Andreescu’s storybook U.S. Open run stands alone - Canadanewsmedia
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Andreescu’s storybook U.S. Open run stands alone

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Most of us have never seen her lose.

That’s how fast and unexpected and remarkable this has been. Way back on March 1, in the semi-finals of the Mexican Open, a third-tier event in Acapulco, Bianca Andreescu fell in three sets to Sofia Kenin, then the 35th ranked player in the world. She took home a check for $11,500.

She had made a bit of noise earlier in the season, beating Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniaki in Auckland en route to the Australian Open as a qualifier, but beyond the tennis hard core, those victories hardly caused a ripple.

And before that, Andreescu was precisely as famous as you’d expect the 152nd ranked player in the world to be.

Then, immediately after Acapulco, Andredscu won Indian Wells, sort of the fifth major, and this crazy ride began.

Her only two losses since, a retirement and a walk-over, were forced by injury. Andreescu has otherwise been untouchable. The odd wobble here, the brief loss of form there, but no one has been able to beat her when she was able to finish a match, and there is every reason to believe that in this moment, she is the finest female tennis player on Earth.

That truth was, of course, hammered home on Saturday afternoon, when Andreescu defeated the greatest female player in history, Serena Williams, in straight sets in the final of the U.S. Open — the first Grand Slam victory by a Canadian.

It wasn’t quite prime time Serena, at age 37, but it was very, very good Serena, riding an emotional high after dominating her side of the draw. So no asterisks here. Just try and come up with a historical list of the players Andreescu wouldn’t have beaten that afternoon in Flushing Meadows.

The image of her victory, Andrescu lying on the court, spread eagled as though about to make a snow angel, staring into the New York sky, is already one that belongs on a stamp. She has been propelled over those eight months from obscurity to full-on national sports hero.

And we, as a country, have entered uncharted territory. You can start searching for comparables, but they just aren’t really there.

In tennis, Carling Bassett made it as far as the U.S. Open semis, and Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard both made Grand Slam finals – Bouchard also made it to two Grand Slam semis – and peaked at number three in the world. Perhaps it’s merely the power of hindsight that paints those results as unsustainable, but the truth is, none of them won, and for all of the excitement in the moment, it didn’t feel anything like this.

In other individual sports, there’s Mike Weir winning the Masters and Lennox Lewis winning the heavweight championship, Brooke Henderson’s recent triumphs and Ben Johnson and Donovan Bailey and a long list of Olympians who at least temporarily captured the country’s heart.

None of those, though, came so quickly, so out of the blue.

Emotionally, the can’t-stop-smiling part of this feels closest to the Raptors’ championship, not just because of She The North, but by the way something went from specific to universal so quickly, by the way it became one big, ecstatic social-media driven national hug.

And now to figure out who this young woman is, since there hasn’t really been time for that. Even the marketers are scrambling to catch up.

You will hear very much in the coming days about her parents and their classic, immigrant story (not a bad time to be reminded of just how Canadian that story is….), about her little dog Coco, about her coach Sylvain Bruneau, about her dogged rise through the ranks when no one was paying attention, about the sacrifices made, about her diet and training regimen, about how she might fare in Melbourne in January, about how she’ll approach the red clay of Roland Garros or the grass courts of Wimbledon next summer, about what it will be like to return to New York as a defending champion, with expectations turned on their head.

How Andreescu handles that whirlwind will be telling. But absolutely no one is doubting that she has the tools, and the varied, nuanced game, to continue to succeed at this level.

At age 19, it’s understandable that Andreescu doesn’t really have the words to describe what she’s living through. In some ways, she is processing it along with the rest of us.

But there is a look in her eyes that, in the context of what we have just witnessed, speaks to a level of confidence that only the greatest athletes possess. It’s as if she was shocked by the moment, yet absolutely unsurprised by the result.

Amazing enough when it comes from a Tom Brady or Sidney Crosby. On a whole other level when it comes from a teenager who has never been this way before.

Emotionally, it might never be so sweet and fresh and beautiful again, and Canadian sports fans have been historically conditioned to wait for bubbles to burst.

But there’s nothing to dread here. Instead sit back, savour what we’ve just witnessed, and imagine the journey to come.

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Fajardo leads Riders to game-winning field goal

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REGINA — Cody Fajardo helped lead the Saskatchewan Roughriders to another win in Week 14, with the quarterback orchestrating a seven-play, 54-yard drive in the game’s final minutes to set up Brett Lauther’s game-winning field goal against the Montreal Alouettes.

The 27-year-old completed 19-of-27 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown against the Als, and he also added a key rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion that tied the game in the fourth quarter. Fajardo responded after the Riders’ defence held the Als out of the end zone in the first half.

“I think offensively, we started really slow,” Fajardo said after the win. “Our defence did an incredible job of keeping us in the game because they held them to three straight field goals, and if they punch in three touchdowns there this is a 21-0 game and we’re looking around like ‘what’s going on? Our defence held us in it all game long, and we knew we had to pay them back by going down and scoring and getting a field goal.’”

Shaq Evans was Fajardo’s go-to target once again in the win over Montreal. Fajardo connected with his leading receiver for a big 46-yard gain in the second quarter that led to the Riders’ first score of the game, and their 25-yard connection with two minutes to play helped set up the game-winning kick. Evans is now up to 869 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 72 catches this season.

“The guys really did a great job responding,” Fajardo said. “I mean you look at Shaq making a huge play. A big hit by them and he holds on to the ball, and that’s big for the field goal range.”

Fajardo said that his first big pass to Evans was crucial in getting the quarterback going after the slow start.

“Usually for me it’s my first deep completion,” Fajardo said. “Shaq just went up and made an incredible play, and that’s what he does.”

William Powell provided crucial balance to the offence and continued his strong season with 124 total yards and two touchdowns. Powell has now rushed for 751 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.

“He’s one of the best backs in this league, and if we can get him going it makes my life easier because it opens up some passing lanes,” Fajardo said.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders get a bye week before looking for their ninth win of the season when they face the Toronto Argonauts on the road in Week 16.

“This bye week is big,” Fajardo said. “I know a lot of guys in that locker room are banged up, including myself.

“We need to keep our mindset focused on football after the break and come in just re-energized like it’s the beginning of the season.”

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Tristan Connelly calls Michel Pereira ‘perfect opponent’

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The stars were aligned for Michel Pereira to follow up on his outstanding Octagon debut this past May.

With a series of flips and tricks and a fantastic knockout of Danny Roberts, “Demolidor” established himself as one to watch in the welterweight division and smart money said that he was going to run through his next foe, late replacement Tristan Connelly.

There were signs of trouble on Friday when Pereira came in a pound heavy, but once fight night rolled around he came out looking to put on a show just as he did against Roberts.

Connelly was having none of it.

The 33-year-old Vancouver native outworked and grounded Pereira for the better part of three rounds, winning a unanimous decision and making an immediate impact in the UFC in front of his home crowd at UFC Vancouver at Rogers Arena. Afterwards, Connelly agreed that the stage was set for something spectacular, only it turned out to be for him, not Pereira.

“He was the perfect opponent,” Connelly said at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “Super-exciting, he likes to throw the rolling thunder, the front flip kick. It’s called rolling thunder, I got to steal his thunder tonight.”

Fighting out of Checkmat Vancouver, Connelly credited the capoeira practitioners he works with for preparing him for Pereira’s flashy approach. Though Pereira broke out much of his signature offense, most of it fell harmlessly short of its target and Connelly never looked rushed or panicked.

Even the size difference didn’t seem to concern Connelly, who typically competes at 155 pounds and as the fight progressed, his confidence only grew.

“You can’t stop against him and you can’t back up against him,” Connelly said. “Those are two things that I knew, like, I’ve been training with capoeira guys for a long time and they’re all like, ‘Man, what he’s trying to do is get you to freeze so he can hit ya.’ I just knew I had to be in his face. I was a little worried about the size initially and his early power, he hit me with a clean punch in the first round. I was like, ‘Eh.’

“When I wrapped my arms around him, it didn’t feel all that much stronger. I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this. He’s going to keep forward,’ and my confidence raised the longer the fight went.”

Asked if he was already feeling better about the matchup when Pereira missed weight, Connelly pointed to that error as showing “weakness.” It was only on Monday that Connelly was officially told he would be needed to step in for Sergey Khandozhko after visa issues forced Khandozhko to withdraw and even with no time to prepare and a bout well outside of his natural weight, Connelly signed on the dotted line.

As it turns out, it was well worth it. In addition to his own show and win money, Connelly took 20 percent of Pereira’s purse because of the weigh-in gaffe and he and Pereira won Saturday’s Fight of the Night award. With Pereira ineligible to collect a bonus because he failed to beat the scale, it was Connelly who was given a total of $100,000 in bonus money.

Pereira was billed as the thrilling A-side in this matchup, but Connelly knew if he stayed the course, the results would speak for themselves.

“I knew I wasn’t gonna do any show like him,” Connelly said. “I’m a fighter, if doing backflips was what was important in fighting, I’d be great at backflips. But I couldn’t do one to save my life. I practice punching people, choking people, and kicking people, because that’s what seems to work in most of the fights I watch.”

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Marner, Matthews, Confusion

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The Mitch Marner negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs have frustrated fans and stumped hockey insiders and commentators. Why is the Marner camp so intransigent about its demands? Can the standoff ever be resolved?

Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Frederik Andersen (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

In this post, I will try to bring fans up to speed with
some of the thoughts about Marner and speculation about how the Marner
negotiations might impact other players on the team – specifically teammate
Auston Matthews.

Item One: Bob McKenzie on Marner’s Contract Offers

TSN’s hockey commentator Bob McKenzie is scratching his head about the continuing Marner negotiations. He’s as confused as the rest of us, and it doesn’t take much to read that in his twitter posts.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner Trades, Contract & McDavid Report

For example, in one tweet on Sept. 11, he noted first that the Maple Leafs have made seven- and eight-year offers of about $11 million average annual value (AAV). However, because those offers are lower than the contract Matthews signed for and for a longer term, they haven’t been palatable to Marner’s team.

His second tweet pondered how a solution might be reached, and he noted in the end that he didn’t think it could. He tweeted that the logical solution would be a three-year bridge. However, Marner wants an AAV in the $9-10 million range, with a substantially higher third-year payout that would make the resulting qualifying offer immense.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

To that, McKenzie noted that Toronto would have no incentive to sign it because it was such a ridiculous (my word, not his) contract. He landed on it was “hard to see the way to a settlement…”

Maple Leafs fans I have spoken to are becoming more and more upset with Marner as his team negotiates this contract. I believe they are beginning to feel his team is needlessly dragging out the negotiations. In fact, a live poll I watched on Sportsnet TV on Wednesday evening showed that fans who voted were largely in favor of the Maple Leafs’ position (30% for Marner, 70% for the Maple Leafs when I watched it). One fan I talked to saw him asking for more money than anyone else on the team and it didn’t seem fair.

For myself, I don’t think the solution is that difficult. As I wrote earlier in another post, I think the Maple Leafs should make a fair final offer and then – if Marner chooses not to sign it – let him play in Switzerland if he wishes. It would certainly be short-term pain, but it might also spell long-term gain for the team’s future negotiations with other players.

Item Two: Proposed Solution to the Marner Dilemma

McKenzie is not the only hockey commentator confused by the Marner negotiations. In his Sept. 11 post, Jeff Williams also explored what a solution might look like.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marleau, Marner & Gardiner

In his post, titled “Here’s a Marner article, but you’re not gonna like it!!,” he pointed out how successfully the Marner camp has made a trade nearly impossible for the Maple Leafs.

The protracted negotiations tell other teams that the Maple Leafs would be dealing from of a place of weakness, and the result would be that the organization would be offered far less than market value. In addition, any team willing to trade wouldn’t know what they would need to pay him. And, that takes “another chunk off his value.”

Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner

As Williams states: “Basically Mitch has
succeeded in making sure the Leafs aren’t able to trade him for anything close
to what he’s worth, while also making it impossible for them to sign him
because he’s butt hurt and demanding more than they can give.”

Williams ended his post by noting, “I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming.” He then suggested that the only real solution would be to give him close to what Matthews is getting – he suggests “5 years at 11.25M.”

My only problem with Williams’ logic is that, from what I read and hear, there’s no indication that Marner’s camp would accept something “close” to Matthews. Marner’s agent Darren Ferris seems intransigent in his demands that his client gets exactly the same contract Matthews signed – same numbers, and same term.

Item Three: Marner a No-Show on the Golf Course

It started with a golf game, but likely won’t end there. Marner will begin to miss other team functions as the negotiations move towards the beginning of the season.

The 22-year-old, unsigned, restricted free agent wasn’t expected to tee it up with his teammates and team sponsors at RattleSnake Point Golf Club, and this time he didn’t disappoint. The team will be starting off its preseason without him.

On Sept. 12, the rest of the team will be in St. John’s, N.L., to open training camp. The golf tournament was only the beginning. How temporary Marner’s absence might be is the question facing both the team and the player.

Item Four: Hesitancy to Name Matthews Captain

Sportsnet insider Chris Johnston suggested on Sept. 9 that the Maple Leafs have been hesitant to name Matthews a captain because they perceive that it might upset Marner.

About the captaincy, “I believe it’s Auston Matthews,” Johnston noted, because he believed Matthews was the team’s centerpiece.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Johnston added: “I think the timing of that is tricky, especially with Marner’s situation unresolved. Do they want to make that announcement before Mitch Marner signs? That might complicate some of the discussions being had on the side. So, I think it’s a little bit of a delicate issue. It’s one that I don’t think Kyle Dubas enjoys too much…but to me this is the right time for the Leafs to have a captain.”

What’s Next?

When and how the contract negotiations might end is the key question facing the Maple Leafs as they begin training camp in earnest on Friday. As an old guy, my experience tells me that people don’t easily switch their feelings on and off. Instead, these feelings are always tied to the circumstances they face. Specifically, I worry that the lingering contract issues will create a lasting enmity between Marner and other players in the locker room – in this case, specifically, Matthews.

We shall see.

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