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3:00AM

RealClearSports: They're Having a Ball in New York

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com



NEW YORK -- Last week it was Tiger. This week it's Serena, Venus and Roger. It's always Alex. This is the place where the ball's always bouncing, along fairways, on hard courts, down the third base line.

This is place where the fans don't miss a thing, especially if Andy Roddick misses a forehand or Jerry Hairston misses a grounder.

This the place where the headlines call teams the Bombers or the Amazin's, the Jints or Gang Green. This is the place where you can buy a fake Rolex on the street or buy the real Brooklyn Bridge in a tourist trap.

Everything goes in New York. Anything goes in New York.

The front page in the Daily News was more of a declaration: "When Khadafy comes to New York this month, we should throw him straight into prison.'' The back page head, over a picture of Hairston fumbling the grounder that ended Andy Pettitte's perfect game, was "BAD HAIR DAY."

Baseball matters here. Fifteen years ago, 1994, the sport had gone into suspended animation. The players called a strike in August, the owners cancelled the World Series in September. We were told symbolically, if not directly, that everything we believed in was a mirage.

If they could wipe out the Series after 90-something years, then why care?

But the game survived, even flourished. We're told the McGwire-Sosa home run chase of '98 was what brought back the fans, re-established the interest, and while that's not untrue, New York also played its part.

This is where the Babe and the Iron Horse played. Where Jackie Robinson joined the majors. Where the term "Subway Series'' became part of the lexicon.

New York, with its ethnic diversity, where the kids grew up playing stickball, always was baseball country. Still is. If not at the expense of any other sport.

The Barclays golf tournament was played last weekend across New York Harbor, with the State of Liberty visible from the course. The big guns --  Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington -- showed up, although Heath Slocum won.

Twenty-four hours later, across the bay, a U.S. Open began. The second one in the region in two and half months. That one was the golf Open, out on Long Island. This is the tennis Open, a rollicking two weeks of day and night competition.

Sellout after sellout, matches that begin at 11 a.m., matches -- such as Andy Roddick's win over Bjorn Phau, Monday night to Tuesday morning -- that end at 12:45 a.m. New Yorkers love it. If not quite as much as they love their baseball.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the defending champions, opened the Open on Monday afternoon, but the tabloids went with the Yankees, who were down in Baltimore.

"CLOSE BUT NO PERFECTO!'' said the Post on its back page ‘"Awesome Andy,'' proclaimed Newsday, alluding to Pettitte's performance. And, course, the Daily News went after Hairston, who made the error that for a time will exist in infamy.

The Yanks, the Bronx Bombers, own this region during spring and summer. If it's not Alex Rodriguez who's being featured, it's Derek Jeter. The Mets, the Other Team, attract attention only for their foibles, and there have been plenty.

Omar Minaya is the Mets' general manager, and now he's been trashed as much for his failure to make a point clearly in interviews as for the failure of his team.

Minaya's language didn't matter when the Mets were winning, wrote Bob Raissman in the News, but now he must communicate how to correct the problems and he is incapable. A bit unfair, but this is New York, where imperfection of any sort is almost sinful.

Whether you're allowing a ground ball to dribble under your glove or fumbling syntax before a microphone.

In New York, virtually or actually, there's no place to hide. From the Battery to the Bronx, the Hudson River to Queens, you're always in somebody's headlights. Or, as Roddick was in the wee small hours, somebody's stadium lights.

The other night, Venus Williams was down 5-4 in the second set against Vera Dushevina after having lost the first set and was serving to stay in the match. The crowd was roaring.

"One of those great New York moments,'' said Venus, who went on to a three-set victory.

One of those New York moments of which a full explanation might be available from A-Rod or Omar Minaya, if with opposing viewpoints.

"It must be love'' is the promotional double-entendre slogan of the Open. Love or hate, with the attention, it must be New York, where you can hit a forehand, a home run and the jackpot at any time.




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/2009/09/01/theyre_having_a_ball_in_new_york_96468.html
© RealClearSports 2009
9:10PM

CBSSports.com: Young Britton in awe facing great Federer in first round

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com


NEW YORK -- You've had those dreams. You blow a fastball past Albert Pujols. You do a double-pump to leave Kobe Bryant hanging in the air, helpless. You whip a backhand past Roger Federer and are up 3-1 in the second set.

And then you wake up. Or as happened Monday to a kid named Devin Britton, in a surrealistic opening-round match of the 2009 U.S. Open, Roger Federer wakes up. So much for dreaming.

"I was thinking," said Britton, "I'm up a break. This is awesome. Then it only lasted about 30 seconds."

Then Federer won the next six games as the No. 1 player should against an 18-year-old who is ranked No. 1,370 in the world. Federer defeated Britton, 6-1, 6-3, 7-5.

The match was a mismatch. And yet it wasn't.

Britton, 18, won the NCAA singles title last May during the one semester he spent in college, at Mississippi. Invited to the Open as a wild card, he had what could be considered either the good fortune or the misfortune to be put in the draw against Federer, who has won the championship the previous five years.

When told Thursday he had drawn the great Federer, who has a record 15 Grand Slam titles, Britton at first thought it was a joke. Any laughter was muted.

Britton, as all of us, had seen Federer on television. "He looked unbelievable," Britton said of watching from afar.

Then after a pause, the kid added, "But when you play him, he's even more tough."

A day earlier, Britton had practiced with Rafael Nadal, who was ranked No. 1 before being unable to play in June and July because of bad knees. Nothing grandiose bounced around Britton's mind, but after hitting against Nadal, maybe, Britton hoped, he could pull off a shot here or there against Federer.

In a way, he failed. In a way, he succeeded.

"My goal," Britton said candidly, "was not to get crushed."

He didn't. Or did he? Federer won the first set in 18 minutes, which is less time than it takes the 7 train to go from the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows back to Manhattan.

"It was hard not to think about who I was playing," Britton conceded. "He plays such a pretty game. It's fun to watch. I didn't start thinking about my own game until late in the second set."

Britton did break Federer once in each of the last two sets, an indication that either Britton has a future or Federer has a heart, not that Roger is going to ease up in his quest for another championship.

"Try to win again," Federer answered when someone asked about his motivation now that he already has been described as the best in history. "I like being the winner of any tournament in the world. That's why, when I enter, I try to win."

If the words sound more than vaguely familiar, echoing those of Tiger Woods, that would be understandable. Federer and Tiger both are served by the same agency, IMG, and both often express admiration for the other.

On this afternoon, any admiration expressed was by Britton, who first signed a professional contract in June at Wimbledon, where he reached the semifinals. Of the junior championships.

And suddenly there he was Monday, standing dumbstruck across from the elegant Swiss with "RF" on his jacket and tennis in his wake.

"It was pretty scary," said Britton, who at least has a sense of humor -- or of reality. "I was pretty scared."

Fear, excitement, it's a wonder Britton made it through three sets, remarkable he broke Federer in two of the three sets.

"The extended changeovers, I had time to think about it," Britton said of the one-minute breaks. "It was pretty much all I was thinking about. You know, this is pretty cool. I was sitting here on [Arthur] Ashe Court and playing Federer. This is awesome."

Also instructional. Britton said he realized he would need to get stronger, would need to develop a bigger serve, would need to improve his forehand -- although he also knows there is no duplicating the famous Federer forehand.

"I think he serves unbelievably well," Britton said of Federer. "I don't think a lot of people realize how big he serves."

The forehand, the one that is able to place a ball virtually anywhere at any time? Like someone poking his hand into the lion cage at the zoo, Britton masochistically wanted to see how much he could poke around without getting eaten.

"His forehand is just crazy," said Britton, bringing laughter to the media group. "I tried to keep it away, but sometimes I just hit [the ball] there just to see it."

What Federer wants to see is a few more trophies. He finally won the French in June, then took Wimbledon for the sixth time. A sixth consecutive U.S. championship would equal the mark of the late Bill Tilden in 1920-25.

"I've beaten the all-time Grand Slam record," Federer said. "That's not what tennis is all about. I don't think if you ask the other players, their goal is to win 16 Slams now. ... You can have different types of goals. Mine are at a very high level. That's just the difference."

As Devin Britton, his newest victim and latest fan, understands quite well.

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/12138434

© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
7:28PM

CBSSports.com: Booming Roddick brings out best in great Federer

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- The match that seemed endless ended too soon for Andy Roddick. If the man who beat him in one of the greatest Wimbledon men's finals isn't the finest tennis player in history, he'll do for a long while.

Roger Federer proved he has courage and staying power, as well as some of the finest strokes ever, by hanging on to defeat Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 on a Sunday when Centre Court couldn't take much more suspense.

The victory was Federer's 15th in a Grand Slam, the game's Big Four, separating him from Pete Sampras, with whom he had been tied and who, after an overnight flight from Los Angeles, was in the stands to watch his record fall.

"Thanks for coming, Pete," said Federer, the 27-year-old Swiss. "It's such a pleasure to do it in front of such great legends."

Besides Sampras, the famed royal box included Bjorn Borg, Manolo Santana, Ilie Nastase and Rod Laver, champions all who had come to see whether Federer could produce on demand.

And despite Roddick -- the American doomed to become the other man in these dramas, having now lost to Federer three times in a Wimbledon final -- Roger managed to do what was needed.

"My head is still spinning," Federer said after a match that, because there are no tiebreakers in the fifth set at Wimbledon, went 4 hours, 18 minutes.

The 16-14 set, which required 1 hour, 35 minutes, is said to be the longest fifth in a Slam, bypassing the 11-9 in the 1927 French Open, when Rene LaCoste defeated Bill Tilden. Talk about legends.

Roddick will not be spoken of with those two, or with Federer, who beat him for the 19th time in 21 meetings, eight of those in Slams, four at Wimbledon.

Rather, he will be discussed as the unfortunate individual who came along at the wrong time, the guy who did everything possible except overtake Federer.

It seemed he might in this third consecutive Wimbledon final to go five sets -- Rafael Nadal beat Federer last year -- Roddick let his chances get away. Or maybe Federer, as winners do, grabbed them.

Asked if he lost to the world's greatest tennis player, Roddick sighed, "Yeah."

In the second set, Roddick led Federer 6-2 in the tiebreak and at 6-5 had a volley to win the set. But the shot was wide, and Federer, with six consecutive points, went on to even the match at one set apiece.

"There was a pretty significant wind behind him," Roddick said of the shot, which went wide. "When he first hit it, I thought I wasn't going to play it. Last minute, it looked like it started dropping. I couldn't get my racket around on it."

Federer ended up winning the tiebreak 8-6 and in time he would win his sixth Wimbledon.

There was no falling on his knees this time. Rather, when Roddick shanked the final shot, Federer leaped like some NBA player about to hit a dunk shot.

"I'm sorry, Pete," Roddick said, addressing Sampras with his typical flippancy. "I tried to hold him off. But it was a pleasure playing here today. Pete, Manolo, I still hope someday my name will be up there with theirs as a winner of this tournament.

"But I just want to say congratulations to Roger. He is a true champion and deserves everything he gets."

In the great dream here, the men's final of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships would have been between Federer and the Scot, Andy Murray. In anticipation, some people paid $2,000 to $3,000 for tickets.

Maybe the Brits didn't get what they wanted, but you can get what you need, as the Rolling Stones sing -- and you can't get much more English than they are. What tennis always needs is a final full of drama, a final in which every point is critical.

That's what happened Sunday.

Roddick used more than his powerful serve -- his fastest was 143 mph -- to stay even with Federer. He wasn't broken once until the very last point of the match, holding serve the first 37 times. But Federer won the tiebreakers and eventually the match and the title.

In the fifth set, when the score got to 14-13, it seemed as if somebody had missed an extra point rather than a first serve.

In somewhat of a reversal of expectations, Roddick was strong in rallies, Federer on serves.

"He served great," Roddick said. "If he hadn't served as well, I'd probably be sitting here in a better mood." Federer had 50 aces, Roddick only 27.

When asked what makes Federer what he is, Roddick shrugged. "I don't know where to start," he said. "He makes it real tough. He was having trouble picking up my serve today for the first time ever. He just stayed the course.

"You didn't even get the sense he was really frustrated. He gets a lot of credit for a lot of things, but not how many matches he digs deep and toughs it out. He doesn't get a lot of credit for that because it looks easy for him a lot of times."

It wasn't easy. "This could have gone on two more hours," said Federer. He already was wearing a warmup jacket with a golden "15" on the back.

That puts him one ahead of Sampras, of course, and 14 ahead of Roddick, whose only Slam victory came in the 2003 U.S. Open. For a while, the way he played, the way he battled, there was a thought he could wrench away a second.

But when someone asked him to describe what he did, Roddick could only say, "I lost."

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/11925724
© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
8:20PM

CBSSports.com: Men's quarters day really does bring the heat -- literally

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- It was hotter than Bangkok, literally, according to the official temperatures, if at 89 degrees only a notch or two.

It was so hot, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress said firms should encourage employees to wear shorts "to prevent them from collapsing at their desks."

It was so hot, there were empty seats at Centre Court, some of which had been scalped for more than $1,000 when Britain's long-sought tennis hero appeared.

But that hero, Andy Murray, understood the reasoning.

"It was roasting outside," said Murray, "I wouldn't have recommended anyone sitting in that heat for hours."

Recommended or not, people did sit in that seat. And played tennis in that heat.

On this second Wednesday of Wimbledon 2009, more than mad dogs and Englishmen went out in the midday sun for men's quarterfinals won by Murray, five-time champion Roger Federer, surprising Tommy Haas and, finally, Andy Roddick.

The past month in England has been the hottest, driest and sunniest since 2006, which makes it all the more fascinating that for this Wimbledon the $140 million roof over Centre Court was finally put into operation.

But after another scorcher Thursday for the women's semifinals, the Met Office, the weather bureau here, said change is coming, meaning the men's semis on Friday, Murray against Roddick, Federer against Haas, indeed might be played under that roof if the predicted rains arrive.

In the quarters, Murray, trying to become the first Brit since 1936 to win the men's singles, defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 6-3, 6-2; Federer had a tidy 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 win over Ivo Karlovic; Haas upset No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic 7-5, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3; and Roddick, the American, offered a lot of sweat and even at the end some tears, if no blood, taking 3 hours, 50 minutes to beat Lleyton Hewitt, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.

"I'm really happy," said Roddick, twice a finalist -- and twice a loser against Federer. "I haven't been in the Grand Slam picture very much the last two years. Now (with the Australian) I'm in my second semifinal of the year."

When he left the court at a bit after 8 p.m., Andy reached up and dried his eyes. Yes, he was crying. "It was a mixture of happiness and relief," Roddick said. "You know in your mind you're trying to stay the course for four hours, constantly figuring out what you're going to do. So it's relief, happiness and almost a kind of instant shutdown mode."

Immediately after walking to the locker room, Roddick said to the BBC, "I think there's a lot of respect there. We used to get into it a little bit when we were younger, but now we're just a couple of old married dudes."

So, too, finally, is Federer, at 27, second oldest of the four remaining men (Haas is 31, Roddick 26 and Murray 22). Remarkably, Roger has reached a 21st consecutive Grand Slam semifinal and is in position to break his tie with retired Pete Sampras at 14 Slam wins apiece. Not that Federer is getting ahead of himself.

"We all know it would be writing in the history books of tennis," he said. "But it's not there yet."

The roof has been there. Murray defeated Federer's fellow Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka on Monday night in Wimbledon's first indoor match, and there's still a debate about whether the ball bounces the same indoors.

The All England Club said the temperature when the roof was closed was a steady 75 degrees, much cooler than the record heat outdoors, and humidity a stable 50 percent, lower than outside. Murray, however, said his shots were not the same.

A professor at Sheffield Hallam University told the Times of London that Andy had a point. "When you play outside," said Steve Haake, of the school's department of sports engineering, "there is a breeze. You don't get a carefully controlled environment where the air is not moving and sweat has nowhere to go."

On Wednesday, sweat was everywhere. Fans came to Wimbledon as they might to the Riviera, in shorts, halter tops, straw hats, floppy hats. Kids were splashing in a decorative water run. The line to the ice cream store under the rim of Court 1 stretched 50 yards.

"I like to play my points short," said Federer, the No. 2 seed. "I like short rallies. I think on grass my strength becomes even better, even more dangerous."

Roddick said this Wimbledon might be his best chance, if not his last chance, to add a second Slam to his 2003 U.S. Open championship.

"This one," Andy said of his win over Hewitt, "certainly wasn't short on drama."

Roddick had 43 service aces.

"Andy has been playing great," Roddick said of Murray. "He's certainly come into his own as a player. With my serve, I can give myself a chance in any match."

When you're hot, you're hot.

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http://www.cbssports.com/tennis/story/11913234
© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.
9:22AM

RealClearSports: We Can Stop Worrying about Tiger and Roger

By Art Spander


The questions have been answered. The shots have been made, chips from the edge of the green, forehands from the back of the court. We can stop worrying about Tiger and Roger. 

All is right with the world. Summer is coming on. Tiger and Roger have come back, as if we ever should have doubted they would. Dial up another Sinatra song on the iPod or the radio. Hoist a glass of ice tea. Back the ’55 Chevy out of the garage.

We’ve returned to the good, old days, 2009 version.

So quick to lose faith, particularly in Roger Federer. We knew Tiger Woods eventually would be there. It takes time to recover from ACL surgery. The tee shots would return. The confidence would return.

We merely wondered when. Now we know.

Roger Federer was different, in our minds at least. Men’s tennis, so long his domain, suddenly was in the grasp of Rafael Nadal.

When Nadal beat Federer in that marvelous Wimbledon final last July, when Federer’s streak of Grand Slam tournaments without a victory had extended to three, we decided the torch had been passed.

A champion is more than the game he plays. A champion is a winner, able to reach into the past and when the moment arises, when proof is required, regain the brilliance he or she once displayed.

Federer did exactly that during a French Open that, with the first-week upset of Nadal, who previously never had lost in the tournament, presented an opportunity.

Champion that he is, Federer grabbed that chance and carried it to history, becoming one of six players ever to win all four Slams, the Australian, the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

In tennis and golf, familiarity does not breed contempt but rather comfort. If Roger Federer is hoisting a trophy with tears in his eyes, if Tiger Woods is balling a fist and shaking it in triumph, then everything again makes sense.

Woods’ victory seemingly didn’t mean quite as much as that of his colleague, with whom Tiger shares respect and Nike and Gillette endorsements. Or maybe it meant more.

No major title but a giant step forward, a verification that on a tough course, Muirfield Village, Tiger could drive straight and long and rally on the final day as he had done so often.

One magnificent round, one reassuring finish, and like that Woods became the favorite for the U.S. Open next week at Bethpage, where he won America’s golfing championship in 2002.

“I knew I could do this,’’ Tiger said Sunday after his victory in the Memorial, a victory that came maybe half a day after Federer’s in Paris.

“I was close to winning, but the game wasn’t quite there when I needed it on a Sunday,’’ Tiger explained. “I rectified that.’’

The way Roger Federer rectified his problem, filled in the blank.

So much in common those two. Each has a cap with his own initials on the front. Each has a claim on being the best ever in his sport.

Federer’s win was his 14th in a Grand Slam, equaling the record of Pete Sampras. Tiger has 14 majors, four behind Jack Nicklaus, who as fate and fable would have it conducts the Memorial event and was a spectator at the final green.

Tiger is 33, and has many more years remaining. Federer is 27 and has enough time left. But what they accomplish from now on cannot mean any more than what they have accomplished, particularly on Sunday.

For Federer it was overcoming an obstacle that two weeks earlier the experts never believed he never could overcome, not with Nadal, who had beaten him on clay repeatedly, in waiting. Then Rafa departed and the gates, and heavens, opened for Roger.

For Woods it was an irritation. He hadn’t been the Tiger who was so reliable before that knee operation last June. There had been a victory, in March, but there also had been a few last-day misdeeds. He was grumpy from his lack of progress. We were bewildered, even though medical experts said healing could not be rushed.

Tiger’s U.S. Open is a week away. Roger’s Wimbledon is in two weeks. Where will they be in another month? Receiving more accolades after receiving more trophies? Where will their sports be?

Nicklaus suggests Tiger will be a winner, which is no great shock. Federer’s achievement on clay suggests Roger will be a winner on the grass at Wimbledon, where he had five straight titles from 2003 through 2007.

We can only anticipate. These good, old days are very up to date indeed.
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. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/06/tiger_and_roger_make_things_ri.html
© RealClearSports 2009 
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