Is Serena Williams The Best Women’s Tennis Player Ever?

serena-williams-wins-wimbledon

Who are the best athletes ever?

In some sports, there is an ongoing, if not raging debate about who is the G.O.A.T., a.k.a., the greatest of all time. But not in women’s tennis. In women’s tennis there isn’t even the slightest hint of discussion about the best to play the game, ever.

In Basketball, the debate rages on between LeBron and Michael. And for football quarterbacks, it’s Brady vs. Montana, with honorable mentions to Bradshaw, Marino and Favre, Steve Young and John Elway and Peyton Manning, and of course, Roger Staubach.

Hockey is easy: Gretzy the Great will forever hold that title. Baseball is a little harder to pin down, but certainly it’s got to be the Babe or some other Yankee. In other sports, such as women’s gymnastics, Nadia Comaneci’s name comes immediately to mind as she is certainly is at the top of the list. In men’s swimming, Michael Phelps has dominated of late.

Since it’s the season for Wimbledon, we focus on tennis. In men’s tennis, Federer just lost in the quarterfinals for the first time ever (that was a fluke, right?), but he’s still got to be at the top of the list along with Nadal and Sampras and my man Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl and McEnroe and Andre Agassi and even Jimmy Connors.

But when it comes to women’s tennis, there is absolutely no debate. None. We all loved watching Chrissy Everett, and respected Martina Navratilova, and Monica Seles and Steffi Graff. But when it comes to tennis, there is only one queen. Serena. Not even her sister Venus gets an honorable mention. Serena reigns supreme.

Serena is one win away from wining her eighth major championship, at Wimbledon alone. Here’s how ESPN put it:

“Even after more than a year away from the tour, even after a health scare while having a baby a little more than 10 months ago, Williams is still capable of dominance.

A relatively routine 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over 13th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany on Thursday put Williams into her 10th final at the All England Club and moved her closer to a 24th Grand Slam title, which would equal Margaret Court’s record.

‘It’s crazy. I don’t even know how to feel, you know, because literally, I didn’t expect to do this well in my fourth tournament back,’ Williams said. ‘I just feel like when I don’t have anything to lose, I just can play so free, and that’s kind of what I’m doing.’

After hitting five aces with a serve that reached 119 mph, delivering 16 winners to only seven unforced errors, and covering the court so well with speed and effort against Goerges, Williams will face another German, 11th-seeded Angelique Kerber, on Saturday. http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/24076249/wimbledon-2018-serena-williams-angelique-kerber-reach-final

That was the play-by-play. Now here’s the commentary: the great ones in every sport inspire us to do our best, to be at our best, and to stay at our best. Because we love to watch the best, and only the best. We like excellence in everything, especially sports. And that’s what sports do for us. Great players give us excellence, and the best ones do that (mostly) all of the time.

Spiritually, God requires excellence as well. Since we can’t be at our best all of the time on our own, He now asks — not demands, but asks — that allow Him to help us be at our best, live at our best, and stay at our best, all of the time. Naturally, that’s what Serena is doing on the court. Naturally and spiritually, that’s God wants to help us do every day in every way.

Advertisements

Croatia Stuns England, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup Is Theirs for the Taking

Coratia's mario-mandzukic 2018
Mario Mandzukic celebrates after scoring Croatia’s winning goal in their upset, comeback win against England

“Little” Croatia didn’t get the memo. Little Croatia didn’t read the script. And Little Croatia, the little country across the Adriatic Sea from Italy (see, sports and a geography lesson to boot!) that was carved out of former Yugoslavia (and a history lesson), is on its way to its first World Cup Final in only 27 years of existence. And along the way, Team Croatia defeated Argentina and host Russia. Unbelievable.

England was on its way to not just the World Cup Final, but to a victory in the World Cup Final. It was a fait accompli, or so they thought. Until Croatia got in the way with a come from behind, goal in extra time-turnaround win. It was an upset for the ages. England wasn’t supposed to lose. And Croatia wasn’t supposed to win. And that’s how the ball bounces in this summer of surprises.

And here’s the theological twist: what have people, or even you yourself, said that you couldn’t do? What seemingly insurmountable, unachievable, or impossible feat have you been told just can’t happen in your life? Write it down. The Biblical examples are endless. Abraham and Sarah had their promised baby boy late in their retirement years. So did Zacharias and Elizabeth. The woman with the issue of blood was cleansed after being sick for so long, and the widow from Nain had her son raised to life again. It can happen!

So write it down. Write what you are believing God for down. Put a magnet on it and stick it on the refrigerator. Write it in on a post it and stick it on your mirror. This way, every day, you can remind yourself of what you are believing God for. And then remember Croatia in the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Because if Croatia can pull off the improbable, you can too.

And if “little” Croatia defeats France in the final on Sunday, they will forever be the upstart that pulled off the upset that we will be talking about for ages to come. And, when your miracle comes to pass, we’ll be talking about you too.

“As Brazil Crashes Out, the Magic Appears to Be Gone, Too”

Brazil Loss in 2018 FIFA

Here’s an absoultely brilliantly written piece by By 

KAZAN, Russia — It is a fine line between respect and deference, and in the days before they came face to face with Brazil, Belgium’s players and staff did all they could to navigate it.

A World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil was a challenge, defender Vincent Kompany said, but he and his teammates would not be “losing sleep” over the identity of their opponents. There was “no weakness” in Brazil’s team, according to striker Romelu Lukaku, although “defensively, they can be taken” on.

Belgium’s coach, Roberto Martínez, would concede only one advantage to his opponent before his team beat Brazil, 2-1, on Friday. “The difference is, we have not won the World Cup, and they have won it five times,” he said. “Brazil has got that psychological barrier out of the way.”

That weight of history, of course, is what lends Brazil its magic. It is what makes Brazil the world’s most prestigious national team, a byword not just for taste and style but for success, too. That ultimate marriage of style and substance is what makes the sight of those canary yellow jerseys, blue shorts and white socks so enchanting, what makes the colors gleam just a little brighter.

To see them is to remember Pelé and Jairzinho, Romário and Ronaldo, all of the single-name stars who emerged, every four years, to light up a tournament and so many childhoods. It is to recall the goals they scored and the World Cups they won, the stories of their indelible greatness the world was told when it was young.

It is the same whether you are a fan or a player: Brazil is different; Brazil is special. Martínez is quite right — that effect must count for something, at some level, however deep in the subconscious. It must bewitch those who find themselves tasked with stopping the thing that so inspired them.

And yet if those jerseys are intimidating to see, they are surely no less daunting to wear. All those greats, all those ghosts, on your shoulders and on your back, reminding you of what you are supposed to achieve, who you are supposed to be, that only victory counts as success and everything else is failure.

But Martínez was also quite wrong. Brazil might have won five World Cups, but this Brazil team — this Brazil generation — has not won any, and it will be painfully, crushingly aware of it.

There are five stars on Brazil’s jersey representing those championships, but the last one was added in 2002. After this defeat, the soonest a sixth can join it is in 2022, a wait of two long decades for a nation that — for all the romance of jogo bonito — values only victory. This team, like the three that have gone before it, has failed.

There has not even been a succession of near misses. Brazil fell in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010, just as it has in Russia. It went one step further on home soil in 2014, but found only humiliation, the sort that can scar a nation, waiting there.

Every time, the rhythm of the country’s reaction has been the same. There is a bout of soul-searching; the manager is sacked; a new coach promises to make the team more resilient, more tenacious. He does this by playing with more defensive midfielders. It does not work. The cycle begins again.

This time, it is even harder to believe such a response would be proportionate. Brazil was not embarrassed by Belgium: Tite’s team created more than enough chances to have forced extra time, at the very least. It can regard itself unfortunate not to have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Gabriel Jesus. It can believe itself cursed that, in the first half in particular, Belgium defended so effectively by accident, rather than by design.

Not every defeat is proof of some spiritual failing. Not every defeat means everything is wrong. Certainly, there is no shortage of talent on this Brazilian squad, just as there was no shortage of talent in any of the squads since 2002. Neymar is not a mirage, and neither are Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Douglas Costa and the others.

There are some aging legs in the back line, and something of a dearth of young, dynamic fullbacks, but this is a country that exports thousands of players every year. It is a place where players will continue to grow.

That is what has allowed Brazil to build its history, that endless flowering of talent, one star replaced smoothly by another, year after year, cycle after cycle, decade after decade.

What has happened since 2002, though, suggests this is no longer the advantage it once was. The playing field has been leveled: Brazil is no longer pre-eminent in the way it once was, possessed of enough raw brilliance to carry it through. The explanation for that does not lie in Brazil’s shortcomings, but in someone else’s strengths.

It is not a coincidence that all four of this year’s World Cup semifinalists, whatever happens in the second set of quarterfinals, are from Europe. This is, increasingly, a European competition. All four of the most recent world champions have been European. Since 1990, what might be broadly termed soccer’s modern era, there have been eight World Cups. Brazil has won two. Europe will have picked up the rest.

At least one manager here has confided privately that Europe’s power — in terms of finance, influence, and physicality — has become almost impossible to compete with, certainly for Africa, Asia and North America, and increasingly for South America, the game’s other traditional stronghold.

The major nations of the Old World have industrialized youth development so effectively that France, Germany and Spain can now rival Brazil and Argentina as a source of players. Its smaller countries have such easy access to best practices that their size is no longer an issue.

Their players and coaches can be exported easily to the best leagues in the world. The latest developments in coaching, sports science, nutrition and the rest can be imported rapidly. It is that process that allowed Iceland to draw with Argentina, and be a little disappointed it did not win. It is that process that has left Belgium in the World Cup semifinals, and Croatia and Sweden with hopes of joining them.

And it is that process that has seen Brazil come and go from four World Cups, all without success. Each one, each failing, simply adds to the pressure that awaits the next team to try to end the wait, to try to overcome all of the advantages that Europe can call on.

The players in those yellow jerseys know as well as anyone that Brazil has won five World Cups. They know more than everyone that they have not contributed to any of them. Increasingly, those victories are not a psychological barrier that lies broken at their feet, but one that towers above them, standing in their way, casting them into shadow.

Belgium Beat Brazil? YES!

Belgium Defeats Brazil In a stunner, Belgium defeated heavily favored Brazil and advanced to the “Final Four” of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. And I watched in absolute horror as Brazil out shot Belgium 27 – 10 and still lost. Shots on goal sailed high and went wide as one scoring opportunity after another went by the wayside.  Brazil had their chances, but still couldn’t get it done. The Boys from Brazil outplayed, out passed but couldn’t outscore the brothers from Belgium, and it was a sight to see. 

And herein is the 2018 World Cup life lesson: sometimes the favorite does not win, and sometimes the best team is not the better team.  And sometimes there will be an upset, not a comeback.

Four years ago Brazil lost AT HOME in the 2014 World Cup to Germany 7-1, and that was a gut wrencher. I saw that match too (ya gotta know which games you just HAVE TO watch). This time out, the Boys from Brazil, namely Neymar and company, were supposed to avenge the blood of their 2014 brothers, but the Russian soccer gods would have none of it. Yes this game is spiritual. How else can you explain the Brazilians missing shot after shot on goal, and then the Belgium’s, with just five measly shots on goal, winning the game with two goals, one of which was an own goal.

This is why we love sports. This is why we learn life lessons from the games. And this is why we believe in upsets, comebacks and turnarounds. I TOLD you to watch this one! So much for the commentary; here’s the play by play from Rob Harris, NBC Chicago:

“Belgium reached the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 32 years by holding off five-time champion Brazil 2-1 Friday, sending Neymar home without living up to the expectations of being soccer’s most expensive player. Belgium scored the decisive goal on a counterattack just after a corner had been taken by Neymar. Romelu Lukaku surged forward with the ball and Kevin De Bruyne put it in the net to give Belgium a 2-0 lead in the 31st minute.

‘This was the biggest test for us,’ De Bruyne said. ‘Brazil was so strong in attack.’

The opener came after a bit of good fortune. Fernandinho’s trailing arm inadvertently helped Belgium captain Vincent Kompany’s header land in his own net in the 13th minute.

As Belgium lost cohesiveness in the second half and Brazil’s changes stirred the team, substitute Renato Augusto reduced the deficit in the 76th with a header.  But it was too late for Brazil to muster an equalizer as efforts to force the game into extra time were thwarted by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

For the third time in a World Cup — after 1982 and 2006 — the semifinals will feature only European teams. Belgium and France will meet in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The next day in Moscow, it will be either England or Sweden against either Russia or Croatia. The other two quarterfinal matches will be played Sunday.”

So who do we route for now? Go Croatia!

Why I’m  Going to Watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup (now)

Neymar-world-cup-2014-hairstyles

 Ok, ok, ok. So stop ribbing me already about not watching the World Cup. I’m going to watch Brazil beat Belgium tomorrow. Because Brazil is the favorite now, right?  So that should be a great match. What? You mean you’ve been watching the whole, entire tournament; every match, every penalty kick and every minute of stoppage time? Please.

Let’s just say that I’m finally going to go all in on the world Cup. Partially because it’s the Elite Eight (what? they don’t use that term?) and partially because it’s almost over and I’d hate for some great goal to get scored and I didn’t see it. And I’ve got to see Neymar’s fancy new doo.  What? That hairdo was from 2014? Ooops.  Oh well, Neymar’s the flashy guy on Team Brazil so he (or his hair) and the match should still be great to watch.

AND I’ve got to watch because Russia is still in it (booooo!) And if they (they being Russia) win, we’ll never live it down. So let’s all watch the Russia/Croatia match and route, route, route for the AWAY Team. GO Croatia!

Coach Jimmy V: Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds

UCT Cover

Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds: get your copy TODAY!

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Upsets%2C+Comebacks+and+Turnarounds

https://read.barnesandnoble.com/book/upsets-comebacks-and-turnarounds-2/cover#1

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this photo is worth a thousand pictures. The image is that powerful. 

Every time I look at the cover photo for Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds, a book about God and sports, I get goose bumps. It’s a photo that you almost want to jump into. It’s the party that we all want to crash. It’s the celebration that we all want to be a part of. It’s a picture of pure, unbridled and unapologetic joy. There’s nothing in the world like it. That’s why we need Heaven’s help to get it. It’s unspeakable joy.

Coach Jimmy Valvano experienced this kind of indescribable joy when his team pulled off the upset of the ages and won the 1982 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship. The picture speaks volumes. After the big win, Coach Jimmy V is being carried off of the court by the fans. The FANS!  It’s not that this doesn’t happen often, it’s that it NEVER happens. Being carried off the court or the field by the players? Yes, that’s happened. But to be carried off by fans is unheard of. After this historic win, the excitement and ecstasy of victory was so moving that it moved the fans close to the winning coach to the point that they undertook this unprecedented uprising.

The North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the heavily favored University of Houston Phi Slamma Jamma team in a NCAA Men’s Basketball Final that will never be forgotten.  Coach Jimmy V’s arms and hands are stretched wide, as the hands and arms of his fans are stretched high to lift him and laud him and raise him and rally around him for the great victory he’d won. And great victories deserve and even demand great celebrations. And that’s what we witness here in this iconic photo.

Joy is great delight, and only comes from something exceptional and unusual. And the 1982 Wolfpack win was truly exceptional. It was a stroke of coaching genius on the part of Coach Jimmy V. The theological tie in is this: isn’t our spiritual victory over sin and Satan by the power of the Cross even more exceptional and extraordinary and moving and marvelous? I believe that Jimmy V’s sports victory is God’s way of giving us a glance and a glimpse of the glorious celebration we will have in Heaven with Him at the end of time.  It’s pure, unspeakable joy, and we don’t have to wait till the end of time to get it.

 We can have this joy in Jesus right now. 

The Rich Get Richer: “Booggie” Boogies to Golden State

DeMarcus-Cousins (1)
DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Golden State Warriors, and we can’t believe it either.

This Just In: In case you haven’t heard, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins has signed a one year deal with the Golden State Warriors. That’s right, the reigning NBA Champions just got better.  It’s so incredible, so inconceivable, and so indescribable a development that I must defer to ESPN to give us the low down:

“According to most, when healthy (and that includes his attitude), Cousins is maybe the best center in the world, and that includes Joel Embiid. He is utterly unstoppable at what he does, one of just eight players in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a single season — which he accomplished last season through 48 games before he went down.

He also shot 47 percent from the field, and better than 35 percent from 3-point range, as a seven-footer. Seriously, I think people have kind of forgotten how incredibly dominant this guy is, or they’re at least leaning a little too heavily on the idea that his injury is going to keep him from ever being that player again. No doubt, an Achilles tear is a big-time injury. Probably the worst one a basketball player can suffer. And it’s only worse for a big man carrying around 270 pounds of listed weight.

But this is where smart teams weight the risk vs. reward, and right about now, the Warriors are looking a lot smarter than, well, just about everyone else. Again, the guy took a one-year deal on the mid-level exception for $5.3 million. Kevin Durant saved the Warriors pretty much that exact amount when he signed for $5.6 million less than he was eligible to make in the first year of his new two-year contract. In essence, the Warriors got Cousins for free.

Cousins reportedly said he didn’t receive even a single offer from another team. That may or may not be true. Perhaps he just didn’t receive an offer to his liking. It’s understandable that he would want max money, or something close to it, and it’s equally understandable that no one would dream of giving him that with the uncertainty surrounding his injury. But clearly the guy was willing to talk, and ultimately take a small deal as an opportunity to prove himself, particularly with a team that could offer him the chance to play alongside superstar(s).

In the end, the real winner here is Cousins, who can take his time getting back to full strength on a team that doesn’t need him in any way. Seriously, they don’t need him. Potentially one of the best players in the league is a luxury. And a very cheap one. If he makes it back to something near full strength, the Warriors are going to be the greatest basketball team ever assembled, bar none. Discussion over.

Imagine trying to keep your eye on the two greatest shooters in NBA history in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, quite possibly the greatest pure scorer in history in Durant, and even if you somehow manage to stop those three (which you won’t), you now have to deal with a seven-footer who averaged 25 points and 13 boards last year. Then, even if you shut all four of those guys down, you have a borderline Hall of Famer in Andre Iguodala COMING OFF THE BENCH. Then, on the less than 1 percent chance all those guys are having an off night on the same night, the Warriors, behind one of the 10 best defenders ever in Draymond Green, have the best defense in the league, too. It’s a joke.

All of this is going to let Cousins do nothing but shine if his Achilles is up to it. The guy is used to defenses swarming him. He won’t believe the one-on-one matchups he’ll get with defenses terrified of leaving those shooters open. He’ll learn to play a more modern style with all the Warriors’ ball and player movement, and he’ll remind people that he’s a good passer when given the opportunity. He’ll probably win a championship for his trouble. And then he hits the open market in 2019 as an unrestricted free agent having proved to the league, in the most player-friendly environment imaginable, that he’s still a force. Then he gets paid. It’s brilliant.”

“This is my ace of spades,” Cousins told ESPN on Monday. “This is my chess move.”

Sports once again gives us life lessons to live by. The rich indeed do get richer. But it does not mean that the poor need to get poorer. At least not any NBA teams.  There should be enough talent to go around. Shouldn’t there be?  So what’s your chess move? How will you get better?