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

Note to Serena: Don’t Let The Ump Beat You On the Inside

Serena US Open 2018
Was Serena Williams treated differently than a man would have been treated for doing exactly what she did and saying exactly what she said?

Serena let her emotions get the best of her. In the US Open Women’s Final, Serena was offended and insulted and slighted; she was harmed and therefore she hurt and was unhappy and upset all at the same time. Ever been there? I’m there now. But thank God there’s a way out of the darkness of defeat.

The remedy for pain is praise. The remedy for hurt is to sing hallelujah. The remedy for sorrow is to shout for joy. Only God can give beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for morning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.

I’m proud of how Serena stood up for herself. She was affronted, but she stood her ground and did not back down. Even though it cost her the match and millions of dollars, in the end she won the admiration and adoration of loyal fans the word over. She was wronged, and, in an effort to clear her name, she took a loss, and a worthy opponent got the win.

In other words, Serena won on the inside. Outside she was heated and it caused her to be hampered. She was upset, but that’s ok.

She won anyway.

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

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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.

Sloane Stephens Wins the 2017 US Open: The Impossible is Possible

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September 7, 2017 New York, NY, USA– Sloane Stephens of the United States celebrates after match point against Venus Williams of the United States on day eleven of the U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY

Once again, we have yet another “David” pulling off an upset win when no one, and I mean NO ONE, gave her a chance. The “her” is Sloane Stephens. 

Who is Sloane Stephens?  Who knew or even wildly guessed she would win the US Open?  And who saw this one coming? We’ll field the answers to Questions 2 and 3 first: nobody and not anybody.  Now for Question No. 1: Sloane, a 24 year old who has been playing professional tennis since she was 16, came from nowhere and ended up somewhere very special. The winners circle at the US Open is a pretty special place to be, especially when you didn’t expect to end up there.  Good for her. For more on Stephens, check out her web site http://sloanestephens.com/about/ which is pretty nice.

Sloane Stephens, who was unseeded and ranked 83rd, defeated Venus Williams in the semi-finals of the US Open, and in 2013.  At the tender age of 15, she defeated Serena in the Australian Open! Sheeesh!  I love it. 

Once again, sports stands at the front of the classroom, with chalk in hand at the blackboard drawing X’s and O’s, teaching us once again that an unknown can come from the unknown and become so well known that we can’t ignore how hard work and faith can combine and collaborate in a comeback conquest for the ages.  But none of this looked possible earlier this summer.

Stephens, who had been sidelined for 11 months after a foot injury and underwent surgery in January, made her comeback at Wimbledon and entered this summer’s US Open Series ranked 957th.  Talk about sitting in the back of the bus! But she’s been on a tear in the North American events, reaching the semifinals in Toronto and Cincinnati.  

“I had surgery January 23,” Stephens said. “If someone told me then that I’d win the US Open, I would say ‘It’s impossible – it’s absolutely impossible.’  My journey to get here, coming back, just being able to keep it all together and have such a great team behind me — this journey’s been incredible. And I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world. 

Wow. What a humble, meek and modest message.

With the win, Stephens is projected to rise to No. 17. She also nets a hefty payday: $3.7 million. Her career earnings heading into this tournament were $4,519,709, with $310,546 coming this year.  http://us.cnn.com/2017/09/09/tennis/us-open-final-madison-keys-sloane-stephens/index.html

 Sloane Stephens

And her reaction and facial expression after she found out how much her earnings were is priceless.  “That’s a lot of money,” a visibly surprised Stephens said.

 Sloane Stephens Wins 3.7 Mil

Get used to it sista. 

Serena Is At It Again

Serena-US Open 2015

When you’re hot you’re hot. And Serena Williams is hot and she’s at it again. She’s playing at a high level and showing the rest of the tennis world how it’s done. And in so doing, she is showing us how life can be lived when we focus and dial in and double down on destiny.

Serena is marching and moving and making her way toward destiny and history. Serena sees the light at the end of the tunnel, which is a calendar year Grand Slam – winning the Australian, French, and US Tennis Opens in a calendar year, with Wimbledon mixed in between.

Serena is in the moment. And knowing and seizing and grasping and grabbing the moment is something that few athletes can do. And yet Serena is right there. And that’s a testimony and a testament for us all. Serena is on a mission, and we are going along for the ride. Serena is sassy and sizzling and yes, sensational. And we are enjoying every point and every serve and every return and every forehand and every backhand and every ace of this race to extend her dynasty and to further establish her legacy.

For those of that can’t play a lick of tennis, we can listen and learn and study and survey and assess and appraise the great ones, and take from them the nuggets and tidbits and morsels and fragments that fall from their tables and feast on them ourselves.

And more than that, we can learn the lessons and take the treats and pocket the pleasures that a sports great like Serena is serving up and apply them to our everyday lives.

Sex Sells Soccer (And Other Things Too)

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Sydney Leroux is a member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team. She’s a star athlete, she’s a standout competitor, and she has a compelling story. She’s a Phenom and she’s also a fox.

Sydney is a soccer forward who is aggressive, physical, unafraid, and hungry. She always wanted to play with the best, so much so that it became a consuming ambition. It was sometimes the only thing that she knew about herself. The public — and marketers — have embraced her as she appears to embrace herself: heavily tatted, bold, fun-loving, beautiful and free.

Since we’re on the eve of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, ESPN is doing their part to pump the event. A documentary about Sydney recently aired on ESPN’s Sports Center and as I watched in wonder I was captivated. “Syd the Kid” has a hard luck, rags-to-riches, rise to soccer fame kind of story that pulls you in and also freaks you out. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s not hard on the eyes either. Sydney’s story is told in full elsewhere, but for now I’ll share this:

Sydney was born in Canada but she has an American father. She is bi-racial, a mix produced by her mother, Sandi, a former softball player on the Canadian national team, and her father, Ray Chadwick, a baseball player who’d briefly pitched in the big leagues, yet left her and then disappeared. Her father (and mother) gave her fast-twitch muscles, the dimples that punctuate her smile, creamy, pale-brown skin, and, from her father, American citizenship.

In order to fulfill her dream of playing for the US National Soccer Team, Sydney would have to move to the US as a young, 14 year-old teenager. The first attempt to live in the US ended dismally. The second time she tried living in the US she went to Scottsdale, Arizona, where Les Armstrong, a well-respected coach, and his club team, Sereno Soccer Club, were waiting. She got on a plane, flew away, and left her single mother behind.

Leroux hated it. She hated school, the “whiteness” of Scottsdale, and the feeling of being alone. “I didn’t like who I was,” she told reporters. “I didn’t like my hair. I didn’t like the color of my skin. I didn’t like that I was different.” She moved from host family to host family, house to house. She packed her bags more than once. “I don’t know if anyone could understand what it was like to be 14, 15 and have no one,” she says. “I wanted to quit, I wanted to give up so many times. I just wanted to come home.”

And then, after all of the pain, there was gain. https://godandsports.net/2013/10/09/no-pain-no-gain/

Sydney made the 2012 US Olympic team, was the youngest member of that team and yet she scored a goal in the Olympic quarterfinals against New Zealand. Her fresh, favorable face appeared in newspapers around the world, the picture of joy. She became the team’s symbol of freedom and individuality. And she won a gold medal. Not too shabby.

United States's forward Sydney Leroux celebrates after scoring the second goal during the London 2012 Olympic Games women's football match between the USA and New Zealand at St James' Park in Newcastle, north-east England on August 3, 2012. AFP PHOTO / ANDREW YATESANDREW YATES/AFP/GettyImages
United States’s forward Sydney Leroux celebrates after scoring the second goal during the London 2012 Olympic Games women’s football match between the USA and New Zealand at St James’ Park in Newcastle, north-east England on August 3, 2012.
But after watching the documentary and being mesmerized by her mass and magnetism, I found out that she posed for ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue” in 2013. Was I disappointed? Or surprised? Probably both. She is such a pure heart who has such a powerful testimony, my sheltered, shielded and in some respects shaded view of sports was nearly shattered. I see the world of sports from a God perspective, not a “bod” perspective. It’s about God and sports, right?

So we all know that “sex sells.” Fine. Or not. But soccer? Female athletes have long since posed for photo shoots because they are attractive. NASCAR race car driver Danica Patrick and Tennis star Serena Williams and countless other ladies have gone bare and borne it all to promote themselves and their sport. Because they have a wide, pretty smile and long, wavy hair and a cute, curvy physique does it qualify then for the final round of approval of men and women? Apparently so.

So is there anything WRONG with being sexy and sporty? For many yes. But for many others, I guess not.

Read more about Sydney at http://grantland.com/features/sydney-leroux-womens-world-cup-2015/  

French Toast, French Fries and the French Open

Venus Williams 2014 French Open

Even the causal sports fan will notice an unexpected upset, a colossal comeback and a terrific turnaround. Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Roger Federer ALL lost in early round matches at the 2014 French Open.

Each favorite was fried and toasted by the competition, all hungrier and thirstier than their heavily favored but not lightly taken opponents. The younger set that beat Federer and the Williams’ sisters simply wanted it more.

Even the causal sports fan knows that if you don’t play hard and don’t play smart you could be a vanquished victim and a careless casuality. I don’t even watch tennis until Wimbledon and the US Open, but this news struck me as astonishing but yet not astounding.

Spiritually speaking, when we take our opponents for granted and don’t bring our “A” game, were bound to be upended in an upset. So take it from me, never let your guard down, never play like you’re entitled to win, and never take a game for granted.

And so sports fans, let’s learn the lessons of this year’s French Open. Let’s not be sordid statistics or various victims; let’s not be fractured fatalities or random road kill; let’s not become also rans or afterthoughts. We are not to be toasted by the enemy or fried by our adversary.

We were born to win. We were born to dominate. We were born to overcome and succumb, we were born to advance and not retreat, we were born to rise and not fall.

So let’s practice righteousness, let’s execute judgment, let’s live out our faith and live in harmony with God and thus we will always triumph in Christ Jesus.