But the ranking didn't concern her.

``I'm not thinking about that (not being No. 1) so much,'' Serena said. ``For me, I'd rather have Grand Slams and victories. I've been No. 1 before and believe me, I'll be No. 1 again. It's just a matter of time.''

Her fifth Wimbledon title was probably the highlight of a good year, although collecting pins from other athletes at the London Olympics was almost as good as collecting the gold medal in singles and doubles, she said.

``Winning Wimbledon was really great. I'd probably have to lean towards that (being the highlight),'' she said.

Venus beat higher-ranked Serena on Friday in Lagos after Serena had gone 31-1 since her first-round loss in Paris.

``We're going to go all out,'' Serena said, promising to avenge that loss to Venus in Nigeria. ``I may make a few unforced errors, but I'm going to do my best.''

Venus said when the pair played in the past, their parents ``don't say too much,'' but always want the one who lost the last game to win the next contest.

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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

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USA Today Sports

The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”

 

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The case for 'Making Hockey Fun Again,' and the Capitals’ place in it

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The case for 'Making Hockey Fun Again,' and the Capitals’ place in it

Like it or not, the NHL is becoming younger, louder, and more personable. And as its young stars begin to gain leadership positions, the demand from a younger subset of fans grows larger: Make hockey fun again. Let players have personality on the ice and off, be it through social media engagement, game-day fashion, or creative goal celebrations.

Some say that hockey was always fun. True, to an extent. 

Minute per game minute, you arguably can’t find a faster, more action-packed major sport. But among the North American leagues, and internationally, the NBA still dominates on Twitter activity and in its social media. 

One of the biggest factors that helped basketball succeed in the social age wasn’t the NHL’s commonly preached conformity.

The NBA found huge success in marketing its star players as larger-than-life, letting them have public personas that tied into larger, richer narratives spanning careers, teams, and decades.

Superstar Auston Matthews, the up-and-coming 21-year-old face of American hockey, has taken note, citing NBA star Russell Westbrook’s individuality as a source of inspiration in a recent GQ feature

He’s well met by former USA National Team Development Program teammates Jack Eichel, who was recently named captain of the Buffalo Sabres; Dylan Larkin, Detroit’s hometown darling who’s stepping up as an assistant captain for the Red Wings; and Matthew Tkachuk, who’s also wearing an A in Calgary.

It’s not only the born and bred American youngsters who are ready to stand out. The team responsible for the resurgence of the debate about how much fun is too much is none other than the Washington Capitals, whose summer celebrations led to the ban of the legendary Cup Stand.

Though the publicity of their championship celebrations was revolutionary, the Capitals hold more promise in amount of fun per sixty. After a title win, their petty grudges are only transforming into a bold sense of self-confidence.

Alex Ovechkin is already a superstar on a mission to grab the attention of all the boys and girls and babes in the hockey world. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s interviews and celebrations reveal a player growing into the spotlight, ready to embrace a downright devious kind of skill against his opponents. Braden Holtby is already a league-recognized style icon whose meticulously chosen plaid suits and well-groomed beard have woven into the hype of game-day coverage. And Nicklas Backstrom is finally smiling on-camera.

(This isn’t even mentioning highly polarizing figure Tom Wilson, whose aggressive approach on the ice has earned him the marking of a player everyone hates unless he’s on their team.)

If the NHL wants to appeal to new viewers, it can gain ground by marketing its stars outside of a bland, monotone mold for success. 

With high-scoring, chaotically delightful games that happen almost every night all across the continent, an audience needs something to anchor them.

Individuality isn’t a bad place to start.

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