Rafael Nadal v. 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.

Tears of Sports Joy: Why Aren’t You Watching the 2019 US Open?

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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff at their joint Post Match Press Conference at the 2019 US Open

Talk about drama and theater and a showcase and an awesome show of showmanship in sports! I just started watching the 2019 US Tennis Open and now I can’t stop. Yes, this year’s US Open has it all. Upsets, comebacks and, you guessed it- turnarounds, especially on the women’s side.

Two matches are particularly of note; Taylor Townsend vs. Simona Halep and, of course, Naomi Osaka vs. Coco Gauff.

When I tuned in to the Taylor/Halep match, it looked like Taylor was trying to LOSE her math to Halep and not win. Seriously. She made unforced error after unforced error, and had so many mental miscues that I said there is no way this American is going to win. But she did. Instead of losing, she pulled herself together and won the match that could easily have been lost. Kudos to you Taylor, your upset win made me cry for joy.

The New York Times reported is this way:

“Taylor Townsend stunned the reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep on Thursday by rushing to the net 106 times. In her match with Halep on Saturday, Taylor said ‘there was no reason to change what was working.’

And in her previous win, Townsend, ranked 116th, came to the net 75 times in her 7-5, 6-2 victory over Sorana Cirstea in Louis Armstrong Stadium, including 53 times on serve-and-volley points. In her on-court interview after the match, Townsend said she had been surprised to learn how many people had her phone number, based on the congratulations she received on her win over Halep, but had worked to maintain her focus.

‘I just tried to keep my head on straight,” Townsend, 23, said. “My coach and I talked about strategy, and just continuing what I did from the last round, and just trying to get better.’ ” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/sports/tennis/us-open-taylor-townsend.html

Townsend was playing in the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for just the second time in her career, after losing at this stage of the 2013 French Open. She told the crowd this would be only the beginning for her, saying she planned to “ride this thing all the way.”

The Los Angeles times reported this part of the story:

“Unable to recapture the success she had enjoyed at the junior level, Taylor Townsend knew earlier this year she’d have to change something in her tennis life. Being routed by Simona Halep at Miami in March was the catalyst that drove Townsend, 23, to approach Halep for advice. Halep generously obliged. But on Thursday, Halep became a victim of Townsend’s rekindled hunger. In the biggest upset of this year’s U.S. Open, a confident Townsend went to the net early and often and outplayed Halep — the current Wimbledon champion — to earn a 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory in a second-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. And so Townsend’s win wasn’t much of a thank-you to Halep. “Next time, I will not say anything,” she said, smiling.

Taylor said “she didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know, but it was good to hear it from another player, someone I just played, played a couple of times. Especially someone who is at such a high level, has accomplished so much,” Townsend said. “I’m not saying that everything she said I implemented into my training, but it was definitely in the back of my head to remember what she said and also remember why I asked, what drove me to ask that question, kind of that hunger and desire to get better.”

The triumph was a long time coming for Townsend, who became teary-eyed during a post-match interview.” https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2019-08-29/taylor-townsend-takes-simona-halep-advice-then-beats-her-in-u-s-open-singles.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=27510631

And THEN there was the most anticipated match of the tournament; reigning US Open Champion Naomi Osaka vs. Coco Gauff. If you didn’t watch the match on Saturday night, just watch the post-game interview. It’s a presser that will live in sports infamy.

I just dare you not to cry.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=27510631

Wear Heaven’s Helmet!

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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 Miracle Of Momentum

This past weekend I sat down and watched a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game for the first time this season. And I’m a Philly guy, so I’m all about rooting for the home team. But boy oh boy did I pick the wrong time to watch a bad game.

When I turned on the TV, the Phils had a 4-1 lead, and I said, OK!  Then they extended the lead to a 6 -1 margin, and this was against one of baseball’s worst teams, the Florida Marlins. A five run margin should be enough to win a game, right? Wrong.

A five run margin wasn’t enough. Why? Because the Marlins understood the moxy and miracle of momentum. They got one hit, then another hit, and then two runs and then a few more runs, and the next thing you knew, they were winning 9-6, and that’s how the game ended. The Marlins stole the momentum and won the game.  Just like that. The Phil’s can hit but they sure can’t pitch. They just can’t stop the other guys from hitting, and scoring. In other words, the pitching staff, or more specifically, the relievers, failed them, and this wasn’t the first time this has happened this season. It appears that the Phils relievers aren’t worth their salt.

For all those out there who don’t understand momentum, this one is for you. And for those of us who do respect and hold the muscle of momentum in high regard, let this be a reminder. You don’t want to give away what you’ve worked hard for and rightfully earned, or even what you have been given. 

Momentum in sports is everything. When you’re on a roll, you don’t want to do anything to mess it up or muck it up. If you do make a mistake here or there you recover quickly, and get back to rolling. Trying to sit on a lead and playing “prevent” defense (whatever that is) is always a bad idea. Listen; when you have a good lead, even a little lead, but especially a big lead, you want to do everything in your power to protect it and even pad it, because to lose a lead is next to disastrous, and to lose a big lead is tantamount to preposterous. 

In baseball, a “save” is when a relief pitcher comes in late in the game, say the seventh inning or so, and pitches one or two innings. The reliever’s only job is to keep the other team from getting hits and getting on base and, God forbid, scoring runs. Throwing strikes is good, and getting strikeouts is even better. The worst thing a relief pitcher can do is to give up hits and allow base runners and permit the other team to take the lead and win the game AFTER his team has given him the ball with the lead.

The word save is a theological term. In baseball, the relief pitcher could be considered a “savior,” of sorts. A savior is “a person who rescues others from evil, danger, or destruction. The Old Testament viewed God Himself as the Savior, and because God is the source of salvation, He sent human deliverers to rescue His people, Israel. This word was also used to describe the judges of Israel, those “saviors” or “deliverers” who rescued God’s people from oppression by their enemies.” (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

A relief pitcher wins the game. In other words, a relief pitcher is a savior who brings salvation. Our Lord is our relief. He will never lose a save. Never. He came to seek and to save all who were lost.  And he can come into your “game,” a.k.a. into your life, and save you too.

Amen.

Kawhi Leonard: 2019 NBA Champion & Finals MVP

Kawhi wins NBA Championship with Toronto

His hands are raised Heavenward, his eyes looking upward, his heart and soul certainly looking onward, all the while celebrating the moment inward,  Kawhi can now say “mission accomplished!”  How spiritual is that? Kawhi is the example of how we should be; our hands lifted up and our mouths filled with praise, celebrating the Victory.

Kawhi came to Toronto for one reason and one reason only — to win an NBA Title.  Done.    

Kawhi crushed and killed every living opponent that came a calling by playing lights out night in and night out. At times he played like a rabid wild animal, demanding the ball from friends and commanding the attention of his enemies. Most times he played consistently excellent and masterfully brilliant, dicing and slicing his way to nightly double doubles from game to game and from series to series as he led his new team to the NBA’s promised land.

The Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors, 114-110, in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the last Game at Oracle Arena, sealing the first title in franchise history and claiming Canada’s first championship in a major American sports league since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.

Kawhi Leonard, who posted 22 points, six rebounds and three assists, was named Finals MVP for the second time in his career, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win that award while representing multiple teams. The all-star forward, who sealed the title with three free throws in a surreal closing second, previously won in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs, who traded him to the Raptors last summer

Now, Kawhi can demand whatever he wants from whomever he wants. And now he’s got his newly stocked resume to back up every commanded penny. From his four bounce buzzer beater against the Sixers to win Game 7 of that series to overcoming and overpowering and overtaking Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals to outperforming and overwhelmingly whupping the defending champs, Kawhi and the Raptors earned every bit of this championship. Every bit.

On the other hand, we must mention and acknowledge the wounded Warriors. The hobbled and humbled defending champions fought like cornered canines but in the end it wasn’t enough.  In the end, anything and everything the Warriors did or even tried to do wasn’t enough. Even the injured Klay Thompson running back out of the tunnel onto the playing floor to shoot his two free throws wasn’t enough.  The weary and well-worn Warriors were well on their way to defeat long before Klay went down,  for the SECOND time. Physically dent and emotionally spent, the W’s were tired and they were beat long before the final buzzer sounded. Curry was not himself and the team was reduced to a shell of their former championship form. But fight they did.

Here’s how ESPN Senior Writer Ramona Shelburne put it:

“This season has been a war of attrition and attention for the Warriors. At times, the team seemed to be dragging itself along — too talented and proud to surrender, but too tired and injured to mount the kind of fight it has become known for.  Five straight years of breathing the same air with the same group of human beings can wear on the most gentle soul. Five years of doing that under the spotlight that accompanies being the best team in the NBA is when pipes start bursting.”

But surely we digress. This is Kawhi’s time. This is Kawhi’s moment. So Congrats to the Raptors who ripped Kawhi from San Antonio. Congrats to first year Coach Nick Nurse who came from out of nowhere to do what previous and banished head coach Dwane Casey couldn’t do. Speaking of Coach Nick Nurse, what about him? He’s got a feel good, upsets, comebacks and turnarounds story all of his own as well.

“Coach Nick Nurse’s team Toronto defeated Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Golden State in these playoffs. That means Nurse got his team past ones coached by Steve Clifford, Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr. That foursome is about the toughest draw a first-year coach in the league could get in his maiden postseason voyage.

‘He’s one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve seen,” Raptors assistant Jamaal Magloire said during Toronto’s victory celebration after the title-clinching win. “When it comes to this team’s success, he deserves every bit of it.” Nurse played at Northern Iowa, started his coaching career there as an assistant and wound up becoming a head coach at Grand View when he was 23. He coached in Belgium and Britain. He won a pair of British Basketball League titles as a coach, in Birmingham in 1996 and London in ‘00, then got a couple of titles in what is now called the G League.

The second G League crown got Nurse noticed. He was at Rio Grande Valley, guided them to a title in 2013 and that’s when the Raptors called and wanted to talk to him about offense. They ended up hiring him as an assistant.” And the rest is history.

Finally, congratulations to this Raptors team that made it work. Kawhi’s teammates, from Pascal Siakam in Game 1 and certainly to Kyle Lowry Game 6 — with Serge Ibaka and Fred VanFleet and Marc Gasol mixed in between — they all pitched in. And whenever they would and wherever they could, each did their part, and it amounted to a total team win.

So always remember, it’s “Team, team, team;” that’s what it always takes to pull off a quantum victory  like this.


Oh Cananda!

Kawhi!

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Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors are on the verge of winning the NBA’s biggest prize. After absolutely torching the defending champs in Game 4 — AT ORACLE, mind you — the Raptors are almost rapturous as they stand on the verge of winning their first NBA Championship. Who saw this one coming? It is an upset of epic proportions, as the Warriors were supposed to rip the Raptors in Six Games. Instead, it looks like it will end the other way around. And all of Canada is singing “Oh Canada” and dancing in every Jurassic park north of the order.

This steady and stoic superstar rarely smiles or shows any emotion. Yet this 2019 Finals Championship series has been all about the man who has become the NBA’s most dominant and dominating player — Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has been putting up outrageous numbers during the postseason, dispatching the Bucks in six games after falling behind 0-2, just after sending home the Philadelphia 76ers, after falling behind Philly 2-1, with a Game 7, buzzer-beating, series-winning shot. Now in the NBA Finals, Leonard and the Raptors are one win away from dethroning the defending-champion Golden State Warriors.

Looming over Leonard’s play and the Raptors’ success is the fact that he may most likely decide not to re-sign with the team after the season. It has long been speculated that Leonard wishes to play in his home state of California; with his contract expiring at the end of the playoffs, his future will be entirely in his hands. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, Leonard and the Raptors are trying to get their hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Kawhi Leonard has proved and proven that he is a force to be reckoned with. He’s averaging 31 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Not too shabby. He’s leading his team night in and night out, with no excuses for a mistake here or there and no regrets, especially for leaving San Antonio. Yes Kawhi left a good team and a great coach in Gregg Popovich for Toronto. Yes Kawhi has been very good for most of his career. And yes Toronto has also been pretty good for the past few years. But for Kawhi, Toronto was an unknown commodity in uncharted territory, for he was getting a new, first year coach and new teammates — and nothing was for sure.

But all of that seems like ancient history now, as Kawhi has led his new team to the summit of the season and the apex of the basketball world. Kawhi has the third highest scoring average in these payoffs, behind Kevin Durant and James Harden. And now he’s takin it to the reigning champs.

Yes there have been players to leave a team they’ve been with for years for another team. Dr. J did it. Moses Malone did it. Kevin Garnett did it. And Kevin Durant did it. All of these players did it to do one thing: win a championship with their new team. But how ironic is it that Durant is injured and not playing against Kawhi now?

And Kawhi has help. Over the course of the Finals, supporting actors the likes of Pascal Siakim and Marc Gasol and Dennis Green and Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka have filled in admirably and taken turns in helping carry the load as Leonard has led the way. Last night, Serge Ibaka scored 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench for the composed and confident Raptors. That means Ibaka shot 75% from the floor. These red hot Raptors are shooting lights out when they need to and turning back every Warrior threat at raucous Oracle — where home fans were stunned and silenced when the final buzzer sounded.

Not even the presence of Hall of Famer Al Attles, the Warriors’ former general manager, coach and player, could help the Warriors. Attles attended Game 4 and it was the first game in approximately eight months for the 82-year-old Attles, who has had health issues.

As for the reigning champs, they will have to dig deep and stretch wide and strain to reach higher than they’ve reached in order to pull this one out of the hat. The return of KD – Kevin Durant could help, but then again, after missing nine straight games, a herculean effort is what it’s going to take to overtake the red hot Raptors.

The key is that the Raptors believe. They believe in their coach, themselves and their leader. They are confident, they’ve played confidently, and they are in no way, shape or form being overly optimistic or arrogantly simplistic. Yes they are up 3-1, but they still have to win one more. It’s just one more game, but it’s still a full game. As Lowry said, “We aint done nothing yet.” And he’s right because it aint over till the fat lady sings.

But if Leonard leads like he’s led them so far, it’s over. It is absolutely over. And we’ll be crowning and congratulating a new champion come Monday night.

The lessons learned here are these: be humble, because Leonard is as self-effacing as they come. Be heady, as Leonard is one of the smartest, hardest working players in the league. And be happy for those who happen to be having a season of success. Remember, “Rejoice with them that rejoice.” You’ll want others to rejoice in your success too.

Bart Starr: Honoring the Sports Veteran On A Memorable Memorial Day

Bart Starr
Bart Starr: 1934 – 2019

How sad and yet how fitting is it that Bart Starr, the sports veteran many never knew, but we all knew of, passed away on Memorial Day. His fame stretched far and his fans spread wide. And his fans, both in and outside of Green Bay, loved him.

“They loved him because as a quarterback he led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships. They loved him because he represented everything that was special about the team in the NFL’s smallest market. And they even loved him after his nine-year tenure as the team’s head coach that resulted in only one playoff appearance. And most of all, they loved him because he embodied the competitive spirit that was his coach, Vince Lombardi, during the glory years of the 1960s.”

Here’s a very nice tribute to the legend from Sports Illustrated:

“Legendary Packers quarterback Bart Starr is among the most celebrated quarterbacks in NFL history. He won Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II in his 16-year career under center in Green Bay. However, Starr’s tenure as the Packers’ head coach was less celebrated with a 52–76–3 record over nine seasons.

Starr took the criticism of his coaching in stride, according to a letter obtained by The MMQB’s Andrew Brandt on Tuesday following Starr’s death at the age of 85. The Green Bay legend penned a response to Dan Clumper of Eau Claire, Wisc. in 1976 and even thanked Clumper for his notes on the state of the franchise.

‘We are sorry to lose you as a fan of course, but what is sadder is the example you are setting for your own sons,’ Starr wrote. ‘I hope, while you are re-directing their young minds in the future, you will include tolerance so that when you occasionally err or unintentionally disappoint them, they will not lose their faith in you. May your sons always excel and enjoy the numerous rewards of athletic competition.'” https://www.si.com/nfl/2019/05/28/bart-starr-letter-green-bay-packers-coach-disgruntled-fan

Rest in peace, Bart Starr.