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9:25AM

RealClearSports: Tennis's Version of March Madness

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The first game of the tournament, and the favorite, Notre Dame is upset, delighting maybe everyone who didn't have the Irish winning in their pool.

Which is why basketball, any team sport, is so different from the tournament now going on here, the BNP Paribas tennis open. 

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2010
11:00AM

RealClearSports.com: Patriots Restored Stability to a Shaky Sporting World



By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


That Patriots win over the Bills on Monday night was reassuring, no matter what your rooting interests. We needed a favorite to do something, just to prove there's a reason to call them a favorite.

It had been a bad few weeks for the big guys, Tiger Woods going head-to-head the final round of a major, the PGA, with Y.E. Yang, the great nobody who became somebody, and finishing second.
Not too long after, Roger Federer, supposedly unbeatable, lost the U.S. Open final to Juan Martin del Potro, who fell flat on his back after the final point. There was some symbolism, tennis having been flipped upside down.

Upsets are supposed to be the lifeblood of sports, and society. They give us hope that anything can happen, keep us from getting bored, complacent or giving up. As kids we're preached the legend ofThe Little Engine That Could.

Hey, if a guy who by all rights should be playing basketball, the 6-foot-6, del Potro of Argentina, can drop the first set to the best tennis player in history and come back to beat him, anything's possible. Right?

Wrong. But it has the ring of authenticity.

Del Potro called his win a dream. We'll accept the proposal, but the reality is that even before his upcoming 21st birthday, he was already rated one of tennis' very best.

One of these days, the experts predicted, he was going to win a Grand Slam tournament. The day came Sunday. He wasn't dreaming.

It wasn't as if Walter Mitty, the fictional character of secret life who resided in reverie, stepped out of a cloud onto the court and stunned Mr. Federer. Del Potro had battled Roger to a fifth set in the French Open. The kid can play.

Still, as in the case of Yang v. Woods, the del Potro result was unexpected. Not impossible. Unexpected.

That's why they play the game, we've been told, because we don't know who's going to win, even though most of the time we do know.

As the late author Paul Gallico wrote, "The battle isn't always to the strong or the race to the swift, but that's the way to bet.''

A stunner is permitted now and then to keep us off-balance, but mainly sports demand a large dose of stability. We can't continually have Central Michigan upsetting Michigan State, although that was a spectacular onside kick. Or have Y.E. Yang overtaking Tiger Woods. It's too confusing.

How are judgments to be made? No less significantly, how are commercials to be made? Gillette is selling celebrity even more than it is close shaves, which is why Tiger, Federer and Derek Jeter are the chosen ones connected with the Fusion razor ads.

Sponsors want winners. Sponsors want recognition. They don't people who drop fly balls or lose five-set matches.

The New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Steelers provide a yardstick for excellence and fame, as compared at the moment to the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Pirates, although the Jets have this quarterback from Hollywood, or nearby, Mark Sanchez, who's already getting Namath-type attention.

Love the Yankees, hate the Yankees. There's not much difference as far as advertisers or television networks are concerned. The only trouble is if we ignore the Yankees, which virtually is impossible.

Because the Yankees won't allow themselves to be ignored.

Neither will the Dallas Cowboys. Or the Patriots. Or USC or Notre Dame. Or Tiger Woods or Roger Federer.

Sure we get excited about a Melanie Oudin or Kendry Morales, new faces, but it's familiar faces and familiar teams that hold our interest.

It isn't going to happen, not on our watch, but if, say, the Yankees and Red Sox, Tiger and Phil Mickelson, Serena Williams and Roger Federer all slipped into mediocrity the whole sporting scene would be a mess. We'd be clueless.

You sensed our bewilderment just when first Tiger, who never had lost a lead in a major, tumbled. And then a month later, Federer allows his streak of five straight Opens to be snatched away.

Oudin, the kid from Georgia, had "Believe'' on her shoes. But after Woods and Federer both fell on their faces, as opposed to del Potro who was on his back in celebration, we were wondering what to believe.

The Patriots provided the answer. They showed the way. They were favored, and they won, Not by much, a field goal, but they won. As they were supposed to win. Heartwarming.



As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/09/15/patriots_restored_stability_to_a_shaky_sporting_world_96485.html© RealClearSports 2009
8:45AM

CBSSports.com: Start smiling, Argentina, your son has done the improbable

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com    

NEW YORK -- It was the night disbelief took over center court, the night fantasy overcame logic, the night Roger Federer lost control, the night a dynasty tumbled.

There's a new champion in the U.S. Open, Juan Martin Del Potro, who's still a few days from his 21st birthday but already has come of age in tennis.

Del Potro, the 6-foot-6 guy those homeboys from a meatpacking town in Argentina have nicknamed the Tower of Tandil, indeed towers over all the improbability of sport.

In an upset that must rank among the great ones ever, the Jets beating the Colts in Super Bowl III, Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson, Del Potro defeated Federer, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, to take America's tennis title.

When Federer, the reputed finest player in history, winner of the last five U.S. Opens in succession, hit the final shot wide on Monday night, Del Potro flopped on his back as much in bewilderment as elation. He had done what nobody believed could be done.

"My dream done, it's over," Del Potro said. "When I lay on the floor, many things come to my mind. First, my family and my friends and everything. I don't know how I can explain, because it's my dream."

No explanation is needed. We learned what we needed from the longest men's final in 21 years -- 4 hours, 6 minutes -- a brilliant display of forehands and courage, embellished by the chants, "Oh-lay, oh-lay, oh-lay, ohhhhh-lay," and the cheers of 24,821 who packed Arthur Ashe Court.

Federer, winner of a record 15 Grand Slams, was supposed to make it 16, was supposed to tie Bill Tilden's 85-year-old mark of six straight U.S. titles. It was a cinch, the 28-year-old Federer against a kid who until Monday had never been in the final of a Slam.

But something went wrong. Or went right. Del Potro, a bundle of nerves, barely could get a ball over the net in the first set. This was going to be painful. And it turned out to be. For Federer.

"I thought I had him under control the first two sets," Federer said. Already this year the one they call the Swiss Master had won the French Open -- finally breaking through -- and Wimbledon. He was going to be the first in 40 years, since Rod Laver, to win three Slam tournaments in succession. Except he didn't.

"I should never have lost so many chances," he said. "It was just a pity. I think if I win the second set, I'm in a great position to come through. Unfortunately I don't win that, and that was it."

Del Potro won that, on a tiebreak. Federer sounded like most of the men who have faced him through the last five or six years, implying what might have been, talking about the should haves and could haves. That's not the language of a champion.

"It's one of those finals maybe I look back and have some regrets about," said Federer, "but you can't have them all, can't always play your best. He hung in there. In the end he was just too tough."

Federer's failing was what normally is his strength, the serve. He was successful on only 50 percent of his first serves, compared to 65 percent for Del Potro. And while Federer had 13 aces, he also had 11 double faults.

And so for the first time, someone other than Rafael Nadal, whom Del Potro knocked out in Sunday's semifinals, beat Federer in a Grand Slam final. And now, another Argentinean has won a Slam. Guillermo Vilas won four major titles in the 1970s, including the 1977 U.S. Open.

Don't cry for them, Argentina. Stand up and cheer. The soccer team may not make the World Cup, but Del Potro is atop the world of tennis.

"I thought Juan Martin played great," said a gracious Federer. "He hung in there and gave himself chances and in the end was a better man."

In the beginning, however, you wondered if he would win a set. Not until the middle of the second set did Del Potro even have a break point, and when he got the break, Federer, as usual, broke right back.

But Del Potro fought Federer and also fought himself, winning both battles.

"When I won the second set," Del Potro said, "I think if I continue playing the same way, maybe I have chance to win. But after I lost the third set, after going a break up, I start to think bad things, you know. It was so difficult to keep trying. But the crowd helped me a lot to fight until the last point. I have to say thank you to everyone for that."

Federer didn't want to thank the people who developed the electronic line decider known as Hawk-Eye. He's never liked it. And when a Del Potro shot Federer thought was out was shown on the big screen to be in, Del Potro prevented Federer was taking a two-sets-to-none lead.

Later, in another incident, when Del Potro was going to ask for another ruling -- each player has three challenges -- he delayed and then didn't request electronic verification. Federer came over to the umpire and grumbled, "The guy has two seconds [for a decision] and he takes 10."

When chair umpire Jake Garner told Federer to be quiet, Federer, out of character, yelled back, "Don't tell me to be quiet. I'm going to talk. I don't give a spit what you say." Federer didn't say spit.

Federer had won 40 straight matches in the Open since he was beaten in 2003 by David Nalbandian. He's from, yes, Argentina. They're doing something right down there.

For the last year-and-a-half, Del Potro, who entered the Open ranked No. 6 in the world, has been doing a lot right. The question was when he could win a big one. We have the answer.

"At the beginning of the match, I was so nervous," said Del Potro, who added that he couldn't sleep the previous night and couldn't eat breakfast Monday morning.

He can dine now. He took the winner's trophy and $1.85 million in prize money and bonus money. He also took the glory, at least temporarily, from Roger Federer. If it wasn't unbelievable, it certainly was remarkable.

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/12207912
© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
1:36PM

CBSSports.com: Federer's already the best, and he keeps getting better

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com


NEW YORK -- Roger Federer's usual edge is his own game. Now he has another, time. The weather has been a curse for this final weekend of the U.S. Open, but as always, Federer ends up not cursed at all.

He and semifinal opponent Novak Djokovic were quarterfinal winners on Wednesday, long before the rains came, and now with the suspensions and rescheduling, they won't play again until Sunday. Three days of rest for Novak. More significantly, three days of rest for Roger.

Who doesn't need it. Who doesn't need anything. He has it all.

"I don't think," Djokovic allowed, "you can ever get your game to perfection. Only if you're Federer."

Only if you're Federer, so graceful, so uncanny, so remarkable, winner of a record 15 Grand Slams, trying for a sixth straight U.S. Open. And now as confident and, because of the extra days off, as prepared as possible.

A strange thing happened to Federer in May 2004. He was beaten in the third round of the French Open. He hasn't been thwarted in a Grand Slam tournament before the semis since then.

Twenty-two in succession playing in a semi. That's Joe DiMaggio stuff, 56-game hitting streak stuff. That's consistency.

Federer is the best ever. Or so everyone says. At age 28, the only thing missing is the actual Grand Slam, wins in all four majors in a calendar year. And yet, with all the obstacles, the possibility of injury, the class of opponents, the streak is perhaps more impressive.

Five years, and Federer is a guaranteed semifinalist. And this time for his semi, three days rest.

"It's a wonderful record," affirmed Federer of all those semis in a row. "Not important, but nice to have. It's something I never aimed for, that's clear, but it's probably one of the greatest records I've created in my own personal career."

A year ago, showing up for the 2008 Open, which also had a Monday finish, which also had a Federer victory, there were questions about Federer.

He had been beaten at Wimbledon by Rafael Nadal, had been crushed by Nadal at the French. The skeptics were saying Federer's time had past.

Federer's outward calm belies a determination. His smooth play and the cliche definition of Swiss as unemotional and businesslike is misleading. The doubters had him on the defensive. Wait, he said in so many words, before you say I'm done.

Roger has a temper, and only as he matured did he learn to control the temper, learn to use the anger and fire to focus his play instead of merely bouncing a racquet.

Every once in a while, during a post-match interview, Federer, the new father of twins, permits access to the pride and intensity that are mostly hidden.

He enjoys praise, likes being called the greatest. There is no false humility. He knows how good he is. So does everyone else.

"What he's done in separating himself from the game," said the now retired Andre Agassi of Federer, "should be recognized."

Agassi is one of the few to win all four Slams at least once. When Federer finally took the French Open this year, he joined Agassi and others such as Rod Laver and Don Budge.

In this rain-tossed Open, Federer is attempting to join the late Bill Tilden, who did it in the early 1920s, with six straight wins in America's championship, an event that didn't become an Open until 1968.

The comparison with Tilden, who died 28 years before Federer was born in 1981, Roger calls "fantastic." But then, as all champion athletes, he turned the conversation to the here and now and away from the future.

"I think," said Federer of the various records, "this stuff you can talk about when my career is over. This is when you analyze."

Federer's beauty is that, as other winners in all sports, he gets himself out of problems when, indeed, he somehow is in trouble. He's Kobe when the Lakers need a basket, Mariano Rivera when the Yankees need a third out. Just when you think Federer's going down, when an opponent has a golden chance for a service break, Federer snaps back up.

In the quarters on Wednesday night against Robin Soderling, Federer easily won the first two sets but lost the third in a tiebreak and seemed ready to lose the fourth the same way. Sorry. A couple of aces, a beautiful cross-court forehand, and there was Federer into the semis, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6.

"I don't know what happened," said Federer, who in truth always knows what happens. "But it's one of those days where everything goes right for you."

Since then, he's had three more days to contemplate and rest. The better you are, the luckier you get.

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/12192344

© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
9:01PM

CBSSports.com: American men nowhere to be found deep in 2009 U.S. Open

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com


NEW YORK -- Maybe John McEnroe can save the U.S. Open. Sure, he's 50 years old. But he still has a forehand. And a name. And he's American, a triple that at this point in the last Grand Slam tennis event of the year makes him the one and only man in all three categories.

John's a broadcaster now, as you're aware. He no longer shouts at chair umpires. He comments into a microphone, telling the way it is and, especially when somebody misplays a shot, the way it should be.

In a way, this is his tournament. He grew up in Queens, not far from the tennis center, and after spending a year irritating people at Stanford, returned. He won the Open three times. He was emotional, occasionally irrational and supremely talented.

If he's not the most famous male on the grounds -- let's give the honor to Roger Federer -- Mac the Mouth sure is well known and respected. And cooperative. He'll do anything to help his sport.

Novak Djokovic, the No. 4 men's seed, waved Mac out of the booth Monday evening after Djokovic blitzed Radek Stepanek in straight sets. The night was young. Midnight still was 13 minutes away. Let's get it on.

First, McEnroe had to get it off, meaning his coat and tie. Then he slipped into his tennis shoes and rallied briefly. The fans loved it, of course.

They haven't loved a great deal else the way the men's draw has gone, from a parochial view. Six Americans made it to the third round, and one of them, James Blake, overly optimistic, contended, "All these guys are hungry. We're all getting better, feeding off each other."

But of those six, only one, John Isner, went to the fourth round. And when he was eliminated, for the first time in the 129 years of the event, whether the U.S. National Championships or starting in 1968 the U.S. Open, no American male reached the quarterfinals.

McEnroe's younger brother Patrick, who also played for Stanford, who also announces and who happens to be the U.S. Davis Cup captain, conceded, "The reality is the reality. The world has caught up at the same time I believe we can do a better job."

Great Britain didn't do a very good job, either. Andy Murray, the Scot, is No. 2 in the world and was a finalist here last year. But Tuesday he was ripped by a 20-year-old Croatian, Marin Cilic, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

Cilic's next opponent is five days older and 10 seeds higher, No. 6 Juan Martin Del Potro, who Tuesday was a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 winner over Juan Carlos Ferrero. Del Potro is American -- South American, having grown up in the cattle town of Tandil, Argentina.

He's the sort of kid -- Del Potro will be 21 on Sept. 23 -- the United States only wished it had. He beat Andy Roddick in a final in August at Washington, D.C., and seven days later lost to Murray in the final at Montreal.

"I have the confidence," Del Potro said. "I beat many good players in Washington and Montreal, and now I beat good players on this surface." Meaning cement, very unlike the clay courts upon which he learned the game in Argentina.

"I have everything to do a good tournament," said Del Potro, not as adept in English as other players on Tour. "But I would like to be in the semis or my first final.

"It's a big difference past the quarters to the semis. I was so close in French Open to get to the final."

Close? Never mind close. If John McEnroe were 30 years younger, the U.S. would be close to having a man who could play tennis like people from the rest of the world.

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/12176032
© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.