Bianca Andreescu: The New Tennis Queen

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Bianca Andreescu is now a princess bride. Almost overnight, Andreescu went from princess to queen, from an unknown to being well know. She went from the bottom of the heap to the top of the hill. Her’s is a rags to riches sports story for the ages. In Andrescu, we see that the little Davids are still conquering the giant Goliaths of sports, and it gives us the hope and the heart to do the same. Here’s what sports writers wrote about her epic performance this year:

“What impresses you most about Andreescu? There are so many choices. Power. Athleticism. Strategy. Toughness. Winner’s mentality? Which one did Andreescu use to win?

I resist choosing one, because there’s interplay between all the things you just mentioned. But I remain dumbfounded by the way the final played out. Truth serum: when Andreescu failed to convert that match point at 6-2, 5-1 and suddenly the score was 6-2, 5-5—with the Mighty Serena Williams awoken; a crowd of 24,000 squarely partial to the veteran player; a transformative moment seeming to have passed—I had existential concerns. My thought process: “Serena is going to win the match now, and tie the record. The crowd will go wild and this will be an incredible, indelible moment, a fitting coda to Serena’s career.”

https://www.si.com/tennis/2019/09/11/tennis-mailbag-us-open-rafa-nadal-bianca-andreescu

But it didn’t happen. Here’s what did happen, according to the New Yorker:

“In her 2019 U.S. Open Victory, Bianca Andreescu showed us the swagger that Serena Williams brought to women’s tennis.

Before 2019, Bianca Andreescu was mostly unknown. She began the year ranked No. 152 in the world. But, ever since, she has defeated some of the best players in the world, demonstrating a stunning array of skills—flat, deep ground strokes topping out at close to ninety miles per hour; moony topspin shots designed to disrupt the rhythm of her opponent; nasty skidding slices and delicate drop shots—and the intelligence, imagination, and audacity to use them effectively. She exposed Kerber’s defense-minded game, which Kerber has used to win three grand slams, as one-dimensional. More than that, though, she showed self-assurance—the kind of competitive intensity and unapologetic swagger usually reserved for a few legends of the game. She carried herself more like Serena Williams than like what she was: a teen-ager with a wild card.

That shoulder problem turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. Andreescu had to retire from her fourth-round match in Miami. After pulling out of her second-round match at the French Open, still struggling with the injury, she missed the entire grass season. Then she returned to tour—and promptly won the Canadian Open. She has not lost a completed match since March 1st. She has never, in her career, lost to a top-ten player. (She is now 8–0.) And, on Saturday, she defeated Williams in dramatic fashion, 6–3, 7–5, to win the U.S. Open.

That was part of the story of the women’s final. There was also the player on the other side of the net. Williams came into the match just having won her hundred and first match at the U.S. Open. She was seeking her twenty-fourth grand-slam title, which would tie her with Margaret Court’s total—a record that, given the number of titles Court won in Australia, against weaker fields, only means anything because it seems to have become a strange sort of stumbling block for Williams. Since coming back last year, after giving birth, she has made four slam finals. The over-all level of the tour had risen in her absence, and yet no one else could claim that kind of consistency. But the finals matches themselves have been another story. She had yet to win a single set in any of those matches.

This time, though, there was an air of inevitability about her. She had played well all tournament, starting with a sharp performance against her favorite honing steel, Maria Sharapova, and including an utter dismantling of Wang Qiang, in forty-four minutes, in the quarter-finals, and an even more impressive win against Elina Svitolina, in the semifinals. It wasn’t solely the show of her usual power, which few players can match. She was also fit in a way that she hadn’t been since recovering from the difficult birth of her daughter, which was followed by a string of injuries.

In this final, her movement—not only forward and back but side to side—was finally there, both steady and explosive. Against Svitolina, who has risen into the top five on the strength of her ability to extend points, Williams was actually the superior mover, and won the majority of their long rallies. She had, too, a calmness about her that had often seemed lacking during her comeback.

As a cultural icon—as an inspirational figure, as a brand—Williams has never been bigger, but during the finals matches her aura had seemed diminished. She has won countless matches in her career by imposing herself before the first serve was even struck, but her past four finals opponents had come out obviously feeling less pressure than her. This was understandable, given what she was up against—not only her opponent but also the expectations, even the assumptions, of millions, most of all herself. But, during this tournament, the confidence seemed back. Her first serve, always the most important weapon, was humming at high speeds; the tuning fork seemed to be struck.

It wasn’t that Andreescu was oblivious to any of this; she knows the legend of Williams as well as anyone. There was never a time, in fact, during Andreescu’s life when Williams wasn’t winning; Williams won her first U.S. Open title before Andreescu was even born. Andreescu admitted to being nervous before the match. But she seemed more concerned with her own inevitability. She really did carry herself like a queen.

Williams began the match with an ace, but Andreescu was unphased. She put pressure on Williams’s serve with heavy, attacking returns. “I think she was intimidated a little bit by it,” she said afterward—not something I can remember anyone saying about Williams, ever. But perhaps she was right: Williams double-faulted twice to give Andreescu the first break. From there, Andreescu seemed only to get stronger. She used big body serves to bail her out of trouble—much the way Williams always has. She used the depth of her ground strokes to set up sharp angles or rockets down the line. She set patterns and broke them, and seemed to unsettle Williams, who put only forty-four per cent of her first serves into play and finished with eight double faults. Williams’s footwork was off. Andreescu’s shouts of “Let’s go!” and “Come on!” echoed strangely in the silent stadium. She reached her first championship point up 5–1 in the second set. It seemed, for a moment, hard to watch.

But Williams, ever the competitor, fought back. She saved championship point with a forehand into the corner, and then started to move. Andreescu was the one then whose racquet looked heavy, her swings slower and her serves starting to miss. Williams levelled the score at 5–5, lifted by and in turn lifting a raucous crowd—which was so loud, and so much in Williams’s favor, that at one point Andreescu covered her ears to try to block it out.

Another young player might have cracked at that point, watching such a lead slip away, playing passively, while knowing what Williams can do when she finds her form. Andreescu, though, settled herself, held serve, and broke to win the match.”

https://www.newyorker.com/sports/sporting-scene/in-her-us-open-victory-bianca-andreescu-shows-the-swagger-that-serena-williams-brought-to-womens-tennis

Wear Heaven’s Helmet!

Antonio-Brown-Helmet

I’m not going to complain about my helmet.  It keeps me from injury, it is issued by the “League” of Heaven, the Holy Trinity – a.k.a., the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and I really can’t do any better. So why is Antonio Brown aggrieved that he can’t wear his own, personal, ten year old helmet?

According to ESPN, “Brown prefers to wear his older helmet, believed to be a 10-year-old Schutt Air Advantage model, which is no longer made by the company and, thus, no longer certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment. He has tried the new certified helmet out and believes it protrudes out and interferes with his vision as he tries to catch the football.” Really?

We need to wear our “League” issued and “League” approved helmets. The Bible speaks of the “Helmet of Salvation.” Without salvation, we are doomed to death and destruction, because sin is real and hell is hot. We need to be saved from our sins and delivered from our debauchery. Without deliverance from bondage and the dismissal of all charges against us, we are all doomed to a devil’s hell. And our only Savior is Jesus. We can’t invent our own “personal” helmets of salvation. That won’t work with the “League.”

The reference to a helmet is an apropos analogy for what we need to protect our heads and our minds from getting rattled and shaken and banged up and beat down. The Greek word for helmet means to “encircle the head.” In other words,  in this spiritual battle we wage everyday, we must employ the weapons of our warfare. And the helmet is the armor we must use to protect our heads, the seat of our intellect and intelligence, at all cost. If our minds are not right, usually we are not right. So we must protect our heads with the equipment God gave us; salvation.

Without the helmet of salvation, we would get our bells rung. This is a football term which refers to when a player undergoes such a huge blow to his head that he can hear a ringing noise between his ears. In life, we suffer anxiety and stress and strain and trauma when we don’t rely on God for everything. Salvation is not just a ticket to Heaven; it’s a permit for abundant life right here and right now. Salvation is our assurance that a healthy and wholesome life can be lived here on earth.

Your life need not be a living hell; it only is because you haven’t put on the helmet of salvation. Don’t take God’s provision for granted. Don’t take your salvation for granted. Put on the helmet of salvation today, and keep it on.

It will save your life.

The NBA Finals — Kawhi vs. Golden State: Another David vs. Goliath?

NBA-Finals-Logo

The NBA Finals have arrived. Yes, we’re here; we’ve arrived at the mountaintop of basketball once again. And for 2019, in one corner we have a first timer in the Toronto Raptors. And in the other corner we have the veteran champions, the Golden State Warriors. No more of that cry from the back seat, “are we there yet?” stuff – we’re here. And now that we’ve arrived, let’s analyze the matchup. Have the Warriors arrived at the top of the NBA history food chain, or will Kawhi arrive at his intended destination: a championship ring?

And there are further questions — First: is it now Golden State vs. Kawhi or Golden State vs. History? If’s it’s Kawhi vs. Golden State, then we have another David vs. Goliath. And we all know how that turned out, at least the Biblical version. The next question is, are the Warriors vulnerable without their star, Kevin Durant, or do the defending champs have enough in them to make history?

First let’s talk about Kawhi. He’s arguably one of the best basketball power forward – swingmen of all time. He’s right up there with the great greats such as Shawn Kemp, Charles Barkley, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Webber, Chris Bosch, Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Anthony Davis, and of course KD -Kevin Durant. Some would add Tim Duncan and Dirk to the list but they are centers. Anyway, Kawhi has forged his way to the finals by sheer strength of will. He has carried Toronto on his back the entire season, and now the Raptors are a regenerated reptile riding their rising MVP as far as he will carry them.

Kawhi is Toronto, and all Toronto has is Kawhi. Period. End of discussion. Had Toronto not fired their coach and not made that trade at the end of last season with San Antonio and sent DeMar DeRozan packing, they would not be where they are today. So, does Toronto have a chance against the Warriors? Next question!

Now for the Warriors. Please note the main point: the Warriors are not playing Toronto; they are playing history. The Toronto Raptors are “just” the Eastern Conference Champions – nothing more. Yes they made if farther than my Sixers and Giannis and the Celtics. But that’s it. (wait, aren’t we supposed to be talking about the Warriors?) Like I was trying to say, if Golden State wins, they will have won a “Three Peat”– three championships in a row – the first team to accomplish this feat since the Kobe/Shaq Lakers in 2000 – 2002. AND they are headed to their fifth straight NBA Finals — the first team to do that since the dynastic Boston Celtics teams of the 1960s.

So let’s all watch and learn. If underdog Toronto wins, Kawhi will cement himself into NBA lore by becoming the only guy besides LeBron who could beat Golden State. On the other hand, the Warriors have come this far with multiple injuries and without their full roster and with nothing to lose but a place in antiquity.

It will be fun to watch.

Every Good Player Needs A Good Coach

steve kerr

Every good player needs a good coach. And every great player needs a great coach. And such is the story of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won Game Six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals — IN HOUSTON, mind you — on the strength of their best, leading role players, namely Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But/and they needed help, and they got big help from their supporting cast:  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, plus the rest of the bench.

And therein lies the lesson: In Game 6 against Houston, Steve Kerr employed his bench superbly. Maybe he should have used them more earlier in the playoffs, but as they say, “better late than never.”

Steve Kerr is a great coach.  And he has to be to coach the band of brothers that he has on his roster. Greatness needs greatness to succeed.  And we’re seeing the secret of Golden State’s success in the chemistry between the players and the coach.

Here’s a case in point: Steph Curry received his second foul early in the first quarter of Game Six, and Kerr immediately took Steph out of the game, much to his chagrin. When Curry got back to the huddle, Kerr was blunt with the two-time MVP.

“He keeps it real with us,” Curry said of Kerr after the game. “There was a moment tonight where I had my second foul when I fouled James on the three, and I saw on the board that he had put Quinn in. Obviously, I had a reaction to that. I walk into the huddle and he keeps it real.” 

“He’s like, ‘How can I trust you to not get your third when you know how big this game is right now and you put yourself in a situation — a predicament to get your second foul? So, I got to make a decision.’ Put Quinn in. Quinn was ready. Obviously, I didn’t like it, but we have a strong relationship where he knows I’m not going to lose confidence in that moment, and whenever I get back on the floor, hopefully good things will happen.” https://sports.yahoo.com/steve-kerr-had-blunt-message-223457898.html 

Steve Kerr knows which buttons to push and he knows when to yell and when to whisper. He knows his players. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and their bents and their dents, and he knows how to get the best out of them.  Sounds a lot like Psalm 139, right?

Psalm 139 speaks of how well God knows us. He knows our ins and our outs and our ups and our downs. And He wants to see to it that we are victorious in every situation. That’s why we must believe and rely on our Heavenly Head Coach. He knows us, and He wants to see us be the best we can be.

Here’s how Mike Cruz from ClutchPoints reported on the Warriors Game Six win:

“Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala were the stars of the Golden State Warriors’ series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. But as much as they led the defending champs to their Game 6 win sans leading scorer Kevin Durant, the Warriors banked on their motto, “Strength in Numbers,” to propel them back to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he was proud of how each of the Warriors’ supporting cast made their mark in their Game 6 win and wondered why he didn’t deploy them earlier in their 2019 postseason, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

‘Houston puts the fear of God in you,” Kerr, halfway through a postgame Corona, told The Athletic. “So we played it very close to the vest the first five games, just allowing our best defenders to be out there the whole time, thinking we got to do this. Then look, we’re forced to play the bench and they’re fantastic. And I’m like: ‘Well, what the  . . . ? What was I thinking? I should’ve played them earlier.’ But I’m just proud of them.’

The Warriors’ bench has been its thinnest since the Steve Kerr era began in 2015. Kerr has played his stars nearly 40 minutes per game over this playoff run so far. But with Kevin Durant slated to miss the rest of the series against Houston, he had no choice but to dig deep into his rotation, going 11 deep in Game 6.

Needless to say, Golden State’s unsung heroes delivered in every way possible. Kevon Looney continued his impressive play with his hustle, rebounding, and improved ability to finish around the rim. Veteran guard Shaun Livingston, likewise, turned back the clock and gave them an offensive spark off the bench.

Andrew Bogut started in place of Durant and was part of their solid start to Game 6. Jordan Bell gave them a spark with his defense and athleticism, while backup guard Quinn Cook gave quality minutes with Curry struggling and saddled with foul trouble in the first half.

The Warriors could possibly get injured stars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back at some point during the Western Conference Finals. Kerr could definitely try to use his bench more moving forward to give his stars fresher legs as they get deeper into another championship run.”

The Heart of a Champion: Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors Show Doggedness Without Durant

Steph Curry Scores 33 in 2nd Half
Steph Curry Scores 33 2nd half points after going scoreless for the first two quarters in an epic win over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semi-finals May 10, 2019

The Golden State Warriors just did it again. They beat the Houston Rockets to advance to the Western Conference Finals — again. That’s four times in the past five years. James Harden, Chris Paul, Coach D’Antoni and the rest of the Rockets did everything they possibly could to stop Steph and Klay and Igoudala, but all to no avail. The Warriors willed their way to a win on the road, in a hostile environment without their leading scorer (and best player) Kevin Durant.

It was a beauty to behold. It was improbable and next to impossible. But they did it, and they did it in incredible fashion. It took them everything they had, and just about every player they had as they employed their diversity. And Steph Cury had to overcome in game adversity as well. Steph, held to zero points in the first half, broke out for 33 points in the second frame and ripped the Rockets on their home court. Steph scored 23 points in the fourth quarter and 16 in the final five minutes. And it is worth noting that the ENTIRE Rockets team scored 16 points in the final five minutes of the game. Incredible.

Klay Thompson, the other half of the Warriors backcourt, was terrific throughout, finishing with 27 points while shooting 7-of-13 from 3-point range — including one that essentially sealed the win in the final minute. The Splash Brothers came through when it mattered most.

For their part, Houston was supposed to win at home, especially since Durant was injured and wasn’t even in the state of Texas for the game. Yet the Rockets state of play showed just how wounded they are. Yes they played hard, but it wasn’t enough. Yes they went toe to toe for three quarters, but they fell short, again. And yes they wanted to win, but why did they not have the will to win?

And that’s the difference between the Rockets and the Warriors, and between victims and victors and between chumps and champions. No offence to James Harden and Chris Paul; they are great future Hall of Fame players, but they lack the grit and the gumption to pull off and pull out a win when defeat is taunting them and they are face to face with the fear of failure.

The difference between these two groups is will. Will has power; that’s why we call it willpower. Dogged determination will move mountains and stops the mouths of lions. It speaks peace to the tempestuous storm, and settles the raging seas. It rebuilds ruined cities and restores the joy of our salvation. Will is akin to faith, and faith must be spoken, without hesitation or reservation.

Will is determination, and determination must be rooted in resolve. And nothing can uproot or dislodge or destroy a man or woman with a made up mind that knows they are destined to destroy the works of the devil. No hint of doubt or trace of fear should be found in a man or woman of destiny. The task may seem improbable or even be said to be impossible. But don’t delay or postpone or suspend your decision to believe God.

Say with me: “I will believe that what God has promised, He is able also to perform.”

Tiger Woods Wins The 2019 Masters!

Masters Golf
In what might be the greatest comeback in sports history, Tiger Woods outlasted a loaded leaderboard to win the 2019 Masters and win his first major in more than a decade.

Tiger did it. He absolutely did it. After five years and major surgery, Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters golf tournament. And despite what you think of him or what he went through, his comeback is noteworthy. It took faith and guts and fortitude and gumption.

So here’s to Tiger. He came back and his comeback is a throwback to when we fell in love with him way back.

Here’s how Sports Illustrated reported the epic win:

“Tiger shot a final-round 70 on Sunday at the Masters to claim his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship, his first since 2008. Woods trailed Francesco Molinari by two shots entering the final day, but used a vintage back-nine to claim the tournament, redemption and a victory many golf fans thought they would never see.”

So you see, on this Good Friday, we look back to the Cross, the Old Rugged Cross, and remember that after death comes life. And for Tiger, after a meteoric rise and a very public and humiliating fall, he too has risen from the dead.

Virginia: How To Turn Your Worst Loss Into Your Best Win

UVA Kyle Guy
Cavaliers junior Kyle Guy who was named most outstanding player and had 24 points said, “this is how this it was supposed to end.”

Coach Tony Bennet drew inspiration from the Contemporary Christian song “Hills and Valleys” as he described how his University of Virginia team bounced back from one of the most humbling losses in sports history.

They said it would never happen, but one year ago, the Virginia Cavaliers were the first No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed. Ouch — that one really hurt. I remember that loss like it was yesterday.

But now, The University of Virginia Cavliers are champions of the college basketbal world for the first time in men’s program history. In his post-game comments, the Virginia head coach recounted how he drew inspiration from the movie Rocky and used the film as a source of motivation for his players. As well as crediting Rocky, Bennett also mentioned a song by Tauren Wells. The song called “Hills and Valleys” contains these heartwarming, spirit lifting words:

I’ve walked among the shadows

You wiped my tears away

And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak

And I’ve seen the brighter days

And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowest place

And I have held the blessings

God, you give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough

No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains, I will bow my life

To the one who set me there

In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there

When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own

When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!

You’re God of the hills and valleys!

Hills and Valleys!

Here’s what Coach Bennet had to say after the big overtime win:

“I played a song for them today called ‘Hills and Valleys’ by Tauren Wells,” Bennett shared after the game. “It just means that you’re never alone in the hills and the valleys and we faced those this year. The credit goes to these young men and I can’t wait to celebrate with my wife and my kids and my parents. I do want to thank the Lord and my savior.” https://kfan.iheart.com/featured/mansour-s-musings/content/2019-04-09-this-is-the-song-that-helped-push-tony-bennett-virginia-to-a-championship/

Beyond just the sting of last year’s opening-round loss to the UMBC Retrievers, Bennett has faced numerous questions about whether his defense-first approach was holding back the Cavaliers in the tournament. Despite enjoying a lot of success in the regular season, Virginia had just one Elite Eight appearance in Bennett’s first nine seasons.

Charles Barkley aptly pointed out that Virginia’s best player, De’Aandre Hunter, who went to MY High School, Friends’ Central in Philly, DNP – did not play in last year’s painful loss to UMBC. Hmmmm.

And so this title is an emphatic statement as to Bennett’s tactical acumen. And with only one senior (Jack Salt) on the roster, Virginia might be right back in the Final Four in 2020.

Virginia defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders 85-77 in Monday’s 2019 NCAA men’s basketball national championship game.

With 12.9 seconds left in regulation, De’Andre Hunter hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 68 and send it to overtime. Hunter stepped up big again in overtime, connecting from long range to put Virginia ahead 75-73 with 2:10 remaining.

Since I’ve lived in Virginia most of my life, I’m so happy for UVA and for Coach Bennet and for the players that endured last year’s cross of a loss which was for them a Calvary.

Theologically speaking, it just proves all over again that a cross always paves the way to a crown. Virginia’s win proves all over again that we oftentimes must endure the lowest of lows before God raises us up to rejoice in the victory that is ours. And it is our destiny that we win.