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Rafael Nadal claims 19th Grand Slam title

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Rafael Nadal’s 19th Grand Slam trophy went from inevitable to suddenly in doubt in a thrill-a-minute U.S. Open final.

What had all the makings of a crowning morphed into a grueling contest thanks to Nadal’s opponent, Daniil Medvedev, a man a decade younger and appearing in his first major title match. Down by two sets and a break, Medvedev shifted styles, upped his level against a rattled Nadal — and even received an unexpected boost from the Arthur Ashe Stadium spectators.

Truly tested for the only time in the tournament, the No. 2-seeded Nadal managed to stop Medvedev’s surge Sunday and hold off his historic comeback bid, pulling out a 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory in 4 hours, 50 minutes of highlight-worthy action and Broadway-worthy drama to collect his fourth championship at Flushing Meadows.

“An amazing final. Seems that I had, more or less, the match under control,” said Nadal, who covered his face with his hands while crying when arena video boards showed clips from each of his Slam triumphs. “One of the most emotional nights of my tennis career.”

WATCH | Nadal captures his 19th Grand Slam title:

Rafael Nadal held off Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 to win his fourth U.S. Open title. 1:56

Now at 19 majors — a total Medvedev called “outrageous” — Nadal is merely one away from rival Roger Federer’s record for a man.

But this one did not come easily. Not at all.

Sure seemed it might, with Nadal ahead by two sets and a break in the third at 3-2, playing like “a beast out there,” as the No. 5-seeded Medvedev put it.

At that moment, Medvedev would joke afterward, this is where his thoughts were: “OK, in 20 minutes I have to give a speech. What do I say?”

But the 23-year-old from Russia did not go gently into the night. He broke right back to 3-all, then again to claim that set and yet again to end the fourth.

Daniil Medvedev became the first Russian man to reach the U.S. Open final since 2000 when Marat Safin won the tournament. (Justin Latne/EPA-EFE)

“The nerves were so high,” Nadal said. “A crazy match.”

Not since 1949 has anyone won a U.S. Open final after trailing by two sets to none. Never before had Medvedev won a five-set match. Only once before had Nadal lost a Grand Slam match after taking the opening two sets.

And yet the tension was real.

At the very end — or what appeared to be the very end — Nadal couldn’t close it out. After breaking to lead 3-2 in the fifth, in a game Medvedev led 40-love before flubbing an easy forehand, Nadal broke again and served for the championship at 5-2.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal won his 4th U.S. Open title on Sunday. (Robert Deutsch/Reuters)

The way this back-and-forth tale was spun, though, it probably was inevitable that Medvedev would break there. And so he did, because Nadal double-faulted on break point after he was docked a serve for his third time violation of the evening, which elicited loud boos from folks in the stands.

In the next game, Nadal held a pair of match points, but Medvedev, of course, avoided defeat yet another time, erasing one of those with a backhand winner, the other with a service winner, earning a standing ovation.

With Nadal’s backers screaming, “Close it out!” at the ensuing changeover, he once more stepped to the baseline to try to serve it out, this time at 5-4. Naturally, he was forced to deal with another heart-in-throat break point, but came up with a stinging forehand that drew a long forehand from Medvedev.

Two points later, it was over, and the indefatigable Nadal was splayed on his back on the court.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal celebrates his victory. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Add the Spaniard’s haul in New York to his 12 titles at the French Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open, and the 20-19 gap between Federer and Nadal is the closest it’s been in 15 years. Federer led 1-0 after his breakthrough triumph at the All England Club in 2003, and he had four by the time Nadal got his first at Roland Garros in 2005.

Federer, who lost in the quarter-finals at the U.S. Open, is 38, while Nadal is 33 — making him the oldest male champion at Flushing Meadows since 1970. He’s also the first man to win five majors after turning 30.

Nadal says he wants to finish his career at No. 1 in the Grand Slam standings — ahead of Federer and Novak Djokovic, looming in third place currently with 16 — but also insists he won’t base his happiness on how it all shakes out in the end.

This particular match ended the way he wanted it to. The journey just took more detours than anyone could have anticipated.

When the 6-foot-6 Medvedev sensed the loss approaching, he turned into a trickier foe, playing less defensively and more aggressively. He alternated serve-and-volley rushes with a penchant for out-hitting Nadal at the baseline. For a stretch, it felt as if Medvedev simply could not miss, and he finished with a 75-62 edge in winners.

23-year-old Daniil Medvedev nearly pulled off a historic comeback against Nadal in Sunday’s final. Not since 1949 had a man won the U.S. Open final after trailing by two sets to one. (Robert Deutsch/Reuters)

That’s the sort of ball-striking Medvedev displayed while going 20-2 during the North American hard-court circuit until Sunday, reaching four finals in a row. But he also switched tactics, winning 22 of 29 serve-and-volley points.

“The way that he was able to fight, to change the rhythm of the match, was just incredible,” Nadal said.

The Flushing Meadows fans that jeered Medvedev in Week 1 because of his on-court behaviour — he trolled his detractors by sarcastically thanking them and telling him their vitriol was why he won — were pulling for him.

Or, as he noted during the trophy ceremony, pulling for more bang for the bucks they spent on tickets.

They certainly got that.

“I’ll definitely remember it,” Medvedev said, “even when I’m, like, 70 years old.”

Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev embrace following their near five-hour match. (Jason Szenes/EPA-EFE)

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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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