Don’t Give Up On Your Team

Brett Brown
Philadelphia Coach Brett Brown doesn’t seem to have any answers as the Sixers have lost consecutive games twice early in the 2019-2020 season.

Do you pray for your favorite team? I need to. And I might need to pray for extra strength to continue to cheer for the home team. Because the Philadelphia 76ers are trying my patience and vexing my spirit. On paper, the Sixers are supposed to be better now than they were last season. That hardly seems to be the case.

Last season the Sixers finished strong, taking the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors to a Game seven in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. It all came down to a four bounce bucket by Kawhi Leonard, the Finals MVP, in a loss at the buzzer.

This season we don’t have Butler and Reddick but we do have Al Horford and Josh Richmond. Great! AND Simmons is supposed to have a jump shot. So what’s wrong?

So now I’m writing without shame or chagrin because there’s plenty wrong with this edition. I’m trying not to give up on my team. And of late, MY team, the Philadelphia 76ers, are sometimes hard to root for and thus easy to give up on. But that’s where faith hope and love come in. And since the greatest of these is love, we’ll have to focus on how much Philadelphian’s love their Sixers.

But first, let me get this out of my system:

As of this writing, early in this the 2019-2020 season, the Sixers’ just lost two in a row, last night to the 3-7 Oklahoma City Thunder and then Wednesday night to the then 3-7 Orlando Magic. The Sixers got us all happy and giddy as they began this season 5-0, but since then they’ve lost three in a row, then another two in a row. Over the last week, they have dropped 5 and won only 2.

As for the Orlando game, yes it was the second night of back to back games; no the Sixers didn’t have Embiid (he was “resting”); yes it was on the road; and, one more yes, it is still early in the season. But the playing and the coaching are wanting, as other teams seem to have figured “it” out, even in early November.

Here’s how the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the Orlando loss:

“The Sixers (7-4) missed a lot of easy baskets in the fourth quarter, committed costly turnovers, and had a tough time defending. All those deficiencies were on display during the Magic’s game- clinching 16-4 run that gave them a commanding 102-89 lead with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining.”

THEN in Oklahoma City, the Sixers had a 9 point lead late in the fourth quarter but then managed to mismanage their time and their effort. The game went to OT and the Sixers got outscored, out muscled, out played and out coached in the extra session. Sound familiar? The story of the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid Sixers is sounding more and more like an old, broken record that no one wants to hear.

So what’s a fan to do? Can we “the people” fire Coach Brett Brown? We want to, but no. Can we the fans force Ben Simmons to shoot jump shots? Of course not. And can the Philly fan base limit Joel Embiid’s turnovers? Fat chance. All we the Philly faithful can do is root, root, root for our home team, and hope that the love we show them is reciprocated and turns into wins and a championship ring.

So that’s it. The bottom line is “Don’t give up on your team.” At the end of the day, Philly fans still love the Sixers AND the Eagles, even though they aren’t playing up to their potential.

It’s called grace. We all need it, but in order to receive it, we need to give it too.

Minnesota Coach P.J. Fleck: “Find A Way To Win!”

Minnesota Coach PJ Fleck
Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck after defeating Penn State 31 – 26: “We’ve got to change at some point. I think this team’s proven that, as we continue to go into the future, we don’t have to keep saying (negative) things. . . ”

Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck is a giant killer. Minnesota defeated Penn State, 31 -26 in a Big Ten, November thriller they weren’t supposed to win. And his post-game, locker room speech to his players was a Sermon on the Mount type of message that will preach for years to come.

Coach Fleck’s speech is why I am an instant Minnesota Gopher fan. I don’t know much about him but I do know that if I played college football, I’d want to play for someone like him, if not play for HIM. We all need motivation and affirmation and maturation. And this coach and this team provided all of that and some for all of us who believe that things will, and must and just have to get better.

Here’s some of what Coach Fleck said after the big win:

This is what we can become. I’m sure there was (sic) some people on the final drive who said, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ Gotta let go of all of that. Fifty years ago, 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, we’ve got to change at some point. This team’s proven that. Does that mean we’re going to win ’em all? No. But they’re doing a lot of special things that you can keep building on to make your culture stronger, and your program stronger, and make it more of a national brand.”

Amen Brother.

Note to file:as Coach Fleck taught us, “We’ve got to change at some point.” And if we change, things will change. That’s how it works. It might be bad and you might be sad, but things have got to change at some point. They’ve got to. Trouble don’t last always. Success is failure turned inside out. Weeping may endure for a night, but God promised us that joy will come in the morning. Amen and amen.

“Now, Minnesota is 9-0 for the first time since 1904, and Fleck has won six consecutive games as an underdog. And Coach Fleck has a big-game quarterback in Tanner Morgan, who went 18-for-20 for 339 yards and three touchdowns against Penn State. Morgan planned to play for Fleck at Western Michigan but switched to Minnesota when Fleck took over the Gophers. He believes in Fleck. You probably should, too.” https://herald-review.com/sports/college/illini/things-we-learned-about-big-ten-football-after-week-including/article_9c6e3821-b794-59f7-8821-296b124f77f4.html

The third-year head coach did not mince words about what the victory meant for his Gophers team.

“This team’s been through so much — on the field, off the field — through the last three years,” he said. “This team has heart. It has courage. It has character. It’s got an unbelievable culture. They found a way. The whole season’s been highs, lows, but we found a way to win and that was the biggest thing. We’ve been telling people, it’s like — we just find a way to win. They love each other. It’s a special group of young men.”

With the triumph, Minnesota’s resume is padded as the home stretch of the regular season continues Nov. 16 at Iowa, Nov. 23 at Northwestern and Nov. 30 against Wisconsin in the chase for the Big Ten West — and perhaps, now officially, the College Football Playoff. https://247sports.com/Article/PJ-Fleck-Minnesota-Golden-Gophers-football-coach-Penn-State-Nittany-Lions-postgame-interview-James-Franklin-138277618/

The 31-26 victory over No. 4 Penn State marked No. 17 Minnesota’s first at home victory against a top-five opponent since 1977, when the Gophers knocked off top-ranked Michigan three years before Fleck was born. Minnesota is 9-0 for the first time since 1904, and 6-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1961. The Gophers validated a start that many questioned and showed they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation.

“We’ve done a lot of things we haven’t done in a while,” senior defensive end Carter Coughlin said. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck had envisioned a scene like the one that took place Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, as Minnesota students and fans filled the field to celebrate another set of milestones

The win set off a raucous celebration from the sellout crowd. Minnesota players ran to the Penn State sideline to collect the Governor’s Victory Bell trophy, which the Nittany Lions had held since 2016. Students streamed onto the field as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” played. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who set a stadium record with 203 receiving yards — the second-highest total in team history — couldn’t remember a thing afterward, saying only, “A bunch of people. That’s it.”

When Fleck entered the locker room, he jumped into his players’ arms and crowd surfed — a tradition he started while coaching Western Michigan, which went 13-1 with a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2016. He then awarded the game ball to the entire state, giving the ball to university president Joan Gabel, with hope that it eventually reaches Gov. Tim Walz.

“That’s why you take a job,” Fleck said. “That was the whole vision, to be able to have that field swarmed on a top-five team in the country, and to put us undefeated. And when everybody told me, ‘Don’t take the job, don’t take the job.’ My life is usually about, ‘Don’t do that, don’t do that. OK, I’ll do that. That sounds like a good job for me.’

“That was the vision.”

Fleck, 38, began the week by agreeing to a new seven-year, $33.25 million contract with Minnesota. He had been mentioned as a candidate for the coaching vacancy at Florida State, and likely would have been a candidate for other openings in the coming weeks.

But Fleck now appears committed to Minnesota, where he’s 21-13 in three seasons. Fleck’s record through his first 34 games with the Golden Gophers mirrors that of Murray Warmath (20-12-2), who led Minnesota to its most recent national championship in 1960.

“To see in the locker room the former players brought a tear to my eye,” Fleck said. “We’ve had seven head coaches in around 14 years. It’s hard to gain traction with former players. Everybody’s connected to someone else, and we feel like, ‘I played for that guy.’ You played for our Minnesota. That’s who you played for, and I just get to represent that.

“Part of the reason why we signed the contract was we want to bring everybody back. We want everybody to be like tonight every single game. We can create some type of dynasty, you can create some type of cultural sustainability, because your alums are the most important part of what we do.”

Coughlin didn’t know if fans would rush the field. He sought out fellow senior Kamal Martin, a starting linebacker who couldn’t play because of injury, and his roommates.

“It was just amazing to see the excitement on everybody’s face, how together Minnesota is right now,” said Coughlin, a native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, who was already in the program when Fleck arrived in 2017. “It’s really special.”

The Gophers have never appeared in the Big Ten championship game and most recently won the conference in 1967.

Go Gophers!

LSU Coach Ed Orgeron: “Get The Monkey Off Your Back!”

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Technically, this was not an upset. Technically, LSU was ranked ahead of Alabama. And technically, LSU should have been favored to beat Alabama, but they weren’t. LSU was ranked No. 2 and Alabama was ranked No. 3 in the polls. Alabama had history on their side. And Alabama was playing AT HOME. And yet LSU managed to throttle and thrash Coach Nick Saban and the consensus fan favorite Alabama Crimson Tide.

Coach Ed Orgeron and his LSU Tigers just won Game of the Century II. The Final: LSU 46 – Alabama 41, and it wasn’t that close. LSU lead by 20 at halftime and held on for the biggest win in Coach Ed Orgeron’s career.

And what about that journeyman head coach who just beat Alabama for the first time? What can we say about LSU’s Coach Orgeron? He’s been through the fire and the flood, and you just can’t help but be happy for this lumbering, lumberjack of a guy who is the persona of a college football coach. During the post-game press conference, as he squeezed his wife and his son close to his side, he said, “ I knew we were going to win.” That’s faith. He got the monkey off his back, and off of LSU’s back too. That’s redemption.

Coach Orgeron was saying that he was due, and by extension, he’s saying that you are too.

So the lesson is this: some of you have been through hell and high water, and you are wondering when things will turn around. Take courage, my brother. Lift up your head my sister. Live in the sunshine. Just like LSU, you are due a just reward for your patience and labor, and now your time has come.

Here’s what CBS sports had to say about the wining coach:

“Take a moment to appreciate what it took for Orgeron to get here. In his first opportunity as a head coach at Ole Miss, he went 10-25 over three seasons and didn’t win a single SEC game in 2007. He was given an opportunity as interim coach at USC when Lane Kiffin was fired in 2013 and led the Trojans to a 6-2 mark but got passed over for the full-time job in favor of Steve Sarkisian, who lasted just over one season. When LSU needed someone to fill in after it retained and then fired Les Miles, it was Orgeron who stepped up, again going 6-2 as an interim coach. The Tigers were on their way to passing over Orgeron for the job but wound up — for lack of a better term — stuck and gave him the opportunity after Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman passed. So what has Orgeron done since? He’s led the Tigers to a 28-7 record the last three seasons, has LSU 9-0 and among the top two teams in the country in 2019 and improved his record against top 10 teams to 8-1 as coach of the Tigers. Can you say 2019 national Coach of the Year?”

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — November 9, 2019. LSU defeats Alabama, 46 – 41. Saturday’s win over Alabama belongs to Ed Orgeron, a man many doubted when he was tabbed as the LSU Tigers’ head coach in 2016.

If that doesn’t motivate you, consider getting your head examined. Seriously.

Here’s the skinny on the game itself:

“No. 2 LSU ended an eight-game losing streak to its SEC West rival with a stunning 46-41 victory over No. 3 Alabama under the lights at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscalusa. For the first time since 2011, the Tigers have beaten the Crimson Tide, and it was a game that felt entirely different than the one these teams played the last time LSU beat Alabama, 9-6.

The win not only got the proverbial Alabama monkey off LSU’s back, but it put the Tigers firmly in the driver’s seat in the SEC West. It likely cements Joe Burrow in front of the Heisman Trophy race as well. The LSU quarterback threw for 393 yards and three touchdowns, completing 31 of his 39 passes. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire combined for 180 total yards and four touchdowns (three rushing) in a star-making performance of his own.

The 46 points Burrow and the Tigers put on the board against Alabama were the most any team has scored against Alabama since Oct. 25, 2003, when Tennessee scored 51 points against the Tide. Of course, that game went to five overtimes and was only 20-20 at the end of regulation.

The game seemed over when Edwards-Helaire scored to make it 46-34 LSU with only 90 seconds remaining, but Alabama responded right away with an 85-yard touchdown to Devonta Smith to cut the lead to 46-41. LSU held on to win in a rare Game of the Century that managed to live up to the hype.

Let’s break down the game with some takeaways from LSU’s stunning, season-defining win over Alabama:

  1. LSU is the best team in the nation: There, I said it — and I won’t apologize to Ohio State either (despite the thorough dismantling of Maryland on Saturday). What LSU did to Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium was historic. No, history shouldn’t matter when discussing which team deserves the No. 1 ranking. But LSU just walked into the belly of college football’s beast, ripped its heart out, stomped on it on the ground and threw it out like a used paper towel. The 33 first-half points by LSU were the most in the opening 30 minutes against a Nick Saban-coached since 1999, when Purdue — led by quarterback Drew Brees — dropped Saban’s Michigan State squad 52-28. Burrow and passing game coordinator Joe Brady have transformed LSU’s offense from the punchline of a very bad college football joke into the most prolific offense in the country. That’s not what sets this team apart, though. The Tigers defense — which hasn’t been great all year — rattled quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, confused coordinator Steve Sarkisian and created havoc in the backfield thanks to creative pressure dialed up by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. K’Lavon Chaisson was the star of the show, including a thunderous third-and-short stop of Najee Harris on the Crimson Tide’s first drive of the second half.
  1. Burrow made a clear statement … The senior signal-caller for the Tigers entered as the front-runner for the most prestigious individual award in sports and left the field with a grip on the stiff-arm trophy as tight as a bite from Mike the Tiger. Burrow stood tall in the face of enormous pressure and delivered strike after strike in tight windows all game long. He opened the game 9 of 9 and hit Ja’Marr Chase for the first score of the game in the blink of an eye. LSU never looked back. Burrow brought the fight to Bama and forced it to counterpunch. The only person who has done that in the last two years is Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence … and we all remember how that worked out. That’s the company Burrow keeps now. He’s no longer the scrappy graduate transfer who changed a program; he’s a transcendent college football legend with more in the tank.” https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/alabama-vs-lsu-score-takeaways-no-2-tigers-conquer-no-3-tide-in-thriller-first-series-win-since-2011/

In closing, I don’t know abut you, but I’m rooting for LSU.

“Stay In The Fight!” —  The 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals Deliver An Upset for the Ages

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The Washington Nationals have the distinction of being one of the most unlikely underdogs to win a championship, ever. There’s a long list of least likely, storybook, fairytale teams that no one picked to win it all. And yet they did. This is why we love sports. And this is why sports and the gospel are such good friends.

Winning it all after you’ve been down and downcast and downtrodden and looked down upon is not easy to do. But just like the Nationals did, with help from up above and hope in the one above, we all can rise from the ashes of defeat and despair and end our stories in triumph. The Washington Nationals did it, and in so doing they gave all the rest of us a double dose of hope and heart. The Nationals improbable win gave all the rest of us hope to believe that an upstart with heart can indeed kick start their fortunes and come back from way back to defy the odds.

Here’s a partial list from the long list of Cinderella champions:

In baseball, these Nats are right up there with the ‘69 Mets and the 2006 Cardinals’ and the 1985 Royals. In other sports, who can forget Joe Naimath and the ‘69 Jets or Eli Manning and the 2007 New York Giants who beat the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl? Turning to college basketball, we will never forget Jimmy Valvano and the ‘82 North Carolina State Wolfpack or Rally Massimino and the ‘85 Villanova Wildcats. Yes, these Nats have joined an elite club of Cinderellas, including the 1980 US Hockey Team who beat the Russian National Team to win Olympic gold. These indeed were upsets for the ages.

The Washington Nationals 2019 playoff run “was an amazing turnaround to watch. The Nats were able to win the National League Wild Card game in dramatic fashion coming back to beat Milwaukee, 4-3.

Then it was onto the powerhouse, the L.A. Dogers. The Nats going toe to toe with one of the best teams in the league. Howie Kendrick delivering a 10th inning grand slam in Game 5, giving the Nats their first-ever series win in the postseason.

“Stay in the fight” was the motto all season long for the Washington Nationals. Never quitting, never giving up.

And they played like it too, just absolutely dominating the St. Louis Cardinals, breaking out the brooms and sweeping away the Cardinals in just four games.” https://wjla.com/sports/washington-nationals/world-series-how-did-this-happen

Finally, there was the World Series itself! All four wins by the winning team came on the road. Top that!

How did it happen? Faith, hope, a great slogan and a wonky theme song. That’s right. The Nationals adopted the silliest theme song they could find and it worked. It all started when “outfielder Gerardo Parra started using the tune as a walk-up song while mired in a slump earlier in the year, as a nod to his two-year-old daughter.

‘Baby Shark’ took over Nationals Park in 2019 and the team embraced the undeniably-catchy children’s song as a part of its celebrations throughout the season.

Players and fans alike immediately embraced the silliness. “When Nationals players get a base hit, their on-field celebrations mirror the song. A single gets a finger pinch for Baby Shark, a double calls for hand-clapping like a Mommy Shark and a triple gets the full chomp for Daddy Shark.

It’s blown up pretty big. Everyone seems to be doing it,” Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin said before Game 3. “People are wearing shark outfits. It’s like Halloween out there. It’s great.” https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/playoffs/2019/10/25/nationals-baby-shark-song-world-series/2458499001/

So cheer up my brother. Live in the sunshine my sister. You too can comeback from way back. Get yourself a theme song and stay in the fight.

Stephen Strasburg: Give Your Team Another Chance At Victory

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I TOLD you! I told you the Washington Nationals would win! And wow, what a way to win.

The Washington Nationals won the World Series because Stephen Strasburg, the Series MVP, gave his team another chance at victory.

In April, no one, and I mean no one picked them to go this far, much less win the title the way they did. Going into the playoffs, nobody gave them any respect. And against the astronomical pitching staff of the Houston Astros, there was no way that these plucky, happy go lucky, baseball diamond darlings could pull out and pull off an upset victory. And yet they did it. They actually did it! They made it all the way to a come from behind win in Game 7 of the Fall Classic. And now here they stand as the champions of the world.

It took chemistry and comrade and faith and fight, and conviction and compulsion. Yes it took all that, and some. This Nationals team is the underdog of underdogs, the Cinderella of Cinderella’s and the David of David’s. They upset the favorites; they came back from way back and they turned their 19-31 season all the way around. And they turned a 3-2 World Series deficit around. AND they won all four games ON THE ROAD.

It was almost like a dream that has never come true. Because it’s never been done before — ever. This is the stuff that legends are made of.

The Nats improbable playoff journey was a beauty to behold. This team won the wild card game by coming from behind, then they beat the Dodgers, the best team in the National League, by coming from behind, and then, they beat the best team in baseball, the Houston Astros, by . . . wait for it . . . coming from behind and winning the last two games of the World Series on the road. What they’ve done deserves all of the credit in the world.

Most importantly, Stephen Strasburg went 5-0 with a ridiculous ERA of 1.98 in the post season. And if that wasn’t enough, in Game 6, Stras gave it all he had and turned in the performance of a lifetime. He pitched the game of his life in hostile Houston when his team needed him most. Down three games to two, Strasburg stood in and stood tall and kept the Astros from winning and gave the Nats another chance at victory. And that’s what we all need: we all need another chance at victory.

Here’s what Sam Fortier of the Washington Post had to say about the World Series MVP:

“They might not have been here without him. Strasburg shoved all postseason, shedding the fragile label he once bore and showcasing a reinvented approach that reflected his passage into becoming a veteran. He carried this team through three elimination games and delivered one of the best elimination-game starts in recent World Series history. In Game 6, he was the first pitcher to allow two or fewer runs while going 8⅓ innings since Curt Schilling in 1993.” An incredible performance from someone with high hopes hanging all over his career, and he delivered in the clutch.

So congratulations to Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals, the 2019 World Series Champions.

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

Rafael Nadal vs. Daniil Medvedev: Survival Of the Fittest

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Rafael Nadal just won his 19th Grand Slam singles title as he was recently crowned the 2019 US Open Tennis Tournament champion. But it wasn’t easy. Nadal won because he outlasted his opponent. That’s it.  Nadal didn’t necessarily play better or serve better or volley better. He just lasted longer. And that’s the life lesson; sometimes you don’t win big by blowing out your opponent. Sometimes you just figure out a way to stay on your feet for five hours and will your way to a win. It takes guts and grit and resolve and a unanimous resolution to win the match we saw Rafael win on Sunday night. And it was one for the ages.

There were so many lessons and so many story lines and so many memories made that time would fail to capture them all in in one blog. But there’s one story line that I love. It’s about the heart of a champion. Here’s how a Washington Post writer described Nadal’s marathon match with Daniil Medvedev:

“In one of those occasional and stupendous sporting events that winds up flattering the runner-up every ounce as much as the winner, Rafael Nadal spent Sunday evening withstanding a championship match donnybrook rich in unbelievable volleys and awe inspiring, gasping points. A U.S. Open final that was an almost peerless, instant classic was built to such heights that the far-fetched story within it seemed to outweigh even the long-term significance it caused.

Daniil Medvedev, the 6-foot-6, 23-year-old Russian who looks as if he has never encountered a fat gram, spent the 4 hours 50 minutes of Nadal’s 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 win showing that his beanpole frame houses a humongous heart.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/09/08/us-open-mens-final-rafael-nadal-seeks-th-grand-slam-title/?noredirect=on

And so there you have it. Every time we outlast an opposition, we wonder how we made it over. The how is in the heart. And you don’t just need heart; you need a humongous heart, just like the tender, leathery heart of love that our Lord displayed for us on Calvary. The victory of the Cross wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Rafael Nadal would say the same about his momentous US Open Championship win.  And when we are still standing after the enemy has thrown his best at us, we too can say the same.